Cardinal: Focus on Church’s Failure to Defend Gay Rights, Not Marriage Equality

In contrast to many Catholic leaders, a ranking German cardinal has said the church should be more concerned with the way lesbian and gay people are discriminated against than with marriage equality.

e81c5-kardinal-reinhard-marx
Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who heads the German Bishops’ Conference, made his remarks in an interview with Augsburger Allgemeine , a major Bavarian newspaper.

Marx rejected conservative church voices who have claimed that marriage equality will have dire social consequences in Germany after legislators approved lit earlier this month. While upholding the Magisterium’s heteronormative teaching on marriage, Marx chided critics, according to La Croix:

“‘[It is worth recalling] that the Church has not exactly been a trailblazer as far as the rights of homosexuals are concerned. We must express our regret that we did nothing to oppose homosexuals from being prosecuted. The law (which made homosexuality a crime) was not rescinded until 1994 (in Germany) and we, as a Church, did not concern ourselves with it.'”

Marx, who is a close advisor of Pope Francis, also commented on the key distinction between church and state, as it relates to lawmaking:

“‘The Christian position is one thing. It’s another thing to ask if I can make all the Christian moral concepts (state) laws. . .Whoever fails to understand that the one does not automatically lead to the other, has not understood the essence of modern society.'”

Pressed on this question by the interviewer, Marx reiterated his point that the church does not “simply want to mold our opinions into laws.”  Marx explained:

““We live in an open society in which there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and non-believers. In a secular society, the state must make laws that are valid for everyone.”

The interviewer also asked whether the passage of marriage equality proved the church had lost its influence in the public realm. Marx replied:

“‘Surely Christian influence doesn’t show itself only in laws, but in the everyday values that are lived in society. It is not merely a case of our influence but of those concerns, the Gospels oblige us as Christians to carry out. . .We don’t only lobby for the Church!'”

Marx did express support for a legal appeal before the nation’s Supreme Court, but interestingly his welcome of the appeal was so that it would “be good for legal peace in Germany.” This statement could imply that he would accept whatever the Court’s ruling might be.

The German bishops’ overall response to the legalization of marriage equality has been quite nuanced, and in such a way that it is a sign of positive change in the church. In his statement on the issue, Archbishop Heiner Koch disapproved of marriage equality while recognizing a need to protect same-gender couples who exhibit “mutual responsibility and care” in their relationships.

As for Cardinal Marx, his record on LGBT issues has been somewhat ambivalent but is increasingly positive. Last year, Marx said history had treated gay people badly, such that “as church and as society we have to say sorry.” During the Synod on the Family, he was one of the leading voices for greater welcome and pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people. He has also called for a re-thinking of sexual ethics around homosexuality which takes into account the reality of people’s lives and relationships.

At the same time, including in these most recent comments, Marx has continued to advance heterosexual couples as having a “special relationship, and firmly rejected the idea that same-gender relationships could be blessed in the church.

Nonetheless, it is very good news that a church leader as high-ranking as Cardinal Marx would publicly voice what so many Catholics have lived by for years: the church’s primary treatment of LGBT issues should come not from sexual ethics, but from social justice.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 18, 2017

German Bishops Offer Nuanced Response to New Marriage Equality Law

Germany’s bishops have said they are “deeply saddened” by the legalization of equal marriage and adoption rights for same-gender couples in their country, but their response is more nuanced than what is being reported.

gay-pride-berlin
Brandenburg Gate lit up for Pride

Early last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she was dropping her opposition to marriage equality. Legislators passed the law Friday, including several who are members of the lay-run Central Committee of German Catholics.

