QUOTE TO NOTE: London Cardinal ‘Rejoices’ in LGBT Acceptance, While Still ‘Obstinate’ on Marriage

London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols has been one of the global church’s strongest advocates of pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  At the same time, he has opposed marriage equality though, unlike U.S. bishops, he seems comfortable in making social and ecclesial accommodations for lesbian and gay couples.

The Catholic Herald recently reported on remarks Nichols made at a public lecture.  His remarks show the two sides of his approach to matters of gay sexuality.  The news story stated:

“Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, has said the Church will continue to be ‘obstinate’ about gay marriage and other questions of sexual morality.

“Answering questions after a talk at St Ethelburga’s Centre, London, Cardinal Nichols was asked about the Church’s response to homophobia. The cardinal said that society had become more empathetic and compassionate towards gay people, and that he ‘rejoiced’ in the change.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“However, he went on to say that Catholics ‘still stand for’ a definition of marriage as ‘between a man and a woman’ which is open to new life.

“Cardinal Nichols went on: ‘There has never been a time when Christian sexual morality has been totally accepted in any society.’ But, he said, Christians would ‘persist’ in being ‘awkward’ on such matters.”

No doubt some will criticize Nichols’ opposition to marriage equality and his upholding of traditional church teaching on sexuality.  Nichols is no stranger to criticism, though. For years, conservative Catholics in England have been criticizing the pastoral outreach he began to London’s LGBT community, some of these critics even bringing their complaints to the Vatican. Nichols, however, stood firm, and the pastoral outreach program, LGBT Catholics Westminster, is alive, well, and thriving today.

While Nichols may be correct that Christian sexual morality has never been totally accepted in any society, that doesn’t mean that Christian sexual ethics hasn’t changed as new scientific information and social understandings and customs have evolved.   The fact that ethical principles have changed over the centuries is the best argument that they can change in the future.

Still, Nichols serves as a model to other prelates that their opposition to same-gender marriage does not mean that they cannot welcome LGBT people into the church community.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 15, 2017

 

Ten Years Later, Sr. Margaret Farley’s “Just Love” Is Still a Most Radical Book

This weekend, Catholics are gathering in Chicago for New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Today’s post reflects on Sister Margaret Farley’s groundbreaking work, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Farley, whose justice-oriented sexual ethic has greatly advanced the conversation on LGBT issues in the church, addressed Symposia in 1992, 1997, and 2007. She also received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in 2002.

justloveUnsurprisingly, the 2010 Notification that Margaret Farley received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about her book, Just Love, missed not only the forest for the trees; it missed the trees for the minutiae of their bark.

Far from engaging Farley’s vision, intentionally laid out as she weaves tradition with contemporary knowledge, the Notification issued is a poor, proof-texted engagement. But a reader more receptive to Farley’s work easily sees not only the forest, but the horizon to which this theological giant is leading, and gratefully joins the path towards it.

Questions of sexuality and gender have progressed rapidly in the decade or so since Just Love was published. Yet Farley’s insights, deeply drawn from her first section on traditions, still speak to new and emerging issues. [To read a summary of Just Love’s ethical principles, click here.]

One example of these issues is the Synod on the Family. The synod process made clear how inexperienced many Catholic bishops are at negotiating cross-cultural ethics.The Synod also raised an old question in a new way: In a truly global church, can the Vatican really pronounce on universal norms beyond the most fundamental of principles? In other words, are issues of family life, sexuality, and society today too complex and diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach?

Emerging churches, particularly in Africa, have resisted more permissive stances on sexuality with claims of “ideological colonization,” a term notably used by Francis, the church’s first pope from the Global South. Farley identifies the troubling dynamic driving many such claims: sexual control has been central to Western colonization and postcolonial regions are still grappling with this damaging legacy. Acknowledging these traumas is absent from magisterial discourse today, even as theologians have welcomed such necessary dialogue through international conferences such as Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church.

