LGBT Catholics Must Start “Stonewall” in Church, Says Former Vatican Official

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 featured excerpts from an interview with former Vatican priest Krzysztof Charamsa who came out as a partnered gay man before the 2015 Synod on the Family.

CharamsaStonewallThe previous post covered Charamsa’s thoughts on the Vatican’s panic over “gender ideology,” the deficiency at the Vatican of knowledge about gender and sexuality, church officials’ odd language about homosexuality, and the roots of church leaders’ opposition to equality for LGBT people and women.

Today’s post offers excerpts from Charamsa on Pope Francis, positive aspects of theology today, and what his hopes are for LGBT Catholics. You can read the full interview in the online journal Religion and Gender by clicking here. To read more about Charamsa’s story, click here.

Thoughts on Pope Francis

Charamsa said he is disappointed with Pope Francis who, in his first apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, expressed a desire to engage reality rather than abstractions but has done the opposite when it comes to gender and sexuality. Charamsa opined:

“Pope Francis is an old, homophobic man. Homophobic in a quotidian sense, as some- thing which, in Catholic or Christian families, is transmitted through the mother, the grandmother. He for sure has inherited this mentality, but my hope at the beginning of his pontificate was that he would be able, as a man of state, in a new position, to open his mind. He was a great fan of Cardinal Carlo M. Martini, the Archbishop of Milan, who has reflected on sexual minorities positively. But when you begin a new job, you must have collaborators. The pope cannot study gender studies, he cannot read much… he needs institutions who do that for him. So when collaborators come to this pope and say, ‘Gays are Nazis’, day after day, it is easy to think that perhaps it is true, just like his grandmother used to say bad things about these gays.”

Charamsa also described Francis as “a political man without collaborators” who may have simply admitted he can do nothing to move the church forward on homosexuality. This admission, Charamsa said, would be “the victory of the masculinist system of the Vatican” that separates out ideas from reality.

This calculation may also explain why Pope Francis did not condemn anti-LGBT criminalization laws while in Uganda, a failure to act that Charamsa called “horrible.” For Charamsa, the political calculations were the primary if not sole intention behind the Havana Declaration,signed by Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, that blasted marriage equality and other LGBT rights.

Redeeming a Theology of the Body?

Charamsa offered interesting thoughts about how theological currents on anthropology, sexuality, and gender could be redeemed by pro-equality advocates:

“I think it is possible to reconstruct a Catholic theology of body that takes the complexity of LGBTIQ issues into account. For theology this would be an enrichment that reforms our traditional, heteronormative, vision of marriage, which, in the light of Christian sources, must be open also for same sex couples. God has created us for love and this is an essential message for our faith, revealed in Genesis. In the confrontation with gender studies, we must correct many aspects of traditional doctrine about marriage.”

The problem today is not necessarily with a theology of the body, as a more embodied theology would be healthy, but the ways by which gender complementarity and arguments about bodies’ shapes and functions are taken to ideological extremes. Charamsa said this is “a very dangerous ideological intervention” that “does not permit reflection about modern advances in knowledge and human rights, sexual human rights”:

“We have closed our eyes for a very complex and mysterious identity, which is a human person, when we shield ecclesial reflection from the development of modern knowledge. This is a reduction of the human body to something immutable and prefixed. We have canceled the dynamic of knowledge and human reason and impose our partial historical visions as universal and eternal. This has been our error many times in the past, and we continue it today.”

But theology of the body could become beneficial if it were to positively engage contemporary knowledge and allow for a little more epistemological humility. Charamsa rejects outright, however, complementarity that is being used in the war against “gender ideology.”

Dangers of the Present Moment

The dangers with an ideological war against “gender ideology” is that the goal is to “ridiculize, present as inferior, and then destroy” people either psychologically or even physically. Charamsa expounded:

“So the Islamic State has its reasons to eliminate those persons who are dangerous to society, African states have their reasons to impose the death penalty for gay people. The Vatican agrees with this! For the Catholic Church, states and nations have the right to eliminate persons who are dangerous. Sexual minorities are seen as dangerous. One journalist in Amsterdam said to me: ‘Do you know that Cardinal Amato told me that two men who love each other are in society like two terrorists with a bomb?’ This cardinal was my boss in the Congregation. I don’t know his experience of homosexuality and I don’t want to know it. But this is the perception: when you design and create your enemy and stigmatize him as so dangerous, you have every right to eliminate him. And this is our homophobia. But homophobia is nothing when you think about lesbophobia or transphobia or intersexphobia.”