After the law’s passage, Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin released a statement in his role as chair of the German Bishops Conference’s Commission on Marriage and Family. Koch said, in part:

“I regret the fact that the legislature has given up the essential content of the marriage concept in order to make it fit for same-sex partnerships. At the same time, I regret the fact that today’s decision gives up a differentiated perception of different forms of partnership in order to stress the value of same-sex partnerships. Differentiation, however, is not discrimination. A valuation of same-sex cohabitation can also be expressed by another institutional arrangement. It does not have to appear in the opening up of the legal institute of marriage for same-sex partnerships. The fathers of the constitutional law (Grundgesetz) have given marriage such a prominent place in our constitution, because they wanted to protect and strengthen those who as a mother and father want to give their children their lives. If, above all, the protection of relationships and the assumption of shared responsibility as a justification for the opening of the marriage are brought forward, this means a substantial re-balancing of the content and a dilution of the classic marriage concept.”

Koch said that a conversation about “the strengthening and promotion of the diverse communities of responsibility” was necessary, adding:

“As a church, we have respect for those same-sex partnerships in which mutual responsibility and care are taken over for many years.”

In light of marriage equality’s passage, Koch said the bishops would need to “present [their understanding of marriage] invitingly in public” and promote sacramental marriage as a separate entity.

Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg echoed this sentiment, according to PinkNews, saying, “I regret that our understanding of marriage and the state’s understanding are moving yet further apart.”

Before the vote, reported The Tablet, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, president of the German Bishops Conference, called the snap vote “absolutely inappropriate” and said marriage must remain defined as it is in the German constitution.

These statements need to be read in a very important context. German bishops have been some of the most supportive voices in the church for LGBT people. Indeed, both Archbishop Koch and Cardinal Marx attended Catholic Day festivities in Germany last year as LGBT groups were welcomed to participate for the first time.

At the Synod on the Family, Koch said the German contingent sought to advance the conversation on homosexuality as much as possible despite resistance from other regions. The German-speaking group of bishops at the synod stated that the church should apologize to people it has harmed, including lesbian and gay people. Cardinal Marx has also said the church should apologize.

But when lay Catholics in Germany called for the church to bless same-gender partnerships outside of marriage, bishops including Marx rebuked them sharply. Marx himself has both affirmed the love found in such partnerships, and also spoken strongly against understanding them as equal to marriage. Meanwhile, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck said such couples should be blessed.

The bishops’ response to Germany’s new marriage law is equally nuanced, yet it should be seen as a positive change in the church. It would be too far at this point to expect they would affirm marriage equality, but their statements reveal three noteworthy advances.

First, they recognize the need to legally protect same-gender couples even if they desire differentiated means of doing so. Second, Koch’s statement acknowledges the lasting “mutual responsibility and care” found in such relationships. Third, they admit the difference between civil and sacramental marriage. Going forward, Koch is clear that the bishops’ role is not to fight the new law, but to invitingly propose their understanding of marriage and hope it attracts people.

I await the day when bishops, recognizing the goodness and love which mark same-gender relationships, celebrate with their fellow Catholics when marriage equality laws are passed. Until then, I hope more bishops will look to Germany and try for less caustic, more nuanced responses.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 5, 2017

San Jose Bishop Counters Paprocki’s Decree Against Married Lesbian/Gay Couples

A California bishop has written a letter instructing clergy and religious in the diocese to be compassionate and inclusive when it comes to pastoral care. a direct repudiation of last month’s alienating directives from an Illinois bishop.

20121118_081538_mcgrath
Bishop Patrick McGrath

Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose sent the letter on June 29, 2017. While it doesn’t specifically mention Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree that bars people in same-gender marriages from participation in certain forms of pastoral care, sacramental life, and leadership, from the language of the text, it seems this recent development was on McGrath’s mind . According to the blog Proper Nomenclature, McGrath wrote:

“Recent news reports of policies and practices related to members of the LGBT community in other dioceses can be confusing.

“I take this opportunity to assure you that the pastoral response in the Diocese of San Jose remains just that: compassionate and pastoral. We will not refuse sacraments or Christian Burial to anyone who requests them in good faith.

“Finally, let us remember and be guided by the words of Pope Francis: ‘The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.'”

Paprocki’s decree drew strong reactions from Catholics, especially his instruction that pastoral ministers deny funerals to Catholics in same-gender marriages. You can read a report on his decree here, along with reactions here and here.   While other bishops (notably Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput and Newark’s former Archbishop John Myers) barred married gay and lesbian people from communion and liturgical roles, only Paprocki went so far as to forbid funerals for them.

