Swiss Bishops Offer Supportive Comments After Another Bishop’s Error

September 1, 2015

Bishop Markus Büchel, center, at an ordination

A Swiss bishop who was criticized for remarks deemed by some as advocating the death penalty for lesbian and gay people has apologized. His remorse has stopped neither public criticism from fellow prelates, who released pastoral appeals in the wake of this controversy, nor the filing of criminal charges.

Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur quoted Leviticus in a July address at a conference of German-speaking traditionalist Catholics. Though he technically never suggested gay people should be executed, Bondings 2.0 noted at the time, his irresponsible language makes that interpretation extremely easy. After facing criticism, he apologized, reported The

“In a three-page letter sent to 800 of his colleagues, including priests and employees, on Wednesday night, Huonder apologized ‘to everyone who felt injured by my speech, in particular those of homosexual persuasion,’ reported Swiss news agency ATS on Thursday.

“The 73-year-old said it was a ‘mistake’ to write his speech purely ‘on a theological and academic level’. . .He also regretted writing it during the summer holidays when there was no one around to read it over for him.”

In response, at least two bishops criticized Huonder’s comments indirectly by offering pastoral appeals. Bishop Markus Büchel of St. Gallen, who is also head of the Swiss Bishops Conference, wrote a letter to pastoral workers after many expressed concerns about Huonder’s comments. reported that he said that it was important in a sexual relationship was how a person responsibly uses sexuality, not whether that person is heterosexual or homosexual.  He encouraged Catholics to rely on their individual consciences.

Later he noted: ‘We are look forward to every relationship in which the partners accept each other as equal, valuable, beloved children of God and respect the dignity of others!’ ”

As for the church’s place when it comes to homosexuality:

“Büchel sees it as a task of the Church to accompany people on their way,’on which they can integrate their sexuality as a gift of God in their lives and their relations.” The Church must deal with the historical burdens of homosexuality and consciously develop ‘a new, human, and proper language.”

Büchel also spoke about Scriptural interpretation and contemporary understandings of homosexuality, affirming that “current knowledge about homosexuality as a constitutent part of personality, and not freely chosen, was not known at the time of the Bible.” The full letter, in German, is available here and Bondings 2.0 would welcome a more thorough translation of it from any of our German-speaking readers.

Abbot Urban Federer

A second episcopal response came from Abbot Urban Federer of Ensiedeln, who said church leaders should be for something, not against something. His first response to an email inquiry about “Why the Catholic Church condemns homosexuals?” was to simply quote the Catechism’s language about “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Yet Federer felt that quoting the Catechism was not a sufficient response for this situation, so he reinterpreted the Leviticus passage more affirmingly on the abbey’s website, which you can find here in German, with a simple translation following:

“Although the passages condemn sexual intercourse among people of the same sex, they are not against homosexuality, which was not yet known in this ancient time. Therefore such passages can hardly be used to assess current issues!

He continued by saying that homosexuality “will occupy the church for a long time,” and he noted the Swiss bishops’ 2002 decision to support same-sex unions so that lesbian and gay people could be protected from discrimination. But Federer noted the church needs to do more,  citing a public letter to Huonder by the rapper Gimma to ask:

“Can the Church really and so loudly put a minus in front of homosexuality?. . .Gimma’s reaction is a provocative question for the Church: Should the Church not be used for people, for the dignity of gays and lesbians, rather than take action against certain people? The frank words of Gimma make me pensive and call me to more modesty.”

Finally, Federer turned to Pope Francis’ views on homosexuality:

“The Church may rejoice about homosexuals as children loved by God! Did not Pope Francis already show the Church how to deal with homosexuals in the right manner? In his first press conference as the head of Roman Catholic Church, he promoted the idea not to discriminate against male and female homosexuals. Verbatim, the Pope asked: ‘When a person is homosexual and seeks God and is of good will, who am I to judge?’ “

Bishop Huonder’s apology was also roundly criticized by LGBT groups. Pink Cross, an umbrella organization for several Swiss LGBT groups, filed a criminal complaint against Huonder in August for “inciting people to crime or violence” according to Newsweek. Bastian Baumann, director of Pink Cross, explained the bishop crossed a “red line” given his authority and exhortation to literal interpretation of Scripture:

“We believe in freedom of expression, and taking quotes from the bible is fine. . .But then he said the words should be applied to real life, which is the equivalent of calling for the death penalty for gay people. We were worried about that. He is the leader of a big church, and he was calling for people to follow his words, and we thought this could be dangerous.”