Hopes for the Future in Coming Out

There is hope, however, that LGBT Catholics can effectively challenge these horrific stances of some church officials. Charamsa said his decision to come out was to help move the church away from an emotional and reactive place, and he encouraged others to come out, too:

“We must compel the Church to begin dialogue and the first condition is to accept that gays exist not as object, but as subjects with dignity and without shame. In order to force the Church to consider us as human persons I think coming out is essential. It was my call and that of every gay priest. We are not criminals to exterminate. The criminal is the system that offends and eliminates us. . .The problem is that sexual minorities in the Church should begin a Stonewall Revolution, which will force the Church authorities to think and leave a paranoiac fear of LGBTIQ-persons behind.”

Charamsa also affirmed the work already underway in gender and sexuality studies as “a way of thinking that is connected to life, concrete life, to people who gain awareness of their own dignity and identity, and begin to see the possibility to be themselves.” He added:

“From a Christian point of view, one might say that this is a very Christian movement, a truly evangelical movement. This is the Gospel: ‘work in progress’ to understand our nature and our call to be and love! Because the understanding of the Gospel is made by people, concrete people who seek to understand themselves in the light of God’s revelation, but not without reason.”

Charamsa has a sense of urgency about these efforts. Unlike the Church’s later acceptance of scientific developments that it once rejected, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Church cannot fail for centuries before making a correction. Real lives are at stake, and people “can’t wait for three hundred years.”

What Charamsa’s interview revealed to me is that church officials lack any sort of foundation in sexuality and gender studies today, even while they write and pronounce on these issues. Rule by fear and panic can only lead to disaster. Even Pope Francis, it appears, is not immune from the Vatican’s machinations.

But there is also tremendous hope in Charamsa’s words. It is easier to help someone come to understand something about which they are ignorant or afraid than to heal malice in the heart. Charamsa’s courageous decision to come out and keep speaking out can be a model for gay priests and religious, and LGBT Catholics everywhere.

To read the interview in full, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 21, 2017

Vatican ‘Panicked’ About LGBT Issues, Says Former Church Official

In a new interview, a former Vatican official has shed light on how church offices in Rome function and the alarmist posture which church officials have reportedly taken against gender and sexuality issues. Today and tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will highlight some key points from a much longer interview with the former official that you can read here.

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Krzysztof Charamsa with his partner, Eduard

For many years, Krzysztof Charamsa was a priest involved in the inner workings of the Vatican. He worked for both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as second secretary of the International Theological Commission, as well as teaching at Rome’s Gregorian University. But in 2015, he came out publicly as a partnered gay man in advance of the Synod on the Family. He was immediately removed from his Vatican posts and from the priesthood. To read more about his story, click here.

Charamsa shared information and insights about his time at the Vatican with the online journal Religion and GenderHe spoke about church officials’ ideas about “gender ideology,” their lack of contemporary knowledge, the role of Pope Francis, what he thinks LGBT Catholics should currently be doing, and more.

Panic Over ‘Gender Ideology’

After the United Nations conferences on gender in the 1990s,  the Vatican responded to those meetings “with panic and disorder,” Charamsa said. Since panicking shuts down conversation, the Vatican’s posture became defensive, making the so-called “gender ideology” an enemy (which, Charamsa said, is the Church’s own constructed enemy because an enemy is needed when the Church is “unable to form its own identity”). He explained:

“Sexual minorities are reduced to the ‘other’, not ‘one of us’, and then to ‘something’. In this stereotypical vision, sexual minorities such as gays, lesbians, transgender people, intersex people are reduced to the masculine category of ‘gays’, only gays. The Church fails to see real people, communities or movements. It identifies something without real knowledge of it; without awareness of the human and sexual identity and life of these people, who must remain invisible. They are viewed as an object upon which hate and fear can be projected, and which can be destroyed.”

This “panic game” results in Vatican officials who are unclear of what to do, and so there are “attacks in every occasion” that use the same “propagandistic and apocalyptic slogans.” This panic comes out even in Pope Francis’ statements and writings, in which Vatican officials have a heavy hand preparing.