This letter is not Bishop McGrath’s first step to be more welcoming of LGBT people. Last year, after the massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, he was among the handful of bishops who explicitly mentioned the victims’ sexual and/or gender identities in a statement.

The Diocese of San Jose also hosts the Catholic LGBT Ministry Council, which sponsors monthly “All Are Welcome” Masses at parishes and provides pastoral ministers with welcoming resources.

Criticism of Paprocki has continued from other quarters. A MoveOn.org petition asking Paprocki to reconsider his decree is gaining signatures, and Jim Ketchum wrote in The Times Herald of Michigan:

“Does this mean the church now can bury only saints? Should there be any doubt, it sounds as if you should get your requests for forgiveness in well before your last breath. . .Nobody dies sinless.”

Thankfully, Bishop McGrath has recognized that every person is welcome to pastoral care. His instruction to welcome everyone to the sacraments who “requests them in good faith” echoes Jesus’ invitation in the Gospel, and it mirrors a more merciful tone in the church sought by Pope Francis.

But beyond that, his letter is significant because, even if indirectly, he is publicly challenging a fellow bishop. This development is a sign of health in a church where there is too often silence from bishops when their peers act inappropriately. More U.S. bishops should follow McGrath’s example by issuing guidelines of welcome and inclusion.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 2, 2017

 

Catholics Angered by Bishop’s Attempt to Exclude Lesbian and Gay Couples

Catholics have reacted strongly against Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree prohibiting people in same-gender marriages from participating in the church’s life.

Bishop Paprocki (1)
Contact Bishop Paprocki

Bondings 2.0 reported Thursday on the decree released by the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. In it, Bishop Paprocki instructs pastors to bar people in such marriages from receiving Communion, participating in liturgical ministries, entering RCIA programs, and being granted funerals. You can find an initial report by clicking here.

Yesterday, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, released an open letter to Bishop Paprocki that you can find by clicking here. Today’s post highlights from other Catholic leaders.

Fortunate Families, a network of Catholic parents with LGBT children, published its own letter to Paprocki. The Board referred to the decree as “a hard-hearted document” in which the bishop shows “no pastoral sensitivity, no attempt to dialogue about the positions taken and no effort to reach out to our LGBT children.” The letter continued:

“In denying [LGBT people] the reception of Communion and funeral rites you effectively excommunicate them. Your decree indicates that a dying person who is living publicly in a same sex marriage may be given Holy Communion only if he or she repents. Is being in a same sex marriage on the same level as a person who denies the Creed? Imagine someone in a committed loving relationship for his or her entire life having to choose on his or her deathbed whether to discount a life of love and receive the Body and Blood of Christ or continue a commitment of integrity.”

Fr. James Martin, S.J., who recently published a book on Catholic LGBT issues based on an address he first gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award, posted on Facebook:

“If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. . .they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a ‘sign of unjust discrimination’ (2358).”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement:

“It is simply cruel and shameful to refuse burial or Communion to those who seek the grace and comfort that our Church offers at some of the most difficult moments of life. This is reminiscent of the appalling practice of denying Communion, funerals, and burial to people dying of AIDS at the height of the epidemic. . .[The decree] is unchristian and demeaning. It is totally unworthy of our Catholic faith.”

John Freml, a married gay Catholic in the Diocese of Springfield, told The State Journal-Register the decree “puts priests and other church workers in a difficult position.” Another Catholic in the diocese weighed in:

“Cindy Carlson Rice, also a Springfield Catholic, said she was implicitly told she couldn’t approach for communion because of her support for her daughter’s same-sex marriage. . .said the decree was ‘a smack across the face’ to those LGBT Catholics who have stayed involved in the church.”

In the same article, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said that Bishop Paprocki’s decree goes beyond previous restrictions imposed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other prelates. DeBernardo added, “Paprocki is an anomaly and is not in the mainstream of Catholic thought (with this decree).”