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Sister Margaret Farley

Another emerging issue is gender and its relation to sexuality, now hotly contested in many contexts due to the expansion of transgender rights. Farley’s technical treatment of intersex and trans identities needs some updating given new research in this area, but, more significantly, she remains open to the realities of such persons, writing that “[n]o one ought to pass judgement on any configurations of gender [emphasis added].” This outward-looking stance paired with compassion means her larger points retain their integrity.

No statement of Farley’s is more relevant for today, when “gender wars” are rapidly and harmfully intensifying,  than when she observes that “[g]ender wars would cease if we saw that we are not ‘opposite’ sexes but persons with somewhat different (but, in fact, very similar!) bodies.” Farley’s sexual ethic, with its roots in justice, is wonderful for slowly shifting the conversation beyond a primary concern with whom one has physical intimacy (raising questions of sexual and/or gender identity) to a primary concern about how one has sexual intimacy (raising questions of bodies, abilities, pleasures, and participants).

Finally, though Just Love can and should speak to many emerging questions, conversations about consent could benefit greatly from her just sex framework. To the detriment of healthy sexual relationships, consent has been reduced to saying “no,” or under affirmative consent thinking, the absence of an active and enthusiastic “yes.”  While such models are being used to educate youth and young adults, particularly in higher education, as correctives against society’s historical failure to address sexual violence, they are not adequate.

Despite their good intent, such models are actually doing harm because they employ a mechanical understanding of sexual acts that excludes context and relationality. Farley is clear that free consent and respect for bodily autonomy are minimal norms for just sex, but she is equally clear that sexual justice means more. She insists that sexual acts cannot be separated from the contexts in which they happen, and the foremost context is relationality. Incorporating Farley’s theory of sexual justice into understandings of consent would both help curb sexual violence and promote healthier relationships.

Ten years on, it is clear that Just Love’s relevance has only grown, and that Christian ethical reflection has yet to receive fully its wisdom. Farley’s writing is precise and thorough, reflecting the years she spent laying the foundations for her sexual ethic. Behind her clear argumentation are complex layers of meaning with which the reader must repeatedly grapple. Her closing section on contexts for just love, addressing matters like same-gender relationships and persons who are divorced and/or remarried, is really the springboard Farley provides for Christians to employ her framework in their own research, contexts, and lives.

But what may be most clear of all is that Vatican’s fears were, in one way, fully warranted. Just Love is a truly radical text, which, received more and more fully by Christians, has and will continue to alter radically our lives and the life of our churches. It lays before us a road to full equality for LGBT people, one recognizing the beauty of diverse sexual and gender identities, the goodness of same-gender sexual intimacy, and the gift that every family is to our church.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 28, 2017

U.S. Bishops Back “Inclusion Act,” Which Seeks to Exclude LGBT Adoptive Parents

Attempting to redefine what inclusion means, the U.S. bishops endorsed the U.S. House of Representatives’ “Inclusion Act,” which aims to protect social services agencies who exclude same-gender couples from being foster or adoptive parents. Crux reported:

“Three bishops, in a joint letter to the measure’s sponsor, voiced their support of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would permit social service agencies to refuse on religious grounds to provide adoption or foster services for households headed by same-sex couples.”

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USCCB headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The three church leaders behind the letter–Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore;  and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska–are the respective chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Religious Liberty;and the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

Bishops claim the Act, if passed, would advance religious liberty by ending “unjust discrimination” against those providers who deny services to people based on the agency’s religious and moral beliefs. The bishops also claimed:

“‘Women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose from a diversity of adoption agencies, including those that share the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions.'”

Controversies about adoption rights have increased in the last decade as more jurisdictions legalize same-gender couples’ rights to marriage or civil unions. In the U.S., Catholic Charities and other church-related agencies have stopped providing adoption services in Massachusetts, Illinois, and the District of Columbia because as government-funded organizations they could not exclude LGBT clients.