Twenty Years of Refusing Knowledge

The Vatican’s panic has led to more than two decades of church officials refusing to engage modern gender and sexuality studies. Charamsa described this situation of “irrational negation” on the part of Vatican officials in the following way:

“The level [of engagement] at the Vatican is poor, and closed, and fundamentalist. There is very little intellectual force to dialogue, to reflect. . .There is, I want to insist, no serious reflection about gender studies, feminism, or social movements of sexual minorities in the Vatican. There is no theological, philosophical or sociological reflection in the Church, and this is dramatic. . .

“The [CDF] consultors are theologians – and not the best theologians – who absolutely are not experts of gender studies. . .Much confusion and ignorance, a persistent usage of ‘they’: we don’t know who they are, but this is the concept of a ‘public enemy’, which must be instilled in the Catholic mentality.”

Studies of gender and sexuality topics elsewhere in the Church are suspicious in the CDF, and are “effectively forbidden” outside of officially sanctioned institutes that are “more propagandistic than serious disciplinary research.” What comes from these institutes and from Vatican theological work is a misguided approach to homosexuality used to prop up church teaching.

The Politics of Language about Homosexuality

Charamsa explained that the first tactic with homosexuality is simply silence because if it is not spoken about, it cannot exist, and even if it does exist, it is invisible.

But when homosexuality must be spoken about by church officials, the panic and lack of understanding in these two decades has transformed the concrete situations of real people into abstractions that are separated from realities. Charamsa described this dynamic as “the social sin of this time in my Church”:

“With false language and false pre-concepts we destroy reality; we hide it. . .Humanity now also knows that sexual orientation – or as the Church falsely puts it: ‘sexual tendency’ – is equally essential for understanding human nature. Facing this modern discovery, with our false ecclesial terminology we seek to hide this reality, to eliminate it, to dominate it.”

Church leaders use the language of “tendencies” and “attractions,” rather than the scientific language of sexual orientation agreed upon in contemporary discourse. They eliminate orientation without explaining why, according to Charamsa, who continued:

“TThe answer is: because it wants to maintain the false ancient vision of homosexuality, because only this erroneous vision can justify the actual doctrine of homosexuality. If homosexuality is a pathology, homosexual acts can be considered sins, yet if it is a healthy sexual orientation, the entire Catholic vision of homosexuality must change. . .We have all these problems in the Church, because the ecclesial authorities are not able to reflect on and to live our human sexual orientation at a personal and communitarian level.”

The way Vatican officials and even Popes John Paul II and Francis use this false language around homosexuality creates, Charamsa stated, “a prison, and a very hypocritical one” for not only LGBT people but the Church.

Attacking LGBT People to Preserve Power

The ultimate aim of the Vatican’s documents and silencing is what Charamsa terms the “psychological extermination” of lesbian and gay people from social spaces, including through criminalization laws. While defending Christians in parts of the world where they are genuinely threatened is important, the use of religious liberty in recent years has been to discriminate against LGBT people. Charamsa said:

“But my gay friends are martyrs too, in another way. And I’m not speaking about lesbians, about trans, who suffer much more. They are martyrs of Christian ideology defended by the Church. . .For me, all the propaganda and non-intellectual constructions, which support the heteronormativity of the Church, are an expression of hatred towards the persecuted object.  . .

“The official ‘genius’ of woman and the official ‘respect’ for gays is in fact the biggest expression of disappointment, of inferiority, of hate. So you continuously hear: ‘Look. Gays are pathological people who cannot, are not able, to love another person. We are not against them. But they are naturally disordered and cannot have a sexual relation… And we are not against the marriage of gay men. They can get married. To women.’ The mentality of the Church does not have the consciousness that these sentences are inhuman: this is not respect; this is humiliation. These sentences do not only ignore reality, they are also against human dignity.”

Where does this desire to persecute come from? Charamsa answered that it is “not an intellectual problem, it’s a problem of government.” The preservation of “masculine, patriarchal power” that LGBT people and cisgender women represent is threatening.

Last month Charamsa was a keynote speaker at DignityUSA’s conference in Boston. Even though the picture he paints is bleak, Charamsa remains hopeful that LGBT Catholics can claim their dignity and even that some of the church’s theology today could be redeemed. Check back to Bondings 2.0 tomorrow for part two.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 20, 2017

The Time Is Now for Church’s Sexuality Dialogue

The National Catholic Reporter’s editors have called for a “Time for dialogue on sexual ethics” as a response to recent developments in the world of Catholic LGBT issues.

