Millions worldwide marched yesterday for gender justice, affirming the dignity of women and the need for intersectional justice. But after marching, we now take the next steps towards attaining equal rights for people of all sexual and gender identities, as well as of all races, creeds, ethnic backgrounds, immigration statuses, income levels, and abilities. And a Twitter user, @JesusOfNaz316, has offered a fitting next step. At the beginning of 2017, he tweeted:
“Still looking for New Years Resolution? Try this. Oppose racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of exclusion.”
The coming days and months will be difficult times not only to advance LGBT equality but to preserve what equality has already been attained. And we must similarly work for equality and freedom for all, making intersectionality a goal of our justice work. To focus our strategies, we can look to, spiritual leaders like Sr. Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus,” and we can try to find hope in these dark times. However we carry through on our promise, today is a great day to resolve (or re-commit) to opposing every form of exclusion harming God’s people.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 22, 2017
As part of Sr. Camille D’Arienzo’s regular interviews with extraodinary “ordinary” Catholics in the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Ron Cioffi reflected upon his 47 years as an ordained priest. He spoke about being raised Catholic, his call to ordained ministry, connections with the Catholic Worker movement, and most of all the parish in New Jersey where he has served for many years. Then, asked if there is anything else readers should know, the priest came out, tying together beautifully his sexual identity with his vocation:
“Yes, I am a gay person whose self-identity includes an abiding call to ministry in our church. I wish to testify that there is nothing in seriously living out my life as a priest that dissuades me from any other conclusion than that my orientation is a blessing from God for use in and for the church that is called to help each of us discern and celebrate the good and always affirming love of God for all persons.”
Earlier in the interview, Fr. Cioffi said he had an as yet unrealized goal of establishing an outreach committee with a “focus on welcoming and credibly supporting” LGBT people. He explained at the interview’s end how his coming out as a gay priest might advance that welcome and support:
“In sharing this deeply personal fact, I hope it will give courage and hope to so many people who find their minority status a deeply wounding and unrelieved burden that too few religious leaders have moved to redress with a healing that acknowledges one’s full human dignity.”
Despite research suggesting that a high percentage of Catholic priests are gay, there are very few priests who are out publicly. Like other out gay priests before him, Fr. Cioffi provides an example which helps combat the stigma that keeps too many clergy silenced. Such an example can heal the wounds of exclusion that too many LGBT people bear because of church ministers. This witness is, most certainly, a blessing from God!
As this morning’s post explained, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) recent meeting focused on the important topic of how to respond to the Vatican’s directive that their important decisions be overseen by the Archbishop Peter Sartain, who was appointed to this position by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
The LCWR leadership released a statement in which they said they will continue respectful dialogue with the Vatican concerning the directive. In that statement, they reflected beautifully on the need for dialogue and respect for differences in our Church:
“We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the church for healthy discussion of differences. We know that thousands of persons throughout the country and around the world long for places where they can raise questions and explore ideas on matters of faith in an atmosphere of freedom and respect. We believe that the ongoing conversations between CDF and LCWR may model a way of relating that only deepens and strengthens our capacity to serve a world in desperate need of our care and service.”
As we approach the one year anniversary of Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” remark, we are looking to see what signs of change there might be in the rest of the church. Yesterday, we looked at how some U.S. bishops have not been following Francis’ lead. Today we look at how Francis has made an epsicopal change which is more in line with his apparent new outreach model.
Pope Francis’ welcoming tone has ignited hope for change in the Church, but many observers believe it will be be his episcopal appointments, and not any words or acts, that will leave the most lasting impression. One recent appointment is being celebrated as a sign that bishops more in line with Pope Francis are entering the hierarchy.
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin is being moved to Germany’s largest and wealthiest archdiocese, Cologne. Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper said of this development:
“Woelki represents the prototype of a new generation of bishops who will set the tone in the coming decades. You are no longer cranky and dogmatic wrongheaded as it was Joachim Meisner in office the Cardinal of Cologne. The new men speak of mercy and mean it that way. Go to people – in moderation even their critics – and have a heart for the socially disadvantaged. Theologically conservative they are anyway. The human part of Turned and Social comes in the public good, the theological conservatives holding things together.This is the line that pretends Francis. Cardinal Woelki fits in Bergoglio’s vacancy.”
Woelki was considered conservative when appointed to Berlin, but surprised many LGBT advocates with his positive statements that the Church must “rethink” its approach to gay couples and find a way to treat them similarly to heterosexual couples. The cardinal has also endorsed civil unions for same-gender couples. For all this, he was offered the Respect Prize by Berlin’s Alliance Against Homophobia, though Woelki declined, saying it should be normative for Christians to be respectful of everyone.
