Pope Francis Makes Strong Statement Opposing Marriage Equality

January 24, 2016

In what may be his most explicit rejection of the legitimacy of same-gender marriage, Pope Francis rejected the notion that any new forms of legal unions for couples can be accepted,

In a speech to the Roman Rota, the Vatican tribunal which judges, among other things, marriage annulment requests, the pope said that the recent two synods on the family

“told the world that there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union”.

Pope Francis

Ansa.it reported the news, noting that the pope elaborated on his comments:

“The Church continues to propose marriage in its essentials – offspring, good of the couple, unity, indissolubility, sacramentality – not as ideal only for a few – notwithstanding modern models centered on the ephemeral and the transient – but as a reality that can be experienced by all the baptized faithful.”

PinkNews.co.uk reported that he also said:

“The family, founded on indissoluble matrimony that unites and allows procreation, is part of God’s dream and that of his Church for the salvation of humanity.”

As noted by several journalists, what makes the pontiff’s comments even more significant is that they come just as the Italian parliament is debating a bill to allow civil unions for lesbian and gay couples.

John Allen, writing at Crux, agreed that the timing of the pope’s speech in relation to the Italian bill is significant, but he also noted that it could also show that Francis will not be liberalizing rules about annulments or communion for divorced/remarried Catholics.

Allen wrote:

“The pope’s comments also suggested an important dose of perspective on his recent reform of the annulment process, intended to make it faster, easier to navigate, and cheaper. In effect, Francis seemed to be saying that what he wants is a more user-friendly system, but not necessarily a looser one.”

After reviewing the main points of the speech, Allen commented:

‘. . . .it does not suggest a pope who finds the present discipline on marriage unrealistic, or one who believes that the grounds for annulling a marriage need to be significantly expanded.”

While the pope has opposed political initiatives for same-gender marriage (he spoke out specifically on the matter when it was being discussed in Slovakia and Slovenia),  his latest statement may be his most specific statement on the matter as a theological topic.

Is this latest speech an indication that the pope will take a more conservative approach to LGBT issues in his anticipated response to the synods on family?  Clearly, it indicates that he will not be supporting marriage equality as a political or ecclesial option.  But that was never something that anyone expected from his synod response.  In discussing LGBT issues, the synods did not touch on the definition of marriage in the Church’s discourse, so it was unlikely that there would be any progress in that regard in the pope’s response.

But the synods did talk about pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people and their families. I think there is a good chance that Pope Francis will be generous in regard to pastoral ministry for LGBT people.  Almost all of his previous statements on pastoral ministry indicate that he sees it as an important step for church leaders to take.  Moreover, his personal witness, such as meeting with his former student who is in a committed gay relationship, indicates that he could very much encourage church leaders to follow his example.  Pope Francis’ actions often speak louder than his words.

His clear statement against marriage equality in the midst of a political debate about civil unions in Italy, however, is very disappointing.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

 

The Guardian: “Pope Francis defends ‘traditional’ marriage ahead of Italy civil unions vote”


International Court to Hear Case of Fired Lesbian Teacher

January 20, 2016
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Sandra Pavez

A former teacher’s discrimination lawsuit against the Chilean government will be heard by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), a potentially historic development which could alter the country’s law and finally grant justice in this near-decade long case.

Sandra Pavez, who is also a former nun, taught religion in Chile’s public schools for more than 20 years until 2007. That year, Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez Errazuriz of San Bernardo forced her out of her job because Pavez is a partnered lesbian woman. She explained to WRadio:

“He told me that he had heard I was a lesbian and demanded that I leave my partner and seek the care of a psychiatrist of the Catholic Church. I refused and have never been able to enter a classroom since. . .

“I thought the Chilean Catholic Church was more humane and accepted people as they were. I was greatly disappointed.”

Under a 1984 law passed under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, Catholic leaders control decision making about religion teachers in the public school system. Rolando Jimenez of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (MOVILH) called this dynamic “unacceptable” and a “conspiracy

A July finding by the IACHR said that in Pavez’s case evidence existed that the Chilean government had violated the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, specifically in regard to the right to privacy and due process. Previous appeals for justice in this case had failed, including a domestic lawsuit which ended unsuccessfully at the country’s Supreme Court. LGBT advocates are hopeful, however, that this latest legal development from IACHR will lead to justice and to the law’s repeal.

Jimenez said victory would be a “symbolic and political” act for not only Chile, but for all Latin America in breaking up collaboration between nations and the Catholic Church. He said, in part, that a ruling for Pavez would “disarm conspiracy and violations which make accomplices of the Chilean State and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.” Pavez explained the specific LGBT implications, saying:

“It shouldn’t be that someone can silence a person who wants to speak of God but has a different sexual orientation. I will fight to the end to set a precedent in history.”