The publication of Jesuit Father James Martin’s book,  Building a Bridge, which examines the relationship between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church, along with Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s recent decree banning lesbian and gay married people from most of parish life, have highlighted, respectively, a path to better dialogue in the church and an example of the worst of episcopal excesses in regard to sexuality.

These events have drawn the NCR editors to focus in on LGBT discussions as the linchpin for a wider issue in the church:  the need for doctrine on all sexuality to up examined and updated. The consternation that LGBT issues cause traditional Catholic thinkers brings to relief the fact that the very foundations of church teaching about sex is dangerously antiquated.

The magisterium’s disapproval of genital same-sex relationships is based on what the editorial calls  “an indissoluble connection between the procreative and unitive meaning of the sexual act.”  Re-evaluating this concept could bring about “far-reaching consequences for all Catholics, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”  The procreative norm is harming a lot more people than just the LGBT community.  A reexamination of it could produce healthy and holy results for all.  The editorial provides the following example:

“Much is often made about the church’s teaching that same-sex relations are ‘intrinsically disordered.’ But equally harsh language is used for other sexual transgressions of the church’s procreative norm. For example, the catechism declares that every action used to render conception impossible, such as use of contraceptives, is ‘intrinsically evil’ (2370). The catechism also condemns masturbation as an ‘intrinsically and gravely disordered action’ because ‘the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose’ (2352). . . .

“The institutional church’s vocal objections to same-sex marriage often mask the fact that church teaching is fundamentally opposed to sexual acts that a majority of human beings participate in. The church condemns any sex acts — including those engaged in by married couples — that do not respect the procreative norm. Therefore, in reality, few Catholics ever live up to the church’s moral norms governing sexual activity. . . .

“If bishops like Paprocki were more vocal about their opposition to masturbation, in vitro fertilization or vasectomies as they are in their campaign against same-sex marriage, perhaps more Catholics would realize how urgent the need is to rethink the entirety of the church’s sexual ethics.”

While the editorial calls for laypeople and bishops to dialogue about all matters sexual, it also recognizes that “dialogue can have its limits, particularly if those in leadership do not demonstrate an openness to developing the church’s teaching on sex and sexuality.”

The modern dialogue on sexuality began at Vatican II, the editorial notes, but it was “stalled by the hierarchy’s unwillingness to loosen its rigid interpretation of millennia-old ideas about natural law and the procreation norm.”  While theologians and other scholars in the Church have produced great insights into Tradition and modern views of sexuality, “those who have made the greatest contributions to deepening our understanding of sexual ethics, such as Fr. Charles Curran and Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, have been silenced or had their work condemned by bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Congratulations and thanks to The National Catholic Reporter for this insightful analysis and helpful recommendations!  Since at least 1968, with the publication of  Humanae Vitae, the Church has been aware that its sexual ethics doctrine was not received by the majority of the faithful. Leaders, for the most part, have kept their heads in the sand.

The success of the movement for LGBT equality in the U.S. and around the globe highlight that new understandings of sexuality can be life-giving and holy.  This new reality also has brought opposition to the church’s antiquated sexual ethics teaching “out of the closet” and into the open.  Church leaders can continue to keep their heads buried, or they can courageously move forward with a dialogue that has been waiting to happen for 50 years.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 12, 2017

 

Catholics Will Participate in Ecumenical LGBT Gathering This Fall

Leaders of the Catholic LGBT movement will join with other Christians this fall for an exciting conference on the history and future of the interfaith movement for equality.

home-featured-image-2Organizers of “Rolling Away the Stone: Generations of Love and Justice” say it will bring together an “unprecedented array of elders, saints and prophets.” The gathering hopes to preserve the stories of early LGBT Christian leaders, host dialogue about present issues, and raise the visibility of the many movements for LGBT equality in Christian churches.

More specifically, “Rolling Away the Stone” will explore how faith communities were involved with HIV/AIDS, marriage equality, and aided theological development. It will be happening October 31st to November 2nd in St. Louis.