Baumann further rejected Huonder’s apology because “there was no misunderstanding” his remarks. If found guilty in this complaint, the bishop could face a prison sentence of up to three years.

What to make of all this?

My first reaction is that this is simply a reminder that God draws good out of bad situations. For as strikingly painful as Bishop Huonder’s citation of Leviticus was, the critical and pastoral responses from his colleagues are doubly positive. How simply refreshing to hear a bishop say, “The Church may rejoice about homosexuals as children loved by God!”

Second, it is good to see bishops who are willing to criticize a colleague whose behavior or statements were not in keeping with the office of bishop and Christian ideas. Both Büchel and Federer’s responses are polite, avoiding direct criticism of Huonder, but they make clear that his way of interpreting Scripture and discussing sexuality are irresponsible, outdated, and not in keeping with the best practices of Catholic theology today.

Third, and finally, Bishop Büchel’s letter is noteworthy as he shifts the conversation on homosexuality from genital acts to people. His exhortation for the “responsible use of sexuality” and emphasis on conscience are similar to how many theologians and ministers have reframed the conversation around homosexuality.

While I certainly doubt acceptance of same-sex relationships can be read into Büchel or Federer’s letters, the church’s leaders’ understanding of lesbian and gay people foremost as people is an important, though much belated, step. That they do this publicly and in criticism of a local peer who is  missing the mark is great!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

What Mexican Catholics Can Teach Australia (and the World) When It Comes to Marriage

August 20, 2015

Mexicans celebrating the Supreme Court’s June decision to legalize marriage equality

In yesterday’s Bonding 2.0‘s post on marriage equality’s global progress as it relates to Catholics, we reported Mexico’s legalization of same-gender marriages and Australia’s failure to do so.

To many, it is a paradox that a highly Catholic nation advances LGBT rights while the land of “No Worries” is stalled after more than a decade debating the issue.

To Slate’s Oscar Lopez this seeming paradox actually makes a lot of sense and his claim reaffirms what we often say here: LGBT justice is supported by Catholics because of their faith, not in spite of it.

Lopez, who is gay and born to Mexican and Australian parents, asks “how could this happen?” in response to Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbot (a Catholic) effectively killing the equal marriage bill in favor of a national referendum after 2016:

“The question remains: Why have Mexico’s socio-cultural norms helped to advance legal recognition of same-sex relationships there, while Australia’s values have impeded progress on equality?”

Lopez begins with each nation’s religious identity to find his answer, contrasting 82% of Mexicans who are Catholic with just 25% of Australians:

“If you’ve ever read Catholic doctrine or heard anything coming out of the Vatican, you’d think this would make for a very homophobic society. But when you consider that Catholic bastions like Ireland, Spain, France, Argentina, Uruguay, and Mexico have all legalized same-sex marriage, it’s clear that’s not quite right.

 “Catholic social values have changed dramatically. A recent Pew Research survey found that 60 percent of U.S. Catholics supported same-sex marriage, while a 2013 survey of Mexican Catholics also revealed majority support. Meanwhile, the referendum results in Ireland, where 84 percent identify as Catholic, speak for themselves.”

This widespread and increasing support for LGBT rights among Catholic populations comes from many places, but for Lopez the “most important factor” is Catholicism’s teachings on family and their influence on broader cultural norms:

“Whenever I go back to Mexico, the dozens of cousins and second cousins and third cousins I have there—many of whom I haven’t seen in years—are quick to embrace me as primo, inviting me into their homes and telling me all the family gossip. By contrast, in Australia, I didn’t even know I had family outside of my first cousins until my grandmother passed away a few years ago and other relatives sent their condolences.

