Nun and Priest Join With Other Irish Catholics Set to Vote “Yes” for Marriage Equality

May 14, 2015

 

Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy

In under ten days, Irish voters will decide on approving marriage equality in one of the world’s most historically Catholic nations. If approved, this will be the first popular vote to legalize same-gender marriages in the world — but what is also remarkable about Ireland’s story, regardless of the outcome, is how many Catholics are publicly endorsing LGBT rights.

Religious Sister of Charity Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy announced she will be voting “Yes” for marriage equality. Speaking at an unrelated conference on austerity policies, Kennedy said of the vote:

” ‘I have thought a lot about this…I am going to vote Yes in recognition of the gay community as full members of society. They should have an entitlement to marry. It is a civil right and a human right’…

” ‘I have a big commitment to equality for all members of society. It’s what my life has been about. We have discriminated against members of the gay and lesbian community for too long. This is a way of embracing them as full members of society.’ “

Sr. Kennedy works closely with those in Ireland experiencing homelessness, reports The Irish Times, and spoke against austerity measures because of the devastating impact they actually have had on families and will continue to have for years to come.

Fr. Gabriel Daly

Top theologian Fr. Gabriel Daly also urged Catholics to vote “Yes,” in an article published by Doctrine and Life, a publication of the Dominicans. Daly, a former theology professor at several universities, said the matter is “an issue for the State, not for the church.” He continued, as reported in The Irish Times:

” ‘Marriage as a sacrament is the proper concern of the church. If the Yes vote succeeds in Ireland, it will be for the church to decide whether to co-operate or not…[I am] unimpressed by the claim that allowing gay men and lesbian women to marry members of their own sex necessarily has an effect on the Christian idea of marriage…Christians are perfectly free to carry on without any threat to their customary understanding of marriage.’ “

Fr. Daly said Catholics could vote for marriage equality “with good conscience,” but did add that adoption of children by same-gender parents is a separate issue.

These endorsement are only the latest in a series of Catholic voices over the last year.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking for equality in Ireland

Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking for equality in Ireland

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke in Ireland about supporting marriage equality several weeks ago saying “You can be Catholic and support civil marriage marriage for lesbian and gay people.

Former Irish president Mary McAleese, an outspoken critic of the church’s anti-LGBT policies and mother of a gay son, also promised to vote “Yes” for the good of Ireland’s children. Equality campaigners are appealing to Irish voters’ Catholic roots by emphasizing the good this will do for their loved ones, asking them to bring your family with you to the voting booth on May 22.

Fr. Martin Dolan of Dublin came out to parishioners during Mass in January, saying “I’m gay myself” as he called upon the church community to support LGBT rights. He was widely supported by his parish, which applauded him, while facing no public consequences from the archbishop as many feared he would.

Augustinian Fr. Iggy O’Donovan wrote a pro-marriage equality article, saying “respect for the freedom of others who differ from us is part and parcel of the faith we profess” and he knows more priests will vote “Yes” than many believe. Meanwhile, Irish parishioners have walked out of a Mass when the pastor preached an anti-gay homily.

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Ireland’s bishops have been less friendly, threatening at one point to stop performing civil marriages altogether if the referendum is approved. However, in a rare display of humility, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin admitted he is no expert on family life today. He also called anti-equality activists’ language “obnoxious,” said an “ethics of equality” was needed in the debate over LGBT rights, and, in the rarest of moves, joined Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh in publicly critiquing a fellow bishop who compared homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome.