Several Catholic leaders will participate, including DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke who is on the ecumenical planning team. Others include:

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, who began pastoral outreach to the lesbian/gay community in 1971. In addition to helping to found Dignity chapters in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., she started New Ways Ministry in 1977, with the late Father Robert Nugent, to be a national bridge-building ministry between the sexual minority community and the Church. . She has continued writing, speaking, and educating on LGBT Catholic issues since then. Sr. Jeannine was censured by the Vatican in 1999, but in conscience chose not to collaborate with her own oppression and continued her ministry.

Mary Hunt is a married lesbian theologian who co-founded, with her wife Diann Neu, the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER) and participates in the Catholic women-church movement. She is a prolific scholar, having written several books and many articles at the intersection of feminism and religion. She has written chapters in books that include Sexual Diversity and Catholicism, Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms, Heterosexism in Contemporary World Religion: Problem and Prospect.

Jamie Manson is the only out queer women in Catholic media, serving as books editor at the National Catholic Reporter where she also writes the award-winning column, “Graces on the Margins.” Manson studied theology, specifically sexual ethics and spirituality, with Margaret Farley at Yale Divinity School. She also speaks and gives retreats on and for LGBTQ Catholics, young adults, and the church.

Brian McNaught is a married gay Catholic writer and speaker who engaged in a seventeen day hunger fast in 1974 to protest his column being dropped from a Catholic newspaper after he had come out. Two bishops in Detroit promised to support gay Catholics as a result of McNaught’s fast. He also helped found Dignity/Detroit, worked in Dignity’s national office, and help secure the passage of a pro-gay resolution at the 1976 Call to Action conference. He authored several books, including A Disturbed Peace – Selected Writings of an Irish Catholic Homosexual.

Bernard Schlager is the Executive Director at The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies (CLGS) at Pacific School of Religion, and is a professor, as well.

Nickie Valdez is a married lesbian Catholic who, after coming out in the early 1960’s, helped found the LGBT Catholic organization Dignity, Inc., as well as Dignity/San Antonio, the oldest LGBT organization in that city. She has also worked with several other LGBT organizations in San Antonio.

This historic gathering, which is bringing together dozens of LGBT Christian leaders needs your support. They are seeking financial assistance not only from individuals, but from faith communities. You can find out about the multiple ways to give (financial support, airline miles donations, volunteering, etc.) by clicking here.

If you have any questions, can contact the conference’s Development Coordinator (and gay Catholic advocate), Ryan Hoffmann, at ryan@rollingthestoneaway.org or 888-207-2935.

Thank you for your generosity!

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 5, 2017

How a Vatican Priest Learned to Build Bridges from LGBT Catholics

Of the many different reviews and assessments of Fr. James Martin’s new book, Building a Bridge, this summer, none was more personal than Fr. Thomas Rosica’s, CSB.

Fr. Rosica is the head of Salt and Light Media,  a Catholic Canadian ministry which provides education, information, and inspiration through television, radio, print, and online materials. He also serves as the English language media liaison for special events at the Vatican.  In that former role, he became well-known in U.S. Catholic media during the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

In a blog post on Salt and Light Media website, Fr. Rosica introduces his comments on Fr. Martin’s book by telling telling a story about the trepidation he initially experienced a few decades ago as he prepared to deliver a week-long mission at Most Holy Redeemer parish, San Francisco, which by then had already become known as having a mostly gay congregation.  Rosica explained that he thought the parishioners would be dismissive of Catholic ideas, and he also worried if he would have a relevant message to the many parishioners who at the time had HIV/AIDS. As he explains it:

“They knew what it meant to live on the fringes of society. I remember my reticence in accepting the invitation from the then-Archbishop’s office – thinking that no one would really come and listen to a Gospel message of hope and joy in the midst of a devastating epidemic, or that those who would come would have many difficulties with Church teaching. I was uncomfortable with the thought of being protested, dismissed or rejected by what I had believed to be left-wing radicals and Church dissidents in California!”

But Rosica said he experienced a “surprise”:

“What I experienced at Holy Redeemer Parish that week was a very powerful and moving week of prayer, dialogue and openness to the Word of God. If ever I felt to be a bridge-builder and healer, it was that week. . . . .I heard many touching stories from the elderly men and women of various ethnic backgrounds [at the parish] and their gay friends who ministered together to HIV/AIDS patients at home or in hospices, worshipped together, and served the homeless poor together in the neighbourhood. As part of that week-long mission, I spent hours hearing confessions and visiting those who were sick and alienated from the Church for various reasons. I shall never forget the moving celebration of mass and the anointing of the sick that drew hundreds to the Church one summer evening.”