The German Church overall is showing signs of openness. Earlier this year, leading German theologians responded to the Vatican questionnaire in preparation for this fall’s Synod on marriage and family life, calling for a “fundamental, new evaluation” of sexual ethics. German bishops, after evaluating responses from lay Catholics and others to that same questionnaire, said the Church’s sexual teachings were unrealistic and ‘merciless.‘ Most recently, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier reiterated these calls for new ways of thinking about sexuality and said the Church must “respect their decisions of conscience.”
What do you think? Is Cardinal Woelki’s appointment a sign of progress to come or simply an anomaly? Let us know your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.
Musician Elton John is the latest celebrity to talk about Pope Francis’ approach to LGBT issues. Amid Pride celebrations in his home country of Britain this month, the gay pop music superstar spoke in heavily Catholic language about the situation globally for LGBT people . John told Sky News, as reported by So So Gay:
” ‘If Jesus Christ was alive today, I cannot see him, as the Christian person that he was and the great person that he was, saying this could not happen. He was all about love and compassion and forgiveness and trying to bring people together and that’s what the church should be about.’
” ‘The new Pope has been wonderful, he’s excited me so much. He’s stripped it [the Church] down to the bare bones and said it’s all basically about love.
” ‘The great tragedy is that as thousands freely take to the streets on Saturday celebrating Pride parades around Britain, the position has never been worse for gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people in so many other countries around the world…The persecution continues… [and Catholic and Anglican churches] actively support intolerance.’ “
John added that the solution to international LGBT oppression is to enact a vision of love and compassion, so that the “most vulnerable” are not left behind. Perhaps he should join Catholics and people of faith worldwide in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign by asking Pope Francis to condemn clearly anti-gay laws like Uganda’s as inconsistent with Christian faith.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna has weighed in on the Eurovision Song Contest, making approving remarks about the cross-dressing winner, Conchita Wurst. Wurst is the drag persona of gay man, Tom Neuwirth, who won the continent-wide competition singing “Rise Like a Phoenix” while representing Austria. The Tablet reports further of the cardinal’s remarks:
” ‘I am glad that Tom Neuwirth had such success with his artistic creation Conchita Wurst and I will pray for him…As we all know, there is multicoloured variety in God’s garden. Not everyone who is born male feels he is a man and the same applies to women. Such people deserve the same respect that we all have a right to as human beings.’
“The issue of tolerance, to which the singer said her performance was dedicated, was a ‘very real and major issue’, the cardinal said, adding that people like Tom Neuwirth had been exposed to ridicule, nastiness and intolerance. Tolerance meant ‘respecting someone even if one does not share his or her views,’ Schönborn emphasised.”
Schönborn’s comments follow controversies about Wurst’s appearance, which prompted a petition against the performer in Austria, as well as attempts at censoring her in nations like Belarus and Russia.
At the Angelus service at the Vatican on Sunday, March 23rd, Pope Francis spoke eloquently about overcoming prejudice. His words will surely ring loudly for those who work for LGBT equality. Thanks to Martin Pendergast in England for alerting me to this text in English. You can read an English-language news story of the talk here. You can read the entire text in Italian here. You can view a video of the talk here. The following are excerpts relevant to the topic of prejudice:
“Today’s Gospel presents us with the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in [the Samaritan town of] Sychar near an ancient well where the woman had come to draw water. Jesus found himself seated at the well that day “tired from his journey” (John 4:6). He immediately says: “Give me to drink” (4:7). In this way he overcomes the barriers of hostility that existed between Jews and Samaritans and the mentality of prejudiced mentality toward women. Jesus’ simple request is the beginning of a frank dialogue through which, with great delicacy, he enters into the interior world of a person to whom, according to the social norms, he should not have even spoken a word.But Jesus does it! Jesus is not afraid. Jesus, when he sees a person, goes forward, because he loves. He loves us all. Prejudice does not hinder his contact with a person. Jesus places the person before his [the person’s] situation, not judging him but making him feel appreciated, recognized and in this way awakens in him the desire to move beyond his daily routine. . . .
“The Gospel tells us that the disciples were astonished that their Master spoke with that woman. But the Lord is greater than prejudices; this is why he was not afraid to engage with the Samaritan woman. Mercy is greater than prejudice. This we must learn well! Mercy is greater than prejudice, and Jesus is very merciful, very! . . . .