New polling reported by Buzzfeed shows 78% of voters planning to vote “Yes” on May 22, but pro-equality campaigners are redoubling their efforts over fears support could drop in the final weeks due to confusion being sown by anti-LGBT activists. Regardless of the outcome, this movement in Ireland is revealing the best of Catholicism when it comes to LGBT justice and shows a way to dialogue publicly about divergent views while upholding the dignity of sexual and gender diverse persons.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


London Cardinal Celebrates Mass with LGBT Catholics

May 13, 2015

LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official archdiocesan ministry for gender and sexual minorities in London, England.  Their ministry has flourished for over a decade, and recently they experienced a big step forward from their diocese.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, joined LGBT Catholics and their families for Mass last Sunday, at the Jesuit church of the Immaculate Conception, where the group meets on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month.  Cardinal Nichols has been a strong supporter of the group, even when faced with harsh criticism from local detractors.  This was the first time that he joined the group for Eucharistic liturgy.

The church was packed with congregants and the cardinal thanked the parish and the LGBT group for journeying together in this pastoral outreach.

He used the occasion to sermonize on the idea that God has no favorites and that mercy must be foremost in Catholics’ minds and hearts.  A summary of the homily provided by LGBT Catholics Westminster:

Affirming that in God’s mercy and love, all are acceptable and accepted, the Cardinal warned against those who would set God’s mercy and Commandments against each other. It is this understanding of mercy which is informing so much of Pope Francis’ ministry, and also the Synods’ processes. The Commandments  are not simply regulations imposed from on high, but indications of how God’s mercy can be received and embraced as we journey in the transformation to which we are called. The Cardinal emphasised that it is in the Eucharist that we become what we see: the Body of Christ.

You can read the text of the cardinal’s sermon by clicking here.

LGBT Catholics Westminster welcomed Cardinal Nichols, offering new musical pieces, including Live every day in my love, based on the day’s Gospel reading, and a new version of Psalm 97.

Nichols’ occurred near the anniversary of the group’s 1999 founding after “the homophobic-motivated bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub” in London’s Soho neighborhood, reports The Tablet. Nichols previously supported the Soho Masses, though asked them to integrate into the Jesuit-run Farm Street Church in 2013 as part of the Archdiocese of Westminster’s LGBT pastoral plan.

When the group moved to the new location, Cardinal Nichols paid a pastoral visit to welcome them to the parish.

Nichols was named to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis, in his first set of cardinal appointments at the beginning of 2014.

At the end of last year’s extraordinary synod, he told the press that he did not vote for the paragraphs addressing lesbian and gay topics because he felt that the important words of “welcome,” “respect,” and “value” were missing from them.

In the United States in the 1990’s, I recall two bishops presiding at Masses for the LGBT communities in their dioceses:  Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, NY, and Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Virginia.  Both events attracted overflowing crowds.

Why aren’t more U.S. bishops following these examples?  A little kindness can go a long way.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


NEWS NOTES: Baptisms, Hermits, Movie, and Protests

May 11, 2015

News NotesHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1)  At an ordination in Rome, Pope Francis told 19 priests “With baptism, you unite the new faithful to the People of God. It is never necessary to refuse baptism to someone who asks for it!”  According to The National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua McElwee, these words “may be interpreted to rebut Catholic priests who refuse to baptize children of same-sex couples.”

2)  The bishop of Northampton, England, has removed three members of a hermit community from a local presbytery after they refused to continue distributing vicious anti-gay material, according to The Tablet

3) On America‘s blog, Nathan Schneider gave a positive review to “Owning Our Faith,” a short film produced by the LGBT ministry at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, Manhattan.   Bondings 2.0’s very favorable review can be found by clicking here.

4)  Some graduating seniors at LeMoyne College, a Jesuit school in Syracuse, N.Y., will be protesting the school’s commencement speech this year, which is to be given by N.Y.C.’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, according to TWCnews.com.  Dolan’s record of being critical of LGBT equality is part of the motivation for the students’ protest.