Rosica said he learned a powerful lesson from the experience:

“Many of the gay persons who I met that week revealed a deep spirituality and faith. And most interesting of all, the people I met asked that we, as ministers of the Church, be people of compassion and understanding, and not be afraid to teach the message of the Gospel and the Church with gentleness and clarity even in the midst of ambiguity of lifestyle, devastation, despair and hostility. As a Church and as pastoral ministers, we still have a long journey ahead of us as we welcome strangers into our midst and listen to them.”

What I consider the most important sentence of his reflection is this one:

“Authentic teaching can only begin when we welcome others and listen to their stories.”

That sentence, so filled with true Catholic wisdom, serves as the transition to Rosica’s reflection on Fr. James Martin’s book.  He notes that the book has received many vicious attacks.  I don’t think he was discussing reviews which have had some criticism of specific points in the book, but other screeds whose tone and approach are angry and destructive.  Rosica writes:

“I shook my head in bewilderment several times as I read venom and vitriol in some of the critiques. It is one thing to critique and raise questions. It is another to condemn, disparage and dismiss. I sensed palpable fear and anger in some of the negative commentaries. I made it a point to read the book in one sitting last weekend. I was astounded that what I read in commentaries, blogs, some bishops’ messages, had very little to do with what I considered to be very mild, reflections offered by a well-known Jesuit priest who simply invited people to build bridges with those who are on distant shores. . . . Some of the criticisms reveal more about those writing them, about their own deep fears, confusion, uncertainties, anger and frustration, than they do about those for whom this book is written.”

Rosica focuses in on one of Martin’s major points: the use of proper language to refer to sexual and gender minorities.  In doing so, he notes that Martin’s proposal for more humane language is actually one that bishops around the world have also suggested:

“At the last Synod of Bishops on the Family, I was inside the Synod and watched how some courageous bishops and Cardinals of the Church challenged their brother bishops and Synod delegates to be attentive to our language in speaking about homosexual persons. . . .I am especially grateful to New Zealand Cardinal John Dew who made a fervent plea to examine our ecclesial language of ‘intrinsically disordered’ to describe homosexual persons. Such vocabulary does not invite people into dialogue nor does it build bridges. No matter how well-intentioned scholastic theology tries to describe the human condition, some words miss the mark and end up doing more harm than good. Reality is more important than lofty theological or philosophical ideas.” [Editor:  Link to blog post in this section was added by Bondings 2.0 staff for informational purposes.]

Rosica concludes with a plea for Catholics who criticize other Catholics to do so civilly and constructively.  His powerful words are instructive for all of us:

“To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ without having a passion to build bridges, enter into dialogue and listen to others is to fail in our mission. To preach the Gospel and claim to be a faithful Catholic while using blogs, videos and messages to disparage, condemn and denigrate attempts at building bridges has nothing to do with Christianity. To use clerical status, episcopal authority, or other forms of leadership to dismiss, disparage or slam the efforts of those who simply want to reach those on the peripheries is not befitting of shepherds, pastors or servants of the Lord. It has nothing to do with the Gospel! It is not who we are!”

Fr. Rosica’s message should be heeded not just in regards to discussions of Fr. Martin’s book, but in all Church discussions about LGBT issues.  As Fr. Rosica noted,  authentic teaching will only develop when we listen to each other’s stories.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 24, 2017

 

 

 

“Land O’Lakes” Statement Paved Way for LGBT Welcome in Catholic Higher Ed

It was fifty years ago this weekend when Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, president of the University of Notre Dame, welcomed 25 other educators to reflect on how Vatican II should be received in Catholic higher education. The resulting “Land O’Lakes” statement  greatly altered the trajectory of church-affiliated schools, and it very likely paved the way for LGBT inclusion in these institutions.

