CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Dutch Bishops’ Statement Critiques Negative Approach to Lesbians and Gays

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Dutch Bishops’ Homosexuality Document Released in English by New Ways Ministry

On February 20, 1980, which was Ash Wednesday that year, New Ways Ministry published an English translation of the Dutch bishops’ recently published document, Homosexual People in Society, a groundbreaking text, which strongly critiqued the way Catholic leaders had traditionally approached lesbian and gay issues.

The document, which had been published in the Netherlands in August 1979 by the Catholic Council for Church and Society, an official agency of the Dutch hierarchy comparable to a committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was intended to promote discussions in parishes and Catholic groups in Holland.  New Ways Ministry said that it reprinted the document in English to be “a tool for discussion among grassroots people and hopefully as a spur to larger study” on gay and lesbian issues. The National Catholic Reporter announced the English translation in the pages of its March 7, 1980 issue.

As its title suggests, the document was primarily concerned with the social effects that gay and lesbian people experienced, particularly as a result of Church doctrine and practice.  In its introduction, the Council stated:

“In light of the Church’s traditional views of sexuality, this position of excluding homosexual persons from Church life causes even further discrimination.  Singling people out within the Church community can tend to foster social discrimination.  Consequently, it is not surprising the the Church’s pronouncements about rejecting social discrimination do not always sound very credible.”

One of the important points of the document was its critique of traditional Scripture interpretations which were used to condemn lesbian and gay people.  In some of its strongest language, the Council observed:

“First, a direct biblical basis for judgment on a homosexual orientation as such is absent; the Scripture writers were not aware of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.  This means that any appeal to the Scriptures in order to condemn a homosexual orientation and to transfer that condemnation into social discrimination must be rejected as an abuse of Scripture.

“Secondly, when the Scriptures speak disapprovingly about homosexual acts, the main emphasis appears to be on the condemnation of abuses in which homosexual acts play only a part.  Most often these abuses are mentioned very explicitly: violation of hospitality, blackmail, prostitution, and especially idolatry. . . .

“There seems to be insufficient grounds for justifying discrimination against homosexual persons by appealing to those texts.”

Also, significant for its time, was an openness to critique natural law by appealing to new scientific research.  The Council wanted to examine

“. . . the problem of how an appeal to the natural law can be convincing in those cases where homosexual behavior can not be shown to be an expression of arrested development or perversion of a heterosexual orientation from personal or social pressures, but is understood and experienced as a natural expression of a homosexual orientation. This problem is even more urgent since, even in the sciences, a consensus is growing about the constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.”

In a certain respect, the Dutch document was promoting similar ideas of non-judgmentalism that we have seen advocated by Pope Francis.  In one section, the document states:

“. . . [F]rom the moral judgment on homosexual behavior one cannot derive automatically a total condemnation of someone who behaves homosexually, let alone relegate him or her to the position of a social outcast or second-class citizen.”

These words are extremely important for Church leaders and pastors to pay heed to before excluding LGBT Catholics from sacraments, volunteer ministries, or employment.

 The document continued in the vein of Pope Francis.  In the following section, we read a forerunner to the pope’s complaint that Church leaders overemphasize sexuality issues. The document condemns “all too one-sided and exaggerated attention to sexual behavior.”  It continued:

“This overemphasis plays a role in another way in the problems of homosexual people in society, since this overemphasis can itself be a source of discrimination.  The Council wants to call attention emphatically to this.  Respect or personal freedom and conscientious striving for a just society exclude a position on sexuality which identifies orientation and behavior too closely together.  This creates a danger of shortsightedness and one-sidedness in judging people.  It can easily lead to an excessive attention to sexual behavior especially in its strict expressions of genital sexuality.”

The document does not challenge the prohibition of sexual activity between persons of the same sex, though it does acknowledge at one point that “the rejection of homosexual behavior embarrasses the Church precisely because some successful homosexual love relationships do exist.”

The more important emphasis in this document, however, is its insistence that Church leaders and pastors should not become condemnatory of lesbian and gay people. The authors were aware that the Church’s prohibition on same-sex activity could be inflated and destructive.  They warned that the prohibition “should certainly not be viewed as any indication of silent support for discrimination,” noting:.

“For that would be a sad caricature of Christianity.  In fact, the destructive results of this caricature are already being felt.  There is evidence of this, for example, in the fact that the self-acceptance of the homosexual person, which is often the result of a difficult struggle, frequently leads to an automatic break with the Church.  This is understandable within the framework of that caricature.  But in our opinion, it is a sad state of affairs both for the Church and the homosexual person.”

