Balancing Justice and Mercy in Pope Francis’ Teaching

Two key buzzwords of Pope Francis’ papacy have been “justice” and “mercy.”  Time and again, the first Latin American pope has called world leaders to enact justice for the victims of poverty, war, and social oppression.  And just as frequently, he has called church leaders to extend mercy to those who seek God, but whose lives may not conform in every way to the doctrinal purity that was emphasized by the previous two popes.

Among many people who have been observing Pope Francis’ words and deeds about LGBT issues, there has been a fervent hope and desire that he would meld justice and mercy when dealing with internal church matters.  Yes, LGBT Catholics need mercy from church leaders, but they also seek justice, too.  Many have expressed that Francis would direct calls for justice to church leaders, just as he has done to world leaders.

A new essay on the Vatican Insider website by British theologian Stephen Walford shows, in part how Francis has already made this connection between justice and mercy in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. The focus of the essay is about the exhortation’s treatment of allowing divorced/remarried Catholics to receive communion, but, of necessity, to analyze this topic, Walford occasionally argues about the larger questions of justice and mercy.  [The essay is comprehensive in scope, so I will only focus on a few excerpts here.  For those readers with more theological interests, I suggest reading the entire essay by clicking here. A “hat tip” to the UK’s Martin Pendergast for alerting me to this essay.]

After an extensive introductory section on theological and pastoral issues involved in the formation and respect for conscience,  Walford raises an interesting distinction between justice and mercy:

“If there is one major criticism of those who oppose the Holy Father –and this includes some priests and bishops unfortunately – it is an apparent lack of interest in trying to understand the situations of real people. It probably explains why the practice of discernment is so widely ridiculed. To get to the heart of these situations is to open oneself to the possibility that maybe there is more to the story than a legal answer will allow. Personally, I have a suspicion this is why the devotion to the Divine Mercy in the form presented by the Lord to St. Faustina seems to be frowned upon among many traditionalists-certainly in English speaking countries. The justice of God is easier to accept – we have the rules, if we fail we know the consequences; in essence, safety from the awful anger of almighty God. But of course, that is not the way to form a deep friendship with Jesus. Mercy on the other hand implies a God who desires to reach out and lift up; to not ask many questions, rather just see the joy of reconciliation.”

Walford observes, however, that pastoral care that is grounded only in a rules-based approach to Catholic teaching is neither justice nor mercy.  In disputing an American canon law scholar’ argument which values a rules-based approach to the question of the reception of communion, Walford offers a Scriptural example where justice and mercy are united:

“I would humbly suggest to Dr Peters that throwing the law book at all these situations as if pastoral application is not possible is not the way of Jesus. In the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, we know Jesus addressed the Pharisees first. He didn’t dismiss the Law of Moses at all; he simply invited whoever was without sin to throw the first stone. (In fact we could say that he applied a ‘new’ canon to that law with that question). As the Pharisees left the scene one by one, only one was left; the Lawgiver himself-that is a law of love and mercy. Jesus himself was now the only one who had a right (with his new pastoral application!) to stone her to death. But of course he didn’t because the law would have condemned her immediately, and possibly to eternal damnation if no repentance had been shown and no other mitigating factors had rendered her less guilty. No, Jesus wasn’t interested in that outcome, he didn’t even ask if she was sorry; and if she was not repentant, he being God, knew that also. Still the fact remains he ignored the rule and penalty of the law in order for a higher good to possibly come about. He told her to go and sin no more because that was fundamentally more important for her soul than the correct application of the law which would have ended any chance of spiritual ascent.”

And in his conclusion, Walford offers an important interpretive lens with which to read the apostolic exhortation and the pontiff:

“Humility is the key to accepting what may be for some a genuine difficulty in understanding Amoris Laetitia, or indeed the entire charism of Pope Francis.”