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Fr. Hesburgh (left) walking with students

To begin, a bit of history. The prestigious group Hesburgh gathered included university presidents, church leaders, and a handful of laymen. They were some of the best Catholic minds in North America, though by today’s standards they were limited in diversity (for instance, in the previous sentence”laymen” is actually an accurate description, not a sexist slip). Catholic historian David J. O’Brien explained:

“For the university presidents attending Land O’Lakes, a primary aim was to affirm their universities’ Catholic identity in ways that would satisfy Rome while achieving their goal of academic excellence. . .These competent academics in turn insisted on academic freedom and shared responsibility for academic policy. . .For the new generation of vigorous, optimistic presidents who led the major institutions, the time had come to modernize governance, finances and administration, and to reform relations with Church authorities in order to achieve academic respectability and influence. Vatican II gave the reformers what they needed from the Church. The ecumenical council boldly affirmed the autonomy of the human sciences, the primacy of conscience in religious matters, the need for ecumenical dialogue with non-Catholics and the importance of lay participation and leadership in church and society.”

By 1967, Catholic higher education had for the most part accepted academic freedom and other standards followed by secular universities. Given some church leaders’ desire for control, conflicts with schools were inevitable, but those gathered at this meeting affirmed Catholic campuses as places of inquiry and education. Here are a few points I would emphasize from the statement:

  • In the Preamble, the group’s secretary Neil G. McCluskey, S.J. affirmed the need to welcome non-Catholics and “those of other views” because they “bring rich contributions from their own various traditions”;
  • Given the importance of theology, there is a “double obligation” at Catholic universities to preserve academic excellence according to contemporary standards, including academic freedom, in this field;
  • Theologians are exhorted to pay specific attention to “all human relations and the elaboration of a Christian anthropology,” and to be in conversation with other disciplines;
  • Catholic universities serve the church as a source of objective reflection on “all aspects and all activities of the Church”;
  • Undergraduate education should prepare students to confront the “actual world” and therefore there are “no boundaries and no barriers. . .no outlawed books or subjects” in intellectual pursuits”;
  • Universities should also be concerned with students’ flourishing as fully developed human beings.

The question I want to look at here is how the statement and its wisdom have come to impact LGBT issues in Catholic higher education institutions, which have become the vanguard for how the church can be more supportive and inclusive of LGBT people. I make the three following points.

First, inspired by Vatican II’s openness to the modern world, “Land O’Lakes” opened Catholic universities to all types of diversity in their communities. This openness has come to include a welcome to LGBT students, faculty (including theologians), staff, and alumni. New Ways Ministry’s LGBT-friendly Catholic colleges and universities listing, available here, attests to how widespread that welcome has become. This openness now increasingly includes an appreciation for the “rich contributions from their own various traditions” that LGBT people offer schools.

Second, “Land O’Lakes” shattered boundaries that had constrained Catholic theological exploration because educators firmly defended academic freedom. This claim did not mean it was easily implemented.  In some cases, it erupted into major conflicts.  The saga of Fr. Charles Curran and The Catholic University of America began that same year. But as society grappled with new issues in sexuality and gender, theologians at Catholic universities began to do so as well. The profound re-thinking and reclamation of tradition that has happened in the area of sexuality, including enriched theological anthropologies, continues to be a key foundation of Catholic efforts for LGBT equality in the church. Though not considered to be such by many church leaders, these efforts have been a true service to the people of God.

Third, “Land O’Lakes” desired that undergraduate education  be oriented around human formation that encourages free inquiry in conjunction with service and spirituality. This kind of thinking paved the way for Catholic universities to create formal supports for LGBTQ students. In Jesuit terms,  attention to cura personalis or “care of the whole person” means sexual and gender identities cannot be ignored if church institutions are to truly help form young people. This desire also created space for programming that educates all students on matters of the day, including LGBT issues.

As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the “Land O’Lakes” statement, the question raised is how Catholic higher education continues to receive Vatican II in the present moment. Since the 1960s, Pope John Paul II released Ex Corde Ecclesia, an apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education that in some ways challenged “Land O’Lakes” ideas.  Even today, new challenges remain unsettled, and the path of LGBT inclusion has not been easy.  But without the Land O’Lakes conference, we would never have been able to have come as far as we have on LGBT issues on Catholic campuses. So on this 50th anniversary weekend, I am grateful for how far we have come and hopeful for what is to come in the next fifty years.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 22, 2017

 

 

A Pastoral Approach to the Celibacy vs. Relationship Debate

In London’s Catholic Herald, Msgr. Keith Barltrop offers sound advice to pastoral ministers working with lesbian and gay people, particularly in the area of the celibacy vs. relationship debate.