“In a country where family is the basis for society, it’s harder to exclude members of the population from legal recognition. It’s harder to kick out your gay son or hate your lesbian sister. When the sacrament of marriage is the cornerstone of the family, it’s only natural that this should be a right for everyone—as in Mexico. To see the contrast in Australia, one need only look at Tony Abbott’s constant refusal to recognize the legal rights of his own lesbian sister.

“That’s not to say that there aren’t homophobic Mexican families, or that Aussie families love their kids any less because they’re not Catholic, but it is undeniable that family values have played a role in moving gay rights forward in Latin America. For us Latinos, blood is always thicker than water.”

Lopez cites minor factors as well, which you can read about at Slate by clicking here.  He is careful not to claim Australians are anti-gay given their 72% support for equal marriage rights. His conclusion about the lessons Mexico’s Catholic identity, though aimed at Australia, is more generally applicable to other nations–so that all can “fully recognize love.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Marriage Equality Momentum Grows in Philippines, While Australia’s Catholic PM Keeps Up Opposition

August 19, 2015

Filipinos take part in Pride celebrations

Marriage equality’s global progress is still limited, legal in only twenty-one nations so far, but the growing trend has shown that Catholic areas keep advancing LGBT rights.

Below, Bondings 2.0 offers updates about several relevant developments in the Philippines, Australia, Mexico, Poland, and Guam .


Same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses earlier this month, receiving an expected denial at civil registries following the government’s announcement it would not allow equal marriage rights until a law is passed.

The rejections allow challenges to the nation’s Family Code currently before the nation’s Supreme Court to proceed, according to The Strait Times. Lawyer Jesus Falcis claimed that limiting marriage to one man and one woman as the Code does is unconstitutional, and he will file suit on behalf of partners Crescencio Agbayani and Marlon Pelipe, whose application was rejected.

Agbayani is a Christian minister, and he is clear “this is not an issue of religion but of equal protection” reported The Inquirer.

Filipino Catholic bishops vocally opposing marriage equality, fearful of change following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision to legalize marriage for lesbian and gay couples. According to The Bangkok Post, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, head of  the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, reiterated the bishops’ opposition to LGBT equality, and he added:

“[T]he US Supreme Court decision will not go unheeded. We shall study it with assiduousness, and revisit our concepts and presuppositions.”

A bishops conference spokesperson admitted the U.S. decision would increase pressure in the Philippines reported UCA News, but the spokesperson also cited Pope Francis’ remarks about resisting “ideological colonization” during a recent visit to the country. As Bondings 2.0 previously reported, that comment has been widely misunderstood, and it seems is being again misapplied here.

Momentum for marraige equality is growing, however, as LGBT advocates expand their voices in a nation where 80% of 100 million residents are Catholic. June’s Metro Manila Pride drew hundreds according to Gay Star News, and one priest’s letter in Outrage reveals the reality that LGBT Catholics are increasingly in need of pastoral care as more people come out and form families. Father RJ wrote about the baptism of a same-gender couple’s child, concluding:

“The baptism went smoothly. Throughout the ceremony, I referred to Frankie and Shane as the parents of Pink. Frankie later told me that she got goosebumps when I first mentioned both their names as the parents. . .

“Out of fear of being subjected to ‘harsh words’ from the so-called ‘good Catholics’ and from the ‘shepherds’ of the Church, Frankie and Shane almost put off the baptism of their beautiful baby Pink. Would that one day, such ceremonies could be conducted openly and without fear, with the loving blessing and warm embrace of our Holy Mother, the Church.”

Yet, in the only nation (besides the Vatican) where divorce is still illegal  and where the bishops’ influence remains pervasive, religion, and specifically Catholicism, will certainly continue playing a major role. Hopefully, more clergy and religious like Father RJ will begin speaking up about the good and faithful LGBT people they know and challenge the bishops’ anti-equality message.


Despite widespread actions for marriage equality and 72% public support, Prime Minister Tony Abbot, who is Catholic, remains firmly opposed to equal marriage. He denied members of Parliament a conscience vote on the Equal Marriage Bill that would have likely passed, and he instead called for a national referendum after 2016 elections, reported The New Civil Rights Movement.

