Pope’s Message of ‘Complementarity’ Harms More Than Lesbian & Gay Couples

June 16, 2015

Pope Francis supported heterosexual complementarity in a speech on Sunday given to 25,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for a pastoral conference for the Diocese of Rome.

A married lesbian couple kisses in front of the Colosseum during Rome’s 2015 LGBT Pride celebration.

Though he did not mention lesbian and gay couples, the timing of the speech seemed significant to some since it came a day after tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of the Eternal City to celebrate LGBT Pride and to call for marriage equality in Italy.

Religion News Service captured significant quotes from the papal talk:

“. . . [T]he pope said the differences between men and women are fundamental and ‘an integral part of being human.’

“The pontiff likened a long-lasting marriage to a good wine, in which a husband and wife make the most of their gender differences.

“ ‘They’re not scared of the differences!’ the pope said. ‘What great richness this diversity is, a diversity which becomes complementary, but also reciprocal. It binds them, one to the other.’

“Heterosexual marriages not only ensured couples’ happiness, the pontiff said, but were deemed essential for good parenting.

“ ‘Children mature seeing their father and mother like this; their identity matures being confronted with the love their father and mother have, confronted with this difference,’ Francis said.”

Pope Francis with a young girl during his speech in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.

It has become part of Francis’ rhetorical style not to criticize lesbian and gay couples directly, but to indirectly cast judgement on them by effusively praising heterosexual complementarity.   Yet, his remarks cast aspersions on more than lesbian and gay couples.  In praising heterosexual complementarity as the preferred norm for marriage and child-rearing, he is also sending harmful messages to those in heterosexual marriages where abuse occurs, as well as to single-parent families.

Francis’ remark that gender differences are “an integral part of being human” ignores the fact that decades of scientific and social scientific research has shown that what people consider “natural” gender differences are actually the result of cultural biases and stereotypes.

I don’t know of anyone who is “scared” of gender differences, as the pope seems to imply, but I know many people who rightly fear that rigid adherence to constricting gender roles suppresses and represses individual talents, thoughts, and emotions.  Of all the problems plaguing contemporary marriages and families, complementarity is definitely not one of them. Most happy heterosexual couples that I know are happy because they equally and mutually integrate their lives together, not because they feel they need the other partner to “complete” them.  They are bound together by liberating love to be the best each one can be.

Too often, complementarity has been used to keep one partner dominant and one submissive; one rational and one emotional; one the bread-winner and one the homemaker.  Can you guess which roles go with which gender?

Indeed, one of the great gifts that lesbian and gay couples give to their heterosexual friends and family is the witness to the fact that marital and familial relationships do not need to be based on restrictive conformity to specific gender roles.  The lesbian and gay couple shows that one partner does not have to be weak, while the other is strong,  or assertive while the other is passive.  Each can live out their full and complex natures in whatever way God has called them.

Francis’ comments that children need to see a difference between two parents is not based in empirical evidence–the place where all good theologizing should begin.  Secure, affirming, and unconditional love, not the number or gender of the parents, are what children need most to be raised in a healthy manner.

Gay Star News reported that Rome’s LGBT Pride March on June 13th sent a strong message to Italy’s politicians that marriage equality should be legalized nationally, following Ireland’s recent example.  The article stated:

“After Ireland’s referendum which allowed same-sex marriage, Italian lawmakers who support marriage equality have reportedly spoken out in favor of swift passage of the proposed legislation to allow civil unions.

” ‘Ireland is giving us a lesson in civility,’ gay Italian politician Nichi Vendola, president of the Apulia region.”

And although an Italian court in February said gay and lesbian couples should not have marriage rights, the fact that a recent poll shows 85% of the Italian population favors civil unions (though not marriage) may be what is motivating politicians to respond favorably, as Gay Star News reported:

“The Lower House of Parliament earlier in the week on Wednesday approved a motion same-sex civil unions which was promoted by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD).”

Clearly, the pope is going to have to confront the reality of marriage equality as the movement now moves in earnest to Italy.  Offering to meet with a married gay activist in Paraguay this summer is a good first step, but he will have to take many more bold steps to catch up with not just the rest of the world, but, more importantly, the Catholic population.