Walford’s essay reminds us that the church’s teachings on justice, mercy, sin, and conscience are more complex than we sometimes acknowledge them to be.   If you are interested in these types of questions, and particularly how they apply to LGBT issues, I invite you to attend New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” April 28-30, 2017,  Chicago, Illinois.   Among the topics to be examined in the light of justice, mercy, and LGBT issues will be social ethics, sexual ethics, church employment questions, criminalization laws, youth and young adults, transgender and intersex topics, Hispanic communities, gay priests and brothers, lesbian nuns, and parish ministry.   For full details and registration form, visit www.Symposium2017.org. Register today!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 25, 2017

 

 

Conscience, Yes. But a Common Understanding of It in the Age of Pope Francis? Not Yet.

Be sure to vote for the Best and Worst Catholic LGBT News of 2016. You can vote by clicking here. Voting closes at 5:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time on Thursday, December 29th.

A bedrock principle in Catholic morality is the primacy of conscience, a teaching recovered by Vatican II and now being further advanced by Pope Francis. But disputes about what conscience means and how it should be applied have intensified after the release of the pope’s apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, this past April.

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Pope Francis

Theologians Michael G. Lawler and Todd A. Salzman offered their reflection on conscience in the National Catholic Reporter. They called the pope’s thoughts on conscience “one of the most important teachings in the apostolic exhortation.” In one paragraph they sketched the main question on conscience in Catholic thought:

“Stated succinctly, is conscience subjective and internal and truth objective and external, whereby the subjective and internal conscience must obey and conform to the objective and external truth? Or does conscience include both the objective and subjective realms, whereby conscience discerns and interprets its understanding of objective truth and exercises that understanding in the subjective judgment of conscience?”

Salzman and Lawler stated the question even more simply, citing theologian Fr. Joseph Fuchs: “Does a truth exist ‘in itself’ or ‘in myself’?” Their analysis is far longer than can be described here, but for anyone inclined to read more, which I highly recommend, you can find it here.

What I will highlight here is their commentary on Pope Francis and his teaching on conscience not only in Amoris Laetitia, but in his earlier exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Salzman and Lawler said the pope’s “model of conscience. . .provides a faithful and merciful guide for couples who are in irregular situations and empowers them to follow their inviolable conscience on this important issue.”

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Todd A. Salzman

Pope Francis, they noted, has said “realities are more important than ideas,” and that ideas cannot be separated from reality but rather the two must be dialectically related.This approach contrasts sharply with some bishops’ interpretation and implementation of Amoris Laetitia. The theologians identified specifically the restrictive pastoral guidelines of Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, which, among other sanctions, bar people in same-gender relationships from parish and liturgical ministries.

Salzman and Lawler proceeded by pointing out the “vast disconnect” between the ideas informing the Magisterium’s teaching on sexual ethics and the realities of Catholics’ lives whereby:

“[T]he majority of educated Catholics judge these norms are detached from reality, and Catholics are following their consciences to make practical judgments on these and other moral matters.”

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Michael G. Lawler

Instead of division, Pope Francis seeks a harmony between ideas and reality. Conscience, the pope says, must be listened to in making up one’s mind about how to act on moral issues and then it must be followed. To not act in accordance with one’s conscience is “a sin.” Without affirming relativism, the pope is offering an “affirmation of objective truth that recognizes plural and partial truths that must be discerned by conscience informed by, among other sources, external, objective norms.”

The theologians cite Pope Francis himself to define the limitations of Amoris Laetitia and affirm the necessary role of conscience to complete its reception. They wrote:

“There is an ‘immense variety of concrete situations’ and situations can be so vastly different that his document, the pope confesses, cannot ‘provide a new set of rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases’ (Amoris Laetitia, 300). The only moral solution to any and every situation is a path of careful discernment accompanied by a priest and a final judgment of personal conscience that commands us to do this or not to do that (Amoris Laetitia, 300-305). Only such an informed conscience can make a moral judgment about the details of any and every particular situation.”

