Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness, and Catholic Values

July 4, 2015

In the United States of America, today is Independence Day, the day we remember the birth of our nation through the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which said that all people “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Those words ring loud this year to those in the USA’s LGBT community and for Catholics who support them because of the recent Supreme Court ruling extending marriage equality to lesbian and gay couples as a guaranteed constitutional right.  Liberty and the pursuit of happiness were mentioned as guiding principles in the court’s opinion.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic, wrote the majority opinion in this landmark case, and already, at least one theologian has noted how some of the principles he used to support the decision are very Catholic in their content and meaning.

Professor Lisa Fullam wrote a blog post for Commonweal showing the Catholic corollaries for the four main arguments Kennedy uses.  [I mentioned Fullam’s blog post earlier this week, but revisit it today for a more expansive understanding of it. ] After quoting the decision’s emotional concluding paragraph, Fullam describes the four arguments that show that marriage is a fundamental right to be applied equally to all:

  1. The right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy. (Here Kennedy cites Loving v. Virginia, which struck down interracial marriage bans.)
  2. The right to marry “supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals,” and same-sex couples have the same right “to enjoy intimate association.”
  3. Marriage “safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education.” This doesn’t mean that everybody has to procreate in order to marry civlly: “Precedent protects the right of a married couple not to procreate, so the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate.”
  4. “[M]arriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order,” and excluding same-sex couples is “demeaning” to them.

Fullam then provides specific Catholic statements which agree with these principles:

  1. It was Pope Paul VI who labeled marriage an inalienable right way back in 1967: “When the inalienable right of marriage and of procreation is taken away, so is human dignity.” (Populorum progressio, 37)
  2. The special bond between the married is so important in Catholic tradition that we recognize marriage as a sacrament.
  3. The safety and security of children has rightly been an important factor in the magisterium’s argument against marriage equality. However, it is clear from experience, scientific study, and simple common sense that marriage equality does not, in fact, harm children, and that providing children’s families legal protection can only benefit them. The opinion’s note that people are not required to procreate is also echoed in Catholic tradition: marriage does not lose its dignity if a couple cannot procreate, and Catholics are to exercise prudence in deciding when–and even if–they procreate. Pius XII explicitly noted that couples may practice (licit) avoidance of procreation “for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life.” (Allocution to midwives, October 29, 1951) Catholic tradition also allows post-menopausal women and other sterile people to marry, asking only that they not deceive their partners as to their procreative capacity.
  4. The Church recognizes the equal dignity of all human beings, and says specifically of gay and lesbian people that “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2358)

To Fullam’s argument, I would add the following quotations that I found in Kennedy’s opinion which strike me as having a distinct Catholic “flavor” to them:

“Since the dawn of history, marriage has transformed strangers into relatives, binding families and societies together.”

“Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.”

“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring
bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.”

Happy Independence Day to all!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Two Archbishops Have Different Approaches to LGBT People at WMF

July 3, 2015

Answers to the same question by two different archbishops highlight the world of difference that exists in the way some church officials approach LGBT issues.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

A little over a week ago, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput spoke at a Vatican press conference about September’s World Meeting of Families (WMF), which his city is hosting, and he made some remarks about welcoming gay and lesbian people to the event which sounded more like an insult.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, Chaput answered a question about whether gay families and their issues would be welcome at the gathering by stating:

” ‘We hope that everyone feels welcome to come, and certainly people who have experienced same-sex attraction are certainly welcome like anyone else,’ he said.

“But, the archbishop added, ‘we don’t want to provide a platform at the meeting for people to lobby for positions contrary to the life of our church, so we’re not providing that kind of lobbying opportunity.’ “

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

But at the same meeting, Archbishop Vincent Paglia, the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on the Family, which is the sponsor of the WMF, took a different approach to the same question.   According to the Italian Catholic news website, La Fede QuotidianaPaglia answered:

” ‘We follow to the letter the “Instrumentum Laboris” [working paper] of the Synod.  Anyone can come, without exception. And if someone feels left out, I leave the 99 sheep and will go find the one.