Church institutions elsewhere have followed a similar pattern despite more supportive stances held by Catholics in the pews. The Missionary Sisters of Charity, the community which Mother Teresa founded, stopped facilitating adoptions in 2015 because they feared single gay people would become parents. Scotland’s St. Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society successfully attained the right to discriminate against LGBT clients. And, according to an unconfirmed report from one of Malta’s bishops, Pope Francis was “shocked” in 2014 to find out that same-gender couples could be granted adoption rights in the island nation.

[Editor’s note: a follow-up post on Bondings 2.0 later this week will dig deeper into the intricacies in these issues by exploring a story from Australia about Catholic parents, LGBT rights, and adoption.]

Given the U.S. political environment, including Judge Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court, it is uncertain whether the so-called Inclusion Act will succeed. But even if the legislation fails, there is a larger issue for Catholics at play. We must not allow the rich concept of inclusion, a defining value of Jesus’ ministry, to be hijacked by church officials for their LGBT-negative agenda.

Real inclusion, in the law and in the church, would recognize that the greater good is for children to be in loving homes, and for families to be strengthened by the protections and assistance which the State can offer. Those ideals are deeply rooted in the Catholic social tradition. It is from these places from which we should be the basis of Catholic adoption policy.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 18, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Seattle’s Gay Mayor Ed Murray and His Catholic Journey

Back in 2012, when the marriage equality debate was in full swing in Washington State, one of the leading voices in the push for equality was Ed Murray, a gay Catholic state senator.   Murray, the chief senate sponsor of the marriage legislation, was tireless in his campaigning, and often spoke of his faith as one of the reasons he was working for LGBT equality.

Murray, now the mayor of Seattle, was recently profiled by Seattle Weeklyand, interestingly, the focus was not on the fact that he was a gay mayor, but a Catholic one.  As the magazine article points out, Seattle is tied “with San Francisco and Portland for the least religious city in the country.”  Only 13% of residents identify as Catholic, while 37% identify as religiously unaffiliated.

In Seattle during the 2012 marriage equality campaign, Mayor Ed Murray is flanked by New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick.

While Seattle has had Catholic mayors in the past, what makes Murray’s faith so unusual is that he speaks so openly about it:  he’s an “out and proud” Catholic.  And the magazine finds a particular detail about Murray’s depth of religious commitment very interesting:

“Indeed, Murray’s Catholic faith can seem a study in contradiction. Not only is he a practicing Catholic in a secular city, he is a gay man who has remained in a church that has been outright hostile toward homosexuality.”

So, the reporter set out to gauge “whether Murray was a ‘true’ Catholic—a question that has been raised elsewhere on account of his sexuality and stances on various public-policy issues.”  The answer to that question is the basis of the long, but interesting article which chronicles Murray’s faith development that has led to his “consideration of the priesthood, his decision to leave the Catholic Church, and, ultimately, his return to the fold and how it has helped guide his first term as mayor.”

While the article is well-worth reading for all Bondings 2.0 readers, those who are 55 years of age and older will certainly identify with Murray’s story.  He speaks poignantly of coming of age in the era of John F. Kennedy’s election as President and the transformation of the Catholic Church due to the Second Vatican Council.  Rev. Mike Ryan, the rector of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral who knew Murray as a teenager and who is still a close friend, remembers the adolescent who would become mayor:

” ‘He made an impression, which is unusual,’ says Ryan, who at that time was involved in youth outreach and meeting a large number of young people. ‘Normally you meet high-school kids, they’re not thinking about the big picture. Then here’s someone who cared about issues of justice, peace, world issues, that was not typical of his contemporaries. He took a Catholic point of view [on those issues], the Catholic social teaching, which is some ways is one of the best-kept Catholic secrets.’ “

Ed Murray and his husband Michael Shiosaki at their 2013 wedding.

The article also recounts Murray’s coming out as a gay man, and how Catholic pastoral ministers supported him in that process:

“After graduating from high school, Murray attended St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, exploring the priesthood. After a year there, he decided against it, and finished his college studies at the University of Portland, a Catholic institution. There he got to know Trappist monks who introduced him to monastic worship, and counseled him on, among other things, his homosexuality, which he began to acknowledge in college. Far from the pious recriminations one might expect, Murray says that in college he was encouraged by priests to embrace that part of himself, rather that feel shame about it. It was further evidence, for Murray, that the Catholic Church, especially in its social-justice form, was a home for him, rather than the prison many people considered it.”