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David Cloutier

Another theologian, David Cloutier, responded to Salzman and Lawler in a piece for Commonweal. He objected to certain points in their article, and made a larger point that he believes continuing battles about conscience and church authority d0 not help the church, nor do such battles “address the real substance of the particular issues of Amoris Laetitia or the larger challenges of Catholic morality.”

While I question much of Cloutier’s argument, which seeks to restrict understandings of conscience in moral theology, he made an interesting point about setting conscience within the context of community:

“I personally would like to read Pope Francis’s teaching in the eighth chapter of Amoris Laetitia as about a Church that practices Vatican II’s universal call to holiness, even in very difficult and conflicted situations. . .The pope rightly is pushing for a community that is serious and deep in its encounter with Christ and His call to the Kingdom [sic], but does not confuse that ‘holiness’ with a kind of individual athleticism and perfection. . .It is not about jurisdictional arguments. To the contrary, the universal call to holiness is supposed to liberate us from a legalistic account of the morality of the Catholic laity that hinged on applying and authorizing various rules and exceptions. It does so not by ignoring or pretending away difficulties under the guise of personal autonomy, but by pushing us more deeply into ecclesial community so that we can face them together, honestly.”

I think the challenge of Amoris Laetitia’s reception and the larger question of conscience is not Cloutier’s zero-sum structure where conscience recedes while practice of the virtues in community grows. Rather, it is a question of more fully and comprehensively receiving Vatican II, whose teachings include conscience, the universal call to holiness, and many other connected issues for Christian living. This process of reception today means rethinking existing paradigms, even postconciliar ones, and envisioning new possibilities. This process and its fruits are “both/and” realities.

If Cloutier is correct, then what Pope Francis is affirming in his vision of a more inclusive ecclesial community whose members are mature Christians. This kind of church is already being lived into by LGBT Catholics and other people who have been excluded. Precisely because they have been excluded and condemned, such Catholics have had no choice but to form their consciences and live according to them. this process has often been lived out by others in communities at the church’s peripheries, too. Where the institutional church under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI looked backwards, advocating regressive ideas about conscience and authority, marginalized Catholics took Vatican II’s teachings to heart and looked forward.

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Bishops gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican II

Pope Francis is, if nothing else, very much a priest formed by the Council. His exhortations, along with his other teachings and daily witness, very much incarnate the Christian life Vatican II imagined for the entire faithful. Like all of us, Francis is imperfect and he shows a particular deficit in his knowledge of gender and sexuality. But unlike his predecessors, he is humble enough to admit he is imperfect; his teaching often poses questions rather than providing answers.

This coming week, I will offer a more thorough analysis of Pope Francis’ engagement with LGBT issues in 2016, and I would invite readers’ own thoughts then. For now, I express this hope for the church in 2017:  May the faithful, especially institutional leaders and ministers, be concerned more about questions than answers, respect for conscience than blind obedience, and unity in diversity than purity through division.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 27, 2016

QUOTE TO NOTE: On Church Gatekeepers

computer_key_Quotation_MarksBondings 2.0 has reported on the Vatican-level debate between four cardinals, led by Cardinal Raymond Burke, and Pope Francis about the doctrinal validity of Amoris Laetitia, the pope’s apostolic exhortation on the family. Last week, Father Pio Vito Pinto, the head judge of the Roman Rota, the Vatican’s highest court, weighed in on this debate, strongly criticizing the cardinals for causing what he called a “very grave scandal.”

Vito Pinto, who was appointed in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI, made his comments in a talk he gave at the University of San Damaso, Madrid, at a conference on marriage annulment reforms. Crux reported on his comments, noting that he said the four cardinals were criticizing “two synods of bishops on marriage and family. Not one but two! An ordinary and an extraordinary one. The action of the Holy Spirit is beyond doubt!”

Additionally, he challenged pastors who see their role as gatekeepers for the Church:

“[T]he priest said that in countries such as Italy, Spain or Poland, religious marriage is still highly valued, but ‘the truth is that many baptized celebrate civil marriages or live together out of wedlock.’