While it is somewhat noble of Pope Francis not to directly criticize lesbian and gay couples as his predecessors did and as some of his brother bishops continue to do,  he has to also learn that messages promoting complementarity are not pastorally or intellectually effective for the modern world.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Guam Archbishop: Marriage Equality the “Road to a Totalitarian System”

June 15, 2015

Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron

Responding to the recent enactment of marriage equality in Guam, the U.S. territory’s archbishop said it would “destroy the basic fabric of society” and is the “road to a totalitarian system.”

Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron of Agana, head of Guam’s Catholics who make up 85% of the South Pacific island’s population, said the judicial decision which legalized marriage for lesbian and gay couples was a “defeat for the whole of Humanity.” He added further in his response statement:

“The recognition of a same-sex union, as marriage, destroys the basic fabric of society, and will destroy human beings in the process. . .The battle is not over; there is not yet the definitive word. . . For me, many words will still be said about this issue. This is still a controversial and complicated issue for our contemporary culture.”

The archbishop also expressed his “tremendous sadness” at the “tsunami of secularization” that has overtaken culture and continued, according to the National Catholic Reporter:

“Apuron called the government’s claim it has a right to acknowledge same-sex relationships ‘is the first step in collapsing the vital distinction between the state and society.’

” ‘This is the road to a totalitarian system. Why? Because now we will see that the state — the government — will require and demand that the church accept its redefinition of marriage, by way of anti-discrimination laws,’ he stated.”

Apuron issued his statement following a District Court judge’s decision in the case of a couple, Loretta Pangelinan and Kathleen Aguero,  who were originally denied a marriage license. Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood struck down the territory’s marriage ban on same-gender marriages, and Guam’s government promised in May to respect such a decision, reported Yahoo News.

Loretta Pangelinan and Kathleen Aguero

Guam is the first U.S. territory to enact marriage equality, joining 36 states and the District of Columbia in expanding equal rights. A Supreme Court’s decision later this month could legalize it nationwide. Pangelinan and Aguero are both Catholic, but have insisted their case involves a civil matter, telling Marianas Variety:

“We’re standing up for our right. . .It has nothing to do with the church or anything. It’s our right to marry the person we love, which is each other.”

As Catholics advancing equality, their case is a wonderful sign of the Gospel being enacted in the world. Archbishop Apuron’s response to this civil decision is both hyperbolic and pastorally imprudent.

To make extreme claims such as he does only intensifies divisions in the church and contributes to harmful prejudices against LGBT people, especially at this point in history. Marriage equality is close to becoming law nationwide. This battle is largely finished in the U.S., and advocates of love have won whether the archbishop and his anti-gay colleagues admit to reality or not.

This is not the first time Apuron has made harsh anti-gay remarks. When Guam’s legislature weighed a marriage bill in 2009, he said homosexuality was “intrinsically unhealthy” and the government would forfeit its moral authority to govern if the bill passed. Hopefully, however, these most resent assertions on LGBT matters will be his last.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Pope Francis Will Meet with LGBT Leader During July Visit to Paraguay

June 13, 2015

When Pope Francis travels to Paraguay in July, one of the meetings he will have will include a married gay man.  It is the first known public meeting that the pope will have with a gay or lesbian person who is legally married.

What’s more, the individual is a leading gay activist: Simón Cazal, executive director of the Paraguayan LGBT rights group SOMOSGAY (“We Are Gay”).  Cazal married another gay activist, Sergio López, in Argentina in 2012.

Simón Cazal (left) with his husband, Sergio López, at their civil marriage ceremony in Argentina.

Buzzfeed.com broke the story about this meeting, noting that Cazal will be meeting with the pope in a roundtable setting with other Paraguayan civil leaders.  Also significant is that this meeting was initiated by the Vatican, Cazal having never requested to be part of the event.  Buzzfeed reported:

“López told BuzzFeed News that the invitation came as a total surprise — the group had not requested to be included in the meeting. Paraguay also is one of the few South American countries where no protections exist for LGBT people or same-sex couples; their marriage in Argentina has no legal force in their country.”

Bondings 2.0 provides an unofficial English translation of the letter which you can access by clicking here.  The meeting will take place on July 11th, in the capital city of Asunción.  Though Francis has made pastoral gestures with LGBT groups, including New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims, the meeting with Cazal marks the first time he will meet with an LGBT civic leader.