In the 1990s, Murray was a state representative and working for an LGBT anti-discrimination bill.  The Seattle Archdiocese, under Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, had originally supported the measure.  But in the 1990s, the new Archbishop Thomas Murphy opposed it, causing a crisis of faith for Murray, as he explains:

“After sticking with the Church for years, despite its poor record on many gay-rights issues, Murray says he couldn’t take it any more.

” ‘Most of my friends would die by the time I was 40 of AIDS, [and] we had a pope [John Paul II] who was pretty horrible on the issue of HIV/AIDS,’ Murray says. When the archdiocese reversed its stance on the anti-discrimination bill, “you had a Church that was opposing my civil rights.

” ‘I reached a point where it’s like, this does not work. This does not work for me.’ At 40 years old, he quit practicing Catholicism.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story:

“. . . [F]or Murray, life outside the church proved less tenable that his life within it. Strangely, what brought Murray back to the church was the work of a Protestant, Kathleen Norris. In 1997, during Murray’s second full term in office, the South Dakota author published The Cloister Walk, a memoir of her time spent at Benedictine monasteries. A bestseller, it reminded Murray of his time with the Trappist monks in Oregon. ‘I read it, and it really was like a glass wall shattered. Here was a Protestant woman from the Dakotas introducing my tradition back to me. … I didn’t feel spiritually whole until I came back to the church as a practicing Catholic. There’s no other explanation I can give for it: As a spiritual home and a spiritual experience, it’s where I belong.’ “

Though most of his contemporaries have left the Church because of gender issues, he remains. Faith still presents a challenge to him, and he sees that as a good thing:

“If you read the Gospel, it is not about being together with a bunch of people you feel good about. It’s about being places that are uncomfortable with you. So am I challenging myself more as a Christian if I sit in a congregation where everyone believes the same as I do, or am I being more of a Christian if I’m sitting in the congregation where the nun in the pew ahead of me goes down and testifies against marriage equality and sometimes I want to throw a missal at her head?”

In another interview, Murray acknowledged that, in terms of church, he is “kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop … I always have one foot in the door and one foot out the door. I never know if I’m going to stay or if I’m out.”  Yet the Pope Francis papacy seems to have given him hope.  The Seattle Weekly  story concludes:

“Murray says he was skeptical of Francis at first as well. But he was soon convinced that Francis was true to his hype—a fact underscored in 2015 when Francis released his encyclical on climate change as a social-justice issue. Shortly after publishing the teaching, Pope Francis invited 40 mayors from across the world to the Vatican to discuss ways to fight climate change. Among them was Murray, the man who had considered the priesthood, left the Church in a rage, and more recently been made to feel like such a pariah that he feared being denied Communion.

“Murray says he was unsure at first whether the Vatican had made a mistake. ‘When they sent the invitation, we had folks call the Vatican and say, “Are you sure you understand who I am, and that you’re inviting me?” ‘ Murray says. ‘They said, yes, they wanted me to come.’ “

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting Ed Murray in Seattle in the summer of 2012, when Sister Jeannine Gramick and I were in Washington State for Catholics for Marriage Equality events (see photo above).   He struck me then as someone whose faith identity was evident in the way he spoke and listened to people.  Reading about his journey of faith gave me a deeper appreciation for the many ways that LGBT Catholics and their allies are using their religious heritage to renew the world and the Church.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 28, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.    

Bondings 2.0  posts about Ed Murray:

February 2, 2012: “N.Y. Times Reports Incorrectly on Catholic Opposition to Marriage Equality

August 26, 2012:  “New Ways Ministry Supports Marriage Equality Efforts in Washington State

October 17, 2012: “Marriage Debate Brings Out Deep Faith and Thought in Catholics

October 31, 2012: “Prayerful Vigils and Reflections Highlight Lead Up to Election Day in Washington State

 

“The Benedict Option” and LGBT People, Part I

A controversial new book comes out this week, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, which claims so-called orthodox Christians (including those defined, in large part, by a commitment to heteronormativity) should be prepared to withdraw from Western culture.