While a recent piece in reveals increasing splits in Abbot’s own government, Australia’s Catholic bishops have been quite supportive of his efforts to stop equality. Their actions have included using children in Catholic schools as messengers for an anti-gay pamphlet.  Additionally,  pastorally insensitive remarks by Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher were hurtful to many. Thankfully, Australian Catholics are providing more inclusive local communities and among the majority of Australians ready for marriage equality.


Following a June decision paving the way to legalize same-gender marriages, Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled 9-1 that bans on same-sex adoptions are also unconstitutional and violate a child’s rights, according to The Advocate. Marriage is “already legal in Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Guerrero, and Quintana Roo,” but is expected to expand when couples challenge local bans. The nation’s Catholic bishops, as expected, objected to expanding marriage rights, reported On Top Magazine.


Polish attitudes towards LGBT equality are slowly evolving, reported NPR. An LGBT pride parade in the historic city of Gdansk drew 1,000 marchers, and there has been more LGBT media exposure recently, according to one advocate.

Robert Biedron, the first openly gay member of Parliament, claims the change in attitude is “in part because the Catholic Church’s is shrinking in Poland and because more Poles are coming out of the closet.” Shrinking episcopal influence, coupled with personal knowledge of LGBT people, have been a key recipe for pro-equality Catholics to effect change elsewhere. Hopefully, there will be rainbows over Poland soon enough.


The legislature of Guam, aU.S. territory passed a both marriage equality law and nondiscrimination protections last week, reported Metro Weekly. This comes despite Agana Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron’s warnings equal marriage would “destroy the fabric of society‘ and lead to a “totalitarian system.

For more information on global Catholic LGBT issues, visit the ‘International’ category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Lesbian Teacher Reinstated in German School, As Georgia H.S. Band Director Wins Employment Case

August 13, 2015

Germany’s bishops at Mass during a conference gathering

The trend of church workers losing their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes is not slowing, but thankfully community responses and legal improvements are pushing back. Below, Bondings 2.0 offers updates on previous incidents, including the implementation of a German bishops’ employment policy more welcoming of LGBT church workers.

A German educator fired for her plans to marry a woman will return to her position as head of a Bavarian kindergarten, aided by a new church employment policy released by that nation’s bishops earlier this year.

The policy, which went into effect on August 1, was approved in May by 23 of 27 dioceses, reported the National Catholic Reporter, and will affect 700,000 workers. It cautions against firing LGBT or divorced and remarried church workers, and the policy was warmly welcomed by Cologne’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki at the time.

In a more recent interview, Hamburg’s newly appointed Bishop Stefan Hesse spoke positively about same-gender relationships:

“We must have an eye on the diversity of present lifestyles in today’s society. . .[if LGBT couples] seek us out, we must of course be here for them.

“What is their image of the church, I wonder? . . .Do we want to be a church that has its place in the middle of the world and take part in people’s lives in order to take as many people as possible with us, or do we want a ‘church of the pure,’ without any existential difficulties or breakdowns? That would be a very, very small flock indeed, with little contact with the world around it.”

However, not all bishops will be implementing this new policy, like Bishop of Stefan Oster of Passau who received a letter from twenty priests there “deploring his decision not to adopt the new law.” Civil marriage equality is not legal in Germany, but recent developments are inching the country closer against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s objections.

In the United States, fired teacher Flint Dollar settled a discrimination suit against Mount de Sales Academy, Macon, Georgia, reported Valdosta Today. School officials fired the band director in May 2014 after Dollar’s engagement to his now-husband became known to them.

An investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found Dollar had “reasonable cause” to claim discrimination because he was gay. The EEOC rejected school claims that Dollar was fired for failing to adhere to church teaching on marriage, citing a nondiscrimination policy in the employee handbook inclusive of sexual orientation and marital status.

Following the firing last year, parents, students, alumni, and friends at the Sisters of Mercy-sponsored high school took action on social media and launched a petition in defense of Dollar, but those pleas were ignored. Thankfully, the judicial system allowed some justice in this case where, we previously noted, legal ironies abound. To read previous coverage of Dollar’s case, click here.