” ‘The close connection; between the meeting in the US and the Synod, said Monsignor Paglia, ‘is apparently not only temporal. The hope is that the meeting in Philadelphia and the October Synod can really build a social and ecclesial season with renewed leadership for the family.For this we want to work. We want the Gospel of mercy to be proclaimed in the great cities of the world, especially to the poorest and most peripheral.’ “

[For the original Italian language version of the La Fede Quotidiana story, click here.

Paglia is approaching the issue as a pastor, while Chaput is viewing it from the perspective of an administrator.  Paglia’s approach stresses an unconditional welcome, while Chaput’s approach indicates that he is expecting people to cause trouble.  Paglia highlights mercy, while Chaput highlights law.

Chaput’s negative comment might be referring to the fact that WMF  administrators recently turned down a request by Fortunate Families, a network of Catholic parents with LGBT children, to have an exhibit booth at the event.  A WMF administrator explained the rejection:

“Fortunate Families advocates for parental acceptance of LGBT children and adolescents in such a way that ‘acceptance’ requires that parents must show full acceptance of both the person and the entirety of every aspect of the person’s gay or transgender lifestyle. . . .”

This explanation shows that the official was not familiar with Fortunate Families or the way that any parent chooses to respond to any unexpected issue that a child raises.

One commentator has pointed out that Chaput’s comment might indeed be the very thing which sets off demonstrations at the WMF. In, veteran gay rights activist Mark Segal noted:

“They wouldn’t come to protest the pope. But if [Chaput] decides to keep insulting the gay community, I would not be surprised if they decide to protest him.”

In an interview with, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, which is a member of the Equally Blessed coalition,  explained that the coalition’s members (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) are sponsoring 14 families with LGBT members to be pilgrims at the WMF.   She highlighted an essential problem in Chaput’s language of “lobbying”:

“I guess I would question, ‘what do you mean by lobby. If being there to share our stories, to share our faith, is considered lobbying then I guess we are at an impasse.”

Chaput’s approach indicates a defensive position, which imagines a situation’s potential threats.  Perhaps that has been the problem for many years as to why Catholic leaders have not dialogued with LGBT people and their families.

The good news, however, is that Paglia’s approach shows a different attitude that seems to be taking root in more and more church leaders.   Paglia, and others, may not yet accept the moral goodness of lesbian and gay relationships, but their open approach at least allows open the possibility of dialogue.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post:

Fortunate Families Blog: “On Pilgrimage, What is ‘Normal’ and Variation”


A Prayerful Catholic Response to the U.S. Supreme Court Decision

June 27, 2015

As we continue to rejoice over the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling on marriage equality yesterday, let’s take a few moments today in prayer to reflect on the meaning of this development. The following is by a guest blogger.


By Michael F. Pettinger

The Supreme Court’s decision regarding same-sex marriage is an occasion for Catholics to pray. I’d like to share with you a prayer I learned as a child in the Junior Legion of Mary.

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit has rejoiced in God, my Savior.

Not the prayer you expected? But what better song of praise is there than Mary’s Magnificat? (Luke 1: 46-55) And is it not always right and just to magnify the Lord?

For God has looked upon the loneliness of a servant,

and henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

“Magnificat” by Franz Anton Maulbertsch

I know that the original Magnificat says “lowliness,”not “loneliness.” But isn’t loneliness a form of lowliness? And on that first morning of human creation, didn’t God say, “It is not good for the human to be alone?” So God instituted marital relationships because we were alone. And if in answering that loneliness God made a different gender, it only shows that the one who comes to love us can take surprising forms. When Adam sees the startling figure of Eve, he discovers that he is something startling too – a man. He also discovers that Eve, a woman, as different as she is, is human.