That proposed withdrawal, in the style of St. Benedict’s 6th-century withdrawal from a collapsing Roman Empire, is due largely to Western societies’ liberalizing views on gender and sexuality. The book’s description calls the social context today “a new, post-Christian barbarism.”

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Katie Grimes

Theologian Katie Grimes, who teaches at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, anticipates the book with an analysis of the very communities Dreher’s Benedict Option would leave behind, namely LGBT people.

Writing at the blog Women in Theology, Grimes said she neither wants to neither weigh-in on Dreher’s specific vocation nor review the yet unpublished book. Instead, she wants to “alleviate the fears that Dreher has expressed in blog posts and interviews,” where he has suggested LGBT rights threaten the religious liberty of orthodox Christians. Grimes described the author’s  fears:

“Dreher fears that someday Christians who express public opposition to gay marriage will encounter ‘hostile work conditions, including dismissal from your job.’ . . . that someday Christians who express public opposition to gay marriage will incur ‘all the legal sanctions that now apply to people who openly express racist views.’ . . . that orthodox Christians will not be allowed to own businesses unless they submit to serving LGBT customers. . . that someday progressive Christians ‘far in the future [will turn in orthodox Christians who have had to go into hiding].'”

Grimes points out that those very fears expose “the reality that LGBT people have already lived. . . proves much worse than the future Dreher fears.” Grimes continues:

“In addition to being fired, ridiculed, and hunted by state agents, LGBT people continue to endure evils that do not appear even in Dreher’s worst nightmares such as being beaten and killed, ostracized from and even kicked out of their families of origin, denied housing, unable to visit sick partners in hospitals, and disinherited. . .If LGBT people in this country experience less mistreatment today than in years past, it is in large part because they both need less protection from the culture and receive more protection from the state.”

Grimes is clear she does not want Dreher’s Christians, “should they become an endangered minority,” to face such discrimination and violence. They should be, in her words, treated as any other human being “in all its messy and beautiful complexity.”

Thus, she makes a series of solidarity commitments that include protesting if  “an employer fires you upon discovering that you are married to one woman and intend to remain so until death parts you” and defending them if “members of your same sex unleash a campaign of corrective rape aimed at changing your sexual orientation.” But, Grimes continued:

“Of course, Dreher does not fear that orthodox Christians will be in any way harmed for selecting a spouse in accordance with their sexual orientation or participating in a heterosexual, monogamous, and lifelong marriage. He fears only that orthodox Christians will somehow be punished for expressing their opposition to gay marriage in public. Put another way, Dreher resists a future in which orthodox Christians will have to selectively hide their true identity from certain employers, family members, and neighbors like LGBT people do.”

Using divorce and remarriage as an example, Grimes said liberalizing laws on these issues did not threaten Christians because divorced persons were assumed to be safe. Lack of discrimination and violence against them has meant they are not a protected class, unlike LGBT people, and meant further there has not been sharp pushback from divorced persons against Christians with differing views.

But for LGBT people, Grimes said Dreher “implies that orthodox Christian liberty necessarily would come at the expense of LGBT people’s lives. . .that the gay rights movement will inflict a mortal wound upon orthodox Christianity.” This is, however, not the case because “most people have turned towards LGBT people” rather than first rejecting heteronormative claims.

Finally, Grimes affirmed a way forward in which LGBT equality is ensured while right-wing Christians are respected:

“If orthodox Christians begin to treat LGBT people the way they currently treat divorced people, then it seems likely that progressives would treat orthodox Christians the way they currently treat people who condemn divorce.