With marriage equality now legal nationwide, American bishops should look to Germany for guidance on church employment and stem the crisis of LGBT-related firings. These firings are “bringing out the worst in the leadership, and its bringing out the best in the people,” said New Ways Ministry’s director, Francis DeBernardo, in an Associated Press article published on Crux.  

In a separate article published on The Huffington PostDeBernardo predicted a bleak future for Catholic institutions if firings continue:

“If Catholic bishops here in the U.S. do not do something to stop these firings, which they have often sanctioned and directed, the future of Catholic institutions — parishes and schools — is dismal as more and more people become disaffected with a church leadership which does not practice justice.”

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Bishop Accused of Hate Speech in “Death to Gays” Controversy

August 4, 2015

Bishop Vitus Huonder

A Swiss bishop is facing criticism for quoting a Leviticus passage used against gay people in a recent address on marriage, criticism that could result in hate speech charges.

Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur was addressing traditionalist Catholics at the “Joy in Faith” forum in Germany last Friday when he made the controversial remarks. SwissInfo reported:

“Regarding homosexuality, the 73-year-old bishop quoted two verses from the book of Leviticus, including Leviticus 20:13: ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.’

“In response to applause, he continued: ‘Both of these passages alone suffice to clarify unambiguously the church’s position on homosexuality’.”

Huonder’s address, “Marriage: A Gift, Sacrament and Order,” also attacked gender theory, divorce, sex education, and marriage equality. He claimed that “no diversity” exists in families and continued,”Even speaking of family diversity is an attack on the Creator.” The full address in German is available here.

Facing criticism, the bishop apologized in a statement on Monday, denying any contempt towards lesbian and gay people and saying he is sorry if comments were misunderstood.

Still, LGBT advocates are sustaining their public criticism of a bishop whose anti-LGBT record is notable.

Pink Cross, an LGBT group in Switzerland, is investigating whether Huonder could be prosecuted for hate speech after stating their “shock and anger” at the bishop’s remarks., a Swiss LGBT magazine, drew parallels to a knife attack at Jerusalem’s Pride Parade that happened only the day before, writing:

“It was in the name of these same Bible passages that a Jewish extremist stabbed six people.”

This is not Huonder’s first citation of Levitical law in relation to homosexuality, reported He did so during a March speech to young priests in the diocese. In February, he came close to punishing a priest who had blessed a same-gender couple. In 2011, he argued against sex education because it would destroy children’s sense of shame.

Even with his record, did Bishop Huonder advocate the death penalty for gay people? Technically, he never explicitly did so, but his irresponsible language makes it very easy for others to interpret that he did.

His comments reveal a stunning fundamentalism for a Catholic bishop who should be otherwise educated. It is simplistic to suggest any single passage from Scriptures suffices to support or explain Catholic teaching, especially on a matter as complex as homosexuality.

Contemporary Scripture scholarship makes clear these passages from Leviticus and other “clobber texts” used to condemn homosexuality are not actually speaking of homosexuality as it is understood today in light of modern science and theological methods. The use of “abomination,” also applied for eating shellfish and other prohibitions since jettisoned by Christians, was a cultural marker that helped the Hebrews differentiate their people from others in the region.

The fact that Huonder’s chosen passage includes reference to the death penalty elevates his comment from ignorant to absurd and  dangerous. Whether or not Huonder’s remarks constitute hate speech in a legal setting will be determined. We can conclude his remarks are utterly deprived of mercy and respect.

I wrote several weeks ago about a post-marriage agenda for the Catholic Church that focuses on ending the shedding of Christ’s blood given that LGBT people are frequently wounded and killed, and wrote:

“No one should oppose loving youths who, while journeying to find their truest selves, often suffer deep pain and face rejection. No one should support criminalizing homosexuality, even if they consider same-sex acts morally wrong, and certainly the church has a clear voice against the death penalty. No one should think discriminating against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is consistent with Christ’s inclusive witness. And no one, anywhere, should justify the murder or rape of a trans* person as consistent with God’s will or the church’s teaching. No one.”