5)  At the annual March for Marriage in Washington, DC, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke against marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, calling it “the greatest social experiment of our time,”  according to The Catholic Sun.  Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, also attended the rally and gave the opening prayer.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Dublin Archbishop Calls for an “Ethics of Equality” in Marriage Debate

May 8, 2015

Ireland’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality has evoked the expected opposition from the Catholic hierarchy in that nation, sometimes approaching an extremist tone, such as publicly considering that Catholic priests would not be allowed to perform any wedding ceremony–heterosexual or homosexual–if the electorate approves legal marriage for lesbian and gay couples.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Yet, recently, the archbishop of Dublin has offered a more reconciliatory tone.  While he still opposes the marriage equality law, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has also called for “an ethic of equality” which would include legal protections for gay and lesbian committed couples.

London’s Tablet reported on the archbishop’s comments, made at All Hallows’ College, Dublin, during an address to diocesan communications specialists. You can read the entire text of his talk on the Archdiocese of Dublin website. I will excerpt some of the main points in this blog post.

The main point of Martin’s talk is to defend the issue of complementarity as essential to marriage and social and human stability.  For most of his talk, he explains his reasons for this defense.  He also argues for the importance of theological input into social and political debates.  If one were to read only this section of the talk, one might think that this was his only point, but towards the end of his talk, his subject he considers the situation of lesbian and gay people.

After discussing Pope Francis’ example of openness to lesbian and gay issues, he examines the idea of equality:

“An ethics of equality does not require uniformity. There can be an ethic of equality which is an ethic of recognising and respecting difference. A pluralist society can be creative in finding ways in which people of same-sex orientation have their rights and their loving and caring relationships recognised and cherished in a culture of difference, while respecting the uniqueness of the male-female relationship.”

Martin also critiqued people who cite Pope Francis in a positive way when they discuss Catholic support for marriage equality, saying that the pontiff has clearly expressed his defense of heterosexual marriage and complementarity. Of these Catholics, Martin said:

“I find it interesting that many of those supporting the yes campaign object to the use of religious language, but they are not shy in quoting Pope Francis in support of their arguments, although I feel that their knowledge of Pope Francis’ repertoire is somewhat restricted.”

He presented the pontiff’s view of same-gender marriage and LGBT people, noting that neither conservatives nor progressives are completely happy with the nuanced position:

“In the debates around same-sex marriage in Argentina, Pope Francis was unequivocal in his judgment about its non-admissibility, yet he consistently told people not to judge any individual. Many find that a position of that kind is untenable: certain things, they will say, are simply wrong and to be condemned and there is no way in which we can countenance any response except repentance and change of life style. Others will say that the only way in which the Church can show mercy is by changing its teaching. Pope Francis espouses neither of these positions in isolation.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin

More important than the content about same-gender relationships, however, is the Dublin archbishop’s discussion of traditional hierarchical discourse about marriage equality. In the same week that Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of Ireland warned that religious freedom would be endangered by passage of marriage equality, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin took a more reconciliatory approach.

Diarmuid Martin, who in the past has acknowledged that church leaders and others have too often spoken negatively to and about LGBT people, admitted that he may not been as credible by some:

“I know that the harshness with which the Irish Church treated gay and lesbian people in the past – and in some cases still today – may make it hard for LGBT people to accept that I am sincere in what I am proposing.”

Noting that hierarchical language has often been “insensitive and overly judgemental,” Martin advised:

“The Church has to learn to voice its criticism clearly and without fear, but it must always do so in language which respects her Master.”

He recognized that the harsh language has been one of the biggest ways that bishops have failed in getting across their view of marriage:

“The problem in many ways is that the Church has often in the past presented its message poorly. What is a message of love was presented in language that was harsh. What was rational argument was presented as a dogma which all should accept. The truth about Jesus Christ can only be proclaimed in love.”

Martin has made the case for a more civil debate about LGBT people before and has called on church leaders to be more courteous and respectful in their discussions.