Now that our contemporary culture is beginning to acknowledge the dizzying varieties of gender made in the image of the infinite God, what we need to remember is that we are all human. Many people think this variety will somehow threaten the social order. But that social order exists, in part, to relieve the loneliness of each and every one of those human images of God. As Justice Kennedy wrote of the plaintiffs in the case and their attitudes towards marriage, “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.”

We’ve come a little closer to relieving the loneliness we all suffer. We still have a long way to go.

For God Who is Mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is God’s name . . .

You might think God has been resisting this moment of marriage equality all God’s life. I’m pretty sure that’s not true. I aspire to be a historian of Christianity and I have some ideas as to why it’s taken us so long to get here. But one thing is clear: it’s not God who wants me to be alone, and God will no longer let anyone keep me that way.

. . . and God’s mercy is from generation unto generation,

to those who fear God.

Some people say I just want to make God in my image. But I fear God. I fear God enough not to lie about who I am, nor will I let anyone else lie about my extensive queer family. Fearing God also means hearing God. And you haven’t heard God’s voice if you haven’t heard the voices of  queer folk as well. A lot of people suppose that doing God’s will on earth means closing their eyes and ears and hearts to the loneliness of their queer siblings. They shouldn’t be surprised that God has listened to us and found someone else to do God’s will.

For God has shown a mighty arm.

God has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

Some will feel insulted by these words. “Are you calling US proud? Aren’t YOU the people who celebrate pride?” The answer to that question is that there different kinds of pride. At our best, the pride we celebrate is the pride of Jesus Christ who never said to the ones who lied about him and betrayed him, “You’re right. I deserve this. Go ahead, nail me to that cross.”

Neither will we.


Visitation icon

But then there’s a negative kind of pride, too, as when people say that God instituted  marriage for man and woman, and then act as if, God cannot share the gift of marriage with whomever God pleases. God does not need us to direct God’s grace. God acts anywhere, any time, in ways that will astonish us. As the Gospel says: “God can raise up children to Abraham from these very stones.” (Matthew 3:9)

God has cast the mighty down from their thrones,

and God has exalted the lowly.

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich God has sent empty away.

No one wants to get knocked from their thrones. No one wants to go hungry. But sometimes we don’t even see our throne until we’ve fallen from it.

In the last year, I’ve had someone say to me, “your lifestyle is a harbinger of disease. It’s biologically abnormal. It’s not a sin to be ‘homosexual,’ but you shouldn’t act on it.” This person has known me almost my whole life and has known I am gay for the last thirty years. I thought we were close, that we loved each other. But I never spoke about my life as a gay man, and was never asked about it. And when the time came to speak, my friend only repeated more or less what they had been taught to say. So I told the hard truth about what that teaching had done to me and, more importantly, what it continues to do others. And what was the response? “You have belittled and dehumanized me. When did you become so hate-filled?”

It’s as if this person could not hear the hate in their own words.

But responding in anger didn’t make me a saint. I have written a lot about healing the divide in our Church, yet when the moment came I could think of nothing to say that wasn’t meant to hurt the person exactly as I had been hurt. I told the truth, and I can tell myself that they needed to feel the same pain I experienced? But there’s no satisfaction in an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Thinking about this incident  only filled me with more rage.

After a period of reflection, I began to see it differently.

Now I see it differently. This person kicked me to the ground, and I retaliated by  knocking  down their throne. In our pride, we have both gone hungry for the love we once had. But in this life at least, the ground is as far as you can fall. And since God is casting us all from our thrones and setting us up again on wobbly feet, maybe we will all finally meet where we were always meant to be – on the good earth, waiting for God’s mercy.

God ever mindful of mercy, has aided Israel, a servant, 

and kept the promise to our fathers and mothers,

to Abraham, and to their seed for ever.