While Cazal did not make a request to be invited, the invitation came shortly after SOMOSGAY initiated a campaign, in light of the papal visit, to urge the Catholic Church to show greater respect for LGBT people.  A press release on the organization’s website explains the need for the campaign, in the words of their executive director, Noting Pope Francis’ many affirming statements to the LGBT community, Cazal stated:

“ ‘One can be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender AND a Catholic at a time; there is no contradiction between being an LGBT person and being a religious person. Respect for personal beliefs is inherent in democracy’ says Sergio López, activist of SOMOSGAY. ‘We recognize that human diversity also exists within the Catholic Church, especially in Paraguay, being the Latin American country with the highest percentage of Catholics, with a rate of 89%. We hope that the religious leaders of our country catch up with the Holy Father and join his stance of openness and reconciliation.

“In that sense, SOMOSGAY calls the Church to abandon the positions of intolerance and insults dehumanizing LGBT people. ‘Denying rights, attacking people and ignore their families goes against Catholic principles of love and respect, we hope that -as in the days of the dictatorship, the choice of the Paraguayan Catholic Church is in favor of and unprotected and persecuted in our time, among those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, ‘ said López.

Pope Francis

Buzzfeed added that Cazal’s hope for his meeting with the pontiff will result in Pope Francis speaking out against violence directed toward the LGBT community, particularly in response to an oppressive incident that happened last year:

“SOMOSGAY made international news last June when riot police violently removedLGBT protestors supporting a resolution supportive of LGBT rights when they clashed with religious conservative protestors before the beginning of a meeting of the Organization of American States in Asunción last year.

“López told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that they are counting on the pope to ‘address the issue’ of violence targeting LGBT people ‘since the OAS repression went completely unnoticed and unrecognized by the church here.’ This was especially galling, López said, because ‘the whole repression happened during a Catholic march.’ ”

This invitation is very good news. Let’s hope that this meeting will help Pope Francis clear up the diplomatic standoff that the Vatican currently has with France, since he has not yet approved the new French ambassador who happens to be gay.

Let’s hope, too,  that Pope Francis replicates the invitation by inviting LGBT Catholics to meet with him when he visits the United States in September.  It is wonderful that he is visiting in Paraguay with an LGBT civic leader who can explain to him how civil society harms LGBT people.  It’s now incumbent upon him to hear from LGBT people of faith, specifically Catholics, who can explain to him how church structures and policies cause harm.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



In Germany: Lay Catholics, Theologian, New Archbishop All Speak Out Favorably for Lesbian and Gay Couples

June 12, 2015

Germany is fast becoming the main focal point for theological discussion on lesbian/gay relationships, as well as other marriage and family issues, as the universal church prepares for the synod on these topics at the Vatican in October of this year.

In May,  the Central Committee of German Catholics, the largest lay Catholic association in the country issued a position paper at their national meeting in which they called for the Church to bless same-sex partnerships and re-married divorcees.   [If you can read German, you can view the entire document by clicking here.]

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

The Tablet’s report of this news noted that the Committee was rebuked, surprisingly, by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who as last year’s synod and on several occasions since then, has himself called for greater openness towards lesbian and gay relationships. The Tablet stated:

“In his response Cardinal Marx said that the paper contained certain demands that were ‘theologically unacceptable’ if enacted ‘unreservedly’.”

Yet, Marx’s criticism seemed tempered with a somewhat sympathetic tone to the group’s ideas:

“He told the group, which has several million members, that ‘necessary theological debate’ and dialogue on both subjects would be helpful.

“At the same time, however, Marx praised the [Committee’s] position paper for its many ‘theological and socially significant statements on the family and the demand to promote the family in the Church, in politics and in society’.”

Stefan Vesper

Six other German bishops criticized the document, but the Committee’s general secretary, Stefan Vesper dismissed their evaluation. The Tablet summarized Vesper’s views:

“The position paper had begun with a ‘clear avowal’ of ‘sacramental marriage as a model for lifelong commitment.’ He added that the [Committee] was aware that many of the values ‘which distinguish sacramental marriage as an alliance between God and human beings’ were nowadays ‘also being lived in other partnerships and family forms.’ “

Terence Weldon, who blogs at Queering The Church, offered an insightful comment on this small debate occurring in Germany:

“When the Family Synod was first announced and ever since, the Vatican and others have insisted that the intention was to debate and refine pastoral practice – not to change or even discuss doctrine. It’s becoming clearer than ever though, that there is a growing awareness that the need for doctrinal change will have to be seriously addresses, whether at the synod, or later. Cardinal Marx’s acknowledgement that theological dialogue with lay people is an impressive example of that.”