Ireland’s referendum will be held on May 22nd.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

 

Irish Times: “Churchgoers give their views on marriage referendum”

Belfast Telegraph: “Catholic bishops urge ‘No’ vote in Republic of Ireland’s marriage equality referendum”

The Independent: “Voting No to same-sex marriage is not homophobic, say bishops”

The Journal: “Senior Archbishop warns: Church could face legal action for opposing gay marriage”

Irish Times: “Interfering with definition of marriage not a ‘trivial matter’ “

The Independent: “Catholics fear being labelled homophobic – Primate”


German Bishops Extend LGBT Welcome to Church Workers in New Policy

May 6, 2015

Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne

Germany’s bishops voted in favor of new employment policies favorable to church workers in same-gender relationships this week, proving that the firing and forced resignation of LGBT church workers need not be the only response to marriage equality’s spread.

More than two-thirds of dioceses voted to approve the ecclesial policy change which allows church workers in same-sex unions, as well as those who have remarried after divorce, to keep their jobs, reports Reuters. Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne explained the policy further:

” ‘The point is to limit the consequences of remarriage or a same-sex union to the most serious cases (that would) compromise the Church’s integrity and credibility.’ “

Though German courts have been limiting the scope of religious exemptions, churches are still free to disregard civil law when it comes to employment protections, meaning the bishops also chose this option fairly freely. Germany’s bishops explained that “multiple changes in legal practice, legislation and society” prompted the change. Such honesty about rapid shifts in public support for LGBT rights and the emerging reality of marriage equality, as well as the harm these firings cause, is rare.

Cardinal Woelki,  the first in a new generation of bishops  who show some openness to marriage equality, also noted the unfair enforcement of church sexual ethics in employment cases, something that is very obvious here in the U.S.:

” ‘People who divorce and remarry are rarely fired,’ he told the KNA news agency. ‘The point is to limit the consequences of remarriage or a same-sex union to the most serious cases (that would) compromise the Church’s integrity and credibility.’ “

Moreover, the new policy lists other reasons for firing someone, of which two of the examples have nothing to do with sexuality:

“Passages in the new version of Church labor law say that publicly advocating abortion or race hate, or officially quitting the Church, would be a ‘grave breach of loyalty’ that could lead to an employee being fired.”

This policy change comes only weeks after a lesbian kindergarten teacher was fired for planning to marry her partner, one of more than 50 church workers have lost their jobs since 2008 in public incidents. Hopefully, the policy will prevent future conflicts from emerging, but at the very least, Central Committee of German Catholics head Alois Glueck points out:

” ‘The new rule opens the way for decisions that do justice to the situations people live in.’ “

What is also important about this policy change is that it proves the church is not forced to fire church workers who commit themselves in same-gender marriages or cause those who support equality before the law to forcibly resign. Germany’s bishops took a “long hard look at the real,” in theologian Jon Sobrino’s words, and recognized the harm this discriminatory practice is causing against the church as well as those ministers, educators, service providers, and volunteers who offered so much of their lives to its mission. Young Catholics have no tolerance and the example set by firing an LGBT church worker deeply impairs the church’s evangelical outreach in this act of blatant injustice.

This policy is less surprsing coming from Germany’s bishops, however, because they have been closely looking at the reality of sexual and family relationships for the last year. In their preparations for last fall’s Synod, they called the church’s teachings “unrealistic and merciless” and one bishop, alongside the nation’s leading theologians, called for a complete overhaul of Catholic sexual ethics. Cardinal Woelki specifically has endorsed the recognition of same-gender partnerships and made repeated favorable comments on LGBT issues, as have his peers like Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich.

Their efforts sometimes fall short of the calls for full equality and justice by LGBT advocates, but compared to other episcopal voices, they are moving the church forward — enough so that even the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Francis felt it necessary to chastise them last month by issuing a statement that national bishops’ conferences had no authority to create doctrine.

This latest policy reform by the German bishops is a concrete expression of their growing respect and concern for LGBT people, as well as of a desire that the church live out the justice that it proclaims.  It should be a model for American bishops to take up in their own handling of church workers.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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.

 

 


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