“Faced with what the Church calls ‘irregular situations’- which he didn’t specify, but which could run from divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to gay Catholics in a civil marriage – Vito Pinto asked: ‘What do we do? Turn the Church into a prison? Stand at the door of the parish and say: “You yes [can go in], you no?” ‘ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 6, 2016

 

Top Vatican Official for Family Life Rebukes U.S. Bishops

Pope Francis’ top official for marriage and family issues criticized his U.S. colleagues this week for their failure to engage the pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia during their meeting. His criticism comes as larger questions are raised anew about the ongoing divide between bishops in the U.S. and the pope, and what the bishops’ direction will be these next few years.

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Archbishop Kevin Farrell

Archbishop Kevin Farrell, the cardinal-designate tasked with leading the Vatican’s new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, made his remarks during the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) this week.

Farrell directly rebuked Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other bishops who have released pastoral guidelines on the exhortation, without broader consultation, telling Catholic News Service:

“I think that it would have been wiser to wait for the gathering of the conference of bishops where all the bishops of the United States or all the bishops of a country would sit down and discuss these things. . .[to ensure] an approach that would not cause as much division among bishops and dioceses, and misunderstandings.”

Farrell said that even though bishops must respond to their local contexts, “they need to be open to listening to the Holy Spirit and open to what the bishops of the world” discussed during the Synod on the Family. Asked specifically about Chaput’s restrictive guidelines, which, among other sanctions, ban gay and lesbian people in relationships from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to some Catholics, Farrell said:

” ‘I don’t share the view of what Archbishop Chaput did, no. . .I think there are all kinds of different circumstances and situations that we have to look at — each case as it is presented to us.

” ‘I think that is what our Holy Father is speaking about, is when we talk about accompanying, it is not a decision that is made irrespective of the couple.’ “

Farrell said the church cannot be “closing the doors before we even listen to the circumstances and the people,” but must rather say the church will work and walk with couples outside a heteronormative framework “to bring them into full communion.”

There was almost no other mention of Amoris Laetitia during the USCCB meeting which concluded yesterday, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Incoming Conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, confirmed in a press conference that no national conversation or Conference initiative was planned for implementing the exhortation’s vision. He assured reporters that conversations and local programs were, however, happening.

An ad hoc committee headed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia compiled a four-and-a-half page report on such diocesan-level responses, in which he includes, as a resource, his own highly-criticized guidelines.  The report will receive no formal attention during the meeting, said Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, a member of the Communications Committee.

At a recent speech delivered at the University of Notre Dame, Chaput presented a vision of the church which is very much at odds with Pope Francis’ more expansive vision. He told attendees they should “never be afraid of a smaller, lighter church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness,” reported the National Catholic Reporter. Chaput continued:

” ‘Losing people who are members of the church in name only is an imaginary loss. . .It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight.’ “

Chaput targeted Democratic politicians for, in part, their support of LGBT rights, suggesting that Vice President Joe Biden and others were “cowards” promoting “silent apostasy.” He praised now President-elect Donald Trump’s “gift for twisting the knife in America’s leadership elite and their spirit of entitlement, embodied in the person of Hillary Clinton.” Chaput also subtly attacked Islam, the accompaniment model for ministry preferred by Pope Francis, and even just being inclusive which he said was “not just lying but an act of betrayal and violence” if church teaching is not first upheld firmly.

Pope Francis himself provided a message to the USCCB meeting via video message which emphasized his more expansive vision for the church. Though ostensibly about the Fifth National Hispanic Pastoral Encuentro beginning January 2017, the pope’s words are applicable broadly for the Conference’s work if only the bishops would hear them. The pope said, in part:

“Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges.  The Church in America, as elsewhere, is called to “go out” from its comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion. Communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope.”