Weldon also provided the English text for another important news story coming out of Germany on the synod.  On another Queering The Church post, he offered a translation of a German radio interview with Eberhard Schockenhoff, a leading moral theologian in Europe.  Shockenhoff was one the the theologians invited to meet with a number of European bishops in Rome last month to discuss ways of bringing more effective pastoral documents out of this year’s synod.

Eberhard Shockenhoff

During that interview with DomRadio.de [again, the text on the linked site is in German],Shockenhoff stated his support for developing the Church’s approach to lesbian and gay relationships in a more progressive direction:

“First, it has to be said that same-sex oriented people have the right, in their life – and that includes, too, the fact that they are like all people sexual beings – to be recognized. That also includes of course the shape of their lives.

“The Church’s position – that they should not be discriminated against in their person and (the church) shows due respect to them, but their sexual activity in itself is seen as  disordered – that is in itself not a convincing position. This position after all is just perceived as latent discrimination, even when that is not actually the claim of the Church’s teaching.

“Only when the Church here comes give a clear, unreserved acceptance of these people and their ways of life – then, if it is founded on loyalty – a principle applies, in the moral theology formulated today in this way: Wherever friendship, mutual commitment and responsibility of the people become lived, that is morally respectable, regardless of the circumstances of the sexual orientation under which this happens.”

Shockenhoff does not endorse marriage as the institution to join lesbian and gay couples, but supports civil unions for them:

“This registered partnership deserves appreciation and it is the appropriate legal instrument to secure the living space two same-sex oriented people, and also the public, are seeking.”

Archbishop-elect Heiner Koch

Finally, the third bit of news from Germany this week is that Heiner Koch, the newly appointed archbishop of Berlin, has made several positive remarks in respect to lesbian and gay people and relationships.  The Tablet  reported:

“[He] has said that describing homosexuality as a sin is ‘hurtful.’ “

Other reports note that Archbishop-elect Koch also has stated:

“I know homosexual pairs that live values such as reliability and responsibility in an exemplary way.”


“Any bond that strengthens and holds people is in my eyes good; that applies also to same-sex relationships.”

Most significantly, Koch is President of the German Bishops’ Conference’s Commission for Marriage and the Family, and is one of the three bishops chosen by the German bishops to represent the nation at the October synod on marriage and the family at the Vatican.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Australia’s Bishops Use Schoolchildren in New Campaign Against Marriage Equality

June 10, 2015
Screenshot 2015-06-09 at 3.15.14 PM

Cover page of the bishops’ document

On the heels of Ireland’s passage of marriage equality, and while other bishops are thinking of ways to speak about marriage in less strident rhetoric,  Australia’s Catholic bishops have launched a campaign for “the very soul of marriage,” employing educators and schoolchildren in Catholic schools as their messengers.

In an 18-page document disseminated through Catholic schools, the bishops call marriage equality a “serious injustice” according to the Goalburn Post.

Titled “Don’t Mess With Marriage,” the document warns against the perceived dangers of same-gender marriages and says it is “unjust, gravely unjust” to allow same-gender couples equal rights to marriage. They continue:

“If we are right in this assertion and if the civil law ceases to define marriage as traditionally understood, it will be a serious injustice and undermine that common good for which the civil law exists.”

Speaking of family and friends with “same-sex attraction,” their preferred language for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, the document says:

“They need love and support like anyone else. But pretending that their relationships are ‘marriages’ is not fair or just to them. . .Same-sex friendships are of a very different kind: to treat them as the same does a grave injustice to both kinds of friendship and ignores the particular values that real marriages serve.”

The bishops also claim religious liberty will be impaired and that children will be negatively affected:

” ‘Messing with marriage’, therefore, is also ‘messing with kids’. It is gravely unjust to them.”

This line is particularly curious, given that several bishops are using Catholic schools to distribute the document, with children as young as six or seven being given the document to bring home to their parents. It also messes with the conscience rights and religious liberty of educators and administrators at Catholic schools forced to promulgate such prejudice or risk their job.

In the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn, Archbishop Christopher Prowse confirmed that the document was sent to 56 primary and secondary schools which educate nearly 25,000 students. He hopes it will be shared in parishes and other Catholic agencies as well, reported ABC News.