Also quoted was Christopher Pett, the incoming president of DignityUSA, who said:

“Bishop Paprocki’s decree makes it very clear why so many (LGBT) people and their families feel unwelcome in the Catholic Church and why so many leave it. . . .

“This document is mean-spirited and hurtful in the extreme. It systematically and disdainfully disparages us and our relationships. It denies us the full participation in the life of our Church to which we are entitled by our baptism and our creation in God’s image.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter told NPR News that he “can’t imagine a cruder thing more at cross purposes with what the Holy Father is trying to do,” and that “privately, 95 percent of other bishops in the U.S. are reading [the decree] and are horrified. Even the ones who are pretty arch on same-sex marriage think this is too far.”

Bishop Paprocki is defending the decree, telling The Washington Post, “These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues.”

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him. 

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 24, 2017

Related Article

The Chicago Tribune, “Springfield bishop: No communion, last rites, funerals for same-sex couples

 

Dear Bishop Paprocki: An Open Letter

As we reported in yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 post, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, has issued a wide-ranging decree barring lesbian and gay couples in civil marriages from communion, pastoral leadership, being granted funerals, among other things.  The following is an open letter to Bishop Paprocki in response to that decree from New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo.  

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him.  

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

 

Dear Bishop Paprocki,

Your “Decree Regarding Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ and Related Pastoral Issues” has been received by Catholics across the nation with one of the strongest negative reactions that I have witnessed in almost 25 years of ministry with the LGBT community in the Church.

While there have been many harsh and negative statements from church leaders over the past quarter century, I think the reason that people responded so emotionally to your edict is that it addresses two very core Catholic areas:  sacramental experience and life/death issues.

bishop_thomas_j_paprocki
Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Of all the responses that I have heard and read in just the last day–and they have been numerous–the directives you issued which have wounded people most deeply are your prohibition of communion reception by married lesbian and gay people, and your denial of funeral services to the same group.  Catholics just do not understand how such regulations correlate with a Church that preaches love and inclusion.

Most Catholics are well aware that you do not support civil marriage for lesbian and gay people and respect the legal right of Churches not to marry such couples. But Catholics do not understand how this one area of disagreement can lead to such draconian measures of exclusion–especially at times of death, loss, and grief.

Despite whatever good intentions may have motivated you to issue these regulations, you need to know they will, in fact, do no pastoral good, and they will wreak much pastoral harm.  You have not singled out any other group for such negative pastoral treatment.  It seems as if you consider civil same-sex marriage to be the ultimate sin, beyond the pale of any of the countless ways that human beings do not follow church teaching.

Regardless of whatever doctrines you think you are enforcing, the effect of such enforcement will be that more and more Catholics–gay, lesbian, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, and all in-between–will leave the Church because of the negative images of LGBT people and the Catholic Church that you have communicated.  And many will never return.

What’s more, the negative messages that you sent will be heard by many young people (and some who are not so young) who are struggling with their sexual and gender identities.  They will interpret this message as one more piece of evidence that the Church and God do not love them.  That message will move them many steps closer to psychological harm, self-destructive behaviors and tragically, for some, suicide.

Many gay and lesbian couples are leading lives of heroic devotion to each other, their children, and their communities.  Many, too, are leading lives of struggles and stumbles, where they are seeking support from churches.  Those couples who are Catholic seek nourishment for their spiritual and human journeys.  They seek a community where they can share and develop their faith through education, relationship, service, and ritual. They seek Eucharist.

Catholics, who are often very aware of how their lives in many ways do not conform to ideals that the church has presented them, are ready and eager to welcome these lesbian and gay couples into their communities and their hearts.  No Catholic, not even the pope who famously offered the primary definition of himself as a “sinner,” is perfect.  All fall short.  All depend on grace.  The many who seek grace through membership and participation in the Catholic Church should not be denied God’s free gift.

I hope and pray that you will reflect not only on the harm that this decree will cause but also the good that can occur if you withdraw it.  Please welcome lesbian and gay families back into the Springfield Diocese’s Catholic parishes.