And yet, Bishop Huonder seems opposed to these types of initiatives and instead seems to actively work against ending injustice when he irresponsibly employs Scripture and church teaching.  The pastoral implications of a bishop preaching dangerous words are severe, providing cover for those prejudiced against LGBT people who may enact discrimination and violence as a result.

What is needed now is at least one concrete act by Bishop Huonder to reconcile with LGBT people. May God provide him the wisdom and courage to do so very soon.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Lesbian Educator Comes Out At End of Twenty Year Career in Catholic Education

August 3, 2015

Joan Grundy with her new book, A Deepening Life

After nearly twenty years in Catholic education, Joan Grundy is coming out as a lesbian in her just released autobiography. In the book, A Deepening Life, she tells of being a lesbian employee in Canada’s Catholic schools and shares the quiet ways she helped create change.

Grundy has been a vice-principal at St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Kitchener, Ontario before retiring this year in pursuit of other interests and greater authenticity. In a CTV report, Grundy is clear that working for a Catholic school kept her fearful of being out, but decided to make the revelation at age 54:

” ‘I’d been peeking out of it for quite a while, and it was good to kick that darn door open, right off its hinges…I probably would have been a little bit more vocal earlier, it’s safe to say, had I not been in the Catholic board.’ “

Grundy said she could never been “openly gay in a public way” to students, co-workers, and even her parents for fear of losing her job, even as she privately supported LGBTQ students. In fact, Grundy is clear it took her until she was already teaching and 33 to come out to herself. This situation is tough for church workers she said:

“I talk in my book about walking a tightrope, and I think many senior administrators in Catholic boards walk those same tightropes, because, again, we’re contracted and we need to abide by the official teachings of the church, and it’s not always easy.”

Being in the closet brought shame for Grundy, shame which is “not of God” but rather is “quite suffocating for the soul.” It also “haunted” her that she was encouraging students to be themselves and not doing the same, reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Still, the former vice-principal decided she could not abandon the LGBTQ youth in Catholic schools according to The Hamilton Spectator:

“I went into teaching to make a difference in kids’ lives and to turn my back on them didn’t feel right…These students resonate with me. We have a shared experience of pain and hurt. . .

“I have never doubted that God loves me and created me as a gay woman. That is foundational for me…My spirituality is pivotal in how I live. And for those young people, I want them to know they are loved by God, celebrated by God and accepted by God.”

Her biggest push for these students came in 2012, after the regional government mandated all schools, including religious ones, to support LGBTQ students. Grundy came out as gay in a meeting of Catholic school administrators, emphasizing the tremendous harm, sometimes leading to suicides, happening to too many teens.

At St. Mary’s H.S., she introduced the Kindness Matters program to promote fair treatment and helped bring gay alumni back to speak to current students.  She also helped by counseling youth.

In this next step of her life, Grundy hopes to  help expand teacher training around inclusivitiy, while at the same time supporting LGBT educators, whom she describes as “wounded healers.” She hopes that by opening discussion will encourage more LGBT educators to be out and make students feel safer in schools, particularly Catholic ones where “there’s a lot of fear, a lot of vulnerability.”

Joan Grundy’s story is one that is simultaneously laudatory and similar to so many LGBT church workers who quietly come to the aid of marginalized groups in Catholic schools, parishes, and other institutions. Her fears of being fired for her sexual identity or for having a same-gender relationship exposed are as real. And perpetuating such fear is antithetical to the Gospel.

Grundy’s journey is also a reminder of Scripture’s wisdom that there is an anointed time for all things and that each of us must live our journey to authenticity on our own time, faithful to God’s call for us in each moment.

What is resoundingly clear now is that, for our church, the time has come to end these firings and for schools to say “no more” to discrimination, instead valuing more and more the contributions of church workers like Grundy. Our church is greatly indebted to them, so to Joan and to all who faithfully serve, we say thank you!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

London Cardinal Urges Nationwide Expansion of LGBT Catholic Masses

August 1, 2015

LGBT Catholics Westminster pilgrims with New Ways Ministry pilgrims in Rome earlier this year

Masses in London which offer an intentional welcome to the LGBT community should be expanded across England, Westminster’s (London) Cardinal Vincent Nichols is recommending.