In the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Archbishop Denis Hart had “Don’t Mess With Marriage” distributed in dozens of schools, with the added request that principals personally ask parents to oppose marriage equality and write to their members of Parliament, reported the Sydney Morning Herald. Some principals, however, are refusing both requests out of concern for the pastoral effects they may have on LGBT students or those coming from non-traditional families.

In the Diocese of Darwin, where students at St. Paul’s Catholic Primary School received the document, NT News and The Guardian asked church officials who made the decision to distribute the document in that fashion.  Each official or office punted it to another office.

Daniel Alderman of the LGBT group Rainbow Territory, responded to the bishops’ campaign, saying:

“I don’t see what their argument is, this is about equality. . .Bigotry perpetuates hate and as a Catholic one would expect that they would be forgiving and loving.”

Michael Bayly

One would expected the Catholic Bishops of Australia Conference to imitate Christ’s witness of forgiveness, love, and reconciliation, but they have chosen otherwise. Michael Bayly of The Wild Reed , an Australian by birth, called their actions a “new low.” His analysis, worth reading in its entirety, stated:

“As Ireland so resoundingly showed, the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s days of lording it over people’s sexual and relational lives have pretty much past. And thank God for that.

“And yet they persist with their statements and documents dominated by demeaning language and pseudo-science. . .In short, the arguments being put forward by the Australian bishops against marriage equality (and, by extension, against a renewed and reformed theology of sexuality) are the same tired old arguments we’ve being hearing for years, arguments that have been roundly and compellingly rebuked time and again…Not surprising, they are arguments that have also been rejected by the Catholic people, most recently in Ireland. . .

“Let’s be clear: the Australian Catholic bishops’ so-called ‘struggle for the very soul of marriage’ is nothing more than a politically-motivated ploy in their ‘culture war’…It is a reprehensible and insensitive ploy, one that has no place in Catholic schools as it is more concerned with promulgating a discriminatory ideology than it is with embodying God’s spirit of inclusion and compassion present within the Catholic faithful.”

Australian legislators are just a few votes away from passing equal marriage rights, according to News.com.au, and a marriage equality bill has recently been introduced in the legislature. Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s government has not yet allowed a conscience vote that would allow supportive parliamentary members of the ruling Coalition’s parties to vote in favor of the bill. Still LGBT advocates hope for marriage equality by year’s end.

Until then, Australian bishops should know that using schoolchildren to promote their campaign is not ethical or prudential, especially given the local church’s recent problems with clergy sexual abuse and its cover ups.

The bishops down under should follow Irish prelates who have noted that their nation’s referendum instituting marriage equality was a “reality check” and increased “the sum of happiness” in Ireland. There is much wisdom in these remarks–wisdom learned the hard way that need not be constantly repeated as more and more nations advance LGBT rights.

Australia’s bishops should attempt to mitigate the damage they have already done to the church through this campaign by ending it.

For Bonding 2.0’s full coverage of Australia’s Catholic LGBT issues, click here, and for our coverage of the Irish referendum and reactions to it, click here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Ugandan Catholic Priest Calls for a Worldwide ‘Sexual Refugee’ Program

June 9, 2015

Father Anthony Musaala

A Ugandan Catholic priest who has been barred from celebrating the sacraments is calling for a worldwide refugee program for LGBT people fleeing discrimination and violence in their home countries, as he witnesses hundreds of such Ugandan individuals fleeing across the border to Kenya.

Father Anthony Musaala, a priest from the Ugandan capital of Kampala, was speaking at an LGBT ministry forum at All Saints Catholic Parish, Syracuse, New York.  A Religion News Service story published on The Christian Century  website said Musaala spoke of rapes, evictions, beatings, and job losses for people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or because they support LGBT people.

Musaala called the exiles “sexual refugees,” and said he recently met with United Nations officials to discuss ways to support those who flee their countries.  For Ugandans who go to Kenya, life is not that much better, Musaala observed.  One reason is that Kenya already is housing 650,000 refugees from other African nations, but another reason is the Ugandans’ LGBT status. The priest noted:

“When their status is revealed, the police are quite brutal.”

Unfortunately, Musaala’s  work is not supported by his archdiocese. The news report explained a bit of his background and experience with church officials:

“He was ordained in 1994 in the Archdiocese of Kampala and began ministering to gay and lesbian and people in 1999. His archbishop considered that work ‘not in step with the church,’ Musaala said.