There are two possible outcomes at this point because of IACHR’s July determination that equality-related violations had occurred. While the Commission’s findings are non-binding under international law, the Chilean government could agree to a settlement in which it apologizes and awards damages to Pavez, along with repealing the 1984 law. If that doesn’t happen, Pavez’s lawsuit, aided by MOVILH, would proceed to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, whose rulings are binding on the Chilean government.

Chile is not the only nation where Catholic leaders have control over state employees; a similar firing happened in Spain’s Canary Islands a few years ago. Many nations retain laws and cultures which are deferential to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Beyond the LGBT justice issues here, MOVILH’s Rolando Jimenez pointed out that this case also challenges an oppressive system by which Church and State leaders have retained power with unjust consequences.

God can transform injustice into grace and Latin America’s troubled recent history offers many signs of this transformation. Perhaps God will use Sandra Pavez’s case to bring justice not just to LGBT communities, but as a seed which then blossom into liberation for all people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Dominican Catholic Officials Again Attack Gay U.S. Ambassador

January 13, 2016
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Ambassador James Brewster, left, and husband Bob Satawake

Church leaders in the Dominican Republic have issued an open letter against LGBT human rights efforts, and they included an attack on openly gay U.S. Ambassador James Brewster.

The letter, whose two dozen signatories includes Catholic and Evangelical leaders, is written to the nation’s president and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It claimed the United States and the United Nations seek to invite Dominican children “to begin practicing gay and lesbian practices” through educational literature on sexuality and gender. It said further:

” ‘This initiative to turn our adolescents gay early on is an initiative of the U.S. government that is run by a homosexual and represented by another homosexual in the Dominican Republic.’ “

That second figure is Ambassador Brewster, whom the letter criticized for participating in Pride celebrations last year and further slandered, reported The Washington Blade.

Brewster has faced repeated attacks from Catholic officials since his appointment, particularly by Santo Domingo’s Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus López Rodriguez. The cardinal most recently said Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. López used an anti-gay slur to refer to the ambassador in 2013 and said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.” Cardinal López’s remarks made Bondings 2.0’s lists of Worst Catholic LGBT News in both 2013 and 2015.

Despite these attacks, the State Department is standing beside Ambassador Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake. Spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala said they “disagree in the strongest terms” with the letter’s claims and that Brewster advances U.S. policy on LGBT human rights “like all U.S. ambassadors.” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois appealed to Pope Francis on behalf of Brewster, asking the pontiff to curtail Cardinal López and the severe homophobia he pronounces in the church’s name.

When Catholic leaders attacked Ambassador Brewster last December, it was pointed out that Cardinal López was 79 years old, four years past 75, the church’s official retirement age for bishops.  Vicious attacks on any person should be grounds for such a dismissal; his prominence only augments their damage. It is far past time for Cardinal López to resign.

More action is needed, however. Intervention by Pope Francis in this severe case would not undermine his efforts towards decentralization. It would, rather, send a clear global message that such overt prejudice by Catholic officials will not be tolerated.  Words from Pope Francis’ latest interview are also instructive:

“[P]eople should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.”

Somewhere, along the way, it seems a handful of Catholic clergy in the nation lost that message (they are not the first, nor likely last). This development does not mean Dominican Catholics cannot use the Year of Mercy to promote greater respect for and inclusion of LGBT communities and undo some of the damages so far inflicted.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Malawi Bishops’ Anti-Gay Remarks Raise Human Rights Issues

January 4, 2016
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Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka

LGBT communities in a number of African nations face some of the world’s most oppressive contexts. Worse yet, socially-sanctioned discrimination and violence are supported and even encouraged by religious leadership. Two recent incidents in Malawi, which is 20% Catholic, reveal how church officials contribute to homophobia and transphobia.

Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka of Karonga told a women’s gathering that lesbian and gay people are “sinners who need to repent,” adding that Scripture’s condemnation of homosexuality is clear. These comments come just as the nation’s government dropped charges against Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani for homosexual activity, both of whom were forced to undergo invasive physical examinations while in custody reported All Africa

In a separate incident, Bishop Montfort Sitima of Mangochi addressed homosexuality negatively in a homily last Sunday, according to All Africa. Despite saying the church “does not hate” gay people, the bishop applauded a Catholic musician, Lucius Banda, who cancelled a concert on Christmas Day after observing two male audience members kissing each other. A human rights advocate noted that it would very unlikely for a gay couple to kiss publicly in Malawi, and suggested that the whole event was staged to stir up anti-gay sentiments, according to Nyasa Times.  Banda is a member of Malawi’s Parliament.