Observers of the USCCB have noted for several years how distant mostU.S. bishops are from the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, championing opposition to abortion and LGBT rights above a more consistent ethic of life and the pastoral accompaniment of Catholics. Michael Sean Winters commented in the National Catholic Reporter about the Conference’s failed religious liberty campaign:

“In his update to the body on the work of the ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, Archbishop William Lori said they were making a difference. Are they? The centerpiece of their campaign, the ‘Fortnight for Freedom,’ garners little attention. In the popular press, religious liberty is now usually accompanied by scare quotes. In the popular mind, the cause of religious liberty is linked to discrimination against gays and lesbians, and not without reason. If that will be the faultline for religious freedom litigation in the years ahead, I shudder at the prospects for religious freedom.”

It is less clear what message the election of Cardinal DiNardo as USCCB president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as vice president sends about this divide between Rome and Baltimore. As Bondings 2.0 noted yesterday, they are more moderate choices from the given slate of candidates but they are certainly not positive voices for LGBT people.

But DiNardo told Crux that the election of a bishop who oversees a largely immigrant diocese and a bishop who is Hispanic, might be sending a message that the U.S. church stands with immigrant communities under a Trump administration. If this is true, we can hope it suggests a shift in the Conference away from its fixation on stopping LGBT rights to a much-needed focus on defending vulnerable populations who are far less safe than they were November 7.

Finally, activists have shown they will not stop pushing the USCCB on gender and sexuality issues. Earlier this week, DignityUSA members held a vigil outside the Conference to remember victims of the Orlando massacre this past June and call on bishops to use proper language for LGBT people. Elsewhere, former Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois raised a banner during the opening Mass, calling on the bishops to stop persecuting gay people. Bridget Mary Meehan described the action on her personal blog, writing:

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Rev. Roy Bourgeois protests U.S. bishops treatment of gays, and he is joined by Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a Roman Catholic Woman Priest, who supported women’s ordination.

“[Roy’s face] looked angelic. He felt led by the Spirit, he said, to proclaim the message on his banner to the leaders of the US Church: ‘Bishops, Stop Persecuting Gays.’ He said he had to pull himself and the banner away from a security guard before making his way to the altar. There he bowed down and kissed it before holding up the banner to the bishops and turning it to the people of God. Then, he said, two priests tried to pull the banner away from him and he felt like they attacked him. He was surprised because they were priests. He had expected them to just allow him to walk out.”

From the Vatican (via Farrell) and the pews, it seems bishops in the U.S. are being asked to be more faithful to their office as shepherds and less eager to be politicians whose actions are corrosive to both ecclesial unity and people’s wellbeing.

Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will explore further responses which Catholic bishops have offered to Amoris Laetitia beyond the United States.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 17, 2016

 

Bishops Criticize Vice President Joe Biden for Officiating Same-Gender Marriage

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Tweet from Vice President Biden of the wedding ceremony

Vice President Joe Biden has been criticized by U.S. bishops for officiating at a same-gender wedding last week.

On Friday afternoon, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  (USCCB) published a blog post about public officials who officiate at same-gender marriages. Written by three bishops, the post does not mention the Vice President by name but, given the post’s timing, he is most likely one of its targets.

The bishops who authored the post are Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB president; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. They wrote:

“When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”

The bishops said that faithful witness “will only grow more challenging in the years to come,” alluding to their claims that expanded LGBT rights threaten their religious liberty. They cited both Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia and the pontiff’s address to the U.S. Congress last fall to support their negative position on same-gender marriage. When it comes to marriage equality, it seems some U.S. bishops are willing to reverse their general silence about Francis to use the popular pontiff in their opposition to LGBT rights.

Conservative Catholics have criticized Biden as well, reported Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter. The Lepanto Institute, an ultra-conservative watchdog group, wrote letter to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. asking whether Biden has  excommunicated himself by his action.  Yet, Edward Peters, a conservative canonist, acknowledged that canon law does not provide for excommunication in such a case.  Peters did suggest, however, that he thought that there are grounds to deny Communion to the Vice President.  So far, Wuerl has not responded, at least publicly, to either charge.