There was a time when I gave up on that mercy. For a long time it seemed that God had forgotten me, and if I was going to live, I would have to forget God. Maybe I fell for the myth that the powers of  secular Enlightenment were vanquishing Ignorance and Superstition. This thought is the opposite  of the one that say that godless gays are braying against the People of Faith. Neither one is true.

Because however good we think we are, God is better. And where none of us are truly good, the only triumph worth singing about is the triumph of God over every one of us. We’re finally getting justice despite the sinful stupidity that sets all of us at each other’s throats. The Supreme Court has declared that those whose relationships had been despised or ignored can now claim their place in the eyes of one and all. But if we’re open to receiving that justice, it also means remembering that neither marriage, nor sex with a hundred different people, nor a life of no sex at all, will make us good and happy. Good and happy is the gift of God’s love.

I heard this prayer from the woman who first sang this song – a pregnant girl who had not been received into her husband’s house. Who knew who the father was? Her answer would strike anyone of right mind as ridiculous, crazy, or a bold-faced lie. But she knew the truth and it was good for her. Visiting a church a few weeks ago, I saw her statue and realized that, because of things that I had heard about her – and about me – I had stopped praying to her. I wasn’t sure if she was on my side.

So I asked her.

This song was her reply.

I’m thankful she taught it to me.

*     *     *

Me3Michael Pettinger is a professor of literature and religious studies at Eugene Lang College. He is co-editor of Queer Christianities (New York University Press, 2014) and lives in Brooklyn, NY.” He is a contributor to The Huffington Post.

Another Side to Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George on LGBT Issues

June 25, 2015

About 16 months before he died on April 17, 2015, Chicago’s conservative Cardinal Francis George made some surprisingly positive remarks in a private letter to a gay friend about his friend’s relationship, life, and the possibility of doctrinal change.  The following is the account of that letter, dated December 12, 2013, by its recipient, Maurice Monette, who is now making its contents public. A PDF image of the letter is available here.


by Maurice Monette

Cardinal Francis George

I was a long-time friend and confrere of Cardinal George before I left the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and married my husband, Jeff Jackson . I had sent the cardinal a copy of my book, Confessions of a Gay Married Priest: A Spiritual Journey (Amazon, 2013), and his positive written reaction to that memoir which explores my integration of sexuality, spirituality, and relationship has given me hope for the Catholic Church.

“It was very kind of you to think of me and send a copy of your autobiographical memoir,” he began in a full-page letter on Archdiocese letterhead. “It has been a long time since we have had a conversation, but I felt as if I were talking to you through your book. The turn of phrases, the method of presentation and of argument, leaves you very alive in your pages.”

In that letter Cardinal George sent me, he was following up on our last conversation in 1988 at a sidewalk cafe in Rome. He and I knew each other as professors and priests from the same religious congregation. We shared dinner that evening with another priest who put Francis George in his place after he waxed very-informed-Roman about the evil of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. During the same evening, Francis argued that seminaries should be purged of gay men. That night I decided that there was little space in the church for me.

The rest of Francis’s letter surprised me: “It was good to hear the tone of happiness that underlies the presentation of your life. It was good also to get the sense that you have resolved things without bitterness and are free to continue the journey. All this I deeply appreciate.”

Maurice Monette receives a kiss from Jeff Jackson, his husband.

Francis caught my tone and spirit, a by-product of 26 years of happy marriage to a wonderful man. But my tone belied my sadness and regret that the doctrinaire rigidity of the 1980’s church had never left space for genuine dialogue about the oppression of sexual minorities (my oppression), or that of so many others.

“As you yourself said in your note to me, my perspective on the path taken is different from yours.” That is an understatement! Cardinal George was an outspoken opponent of marriage equality; he called same-sex marriage “something that nature itself tells us is impossible”; and he protested LGBT Pride parades near places of worship, claiming gays abuse the freedom of speech like the Ku-Klux-Klan  (he later apologized).