“In March 2013, Musaala wrote a paper challenging priestly celibacy and criticizing African priests who abuse minors or father children and abandon them. His archbishop, Cyprian Lwanga, said the paper ‘damages the good morals of the Catholic believers and faults the church’s teaching.’ He suspended Musaala indefinitely from priestly duties, which means the priest cannot celebrate the sacraments. . . .

“Musaala now works with Ark Communes, which creates safe housing communities for LGBT people in Kenya, and he used his talk as an occasion to ask for donations for the organization.”

The record of Catholic officials in Africa supporting anti-LGBT legislation in Africa is shameful. While there have been a few who have spoken up courageously to defend human rights, the great number are often on the side of repressive lawmakers.

Rev. Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest who works for Political Research Associates, has examined  how the role of African Catholic  leaders and of political leaders here in the U.S. have had in anti-LGBT measures in Africa.   In his report entitled,  Kaoma stated:

“Much blame has been placed on the shoulders of conservative American evangelicals, but U.S. Roman Catholic right-wing groups are equally guilty of exporting homophobia and sexism to Africa. This was illustrated in February 2015, when Roman Catholic Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of the Diocese of Oyo in Nigeria claimed that Nigeria’s failure to rescue the kidnapped girls (the Chibok girls taken by the Islamist group Boko Haram) was due to lack of support from the Obama administration, resulting from its opposition to an anti-LGBTI law passed in Nigeria in 2014. While the media cited Bishop Badejo for this statement, the claim was originally made by a U.S. conservative: Rep. Steve Stockman, who in August 2014 argued, ‘We have information that would help the Nigerian military take back their country and get back those girls. The mistake on our side—the United States’ side—is that we have laws preventing us from sharing that information with the Nigerian military. And one of the reasons is that we don’t like some of the social policy of the Nigerian government.’

“The passage of Nigeria’s 2014 anti-LGBTQI law, which applies a 14-year jail sentence for same-sex marriages and prohibits advocacy of sexual minorities’ rights, was celebrated by Nigerian Roman Catholic Bishops. The bishops commended the government for its ‘courageous and wise decision’ to fight ‘the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices that have continued to debase the purpose of God for man in the area of creation and morality, in their own countries.’ Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama went as far as saying ‘thank God that this bill was passed.’ The failure of the Vatican to oppose or counter such statements implies approval; its hide-and-seek game essentially sanctions the persecution of sexual minorities in Africa and other parts of the world.”

Kaoma has called on Pope Francis to use his platform at the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September to speak out for the human rights of LGBT people.  Kaoma stated:

“As the World Meeting of Families draws near in Philadelphia, human rights advocates anxiously await a public statement from Pope Francis on human sexuality. If the event centers on the definition of ‘family values’ promoted by U.S. Roman Catholic and evangelical conservatives, then the Pope’s visit will further sanction the demonization, scapegoating, and persecution of LGBTQI individuals around the world. U.S. conservatives—from lesser-known characters like Matt McLaughlin and Scott Lively to big name leaders like Franklin Graham and Rick Warren—are awaiting the Pope’s visit to advance their global anti-human rights agenda.

“The Pope’s upcoming visit to the U.S. provides another opportunity for the advancement of human rights for all people. The persecution, violence, and trauma caused by religiously sanctioned homophobia demands a statement from Pope Francis on LGBTQI rights. His words have the potential to either sanction continuous violence, rape, criminalization, persecution, and killings—or bring long-awaited and desperately needed acceptance of sexual minorities across the globe.”

New Ways Ministry has been calling on the pope to speak out on human rights abuses against LGBT people for a while now.  Perhaps it is time that we revive our #PopeSpeakOut campaign where we asked people to tweet to Pope Francis messages which ask him to speak out against repressive and discriminatory laws. Find out more by clicking here.  Please send a tweet today!

Finally, many thanks to All Saints Catholic Church for hosting Fr. Musaala’s talk.   Their example shows how important it is to have LGBT ministries in Catholic parishes.  New Ways Ministry is proud to include them on our gay-friendly parish list.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




Has the Marriage Referendum Victory Ended Catholicism in Ireland?

June 7, 2015

The Irish vote for marriage equality will certainly have great effects on the lives of the LGBT people of Ireland.  For those who are interested in Catholic LGBT issues, another question may be equally important:  What effect with the marriage equality victory have on the Catholic Church in Ireland?

A number of commentators have provided answers to that question, and I will try to summarize their positions in this blog post.

The two major insights about the future role of the Catholic Church in Ireland that have emerged from the commentary on the referendum are that  1) Church leaders no longer have political influence over the Catholic population; 2) Church leaders’ continued opposition to marriage equality means that they will continue to alienate the already distant younger generation.

Writing in The Irish Times, Omar Encarnación observed that because of child sex abuse and other scandals, “the moral and political authority of the Catholic Church had all but collapsed” in Ireland and in many Western European nations.  The fact that so many Irish voters did not heed their bishops’ encouragement to oppose marriage equality is strong evidence that their once powerful political grip has loosened greatly.

Tim Stanley, writing in London’s Telegraph, also saw the vote as the demise of the bishops’ political power, however Stanley identified a different cause for this loss:  the concerted financial backing of progressive political forces.  Stanley wrote:

“To emphasise, the Yes vote was undoubtedly a reflection of growing tolerance towards gays and lesbians. But it was also a politically trendy, media backed, well financed howl of rage against Catholicism. How the Church survives this turn, is not clear. It’ll require a lot of hard work and prayers.”

Joining the view that the Catholic hierarchy suffered a stunning defeat in the referendum was Mary Hunt, whose essay on Religion Dispatches was headlined “Did Ireland Just Bury the Catholic Church?”  Her answer: ” . . . the Irish referendum means that a top-down, clergy-heavy model of church heard its death knell in Dublin.” Replacing this model, Hunt says is a new trend:

“It is for lay Catholics around the world to be clear, as Irish voters were, that we can and will make our own decisions.”

Similarly, Fr. Bernard Lynch, writing in  Gay City Newscalled the referendum a “declaration of independence”:

“We have broken the shackles of our colonial past and our colonial governance by the Roman Catholic Church. We are free at last to live and love as we were born to be.”

But not all commentators see the referendum as an end to Catholic influence in Irish society.  Others see the electoral event as calling for a transformation of the relationship between church and society, particularly in the way that clergy communicate with young people.

On the dotCommonweal blog, Kaitlin Campbell speculated about how young Irish people might have felt when they heard bishops denouncing marriage equality:

“. . . I can’t imagine that many young Catholics enjoy being recruited to fight a culture war, especially if the opposition includes family, friends, and peers. They find it alienating when a priest homilizes about the essential differences between men and women; they would rather hear that “all are welcome” at Mass and rather the homily stick to the gospel. When Catholic identity becomes less about spirituality and more about political battles, something essential is lost…along with thousands of believers.”

Maryknoll Father William Grimm disputed the notion that Catholicism in Ireland is in trouble. Writing from Tokyo on UCAnews.comGrimm reminded readers that people need to see the Catholic Church as more than just the hierarchy, but, instead, as the entire People of God. Through that lens, he offered a different perspective on the Irish situation:

“Rather than the collapse of the Catholic Church, might we be living through a period when the hierarchy must defer to the experience, insight and faith of the mass of Catholics? After all, they, more than celibate clerics, have a clear idea of what might or might not threaten marriage. . . .

“The laity are challenging the leaders of the Church to find ways to affirm the sacramentality of matrimony while recognizing that marriage is a broader and more varied reality with legal, social, cultural and anthropological aspects that may differ from the practice of the Church.”

Gay Catholic Voice Ireland, the national LGBT Catholic organization, also expressed hope for the Church under the leadership example of the laity, In a statement, Dave Donnellan, the group’s leader discussed how poorer neighborhoods of Ireland supported marriage equality, while middle and upper class neighborhoods did not, prompting him to remark:

“How has the Catholic Church yet again found itself alongside the rich and privileged and against the liberation of what continues to be such a historically despised group in so many countries? The referendum result again shows up the Catholic Church’s abdication of its Gospel responsibility to stand alongside the poor and oppressed and be ‘Good News’ to groups that so desperately need to hear it. The LGBT community finally did have the ‘Good News’ preached to them last week but it wasn’t by the Catholic bishops. It was by the 1.2 million voters who voted ‘Yes’ to marriage equality for gay people last Friday.”