“Dreher can do even more to secure the liberty of orthodox Christians living in parts of the world in which they no longer comprise the political or cultural majority by working to awaken the consciences of those who still do.  Orthodox Christianity ought to “own up” not just to its anti-gay past, but to its anti-gay present as well. The historical injustices Dreher laments continue to occur still today.  Dreher encourages other orthodox Christians to disengage/pull away from a society that will not let them speak freely, but what about those LGBT people who cannot hide from the orthodox Christians who remain in control?”

Grimes asked in conclusion, “Will orthodox Christians like Dreher pledge to do for LGBT people of all religious backgrounds what I have pledged to do for orthodox Christians?”

41qy2bzzazfl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Rod Dreher’s drastic proposal that Christians withdraw from Western society primarily over LGBT rights is understandably disputed. It will be interesting to see how reactions and responses evolve. But Katie Grimes’ anticipatory article does a good job of grounding the conversation in history and in the realities of LGBT people’s lives.

Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will continue this conversation. In the meantime, whether you have read Dreher’s book or not, let us know what you think about the “Benedict Option” idea or Grimes’ response in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 21, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Same-Gender Love “Not a Natural Condition,” Says Vatican Official

A senior Vatican official who defended the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics has said such openness does not apply to same-gender relationships, which he said were “not a natural condition.”

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Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, made his comments in a recent interview with Crux.

The cardinal sparked headlines earlier this month for publishing a booklet in which he defended Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Crux reported further:

“Asked if this interpretation applies also to gay couples who live together, some civilly married too, Coccopalmerio said that it’s ‘clearly’ not the same situation because for Church teaching and doctrine, ‘it’s not a natural condition. We can accept them, welcome them, accept their decision, but it’s not [the same].'”

The booklet, titled The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’, was offered as a “simplification” against claims by more traditionalist Catholics that there was doctrinal confusion, Coccopalmerio said. Though not released in any formal capacity, his comments are especially noteworthy because the Pontifical Council he oversees is charged with interpreting church documents. He is also a member of both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Apostolic Signatura.

Coccopalmerio’s reasoning is worth a closer consideration given his tenuous claim that same-gender couples can not be included in his communion idea. In the booklet, the cardinal explained the conditions under which a Catholic in a “non-legitimate” heterosexual relationship could receive Communion: the person is “conscious of the wrongness of the situation, has the desire to change it but can’t because it would hurt innocent people, such as the children,” and has consulted a priest and/or bishop to find a “common solution” through dialogue. America reported on a case study offered by the cardinal:

“He cited as an example the case of a woman who is free to marry according to church law and decides to enter into a stable relationship and lives with a married man, whose wife had left him with three young children. In such a case, he explained, ‘the children would now consider her their mother and for the man, she is his life,’ as she means everything to him. If she eventually recognizes the problem with her situation and decides to leave, then her husband and children will find themselves in great difficulty. But the cardinal said, ‘If this woman concludes “I cannot leave. I cannot do such harm to them,” then this situation, where she wants to change but cannot change, opens the possibility of admissions to the sacraments.’

“In such a situation, the cardinal said, there is the recognition of sin and the sincere desire to change but also the impossibility of making it happen. In this situation, he would tell her, ‘remain in this situation, and I absolve you.’ While he said that he has never had to refuse absolution to anyone, the cardinal nevertheless insisted that ‘one cannot give absolution except to persons who are repentant and desire or want to change their situation, even if they cannot put their desire into practice now because that would harm innocent persons.’ In this way, he said, ‘the doctrine is safeguarded but takes account of the impossibility.’

Coccopalmerio also said that ideally such a couple should live without sexual intimacy, but also noted that Amoris Laetitia referenced Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, where it is acknowledged that lack of such intimacy could deeply harm relationships. It may be impossible, he admitted, for couples in “non-legitimate” situations to practice complete abstinence. He ultimately affirmed the necessity of Catholics in these situations to make a conscience decision.

amorislaetitia1
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I explained his reasoning in such detail above because as I read the interview, I wondered why his reasoning about Catholics who are divorced and remarried cannot, in his estimation, apply to Catholics in same-gender relationships. If his positions are accepted and engaged, then shouldn’t same-gender couples be able to receive Communion after consulting a priest, making penance, and following their consciences, even if they remain in such situations? Granted, given the Magisterium’s present articulations of church doctrine, there are differences between the two groups, but appeals to conscience make no such distinctions. Every person is mandated to follow the decisions of a properly formed conscience.