Barltrop, who is Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ representative to the LGBT Catholics Westminster group which meets at the Farm Street Jesuit parish in the Mayfair section of London, is also a chaplain to the Courage group in that city.  He is thus in a unique position of participating in a parish-based ministry which welcomes all, and a one-on-one spiritual direction ministry which aims at helping lesbian and gay people lead chaste lives.

Msgr. Keith Barltrop

Barltrop begins by observing that lesbian and gay ministry is not different from other forms of ministry in the church:

“Pastoral care of homosexual people is essentially the same as all ministry: seeking to communicate the unconditional love of Christ and his Church, and to accompany people on their journey towards holiness. But in practice this particular ministry encounters powerful feelings of pain and anger which can cause difficulties.”

[Barltrop, who in the past has advocated that the Church accompany transgender people through their processes of transition, mostly limits the discussion in this article to lesbian and gay people.]

Yet, he does observe some important distinctions:

“LGBT people often feel hurt by the Church, either because of the way its teaching comes across, or through concrete experiences of rejection, or both. Those from non-Western cultures are sometimes even in danger of their lives, while some other Catholics seem threatened by the very existence of gay people and react angrily towards attempts to accommodate them within the Church.”

Barltrop also makes the important distinction that a wide variety of opinions and attitudes about personal sexual involvement exists among lesbian and gay Catholics.  Some seek intimate, committeed sexual relationships, some seek casual sexual involvement, others seek to lead chaste lives.    Despite these different perspectives, Barltrop finds a common thread:

“. . . [O]ne thing is common to virtually all LGBT Catholics today: they will not take the Church’s teaching on trust, but must learn from experience. Even those who hold a very traditional attitude have likely arrived at it through many experiences.

“This being so, ministers to gay Catholics need two main resources: a moral theology that can face the critical scrutiny of life experience; and a well-grounded spirituality of discernment. These can help LGBT Catholics look honestly at their behaviour, see where it is leading them and discover alternatives where indicated.”

Barltrop’s recommendation is a holistic moral theology that, like Pope Francis, emphasizes discernment over rules:

Fr. Servais Pinckaers, OP

“The moral theology I have found most helpful in this ministry is that of the Belgian Dominican Servais Pinckaers, who shows that from biblical times to St Thomas Aquinas, Catholic moral theology was essentially based on the search for true happiness, on earth and in heaven, and on the cultivation of virtues leading to it – a happiness deeper than mere pleasure, and consisting above all in communion with God and his holy people.

“A theology based on observing rules was a later distortion, and led by reaction in the 1960s to an equally unhelpful liberalism.

“In Pinckaers’ perspective, moral theology does not just define what one is allowed to do, or the minimum one must do, but joins hands with spirituality in promoting the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the uttermost. Ignatian discernment of spirits is the obvious spiritual partner for such a theology.”

I could quibble with some items in Barltrop’s argument, such as when he says that lesbian and gay people feel rejected by the church  “because of the way its teaching comes across.”  While that may be true for some,  I think there are two things amiss in that statement:  1) It’s not just the way the “teaching comes across,” but the substance of the teaching itself which causes feelings of rejection; 2) Many gay and lesbian people feel rejected because, well, they have been rejected directly by messages that they are not welcome.

But, generally, I find his argument, and especially his conclusion, to be very helpful.  Indeed, I think that many lesbian and gay Catholics have already gone through such a moral/spiritual process as they navigated and negotiated their seemingly conflicting identities of being Catholic and homosexual.  Unfortunately, many of these Catholics have had to go through that process without the support of pastoral ministers because for too long, too many pastoral ministers had subscribed to the distorted theology of observing rules.  Barltrop’s alternative is one of accompanying instead of dictating.

Conservative Catholics will probably not like Barltrop’s proposal because it doesn’t provide an answer that can be applied in all situations.  While I am not familiar with Pinckaers’ writing, it seems that by focusing on the goal–happiness through “the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the utmost”–he puts the discussion of morality in a different context, one that mirrors more the ministry of Jesus, who addressed people’s individual needs and situations rather than focusing on whatever the current interpretations of the Law were.

To read the entire text of Baltrop’s commentary, click here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 11, 2017