Sitima also said Malawi’s government “should not sell out our culture and our religion in exchange for money,” referencing the generally false but popular notion that Western foreign aid is tied to LGBT human rights. This connection between LGBT human rights and international aid was explicitly included in the Synod on the Family’s Final Report, presumably at the insistence of African bishops who present it as a new form of colonialism.

This reality of LGBT oppression, Catholic leaders’ complicity, and the colonial history of unjust Western interventions in Africa raise questions about how LGBT advocates in the U.S. can justly respond.

A recent article in The New York Times claimed that U.S support for LGBT human rights is backfiring in Africa, where the federal government has spent more than $350 million since 2012. Private support is increasing, too, as U.S. advocates seek to work internationally, following major victories at home. This work seeks, in part, to counter influential U.S.-funded Evangelical groups promoting anti-gay laws abroad.

Increased visibility is actually leading to more anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in the estimation of some advocates. Rev. Kapya Kaoma of the U.S.-based Political Research Associates suggested that “African L.G.B.T. persons are just collateral damage to U.S. politics on both ends.”

Frank Mugisha

Frank Mugisha

But not all agree, including Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who is Catholic and wrote in The New York Times:

“There will always be backlash to activism. That is not news.

“Instead of elevating the significance of American influence, it would have been better if the article had focused on African politicians who employ any narrative at their disposal — including ‘neocolonial’ ones — to maintain their power at the expense of scapegoated minorities like L.G.B.T.I. people, regardless of what the United States may, or may not, do.

“Is there more violence now that L.G.B.T.I. people are more visible in Nigeria and elsewhere? Maybe, but it is homophobia, not funding, that is at fault.”

Catholic officials could easily be added to the African politicians Mugisha labeled as those who use anti-LGBT sentiments for their own purposes. In conveying church teachings on homosexuality, church leaders like Bishop Mtumbuka too often rely on a biblical fundamentalism at odds with Catholic principles for scriptural interpretation. They ignore, almost entirely, relevant Catholic teachings about LGBT people related to social justice. Bishops like Bishop Sitima employ false narratives, like homosexuality being a Western import or Western governments denying aid to nations without marriage equality, with dangerous repercussions. Neither one of the Malawian bishops condemned the human rights abuses enacted against Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, even though their treatment was contradictory to Catholic teaching.

Why do Catholic bishops in Africa behave in this fashion? There are likely many as many reasons as bishops. Perhaps the expansion of Evangelical churches in Africa has something to do with their statements. Christianity is exponentially exploding among Africans, and denominations are fighting for adherents. Established Catholic and Protestant churches are struggling to retain adherents against successful Evangelical and Pentecostal efforts. Similar to politicians scapegoating LGBT people for electoral victories, Catholic officials may fear being seen as ‘weak’ on homosexuality.

These complex situations leave U.S. and other Western LGBT advocates puzzled when it comes to human rights work in Malawi, Uganda, and other nations which criminalize and stigmatize minority sexual and gender identities. Frank Mugisha makes clear, though, that, ultimately, we are united in the fight against homophobia and transphobia wherever we live.

For Catholics, as members of the universal church, we cannot abandon this work as long as oppression exists. Moving forward, we must ensure that not only the ends we seek, but the means  with which we seek them, are just on all accounts. Catholic Social Teaching is one of the richest sources for figuring out how to do just that, and the Year of Mercy is the perfect time to recommit to seeking justice for LGBT people around the world.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Australian Priest Warns Marriage Vote Could Be “Very Nasty”

December 12, 2015
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Frank Brennan, SJ

A plebiscite over marriage equality is a “waste of time” and “risks turning very nasty,” said a prominent Australian Jesuit as he appealed for a legislative solution in his country.

In a Eureka Street essay, Fr. Frank Brennan,. S.J., decried the plebiscite called for by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, stating:

“A plebiscite on this issue is a waste of time and risks turning very nasty, especially now that both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition support same sex marriage. . .

“It’s only a parliament, not a plebiscite, which can legislate the complex details of equality and the protection of all rights, including the right to religious freedom. . .

“When the plebiscite vote is carried in favour of same sex marriage, as I am confident it will be, there will still be a need for our Parliament to legislate complex provisions protecting religious freedom and expanding the freedom to marry.”

Australia’s top political leaders, including current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, all support equal marriage rights. Brennan said the plebiscite was suggested back when Abbott was in leadership to “give [equality opponents] more airplay.” But political realities in Australia and elsewhere have changed.