Sincerely,

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, June 23, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bishop: Pastors Must Deny Funerals to Catholics in Same-Gender Marriages

An Illinois bishop has released guidelines about same-gender marriages that may greatly restrict participation in his diocese’s parishes by people in such marriages.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki
Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield issued his “Same-Sex Marriage Policies Decree 6-12-2017” earlier this month, which instructs lesbian and gay Catholics along with pastoral ministers on several aspects of ecclesial life.

Addressing the sacraments, Paprocki said people in same-gender marriages should neither seek to receive nor be admitted to Holy Communion because their relationships are of an “objectively immoral nature.” Most strikingly, the bishop decreed about funeral rites:

“Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites. In case of doubt, the proper pastor or parochial administrator is to consult the local ordinary [bishop], whose judgment is to be followed (cf. c. 1184).”

Further restrictions on people in same-gender marriages include the following prohibitions:

  • “[They] are not to serve in a public liturgical ministry, including but not limited to reader and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”;
  • “[They may] not serve as a sponsor for the Sacraments of Baptism or Confirmation”;
  • “[They are] not to be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) or receive the Sacrament of Confirmation unless he or she has withdrawn from the objectively immoral relationship”.

Paprocki’s decree also includes restrictions for pastoral ministers. No church worker, acting in a professional capacity, may participate in same-gender weddings. No church properties may host such weddings, and the bishop even forbids “items dedicated or blessed for use in Catholic worship” from being used in such ceremonies. Church personnel are also forbidden to bless same-gender marriages.

Pastors are further instructed to accept children whose parents are in a same-gender marriage for the Sacraments of Initiation, though pastors must use “due discretion in determining the appropriateness of the public celebration of the baptism.” Likewise, such children are to be admitted to Catholic schools and religious education, but the family “must agree to abide by the Family School Agreement.” To read more about that Agreement, which is LGBT-negative, click here.

Finally, the bishop threatened pastoral ministers that a “culpable violation of any of these norms can be punished with a just penalty.”

This Decree is not entirely novel. Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput sought last summer to bar LGBT people from both Communion and liturgical ministries in his restrictive pastoral guidelines. Elsewhere, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit and former Archbishop John Myers of Newark both told LGBT Catholics and their allies not receive Communion. What is notable about Paprocki’s guidelines is its treatment of funeral rites and threat of punishment for pastoral ministers.

The Decree is also not Bishop Paprocki’s first damaging act against LGBT people and their families. Last year, he implicitly criticized Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich for suggesting that reception of Communion is to be determined by each person according to their conscience. When Illinois passed marriage equality in 2013, Paprocki held a public exorcism because of the law, and had previously suggested that supporters of marriage equality should be disciplined like children.

Beside the obvious pastoral insensitivity, there are a few other things wrong with Paprocki’s new guidelines. In canon law, Canon 1184, which the bishop referenced in regard to funeral rites, says restrictions on such rites should be imposed on “notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics,” those persons who are cremated for “reasons contrary to Christian faith,” and “manifest sinners” whose funerals would be publicly scandalous.

It is discrimination to target LGBT people when, in a certain sense, all Catholics could be deemed “manifest sinners.” Who among us, including Bishop Paprocki, does not publicly sin at different moments? Yet, funeral rites are not denied to Catholics who pay employees an unjust wage, publicly advocate for the death penalty, or deny climate change.

It is cruel to suggest that people who have, by the dictates of their conscience, entered into same-gender marriages should uniformly be equated with apostates and heretics.

Secondly, threatening Catholic pastoral workers with a “just penalty” is improper for someone who is to be a loving shepherd for the diocese. It borders on spiritual abuse to tell pastoral ministers and LGBT Catholics that, should they adhere to a most fundamental church teaching and follow their properly formed consciences, they could be punished by ecclesiastical authorities.

In a moment when a growing number of church leaders, led by Pope Francis, are opening doors to LGBT people and their families, it is tragic that Bishop Paprocki has chosen to act so harmfully. Despite his claims, it is the Decree itself which is the real scandal in this incident.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 22, 2017

As U.S. Bishops Strengthen Religious Liberty Committee, What Does This Mean for LGBT Equality?