The reason for Coccopalmerio’s dissonance is his statement about same-gender relationships as “not a natural condition.” Such a statement reveals inadequate knowledge about sexuality, and likely an unfamiliarity with the lives of LGB people. He appears unable to imagine same-gender relationships as loving and generative, and worse yet, he seems to imply LGB people have less moral agency than their heterosexual peers.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio is not the first, and sadly will not be the last, church leader to hold such errant views about sexuality. But I find his remarks particularly disheartening. When news of his booklet first broke, I was glad to see a Vatican official so willing to practice the mercy and respect for conscience called for by Pope Francis. That he could not extend that willingness to include LGBT people greatly undercuts his message. I pray his eyes will be opened to that natural and divine spark found and mixed-gender and same-gender relationships alike.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 24, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Discussion and Diversity Bring Unity, Not Schism

I read a commentary this past weekend about the Anglican Church and marriage equality, and one of the points made has me thinking about why the Roman Catholic hierarchy has been so negative on LGBT issues.

An essay by Alf McCreary in Northern Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph responded to the Church of England General Synod’s recent rejection of a bishops’ report re-affirming marriage is only between a man and a woman.  McCreary’s evaluation of the decision is:

“. . . [T]he Church is in a no-win situation. The latest developments in the Church of England , following a three-year process that had attempted to solve this most divisive issue, merely showed how difficult it is, if not impossible, to satisfy both sides.”

McCreary steps back a bit from the Anglican debate to look, somewhat wistfully it seems, at the Roman Catholic situation in regard to marriage equality:

“This [marriage equality] is one of the most difficult issues facing mainstream churches the world over. With the exception of the Roman Catholic Church – it is still firmly against same-sex marriage and gay ordination, despite the fact that many of its clergy and laity are gay and lesbian.

“The Catholic Church’s attitude is the easier to live with. Its overwhelming opposition to LGBT issues stifles open debate, and it presents on the surface at least a united opposition to change.”

I admit that I chuckled a bit when I read these lines, thinking to myself, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  But then I wondered if maybe McCreary might be onto something.  Is the Roman Catholic hierarchy just afraid that if they open the discussion on this issue that major confusion will break out in the Church?

I have to admit that I often assume that the reason Catholic leaders won’t discuss LGBT issues is because they believe that they know all there is to know and that they are right in their position. McCreary’s essay has me wondering if perhaps another motivation might also exist:  they don’t want division in the Church, which is what is happening in many other Christian denominations, including the Anglicans, who have had the courage to open a discussion.

The synods on the family in 2014 and 2015 are examples where open discussion was finally allowed in the Church, and bishops spoke their minds.  The world did not end.

Granted, LGBT issues received short shrift at the synods, but other contentious issues like divorce/remarriage did get more comprehensive discussions.  And disagreement was enormous, but the Church, as an institution, stayed strong. No schism happened.  In fact, the unity of the Catholic Church probably was strengthened by the discussion.

If Roman Catholic bishops and Vatican leaders think that they will contain the debate on LGBT issues by not providing it an official forum, they are sadly mistaken.  The discussion is happening in all areas and levels of the Church.  It has been going on for decades, even under the previous two popes who actively tried to silence the debate.  Stifling or ignoring the discussion are the things that endanger the unity of the Church, not participating in free and robust discussion.

The universal Christian Church, born on Pentecost, was born amid a diversity of languages, not a single, authoritative one.  The power of the Catholic Church, which claims to a universal one which embraces all cultures and languages, is in its diversity, not its uniformity.

The Catholic discussion of LGBT issues is blossoming and growing. The Spirit will not be silenced. If bishops choose not to be a part of it, they will be the ones who are diminished by their absence.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 20, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.