Now, Brennan said he “accepted the inevitability that civil marriage in Australia will ultimately be redefined to include committed same sex relationships.” He proposed a conscience vote in Parliament to amend the Commonwealth Marriage Act as an alternative to the popular vote, listing reasons why the State has an interest in extending equal marriage rights that include:

“Given the increasing number of children being brought up by same sex couples, it is desirable that the state take away any social stigma against same sex parents.

“Given the ageing population, the state has an interest in recognising and protecting long term relationships of same sex couples who care for each other.

“Given the harmful effects of homophobia, the state has an interest in encouraging broad community acceptance of those members who are homosexual. Laws and policies can help in this regard.”

Brennan was clear, too, that a legislative solution is most appropriate to ensure religious freedom is protected if marriage equality is approved. He weighed in on a controversy in which Catholic bishops face a discrimination complaint over their anti-marriage equality booklet, “Don’t Mess with Marriage.” In Brennan’s words:

“While the debate rages, it is only appropriate that religious groups like the Catholic bishops be able to evangelise their position. . .To date, the bishops have spoken cautiously and respectfully, with perhaps the occasional lapse into loose language. They know their views are not in fashion.”

The Jesuit even suggested that anti-religious statements by certain politicians actually “far exceed any traces of homophobic utterance by religious leaders.” Whether or not this is true, the controversy regarding the human rights complaint against Australia’s bishops has LGBT advocates on both sides. Setting aside legal questions, the bishops’ decision to publish the booklet and use children in Catholic school as messengers is pastorally concerning.

Fr. Brennan is right that any plebiscite wastes Australians’ time and resources while opening the door for homophobic attacks and nasty divisions.

I pray that church leaders will listen to Fr. Frank Brennan, and that they will temper, or even forgo entirely, an opposition campaign. There are far more pressing concerns for Catholics today.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis “Missed an Opportunity” on Papal Visit to Africa

December 10, 2015
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Pope Francis greeting crowds in Uganda

LGBT advocates are saying Pope Francis missed an opportunity to preach tolerance and save LGBT lives because he remained silent during his Apostolic Voyage to Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic which ended just over a week ago.

Pepe Julian Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda told the Washington Blade:

“. . . I feel he missed an opportunity to be specific about his stand on the issue, by publicly discussing the continued persecution of LGBT people in Uganda. . .If he’s not done it publicly in Uganda, I don’t see him doing so anywhere else.”

Onziema added he had not had much hope for positive statements because the pontiff, in his estimation, is “wishy washy” on LGBT rights.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, had sought to meet with Pope Franci, a;ong with other LGBT advocates. He told Al Jazeera:

“Yes, I am disappointed. It would have been a very good gesture and the start of a conversation with the Catholic Church on accepting LGBTI Catholics in the Church.

“I would have told the pope that Ugandans love him so much, and so do LGBTI Ugandans, and we – all Ugandans – want the same things: to live with each other in peace. So, the churches that discriminate against us the most should preach tolerance and acceptance.”

Advocates in the U.S. echoed Onziema, Mugisha, and others’ disappointment in Pope Francis. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told the Blade:

“Pope Francis usually is much more courageous and direct in confronting controversial issues, especially when bishops have acted poorly, as the Ugandan bishops have done in regard to ignoring the human rights of LGBT people.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, said Pope Francis speaking out “would have made a huge difference globally.”

While Catholic teaching disavows discrimination against LGBT people, including the criminalization of homosexuality, as Mumbai’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias made clear recently, Uganda’s church leaders have acted differently.

Frank-Mugisha

Frank Mugisha

Mugisha, who is Catholic (and was featured in Bondings 2.0‘s first Advent reflection this year for his courageous witness), explained the situation in his country which is more than 40% Catholic. He told Al Jazeera:

“Church is a place for love, for refuge and for peace and support, but that support is not given to them. They feel they have been let down by the Church a lot. . .

“The Catholic Church in Uganda has been in alliance with all the other churches in condemning and discriminating against LGBTI persons. The language that preachers use and the anti-gay statements make people who are even in the closet feel discriminated against.”

Thes discrimination and violence, fueled by Catholic and U.S.-based Evangelical churches includes “hate crimes, arrest, blackmail and extortion, public humiliation” and being outed in the media. Additionally, in Uganda, a highly religious nation, lacking affiliation with a church can exclude one from society at large. Mugisha revealed discrimination he faces specifically in the Catholic Church, saying priests will preach against homosexuality if they know he is attending Mass.

But this high religiosity also means that Ugandans listen closely to Pope Francis’ words. If he had spoken out, they would have taken a message of tolerance towards LGBT people “seriously,” said Mugisha To not have spoken out “will go down in history,” he told Citizen.