U.S. bishops voted last week to strengthen their committee on religious liberty. What might this vote mean for the bishops’ engagement with LGBT rights?

Bishops gather in St Louis for spring general assembly
U.S. bishops meeting in Indianapolis

Meeting in Indianapolis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted 132-53 to make their  Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty a permanent structure. Crux reported:

“Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, committee chairman, said the need for the body stretches beyond the specific legal and public policy issues challenging religious freedom that continue to emerge.

“Lori expressed hope that the committee’s work would help ‘plant the seeds of a movement for religious freedom, which will take years of watering and weeding in order for it to grow, to grow strong and to bear fruit.'”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter detailed the floor debate over the question of a permanent religious liberty committee. He said that listening to Archbishop Lori’s  oft-repeated allegation that expanded LGBT rights threaten religious liberty which expanded LGBT rights bring with them was like “entering a time warp.” Winters questioned “whether the histrionic approach to the issue is truthful or helpful.”

Several bishops vocally challenged making the Committee a permanent one. Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, both Francis appointees, warned sharply against continuing to press the religious liberty agenda while at the same time that the USCCB leadership was proposing to close down the working group on immigration. Winters reported further:

“Tobin and other bishops also questioned the funding of the work of the religious liberty committee: The proposal to make the committee permanent was stated to be budget-neutral and it was pointed out that funding sources dry up for a variety of reasons. Archbishop William Lori did his best to assure his colleagues that the funding was solid and not going anywhere: We know the Knights of Columbus have donated $250,000 to the committee since its inception, and Lori is the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights. But he won’t be forever, and his pal Carl Anderson won’t be Supreme Knight forever, either.”

(Note: The National Catholic Reporter recently published an in-depth analysis of the Knights’ spending. You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of how that funding impacts LGBT issues by clicking here.)

The Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty has spearheaded U.S. bishops’ opposition to LGBT and reproductive rights in recent years.  A main part of their program has been the USCCB’s annual Fortnight for Freedom, which begins today and runs until July 4th.  In April, the USCCB supported the so-called “Inclusion Act,” a federal bill that would allow religiously-affiliated social service providers to discriminate against LGBT people. They have long opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), defending what they understand to be “just” discrimination. And they have acted thus despite the fact a majority of U.S. Catholics oppose religious exemptions from LGBT non-discrimination protections.

Since Pope Francis’ election, many Catholics and observers have wondered if and when the pope’s vision for the church would be realized in the U.S. episcopacy. There has been little movement to this point; indeed, the bishops’ notably stuck to their conservative, anti-LGBT priorities in 2014 and 2015. But the Indianapolis meeting may finally reveal changes. Winters said, “the tide is turning and the ice cracking in the conservative chokehold of the conference.” He explained:

“The turning of the tide was obvious in larger ways, too. In 2016, the bishops overwhelmingly adopted with only a handful of negative votes a strategic plan that was little different from the previous one, despite requests that the new strategic plan better address the changing focus of Pope Francis. The one major change on the strategic plan? They made religious liberty one of their five areas of special concern. Wednesday, however, 53 bishops voted not to make the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty a standing committee. That was insufficient to defeat the proposal, but it showed that Team Francis is not simply going to sit quietly and go along.”

There are genuine attacks on religious liberty in our world. Even in the United States, Muslims and other non-Christians face increasing assaults on their civil rights and their personal safety. Catholics are right to be concerned about these injustices, and to seek recourse in such a way that the religious rights of all people are defended.

The U.S. bishops’ work on religious liberty so far have given little indication that they are concerned about attacks on people of other faiths. Religious liberty has become a nearly empty term when used by them, a tactic in their strategy to undermine LGBT civil rights. Hopefully, in Winters’ term, “Team Francis” bishops will reclaim real religious liberty as the bishops let go of their partisan anti-LGBT agenda that has been all too present in recent years.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 21, 2017