This endorsement of these welcoming Masses comes via Fr. Keith Barltrop, the Catholic official tasked with LGBTQI outreach for the Archdiocese of Westminster.   The liturgies take place twice a month at London’s Church of the Immaculate Conception, overseen by the Jesuits, and located on Farm Street, by which the parish is familiarly known. Baltrop’s comments were reported by The Tablet:

“. . .[T]he cardinal would like to see the Farm Street Masses as a model for other parishes in his archdiocese. He added that the idea could be taken up by parishes in other dioceses.”

This desire for expansion comes two years after the “Soho Masses” were moved to the Farm Street Church at the cardinal’s request, a move which caused some concern at the time, but one now bearing fruit it seems. The Tablet explained:

“Key to the transition was that the Farm Street Masses are an extension of the diocese’s pastoral care for gay people. LGBT Catholics join the regular congregation at the 6.15 p.m. Mass on Sunday evenings twice a month and meet afterwards for a social gathering in the parish hall.”

The pastoral shift here is significant. Instead of fostering separate communities for LGBT and ally Catholics, this model seeks to fold them into regular parish life, while still providing a preferential welcome as well.

According to Martin Pendergast of the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council, expansion depends on parishioners’ initiative and is one among several efforts to include all. The Council is also preparing a briefing paper that LGBT Catholics hope will appear at the 2015 Synod of Bishops by way of England’s delegates, Cardinal Nichols and Northampton Bishop Peter Doyle. Language is key to the Council’s requests:

“A major line of argument in the paper, he said, would be a move to encourage the Vatican to undertake a “serious review” of the vocabulary it used in relation to homosexuality.

” ‘Two terms which have been used by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in regard to homosexuality are ‘objective disorder’ and ‘intrinsic moral disorder. . .But these are inaccurate and theologically quite inappropriate – and the people who are most hurt by this sort of language are the parents of children who come out as gay. What does it mean to them to hear their children described in those terms?’ “

In June, LGBT Catholics Westminster participated in London Pride as a registered parade group. Cardinal Nichols called this an “opportunity for evangelization,” reports The Stream.

In February, LGBT Catholics from Farm Street celebrated Mass in Rome with New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims who were there during the same week. (See photo above.)

A recent editorial from The Tablet affirmed Nichols’ desire for expanded LGBT-focused Masses and stated “the Gospel must point the way on gay issues.” Calling same-gender marriage “something of a distraction in this debate,” it continued:

“Treating gays and lesbians with equal dignity and respect does not depend on being for or against gay marriage. Cardinal Nichols is a good example of that position, as is Pope Francis himself. Indeed, the new chief executive of the gay campaigning body Stonewall, Ruth Hunt, who is Catholic, told The Tablet that changing attitudes, not legislation, was now her prime concern.”

Hunt said Masses explicitly welcoming LGBT Catholics are necessary because of the “ever-widening chasm” between faithful Catholics and church institutions which reject them. Hunt, who is a lesbian Catholic herself, has previously said something must be done about faith communities which do “significant damage to people’s mental health” while silencing LGBT-inclusive religious leaders.

This is Fr. Barltorp’s second positive statement on LGBT issues in as many weeks, adding to Cardinal Nichols’ growing positive record on LGBT issues.

Last week, Barltrop said there was nothing doctrinal about one’s gender identity and the church would be “fully supportive” of those who transition after careful discernment. Barltrop responded to traditionalist critics, saying one website was the Catholic “equivalent of Islamic fundamentalism” and underscored that there is no teaching on transgender identities.

Cardinal Nichols’ desire for expanded LGBT-focused Masses is on point, especially when some church leaders choose to discriminate against these communities and deny Catholics participation in the sacraments based on who they are or whom they love. Such Masses should not stop at English shores, but indeed they should be expanded around the world!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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