So, it was even more surprising to me that on the night that he died, I found hope in the next words of his letter: “Nonetheless, with you, I agree that we need to keep listening to each other rather than speaking at cross-purposes. The categories of explanation of human experience are many and, as I’m sure you know, I can’t fit all your actions into the sense of things that I believe we have been given through Divine Revelation, even as I know that there is development in interpretation of events and of doctrine.”

As more courts, legislatures, electorates and religious groups around the world affirm the civil rights of marriage equality and religious freedom can thrive together, the words of the Cardinal offer me hope that leadership in the Catholic Church is also moving in the direction of justice and love.

I pray that Francis George died in peace knowing that his studied perspective is appreciated and his willingness to listen and grow is treasured and needed in today’s Catholic church and in other powerful institutions — and that he died confident in a just and loving God.

*     *     *

Maurice L. Monette’s Confessions of a Gay Married Priest won the 2013 Global Ebook Award for best LGBT non-fiction and a 2014 Nautilus Award as a “Better Book for a Better World”.   When a priest, Monette also published seven books on church leadership. Monette can be reached at or on Facebook at Confessions of a Gay Married Priest.

Disappointment and Hope in Vatican’s Working Document on Synod

June 24, 2015

The Vatican has released its working paper for October’s Synod on Marriage and the Family, and while the sections on gay and lesbian issues are either neutral or negative, other parts of the document provide some reason for hope.

Called an Instrumentum Laboris, the document has so far only been released in Italian.  From translations quoted news sources, I’ve been able to piece together some of what the document has to say in paragraphs 130-132 which deal with lesbian and gay people.  [My own unofficial translation of these three paragraphs, thanks primarily to GoogleTranslate, follows my signature at the end of this post; you can read the official Italian version by clicking here.]

The 2014 Synod.

The National Catholic Reporter provided the following translation of parts of that section:

“The document contains a short, three-paragraph section on ministering to gay people, ‘Pastoral attention to persons with homosexual tendencies.’

” ‘Every person, independently of their sexual tendencies, is respected in their dignity and should be received with sensibility and delicateness, both in the church and in society,’ the document states.

” ‘It would be desirable that diocesan pastoral projects reserve a specific attention to the accompanying of families with persons of homosexual tendencies, and of the persons themselves,’ it continues.”