LGBT advocates in Uganda and Kenya repeatedly sought words of tolerance from the pope. The Rainbow Catholic Network of Africa appealed to Francis for mercy and inclusion. People of faith worldwide had asked Pope Francis to condemn anti-LGBT laws through New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut campaign. The pope’s decision not to respond, covered in more detail here, is troubling despite an otherwise remarkable papal visit.

Pope Francis’ silence is especially problematic because that same week Uganda’s Parliament passed the Non-Governmental Organizations Bill in the middle of the night.  Since the bill allows the government to dissolve community groups at will, critics fear it will be used to curtail LGBT advocacy, reported PinkNews.

Though Pope Francis missed an opportunity to save LGBT people’s lives and promote their dignity, some Catholic bishops are speaking out. Cardinal Gracias’ opposition to LGBT criminalization in India is quite notable, as he is the subcontinent’s only religious leader to preach tolerance. Maltese Bishop Mario Grech gave a positive interview in recent days, too.

Most hopeful are the many and varied good works of the People of God happening locally. Some make headlines, but most are quietly planted and lovingly cultivated in communities. Pope Francis should consider how he can help water these seeds during the Year of Mercy. It is always the right time to speak out for LGBT people’s lives and dignity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishop Hopes Year of Mercy Will “Start a New Era for the Church”

December 9, 2015

 

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Bishop Mario Grech

The Year of Mercy now underway will hopefully “start a new era for the Church,” said one Maltese bishop who recently spoke extensively about the need to welcome LGBT people and their families.

Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, part of the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, added that not only the style but content of church teaching must be different. In an interview with the Times of Malta, when asked whether same-gender couples in a civil unions should be welcomed by the church, Grech said:

“Of course. They are part of God’s people, and like everybody else they are going through a journey and the Church needs to support them in revealing God’s hidden face. We cannot define such a journey in stages and put up barriers, as the road is wide open to those truly seeking to follow God’s footsteps, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Grech said that “there can be different forms of relationship” beyond marriage, though he still defined it hetero-normatively. He said the church must clarify the “difference between civil and ecclesiastical marriage.” Importantly, the bishop set questions about marriage and relationship within the broader context of Christian life:

“We are neither condoning nor condemning anybody. As long as the individual tries to imitate the values preached by God, we embrace them. There are other values in the gospel, which are difficult to attain, such as forgiving the enemy. We need to strive to reach this goal. We seem to have very clear ideas about justice and love but then stumble upon kindness. These are all proposals put forward by God – like marriage between a man and a woman who form the natural family.”

The bishop pushed back against those suggesting Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy is just appeasing a culture in transition. Grech said mercy is not populism, but the gospel, and criticized those whose ecclesial vision has prioritized ethical judgment:

“Before being a moral agency, the Church is an experience of God. I fear that at certain times we have put the cart before the horse as we speak on moral obligations but leave no room for mercy and forgiveness. The Church must be different. If God is at the centre of our lives all other things would naturally follow.”

Commenting  on the Synod on the Family, Grech said homosexuality was not discussed because it “could have seriously jeopardised the approval of the entire document.” He continued:

“On many occasions accidental issues have replaced the core substance. If need be, we must cleanse ourselves of certain things in order to be close to the ideals. There must be greater urgency to reach out to people out there as many are looking for God, in various forms.”

He included in this outreach the children of LGBT parents, noting that such outreah is “already happening” and is “fully accepted” by the church, and necessarily entails full access to the sacraments. Children, Grech said, are not “accountable for their parents’ deeds, decisions or way of life” and therefore:

“Why should the Church deny the opportunity for same-sex parents wishing to give a Christian formation to their adopted children? They are most welcome.”

Bishop Grech’s pastoral vision for the church is inclusive of, but extends beyond LGBT considerations. He is proposing a renewed and reformed Catholic Church, which understands that life is complex and that the church is composed of human beings. In the bishop’s own words:

“Life is not black or white – there are also a lot of shades in between. What makes a good Christian? Perfection? If this were the case it would probably be beyond everybody’s reach. . .Life is a journey from one stage to another, and the Church needs to support the faithful in their quest to find God.”

You can read Bishop Grech’s interview in full by clicking here.

Similar to the interview reported on yesterday with Mumbai’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias, this interview with Bishop Grech reveals a church leader dedicated to understanding the realities of Catholics’ lives and trying to accompany them. Though imperfect for LGBT advocates, his vision of a church where inclusion and conscience are prioritized, and all are supported despite difference, is a good one. May more church officials be converted to this vision during the Year of Mercy!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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