Last Monday, Biden officiated his first wedding, conducted for White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie. The Vice President, who is Catholic, has a long record of supporting LGBT rights and is credited with pushing President Barack Obama to endorse marriage equality.

Marriage equality is an irreversible given in the United States now. Why do the bishops keep expending their energy and resources fighting this new reality which protects families and expands love? Their opposition to LGBT rights is well-known, as is their public feud with the Obama administration. It is unclear what impact the bishops had hoped for with this blog post–especially since it seems that they took a swipe at the Vice President without directly confronting him. These bishops need to read a little more of Pope Francis’ writings, and reflect a little more on his witness of living out a church that is “home for all.”

I would point them specifically to Amoris Laetitia’s line that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them. Like many Catholics who affirm LGBT people and their relationships, Biden seems to have properly formed his conscience and then acted upon it by choosing to officiate this wedding ceremony. And like so many other Catholics, he is witnessing to God’s expansive and ever-present love.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Are Debates over Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” a Healthy or Harmful Sign?

pope-francis-amoris-laetitiaThree months after its release, how to interpret and implement Amoris Laetitia remains one of the most contested issues in the Catholic church today. But this ongoing dialogue, and at times intense debate, could itself be very welcome news.

The Vatican recently defended Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family through two of its affiliated publications, according to Crux.

Earlier this week, historian Rocco Buttiglione wrote a front page column in L’Osservatore Romano responding to the exhortation’s critics who claim it is not a magisterial document and that it diverges from tradition.

Elsewhere, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna gave an interview to La Civilta Cattolica in which he said Amoris Laetitia  is not merely consistent with but evolves doctrine on family issues.

Critics have included Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, and  Cardinal Raymond Burke, who said the exhortation was a “personal” document from the pope. Several dozen Catholics wrote a letter to 218 church leaders asking for Pope Francis to “respond to the dangers to Catholic faith and morals” which they perceive in the document. Their names have finally been made public by the National Catholic Reporter.

Much of the debate has centered around whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should be admitted to Communion. The larger debates, however, are about establishing this document as part of the magisterium and, therefore, the assent that is due to it from Catholics.  Additionally, the practical ways the document should impact pastoral care and church disciplines is also a major issue.

Theologian Massimo Faggioli said the present divide around Amoris Laetitia is between those Catholics whose “constrained view” leads them to focus on church law and discipline, and those Catholics who focus on a “renewed emphasis on conscience” as new theological and pastoral questions arise. Writing in Commonweal, Faggioli reflected on the differences in ecclesial reception between Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, and Pope Francis’ exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. He noted, in particular, the way which bishops have responded to these two documents.

After Humanae Vitae, a document equally if not more controversial because it retained the magisterium’s ban on artificial contraception, bishops engaged with one another and high level officials, and even questioned it publicly. Collective responses were issued by episcopal conferences and theologians, and the debates have not yet ceased. In my opinion, this experience is largely what caused Pope John II and Pope Benedict XVI to suppress dialogue in the church and to tie episcopal appointments to matters of sexuality for thirty-some years.

After Amoris Laetitia, Faggioli wrote, the situation is quite different. Instead, there is an “episcopal, magisterial individualism” by which each bishop responds to the document almost in isolation and without collegial discourse among their regional and national peers. Faggioli concluded:

“It is clear by now that a culture of discussion and discernment must be rebuilt among the episcopal leadership of the Catholic Church, starting from the national and continental bishops’ conferences. The reception of The Joy of Love requires a true commitment to a collegial and synodal church, not just mere affect.”