For its time, the Dutch document spoke truths that were hard for people to accept.  I think that even today, unfortunately, some Church leaders would be uncomfortable with some of the idea that the document expressed.  But in many quarters of the Church, including in the papacy, we are seeing some of their ideas finally taking root.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 22, 2017

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

Find Answers to “Controversial” Pope Francis at Upcoming Symposium

Pope Francis

If there is one word that best describes the reactions of LGBT and ally Catholics towards Pope Francis, I think it is “controversial.”  I use this word in its traditional usage meaning that there are two sides to the issue.  For some LGBT Catholics and supporters, he has been a savior and messiah, opening a new era in the church’s approach to issues of sexuality and gender.  For others, Pope Francis is simply, “more of the same,” not changing anything, and, in some cases, because his appearance is “kinder and gentler,” he may actually be making things worse.

And, of course, between these two poles, there are a variety of middle positions.  Some are happy with the pope’s calls for mercy towards LGBT people.  Others want him to also call for justice for LGBT people.

Whatever your take on Pope Francis, if you want to learn more about how he might be advancing LGBT issues positively or negatively, you should consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis , on the weekend of April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.

If you are a regular reader (or even a casual one) of Bondings 2.0, then you know that Pope Francis raises more questions than provides answers in regard to LGBT issues.  The symposium will be an event where participants can gain information and perspectives to begin to form some of those answers for themselves.

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Bryan Massingale

Are you interested in how Pope Francis is affecting the Church’s social ethics in regard to LGBT issues?  Come to the symposium to hear Fr. Bryan Massingale,  Fordham University theologian.

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Lisa Fullam

Will Pope Francis make a change to Catholic sexual ethics?  Listen to the ideas of Lisa Fullam, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley theologian.  The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering.

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Leslie Griffin

The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering.  Leslie Griffin, University of Nevada at Las Vega legal scholar, will provide some insight into these dilemmas.

Frank Mugisha of Uganda poses in front of a painting of Robert F. Kennedy, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Frank Mugisha

Why hasn’t Pope Francis spoken out on the terrible scourge of laws which criminalize LGBT people around the globe?  You’ll get a first-hand answer to that from Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who is at the center of this struggle.

In addition, there will be focus sessions on:

  • Hispanic Catholic Culture and LGBT Issues
  • Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life
  • Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions
  • Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family
  • LGBT Parish Ministry
  • Lesbian Nuns: A Gift to the Church
  • Challenges of LGBT Church Workers

Prayer Opportunities

The symposium experience is not all about the intellect.  Unique prayer opportunities will also be available:

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    Simone Campbell, SSS

    Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, the “Nun on the Bus,” will lead a pre-symposium retreat day on Friday, April 28th, on the theme of the spirituality of justice and mercy.

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    Bishop John Stowe

    Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, diocesan bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, will offer scriptural reflections during two of the symposium’s prayer services.

  • Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
    Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

    Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, will lead a special Saturday afternoon prayer service.

Networking

Perhaps the most valuable experience of the symposium is the opportunity to network with other Catholics who are working for a church and society that are more inclusive of LGBT people.  In addition to meeting people informally, the symposium also provides the opportunity for “Open Space,”  where participants can suggest and plan a gathering time/space for particular topics. Let’s have an Open Space session as a meet-up for Bondings 2.0 readers! For more information, click here.

Who should attend?

Everybody!  Well, as long as you have an interest in Catholic LGBT discussions, you will find the symposium to be a rewarding event.  New Ways Ministry has designed it to be accessible and relevant particularly to pastoral ministers, LGBT persons, leaders of men’s and women’s religious communities,  families and other allies, and others involved in church ministry either as a volunteer or a professional.

newwayssymp-draft_03-01Can I afford it?

Yes!  Though the time for early-bird registration is over,  you can still get the discounted early-bird rate if you put four registrations in one envelope and mail them, with payment, to New Ways Ministry by March 27, 2017.   Additionally, discounted hotel rooms and airfares are available.

What will I gain from the experience?

Over the years, we’ve learned that everyone’s symposium experience is unique.  For some, it is a starting point on a new direction in ministry or advocacy.  For others, it is an opportunity to affirm their sexuality and gender identity in a Catholic context.  Many people have developed lifelong friendships at symposiums.  Many others have experienced the event as a further step on their spiritual and intellectual journeys.

What if I don’t know anyone else who will be going?

No worries!  Symposiums are friendly, communal events.  Those who have taken part in past symposiums are quick to welcome “first-timers” and those who are attending on their own.  You will not be alone at the symposium!

Where can I get more information like rates, deadlines, schedule?  How can I register?

The symposium website, www.Symposium2017.org, has all the information that you will need. You can even register there online, as well as click through to reserve a hotel room and make a plane reservation.  If you have any further questions,  feel free to call New Ways Ministry, phone:201-277-5674, or email us, info@NewWays Ministry.org.

How can I help spread the word about the symposium?

Share the website link with your friends on email and social network sites!  Or share the link to this blog post with them! Contact New Ways Ministry if you would like to receive paper copies or a PDF copy of the symposium brochure.

See you in April at the Symposium!  You won’t want to miss it!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 15, 2017

 

 

 

 

Malta’s Rapid Shift on LGBT Rights Is Case Study for Other Catholic Nations

Malta has elected the nation’s first transgender politician, a sign of just how far on LGBT rights a country where Roman Catholicism remains the state religion has come. A closer analysis of this shift could help Catholics in other regions in their own journeys towards equality.

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Crowds in Malta celebrating Pride Week

Alex Mangion became Malta’s first transgender politician when he won a local election as the Partit Nazzjonalista (Nationalist Party) candidate, reported The Independent. But support for LGBT rights in the conservative party that had controlled Malta’s government since the late 1990s is a recent development, and came only after its 2013 defeat to the Partit Laburista (Labor Party) who had made LGBT rights a major platform item.

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Alex Mangion

Though the Nationalist Party had abstained from a successful vote on civil unions in 2014, Mangion said that presently “having a transgender person in the party made people realize it’s not conservative.” And by 2015, the Nationalist Party had joined the Labor Party in passing a groundbreaking transgender rights law. (It is worth noting that, under that very law, Mangion became “the first person in this tiny nation to be able to update the gender on his official documents without undergoing surgery or hormone treatment.”)

The Independent noted that this shift in a political party is “a microcosm of the evolution underway in Malta,” a traditional Catholic country which outlawed divorce as late as 2011. But where LGBT people once hid, rejected by church leaders and stigmatizing social norms, a married same-gender couple, Steve and Manuel Aquilina, now hosts and produces a leading cooking show. A colleague of theirs, Victor Anastasi, said:

“‘They’re accepted like everyone else. . .We’re a Catholic country. But eventually the church has to come to terms [with society changing].”

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Joseanne Peregin

Joseanne Peregin, the Catholic mother of a gay son, recalled a bishop once saying, “If you’re gay, excommunicate yourself. Go, there is no place for you in the church.” But then in 2011, she said, the Catholic Church’s control over Maltese politics was undercut sharply when divorce was legalized through a popular referendum.

Now it must be acknowledged,, said Fr. Rene Camilleri, that Catholics in Malta “are not taking a package deal.” Camilleri, who is Episcopal Vicar for Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Malta and a lecturer at the University of Malta, has previously described church teaching on homosexuality as “nonsensical.” He also said Catholic ministers “cannot deprive [same-gender couples] of the blessing for which they ask.”

Today, other nations seek to learn from and even copy Malta’s LGBT laws. Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties Helena Dalli said that “what we have done here is serving as a model to other countries, and, in a good way, because more people are leading better lives.” And The Independent continued:

“Kyle Knight, a New York-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that what’s particularly admirable about Malta’s LGBT rights laws is ‘not just the result as much as the process’ that led to their creation.

“Members of the LGBT community, other advocates and a local human rights group served on a council set up in 2013 to advise the government. Legislation was accompanied by directives that covered how LGBT people in prison should be treated and how schools should deal with bullying of transgender or gay students.

“When Knight was recently asked in Japan how schools should handle anti-LGBT bullying, ‘We copied and pasted these (Maltese) guidance documents and we said, “Look, this is how you do it,”‘ he recalled.”

While marriage equality is not legal yet in Malta, same-gender couples are recognized through civil unions, there are extensive non-discrimination protections, so-called “conversion therapy” is banned with harsh penalties in place, and a 2015 law on transgender and intersex persons is considered the gold standard in Europe.

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The island nation of Malta

How does a country where Roman Catholicism is named in the constitution as the state’s religion and where 95% of its citizens identify as Catholic become so progressive in a short time? Some observers might consider Malta a paradox, understanding LGBT equality and the Catholic Church to be opposites. Yet, there is a very plausible explanation for what has happened.

First, it is an oft-repeated but worth reiterating truism: Catholics support LGBT equality because of, not in spite of their faith. Key tenets like social justice, human dignity, and non-discrimination have informed the faithful’s engagement in civic matters, and this includes working for the rights of sexual and gender minorities. It makes sense the citizens of Malta who practice, or even are simply informed by, Catholic faith would vote for equality.

Second, it has to be admitted that there are non-ecclesial matters influencing this shift. In Western contexts, homosexuality has been largely de-stigmatized and neighboring countries in Europe have been moving forward on LGBT rights. Some have credited Malta joining the European Union as an impetus for catching up to their neighbors, and now taking the lead. As in other Western contexts, Mass attendance and the moral authority of bishops have declined in recent years. Some people leave, or are pushed out of, the church, and there is a certain amount of secularizing that happens. These factors and more, as in other regions, contribute to the rapid pace of the shift.

2b5de-drachmabloglogoBut third, many Maltese remain practicing Catholics and this has made the biggest difference. A few weeks ago, I highlighted the positive outreach of the country’s bishops to LGBT communities . In fact, Malta’s leading gay rights group gave the bishops an award in 2014. Here are other important examples of positive Catholic moments on LGBT issues:

  • Drachma and Drachma Parents are both Catholic organizations engaging LGBT issues in the church, and they have made an impact. They helped consult on the civil unions law, pushing back against a bishop’s criticism, They hosted Sr. Jeannine Gramick in 2011 to educate about LGBT equality in the church. They also hosted theologians Sr. Margaret Farley, RSM, and James Alison.) They were credited by Bishop Mario Grech as helping him to understand the need and urgency for new pastoral care of LGBT people;
  • A priest who blessed a same-gender couple’s rings was not punished by the bishop; indeed, Archbishop Charles Scicluna affirmed the priest’s outreach efforts to LGBT people;
  • After releasing a harsh position paper opposing the government’s efforts to ban “conversion therapy,” a paper in which homosexuality was compared to pedophilia, Archbishop Charles Scicluna listened to Catholics’ criticism and then apologizedsaying the church was “dead set” against such programs.

Though I have never experienced the Church of Malta firsthand, I sense a serious Christian community of mature and critically engaged Catholics. Lay Catholics, and clergy like Fr. Camilleri, have grappled with not only church teaching, but the realities of their context.And, quite notably, the country’s bishops have been willing to affirm LGBT people as beloved by God and to listen to their people. They have even been willing to acknowledge where the hierarchy had it wrong, and to apologize to those whom they have harmed.

In under a decade, Malta went from being socially conservative to a world leader on LGBT rights. Maltese Catholics are a shining example of what can happen when the faithful really listen to the Gospel and live their faith in public life. Let us hope more and more historically-Catholic regions follow this path, especially in areas like Latin America and Africa where the church is rapidly growing and yet LGBT rights remain limited.

If you would like to read reflections from members of Drachma Parents, you can find Louise Laferia’s reflection on the call of being a parent to an LGBT person here and Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on what makes a family holy here. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of LGBT Catholic issues in Malta, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 13, 2017

 

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

 

 

Instructions on “Amoris Laetitia” from Malta’s Bishops Can Inform LGBT Issues, Too

Bishops in Malta have published a document on applying Amoris Laetitia, the apostolic exhortation on family released by Pope Francis last year. The bishops’ document reflects the pope’s call for more mercy and inclusion in the church, all of which is applicable to LGBT issues.

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Bishop Charles Scicluna

In the document,  “Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia,” Maltese Bishops Charles Scicluna and Mario Grech primarily addressed the situation of Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried. Yet the principles they laid out are transferable to LGBT Catholics and their loved ones, too.

Released on the Feast of the Epiphany, the document compares Amoris Laetitia to the star which the Magi followed in their search for Jesus. Those “couples and families who find themselves in complex situations” often make this searching journey, too, but, the bishops say, these Catholics may be like the Magi “who took a different route back home after meeting Jesus.”

(Before proceeding, I acknowledge the limitations and troubling language of this document, similar to Amoris Laetitia’s own limitations. The bishops speak of people in “irregular situations,” and use the concepts of weakness against a heteronormative ideal for marriage. But these problems should not prohibit us from claiming what is good in these writings, and then building upon positive developments.)

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Bishop Mario Grech

Extensively citing the exhortation itself, the bishops identified guiding pastoral principles, foremost being that church ministers should not treat people with “complex family situations” different from other Catholics. Such ministry begins with dialogue in charity, leading to “a serious process of personal discernment about their situation.”

Just as divorced and remarried Catholics, many LGBT Catholics’  have experienced pastoral ministry in a discriminatory way, much different than their heterosexual counterparts. Sacraments have been denied to them and LGBT church workers have been fired, while heterosexual people in similar moral situations have not been held to the same standard. Listening as a starting point is always good, and listening to begin discernment rather than provide an answer is better.

Scicluna and Grech continued by addressing priests about their responsibilities to approach any discernment process with mercy and nuance:

“As priests, we have the duty to enlighten consciences by proclaiming Christ and the full ideal of the Gospel. At the same time, in the footsteps of Christ himself, we have the duty to exercise the ‘art of accompaniment’ and to become a source of trust, hope, and inclusion for those who request to see Jesus (see Jn 12, 21), especially for those persons who are most vulnerable. . .

“Our role is patiently to help them to form and enlighten their own conscience, in order that they themselves may be able to make an honest decision before God and act according to the greatest good possible (see AL 37).”

These words expand on Pope Francis’ insistence that the church is supposed to help form, not replace consciences, and it is to respect people’s  conscience decisions once made.

What church leaders need to recognize is that many LGBT Catholics and their families, and in reality many Catholics generally, have already undergone a journey of conscience formation and discernment. They have made an “honest decision before God,” but the church’s leaders and pastoral ministers often reject them because of their decision.

The document’s principle that I consider most relevant for LGBT Catholics is the bishops’ treatment of people who are not sacramentally married, specifically those Catholics who are cohabitating or who have had a civil marriage ceremony, but not a church one. Church ministers owe such people “merciful and helpful” pastoral care, though they would like the care to lead people “‘to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel’ (AL 294).” However, the bishops added:

“In pastoral discernment it is important to distinguish between one situation and another. In some cases, ‘the choice of a civil marriage or, in many cases, of simple cohabitation, is often not motivated by prejudice or resistance to a sacramental union, but by cultural or contingent situations’ (AL 294) and, therefore, the degree of moral responsibility is not the same for all cases. . .

“Throughout the discernment process, we need to weigh the moral responsibility in particular situations, with due consideration to the conditioning restraints and attenuating circumstances.”

Again, the heteronormative ideal proposed by the bishops is not ideal. Yet, their willingness to be nuanced and compassionate when engaging these relationships is noteworthy. What would be even better is an admission that one of the contingent situations keeping same-gender couples from sacramental marriages is the hierarchy’s negative teachings on homosexuality.

Bishops Scicluna and Grech, and the people of the highly Catholic nation of Malta, have fairly good records on LGBT issues. Their words and actions have included the following:

  • Bishop Grech sought greater inclusion for LGBT people in the church during his address at the 2014 Extraordinary Assembly of Synod on the Family–an opinion he attributed to his own engagement with the Catholic parents of LGBT children;
  • Bishop Scicluna did not punish and even affirmed the LGBT outreach ministry of a priest who blessed a same-gender couples union in 2015.  Though he opposed civil unions, Scicluna said the church should apologize to LGBT people, and criticized a right-wing blogger for homophobic language. Just last year, Scicluna became one of the few bishops to condemn the harmful practice of “reparative therapy”;
  • Lay Catholics in Malta, specifically through the groups LGBT Christian groups, Drachma and Drachma Parents, have publicly affirmed LGBT people as gifts from God and worked for greater welcome;
  • Politically, Malta has banned conversion therapy, passed civil unions, and has implemented what many considered the gold standard in Europe for transgender and intersex protections.

Some might find this latest document from Bishops Scicluna and Grech to be without merit, and readers may think my assessment of it is too generous. But given the bishops’ own more positive records on LGBT issues, and the larger push for equality by Maltese Catholics, I think a generous interpretive lens which admits limitations is warranted.

Into the many disputes over Amoris Laetitia, Malta’s bishops have shown what church leaders can do with the space created by Pope Francis reclaiming forgotten parts of the Catholic tradition. In this new papal era, it is more a matter of episcopal will more than Vatican constraints that dictates how LGBT inclusion will grow and deepen.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 22, 2017

Remembering Jeanne Cordova: A Lesbian Nun Who Broke Her Silence

At the LGBT spirituality blog, Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry offered a poignant remembrance this week of Jeanne Cordova, a lesbian advocate who had been a Catholic nun and who contributed to former woman religious and lesbian woman who was a contributor to the groundbreaking 1985 book, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence. Cordova passed away a year ago this past week.

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Jeanne Cordova

Cherry remembered that Cordova was instrumental in the greater history of LGBT equality, beyond her “radical revelations about lesbian nuns.” Cherry stated:

 

“‘Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence’ remains the definitive work on this hidden and forbidden subject more than 30 years after it was first published. It is also one of the best-selling lesbian books of all time. . .Both the church and the secular LGBTQ community may prefer to forget the uncomfortable truth: Same-sex love exists in the church, and the church trained some leaders of the LGBTQ rights movement.”

In her post, Cherry offered a more expansive remembrance of Cordova’s life, drawing from her writings and from interviews. Cordova grew up in a conservative Catholic family, attending Catholic schools before entering religious life. In her own words, she “fell in love with God at the age of seven,” and this love was the main reason she became a woman religious. But there was a secondary reason why Cordova joined the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1966:

“I chose the convent because I knew I wasn’t interested in the world of men and women, marriage, children—’that’ lifestyle. Being in the service of God within a community of women felt natural and right.”

Cordova left after a year in the novitiate, a year after Vatican II ended, when religious life was changing dramatically. The IHM community in Los Angeles would eventually separate from the church just a few years after Cordova left, but during her year there, she experienced religious life in a time of postconciliar tension between hopeful reforms and lingering ills in the church. Cherry wrote:

“[Cordova] was enrolled in Immaculate Heart College, where sensitivity training, encounter groups and open classrooms exposed her to new ideas and emotions. She found out for the first time about drugs, the peace movement and covert homosexuality.

“As 1967 began, her Mother Superior informed her that she and her fellow novices were being sent to live in the ‘real world’ — Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles and the black ghetto of Watts. She was appalled and radicalized by seeing poverty and racial injustice for the first time.”

Cordova said Vatican II had ‘destroyed my dreams’; she sought a quiet life as a nun amid the trappings of the preconciliar church with its Tridentine liturgy and stiff habits. Her decision to leave was not just about coming out as a lesbian woman. Cordova underwent a more fundamental conversion. She explained:

“‘I left the convent because of my political radicalization and inability to justify the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings and actions regarding social justice, and its ongoing battle with my IHM order to keep women in line under patriarchy. My newly realized lesbianism was actually secondary to falling out of love with the Catholic Church, which I had questioned all my life.'”

No longer a nun, Cordova began working as a social worker and community organizer who “helped decriminalize homosexuality and protect the jobs of openly lesbian and gay teachers.” But in the church, she is known for her contribution to Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence. Cherry explained that this work had influence outside the church, too:

“As the foreword to the 2013 reprint edition notes, the book ‘played a significant role in the mainstreaming of lesbian print culture.’ The editors ‘wanted to shatter the silence that denied the existence of lesbians in religious life and to make it clear that ‘lesbians are everywhere.'”

The book included stories from fifty nuns, cultivated from some 400 submissions. Cordova later wrote a more detailed account of her own life in Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun’s Story and When We Were Outlaws. Before dying of cancer last year, Cordova said in an open letter, “It is wonderful to have had a life’s cause: freedom and dignity for lesbians.”

Finally, Cherry highlighted a key insight from Cordova that social justice movements, including for LGBT rights, have been filled with and led by former women religious. In Cordova’s words, religious life was “a boot camp for us all.”

The experiences of lesbian women religious are still quite hidden, and their contributions to the church and the world are still under-appreciated. For over 20 years, New Ways Ministry has had a project called Womanjourney Weavings which is an educational program for not only lesbian nuns, but for the leaders of women’s religious communities, and nuns who work in vocation and formation ministries.  For more information, contact:  info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

At New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” we will have a focus session entitled “Lesbian Nuns:  Gift to the Church.”  For more infomration about the symposium, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, click here.

Whether one is a woman religious, a former woman religious, or another part of the faithful, Cordova’s story is instructive. Her witness reminds us of the immense power of being in love with God and living authentically from that love can draw forth from us.  With it, we can change the world. As we remember, we ask her intercession: Jeanne Cordova, pray for us.

Note: If you are not aware of Kittredge Cherry’s blog, Jesus in Love, and her wider work on queer spirituality through the site Q Spirit, they are a good resource and well worth checking out. Like her post on Jeanne Cordova, Cherry offers many reflections on LGBTQ saints — some who are commonly known, others who are a bit more obscure.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 14, 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