Most dangerous is the use of the term “homosexual tendencies.” Gay and lesbian people view themselves as having a sexual orientation which is a fundamental part of their psychic makeup.  Scientific studies acknowledge the permanence and naturalness of a homosexual orientation.  For church leaders to continue to use “homosexual tendencies,”  which seems to connote impermanence as well as simply a controllable desire to act and not a personality trait, reveals a stunning ignorance of the topic, as well as a disrespectful attitude towards lesbian and gay people.  The document did use “sexual orientation” at one point in the document; they should make sure it is always used when it is accurate.
The only neutral parts of their discussion on homosexuality is the recommendations that lesbian and gay people “should be received with sensibility and delicateness, both in the church and in society,”and “that diocesan pastoral projects reserve a specific attention to the accompanying of families with persons of homosexual tendencies, and of the persons themselves,”  Yet, these are bland and non-committal statements, with no substantive or specific details.   Those details will need to be worked out at the synod, and the result could either be very favorable or much more damaging to lesbian and gay Catholics.
Most shocking in the document is the section on Catholic pastors in developing nations being pressured to accept same-gender relationships under the threat of losing international aid money. This statement is a repeat of the same idea which appeared in the 2014 Synod’s final report. Thanks to GoogleTranslate, and my own admittedly limited knowledge of Italian, the section in the new document reads in English as:
“It is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer pressure in this matter [i.e, concerning legal recognition of same-gender relationships] and that international organizations connect financial aid to poor countries with the introduction of laws that establish the ‘marriage’ between people of the same sex.”
The claim that Catholic pastors suffer pressure from international aid organizations to support marriage equality has no basis in reality. There is not one shred of evidence that this dynamic has happened.  Indeed, on the contrary, it has been shameful that some Catholic bishops have supported laws which allow lesbian and gay people to be criminalized for who they are, making them vulnerable to arrest, torture, and imprisonment.
Moreover, this new document does not reflect any of the positive movement among bishops and lay Catholics which has been occurring over the past few years. The example of Ireland voting in marriage equality is a classic example that Catholic lay people want their Church to approach these matters differently.
Additionally, in reporting on answers to the Vatican’s synod surveys, bishops’ conferences have noted that their nations’ Catholics have responded critically of the official negative attitude toward lesbian and gay people.  And, as Bondings 2.0 has noted time after time, there is a growing movement among bishops, especially since the 2014 synod, on finding ways to accommodate committed lesbian and gay couples.
None of these developments are reflected in the document.
So, what is the reason to hope?
One reason is the presence of an unusually pastoral statement in the document which provides an opening for further discussion.  The National Catholic Reporter, which provided the following translation, referred to this sentence as a call to “open-mindedness:
“A style of communication open to dialogue and free from prejudice is necessary particularly with regard of those Catholics that, in area of marriage and family, do not live, or are unable to live, in full accordance with the teachings of the church.”
If bishops and priests take that statement seriously, and actually practice it, the much needed dialogue on LGBT issues in the Church–as well as so many other gender, sexuality, and relationships issues–could truly begin.
I’m also hopeful because, as I mentioned above, there have been many statements from bishops around the globe over the past few months which indicate an eagerness to discuss pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay people, as well as to discussing the idea of a positive Catholic approach to same-gender relationships and commitments.  A number of these bishops will be at the synod, and I imagine they will give courage to others there to speak out more positively on LGBT issues.
More on this document later in the week. It looks like October is going to be an exciting month!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Unofficial translation of the three paragraphs
from the Instrumentum Laboris which discuss homosexuality
The pastoral care of the homosexual person
130. (55) Some families experience having members with homosexual orientation. Regarding this, we raise the question of pastoral care which is appropriate to deal with this situation by referring to what the Church teaches: “There is no basis whatsoever to assimilate or establish analogies, even remote, between homosexual unions and God’s plan for marriage and the family.” Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. “In their regard every sign of unjust discrimination should be avoided.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4).
131. We reiterate that every person, regardless of their sexual tendencies, must be respected in their dignity and met with sensitivity and delicacy, both in the Church and in society. It would be desirable that the diocesan pastoral plans reserve special attention to the accompaniment of families with persons of homosexual tendencies, and of the persons themselves.”
132. (56) “It is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer pressure in this matter [i.e, concerning legal recognition of same-gender relationships] and that international organizations connect financial aid to poor countries with the introduction of laws that establish the ‘marriage’ between people of the same sex.”


Catholics May Have A Choice If the Boy Scouts Allow Openly Gay Leaders

June 22, 2015

What will Boy Scout troops sponsored by Catholic parishes and agencies do if the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) ends its current ban on allowing openly gay men to serve as scout leaders?

Robert Gates addressing the Boy Scouts of America national meeting.

That question is not a hypothetical one since last month when Robert Gates, the president of BSA, called on the national organization to lift the ban.   His message had a tone of inevitability to it, as he addressed the national meeting of the BSA in Atlanta in May.  He cited the spread of marriage equality and the rise of employment discrimination lawsuits as events which are signaling that the organization should change.  The New York Times quoted from his speech:

“[W]e must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”

Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, said the current bay on gay men “cannot be sustained,” and that “we must all understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later.”

Since many troops are sponsored by a variety of religious institutions, Gates qualified his call for change by saying that local organizations should be allowed to establish their own policies:

“I support a policy that accepts and respects our different perspectives and beliefs. I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement. . . .

“Such an approach would allow all churches, which sponsor some 70 percent of our Scout units, to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith. We must, at all costs, preserve the religious freedom of our church partners to do this.”

National Catholic Committee on ScoutingIn response to Gate’s speech, Edward P. Martin, chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, posted a letter on the Committee’s Facebook page addressed to Catholic scout leaders, saying in part:

“We agree with Mr. Gates that there is cause to act. We also agree with Mr. Gates that chartered organizations must be allowed ‘to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith.’ We certainly support efforts to preserve the Boy Scouts of America. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) has as its mission the constructive use of the program of the Boy Scouts of America as a viable form of youth ministry with the Catholic youth of our nation. We will continue to pursue that mission until such time BSA rules conflict with Catholic teaching. That hasn’t happened yet, nor do we expect it to happen.”

Wouldn’t it be great if the NCCS would allow local Catholic sponsors of BSA troops, the same freedom that Gates wants to allow all BSA troops to determine if they should allow openly gay men to be scout leaders?  That would certainly be a step in the right direction.  It would allow Catholics who see the ban as discriminatory and against their Catholic principles of equality and respect to judge for themselves who would make the best scout leader, regardless of sexual orientation.   When enough Catholic troops do allow gay leaders, they will be a shining testimony to all the others, providing them with wonderful examples of how right it is not to discriminate.

Commenting favorably on Gates’ call for inclusive policies was Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for EqualityThe New York Times quoted him as saying that the move was “undeniably a step forward.”  The story continued with Wahls’ comments:

Zach Wahls

” ‘It seems like the Boy Scouts will continue an internal dialogue about the subject,’ he said, adding that a relaxing of the national ban seemed all but certain. The executive board could mandate such a change at any time in the coming year, he said, or it could decide, as it did in 2013, to put the matter up for a vote at next year’s annual convention of scout leaders from around the country.”

Incidentally, Wahls will be a keynote speaker at the national conference of Call To Action, the Catholic social justice organization, to be held in Milwaukee in November 2015.  He will speak on the topic “What Makes a Family?” For more information, click here.

In 2012, Greg Bourke, an gay scout leader at a Catholic parish in Louisville, Kentucky, was forced to resign from his role after he acknowledged his orientation publicly. If he did not resign, the troop was threatened with losing its charter. Bourke, along with his now-husband, Michael DeLeon, are among the lead plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court case on marriage equality that will be decided in the coming weeks.

In 2013, the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth becoming members of local troops.  Following that decision, some Catholic parishes, very few, decided to cancel their scouting programs rather than abide by the new policy.  Other parishes, the NCCS, and a number of bishops issued statements saying they had no problem with the inclusive policy.  Let’s hope and pray that this new inclusive policy will receive similar support that the previous decision received from this latter group. To read the blog posts from that decision and its repercussions, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter:  “Boy Scouts chief says ban on gay Scouts should be lifted nationwide”

Crux: “Boy Scouts president calls for end to ban on gay leaders”

National Catholic Reporter: “Possible Boy Scout gay leadership change has religious groups weighing options”


Bishops’ Infighting (and Honesty) Intensifies as 2015 Synod Approaches

June 17, 2015

African bishops discussing family life today

Intensifying divides among Catholic bishops are becoming increasingly apparent as preparations for the 2015 synod continue. More and more bishops are speaking about whether and how the church should improve its pastoral care of families, particularly for same-gender partners and their families.

Below, Bondings 2.0 provides a briefing on recent developments, and links are provided for more information, if desired.

African Bishops Meet

African bishops gathered in Accra, Ghana for a consultative meeting in advance of the 2015 Synod of Bishops. Convened by the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), nearly fifty prelates discussed the state of family life on the continent and what African Catholicism offers to the synod.

Several speakers attacked marriage equality, including Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, who told those gathered marriage is “being attacked by all forms of ideologies” to “destroy the family in Africa.” There were repeated calls for Africa’s bishops to “speak with one voice,” reported Vatican Radio.

One voice not included in this African meeting, but which should be considered, is Uganda’s Father Anthony Musaala who is calling for a ‘Sexual Refugee’ program to aid LGBT people fleeing nations where they face elevated levels of violence and discrimination.

European Responses

The National Catholic Reporter detailed European responses from national episcopal conferences, saying overall:

“Europe’s fractious and divided church looks set to play a key role when the synod convenes in October.”

As they had previously done, the bishops of England and Wales solicited input from anyone interested in responding to their online survey, though these results remain unreleased.

Switzerland’s bishops released a summary of 6,000 Catholics’ responses from 570 reports composed after parish conversations, saying overall that church teachings were “complicated, incomprehensible and idealistic.” On homosexuality specifically, spokesperson Walter Müller said most Catholics want formal recognition of same-gender relationships. He added that they:

“[W]ish the church and synod to take reality into account, and to stop defining it as inadequate, irregular, defective and wounded…Only a small minority of answers expressed the wish for a narrow observance of the church’s current doctrine with its strict discipline.”

German bishops, lay people, and theologians have echoed such sentiments in their calls for respect and for recognition of same-gender couples. After Ireland’s referendum in favor of equal marriage rights, Germany’s Cardinal Walter Kasper has said same-gender marriage matter should be the “central issue” of the synod.

France’s bishops reported on 10,000 respondents.  The only information about their answers came from Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré of Montpellier, vice president of the French bishops conference, who said Catholics in his country would like this consultation process to become regularized.

Belgium’s bishops said church teachings on the relevant issues are “hardly understood, even among churchgoing Catholics, and also not practiced,” admitting that a February survey was intended to gain ‘real’ results as intended by Pope Francis.

Poland’s bishops are, alternatively, resisting any of the frankness or close look at reality found in the above statements. These bishops claim recent survey results are “unanimous and unambiguous” that Poles oppose any reforms in Catholic teaching, reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Poland’s Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan directly refuted the merciful approach of Germany’s bishops, calling instead for those with “homosexual tendencies” to seek therapy. Gadecki chaired a recent meeting of Eastern European prelates in Slovakia, strengthening their opposition to any pastoral proposals for LGBT people or the divorced and remarried.

Interestingly, a government survey from March claims 75% of Polish Catholics desire reform because they disagree with the bishops’ teachings on sexuality. The church’s own information agency KAI reports 61% of people expect “significant changes in church teaching” from Pope Francis.

Joint African-European Seminar

Uniting African and Eastern European bishops, a seminar titled “The Joy of the Family” was held in Mozambique in late May to strategize for the synod, reported Aleteia. SECAM and the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe (CCEE) avoided LGBT issues in a closing statement, but several speakers negatively addressed the matter.

Archbishop Edgar Parra Pena, the apostolic nuncio to Mozambique, said Ireland’s passage of marriage equality was a “sad situation” that must be resisted. Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, president of CCEE, indirectly attacked the pastoral proposals from Cardinal Walter Kasper and his German-speaking peers by rejecting experience as a locus of theological reflection.

This meeting is similar to a study day for French, German, and Swiss bishops and theologians late last month, though in that case they strategized about how to expand pastoral care for LGBT people and divorced/remarried Catholics.

Progress Already Made

Not all these developments are positive for LGBT advocates, as those bishops opposed to homosexuality and marriage equality organize against any positive changes in church teaching and practice.   Some recent history provides an important lesson. At Vatican II’s outset,  conservative factions operating under Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani who tried to stem any and all change.

Thankfully, the Spirit intervened then, as now. The dialogue around once silenced issues and even the disagreements occurring among prelates are welcome signs. This is what Pope Francis has desired through this synodal process and it is the seeds from which reform and renewal will keep growing. The process itself is not the easiest and includes setbacks, but even before the synod begins progress has been achieved.

What matters most now is that pro-equality Catholics continue making their affirming voices known to Pope Francis, to the hierarchy, and to the entire People of God.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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