Differences now being expressed about Amoris Laetitia may be the first fruits of a new period in the church, a return to episcopal debates publicly played out.  Thomas Groome, a Boston College theology professor, made this point in his response to Amoris Laetitia, telling The Guardian

” ‘The fact that he’s [Pope Francis] allowing us to talk about these things is a breakthrough. . .It was presumed it was already decided and anybody that was raising this was obviously contrary to the church.’ “

Catholic publications have repeatedly picked up on this theme of Pope Francis inviting dialogue and difference. The National Catholic Reporter‘s editors wrote:

“Francis offers the Catholic community two challenges: To live as a community with parrhesia, speaking and listening to one another with courage and humility, and then to translate the openness of papal actions and documents into pastoral discourse and compassionate action in the parishes.”

The Tablet editorial highlighted the shift to a dialogue in their headline: “Power of conscience puts laity at centre of change.”  They further editorialized:

“It would be right to describe the publication of Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis as a minor earthquake, though one preceded by plenty of warning tremors. And while the Catholic Church’s foundations may have been shaken, the walls and roof are still standing. Francis was well aware when he was elected Pope that the basic weakness in the Church’s mission to evangelise was its reputation as a stern and unforgiving teacher in the field of sexual and marital ethics, something that touches people’s lives most intimately. Put simply, it did not sound like the gentle voice of a loving mother. Francis had to respect as far as possible the content of the teaching. But he could change the one thing that may matter more than content for ordinary Catholics – its tone.”

The editors of Commonweal responded:

“This is not a recommendation of laxity or relativism. It is a recognition of human complexity and an endorsement of subsidiarity, a principle not restricted to politics. Only (properly trained) local pastors can be familiar enough with the members of their flock to undertake the kind of ‘practical discernment’ necessary to apply the church’s rules without deepening the wounds caused by divorce or abandoning the already abandoned.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said the flourishing of open and honest discussions in the church is an “unintended, but very welcome” aspect of Francis’ papacy. She wrote in The Huffington Post:

“[Pope Francis’] acceptance, even encouragement, of the expression of divergent opinions represents a dramatic shift in tone from a pontiff. . .After nearly 30 years during which agreement with official Church teaching seemed monolithic among Catholic leadership, having these differences of opinion out in the open is a very hopeful sign. Now we can acknowledge that, just as there is diversity among lay Catholics in views of LGBTQ people, the same is true of those responsible for developing and implementing Church policy. While those willing to question current teaching and practice still represent a minority of Church leaders, their voices are being heard, and it is likely that others may join them in the months ahead. This could help shift the focus from the utterings of Pope Francis to a recognition that there is a community of leaders responsible for Catholic teaching and policy. And as more and more Catholics, grassroots and leadership alike, stand up for the civil and ecclesial rights of LGBTQ people and families, the cultural and political identity of Catholicism as firmly opposing gay and transgender rights will quickly crumble, further weakening efforts to maintain oppressive structures.”

While it is clear that the dialogue and debate are now happening, what is less clear is what the impact will be. Some bishops, like Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn or Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, have welcomed the document wholeheartedly. Others, like the critics mentioned above or Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, will be obstructionist. For the rest of the faithful, this renewed dialogue and debate in the church is largely welcomed, but this path will require far more engagement from all Catholics to discern how Amoris Laetitia should impact the life of the church, especially when it comes to LGBT people and others marginalized in the church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Catholics React Swiftly and Strongly to Archbishop’s Restrictive Guidelines

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Archbishop Charles Chaput

Pastoral guidelines excluding LGBT people from church ministries and encouraging same-gender couples and others to refrain from Communion have provoked strong responses in the Philadelphia area.

Archbishop Charles Chaput released the guidelines as his response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, though they many have found them contradictory to the the document.

The guidelines instruct church ministers to restrict LGBT people from parish ministries, and to deny Communion to many others. Chaput said that same-gender couples offer a “serious counter-witness to Catholic belief” and “undermine the faith of the community.”

Responses to these restrictive guidelines have been swift and strong. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a Catholic, tweeted that Jesus gave Communion out of love and to all people, and therefore “Chaput’s actions are not Christian.”