Father Tony Flannery, CSsR, a founder of the Association of Catholic Priests Ireland, also saw this referendum moment as an opportunity for changing “business as usual” in the Irish Catholic Church.  In an interview with The Irish Times, he said:

“The day of doctrinaire Catholicism is over in this country. The people are no longer willing to listen to speeches and sermons on morality from the Church. Some might see this as a bad situation, but I would regard it as a time of wonderful opportunity for the Church, if they can recognise it, and learn how to present the fundamental Christian message.

“We need a period of at least a generation, when the Church authorities says nothing about sex. Then they will have a chance to speak about the far more basic aspects of the Christian message – love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion – and have a chance of being heard.”

In a separate Irish Times article, Flannery focused on the importance of Church leaders reaching out to the youth of Ireland:

“[It was] particularly sad was to see the bishops in total opposition to a mass movement of the younger generation.

“The very people whom the church should be trying to listen to, and trying to learn a way of communicating effectively with, were the ones they were driving further away with all their pastorals in each diocese.”

The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters also saw the referendum as signaling a new way for Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy to relate to the people in the pews:

“I do not know the degree to which the people of Ireland rejected traditional marriage but I am one thousand percent certain they rejected the judgmentalism with which the Church has too long, and too often, associated itself.”

The good news for Catholicism is that at least some bishops in Ireland seem to be getting the message that lay people there want change in the way the church operates.  Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has been in the forefront of speaking about the “reality check” that the referendum means to the hierarchy.

Armagh’s Archishop Eamon Martin, head of Ireland’s bishops’ conference, rejected disparaging language about Irish voters made earlier this week by Cardinal Raymond Burke who said they were “worse than pagans” for choosing marriage equality.  In an interview with Irish radio, Archbishop Eamon criticized Burke’s reference:

“I wouldn’t use that language.

“Throughout the debate and the discussion, we did ask people to try to be respectful and inoffensive in language.”

On the eve of the referendum, Derry’s Bishop Donal McKeown warned voters who would oppose marriage equality not to vote with hatred in their heart.  The Huffington Post reported his comments:

“I would hate for people to vote no for bad reasons, for sort of bigoted reasons, for nasty reasons, for bullying reasons. People have to make up their own mind, and I’m quite happy that they can do that in front of God, be it yes or be it no.”

This sampling of comments from bishops is also joined by Killaloe’s Bishop Willie Walsh who criticized the Vatican’s Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s characterization of the referendum result as “a defeat for humanity.”

Fintan O’Toole, an Irish commentator, urged reconciliation between the opposing marriage camps in a recent op-ed in The Irish Times. Writing specifically about the religious dimension of the debate, he saw that everyone will come out a winner because of the vote:

“[I]t looks like a defeat for religious conservatives. But nobody has been defeated. Nobody has been diminished. Irish people comprehensively rejected the notion that our republic is a zero sum game, that what is given to one must be taken from another. Everybody gains from equality — even those who didn’t think they wanted it. Over time, those who are in a minority on this issue will come to appreciate the value of living in a pluralist democracy in which minorities are respected.”

From the statements by several Irish bishops, and so many Catholic lay people, it doesn’t look like Catholicism in Ireland will die.  It will certainly look different than it has in the past, but isn’t that appropriate for a church who follows a Savior who said, “See! I make all things new!”  The referendum offers all Catholics in Ireland an opportunity to build a society and a church that is based on the equality of all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

(This post ends our series on the commetaries concerning the marriage equality referendum in Ireland.  For previous posts on the Irish results, see the list below.)

Related articles and  posts:

Crux: “Lamenting the Church’s loss of influence in Ireland”

Bondings 2.0:  The Personal Dimension of Ireland’s Marriage Equality Victory

Bondings 2.0: How Did Catholic Ireland Achieve Such a Definitive Victory for Marriage Equality?

Bondings 2.0: Bishop: Referendum Not ‘Defeat for Humanity,’ But Increases Human Happiness

Bondings 2.0: “Cardinal Kasper: After Ireland, Same-Sex Unions Now ‘Central Issue’ for 2015 Synod

Bondings 2.0: Vatican’s ‘Defeat for Humanity’ Statement Shows Church Officials Have Not Learned from the Irish Example

Bondings 2.0: Irish Referendum Results Warrant a “Reality Check” for the Church Says Dublin Archbishop

Bondings 2.0:  A Great Day for Irish Lay Catholics! And for Lay Catholics in El Salvador, Too!


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