Stephen Seufert of Keystone Catholics, an online advocacy organization, criticized the archbishop in The Huffington Posthighlighting a challenging illustration to the ban on LGBT people in ministry:

“I hate to break it to Archbishop Chaput, but there are likely thousands of sexually active LGBT Catholics serving in ministry positions across the world. They’re consoling families, teaching children, healing the sick, feeding the poor, and are administering sacraments like the Eucharist. The Church would most certainly be poorer spiritually if all LGBT Catholics were removed from leadership positions.”

Seufert questioned the impact Archbishop Chaput’s lengthy LGBT-negative record has caused, and the further implications it may have. Citing the Jesuit truism about finding God in all things, Seufert concluded:

“If Archbishop Chaput can’t find any semblance of God in civilly married same-sex couples and their families, he’s not spending enough time with LGBT people and their families. . .

“He may not realizes this, but the more Archbishop Chaput resists civil liberties for non-traditional families, the more likely Catholics will push for internal change within the Church on marriage and the family. This internal change will occur with or without people like Archbishop Chaput because an ever increasing number of straight Catholics like me are taking the time to learn about, live with, and unconditionally love their LGBT brothers and sisters.”

It is an established reality that U.S. Catholics are, as Seufert noted, overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT rights. This dissonance between how Catholics are practicing their faith and what the archbishop seeks to impose could be problematic.

Kevin Hughes, a theology professor at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, told the Delco Times the ambiguities in Amoris Laetitia mean implementation could either expand pastoral care or it could lead to restrictions. If it is the latter, as with Chaput’s guidelines, Hughes said:

“I think there are parish communities in which divorced and civilly remarried people and/or gay couples are active participants in the life of a parish. The guidelines will ask for some very serious soul-searching among pastors and parishioners alike, and it will be very painful for some communities to sort out the questions of leadership and liturgical roles.”

Not all priests in the Archdiocese are following Chaput’s path. Fr. Joseph Corley of Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Darby, will host a discussion of the exhortation and the guidelines at his suburban Philadelphia parish, but with the aim of “helping people to develop an informed conscience.”

Letters to the editor published by The Inquirer in Philadelphia reveal members of the Catholic faithful deeply critical of the archbishop. Laura Szatny wrote that the “sheer arrogance and un-Christian attitude of Chaput continue to stun.” Kate Fleming questioned his priorities, noting the archbishop’s opposition to state legislation expanding the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse:

“Archbishop Charles Chaput should focus on policing his priests, who take a vow of celibacy, instead of his flock. Protecting innocent victims of sexual abuse by his employees seems to be a much more important problem than the sex lives of lay Catholics.”

Writing in Philly Mag, columnist Liz Spikol also noted the abuse scandals currently exploding in the Pennsylvania church and the harm the church has caused to people. She queried:

“Obviously, Chaput had no personal involvement in the tragic case of Brian Gergely [an clergy abuse survivor who committed suicide the same week the guidelines were released]. But Gergely’s fellow survivors know the kind of Church Chaput represents all too well — the kind where higher-ups are exalted regardless of their lack of humanity, where preventing scandal is more important that preventing harm. . .

“In his Pastoral Guidelines, Chaput refused to use common terms for members of the LGBT community. . .It is utterly dehumanizing. When will Chaput and those in his circle understand that his hardline approach, which has already caused so much damage, only does the Church harm? I look forward to the day when the Philadelphia Archdiocese — as well as those in other parts of Pennsylvania — serve as a model for Francis’s supremely humane teachings.”

Catholics all over Philadelphia have criticized the archbishop adequately. I would add only one more point to their observations. In Amoris Laetitia, one of the most striking lines from Pope Francis is when he addresses church ministers with these words, “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” There is much more in the 256-page document that contradicts Chaput’s guidelines, but these words about conscience seem paramount. The archbishop continues to replace Catholics’ consciences with his own judgements. Thankfully, Philadelphia Catholics are still listening to the that voice of God echoing in the depths of their being, and living the Gospel as they know best.

You can read more about the pastoral guidelines by clicking here. You can access New Ways Ministry’s statement in response by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry