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

Join Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet in Supporting ‘Bondings 2.0′

May 28, 2015

Eric Stonestreet

Today marks 3 and 1/2 years since New Ways Ministry started this blog.  It’s amazing how much we have grown in that time, especially in readership.

While we are proud of all of our readers, we recently learned about a particular reader who we would like to highlight.   Do you watch ABC-TV’s Modern Family? It’s an Emmy-award-winning sitcom which explores contemporary family issues, including a gay couple with an adopted child.

We recently learned that Eric Stonestreet, the actor who plays Cam, one of the gay fathers, has taken notice of Bondings 2.0. Stonestreet, who himself has won two Emmy awards for the show, was recently interviewed on HuffPost Live, and in the course of his conversation, he mentioned a topic that was featured on our blog. To illustrate, the HuffPost Live producers showed our blog post on the screen while Stonestreet spoke of the content.  How exciting to see Bondings 2.0 featured so prominently on such an influential news show!  You can catch the visual and Stonestreet’s comments by clicking here, and scrolling to the 7:50 minute mark and watch and listen for about a minute or so.

We know that Stonestreet had seen the story on Bondings 2.0 previously because the actor had tweeted the link to our blog post to his followers on the same day we published it, about a week before the HuffPost Live interview.The post that caught Stonestreet’s eye was the May 16, 2015, item when we reported on a Vatican official praising Modern Family for its realistic depiction of contemporary issues.

Tweet from @EricStonestreet

Tweet from @EricStonestreet

While we are proud to know that Stonestreet likes us, we are even prouder of our readers, subscribers, and commenters who are regularly a part of what makes this blog a respected source of news and opinion on Catholic LGBT issues. Journalists, researchers, scholars, and advocates have all told us that they turn to Bondings 2.0 to learn about the evolving relationship between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community.

What gratifies us most are the many comments we receive in notes, emails, phone calls, and personal conversations from the great mass of readers who tell us that this blog helps them keep up with the news and provides them with some things to reflect on for their spiritual journeys.  Many folks have told us that reading this blog has become an important part of their morning ritual. Truly, all of these messages are incredibly encouraging for us, and we are grateful for the opportunity to be helpful.

Every six months, on the anniversary of the blog (November 28) and the half-year anniversary (May 28), we make an appeal to our readers for financial support for the blog.  If you are able to send a gift to help New Ways Ministry keep this project vibrant, we would greatly appreciate it.  We don’t ask for contributions at any other time of the year.

You can donate by clicking here, and you will be brought to New Ways Ministry’s website donation page.  When you fill out the donation form online, please type “blog” in the comments section of the form so that we know that is why you are contributing.   You can also mail a check made out to “New Ways Ministry” to our offices at 4012  29th Street, Mount Rainier, MD  20712.  Or call us during business hours at 301-277-5674, and we can take your credit card donation over the phone.  However you decide to contribute, your donation is tax-deductible.

Another way you can show your support is by telling your friends about the blog and encouraging them to subscribe by entering an email address in the “Follow” box at the top of the right hand column of the blog page and clicking the button.  If you yourself are not a subscriber, you might want to do the same.  As a subscriber, you will receive an email every time the blog is updated, usually once a day.  That way, you will never miss out on the latest news.

Thank you in advance for your support.  We wouldn’t be a blog without the great community that we have out there.  Thanks for all that each of you is doing, in your own ways, big and small, to build bridges between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Swiss and Swedish Incidents Reveal the Need for LGBT Education for Clergy

May 23, 2015

Switzerland and Sweden have recently shared a similar sad experience.  In each country, a local Catholic church leader ended up apologizing and retracting incorrect negative statements made publicly about lesbian and gay people.  The cases highlight how bishops and priests so desperately need to be educated about the basics of LGBT lives.

A Swiss bishop has done a flip-flop regarding a statement he made to a French-language newspaper in which he claimed that a homosexual orientation can be “cured” through psychological or prayer interventions.

Bishop Jean-Marie Lovey

LGBTQNation.com reported on the prelate’s original statements:

“Jean-Marie Lovey, one of Switzerland’s most prominent Catholic Bishops, said on Tuesday that he is persuaded that ‘homosexuality can be cured’ by prayer or ‘psychological healing.’

“Lovey, who is the Bishop of Sion, in southern Switzerland, told the Swiss daily Le Nouvelliste that gay people sometime feel their sexuality to be ‘like an injury or suffering. We must therefore, honor their desire for change.’

“ ‘Regarding the fundamental question – “can a homosexual person change?” – there is a domain which you be sure of: prayer,’ said Lovey.

“ ‘In nature, the human being is gendered, masculine-feminine. And is not fully human unless he lives this complementarity. It is a question of natural morality,’ he said. ‘Homosexuality can be cured.’ ”

A few days later with another newspaper, Le Matin, Lovey corrected his original statements.  SwissInfo.ch reported on this second interview, which had also originally been conducted in French:

In Thursday’s Le Matin interview the bishop said he was very surprised by the heated reactions to his comments, both on social media and by gay and lesbian organisations, which he said were ‘misunderstood’.

“ ‘I don’t consider homosexuality to be an illness. But I do know people whose homosexual tendencies were fleeting, without claiming this is the case for everyone. I used the term “cure” for a person who was homosexual and who talks in these terms about his personal experience,’ said Lovey.”

In the first interview,  the bishop did state that he felt that being did not diminish a person’s human dignity, and so gay people should be respected.

Father Ingvar Fogelqvist

This Swiss incident echoes a similar one which happened in Sweden in April. TheLocal.se reported that a priest in that country made mis-informed comments about the psychology of lesbian and gay people, but then, later, apologized and corrected his remarks.  The news article stated:

“Preaching to the Catholic parish of Ärkeängeln Sankt Mikael in Växjö, priest Ingvar Fogelqvist allegedly told students at a confirmation class that certain gay people could be ‘cured’ of their ‘psychological disorder’ while other forms of homosexuality are incurable.

“The priest added that gay people, as well as those who suffer from impotence or other health problems, should not take on the responsibility of family life. . . .

“When contacted by The Local Fogelqvist was not immediately available for comment, but in a press release. . . he later apologized for his comments and said they had been taken out of context.

“ ‘My wording in the interview is clumsy, and I would therefore like to apologize to anyone who may have felt hurt by what I have said. Some of the quotes have also been taken out of context. It was not my intention in any way to express myself in an offensive way against homosexuals,’ he wrote.

“ ‘What I meant by incurable was that homosexuality can be a permanent sexual orientation and is not to be regarded as an illness that can be cured,’ he added.

While it is good that Bishop Lovey and Father Ingvar Fogelqvist  corrected themselves, I hope that they and other bishops  and priests learn from this incident an important lesson: they need to educate themselves about basic scientific knowledge and theological developments about LGBT people.  As educated people, bishops and priests should not be making such ill-informed comments.  It indicates their lack of knowledge about sexual orientation and the lives of LGBT people.

Lovey, like many bishops who have made negative comments about lesbian and gay relationships, has acknowledged that respect for LGBT people is a main tenet of church teaching.  The most basic form of respect is to not speak about a person or group of persons without the most basic knowledge of their reality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

QUOTE TO NOTE: ‘No, You Didn’t.’ ‘Yes, I Did.’

May 19, 2015

computer_key_Quotation_MarksDr. Carys Massarella, a highly respected emergency room physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario, is a transgender woman.

Dr. Carys Massarella

In an interview with CHCH radio in which she discussed her journey of transition, which she did while working at the Catholic hospital, noting:

“I must say, my American colleagues…every time I tell them I did this at a Catholic hospital they are like ‘no you didn’t’ and I’m like ‘yes I did.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

QUOTE TO NOTE: How He Evolved on LGBT Equality

May 18, 2015

computer_key_Quotation_MarksThis past spring, the Missouri legislature has been debating a non-discrimination law based on sexual orientation and gender identity. During one of the hearings, Rep. Galen Higdon, a retired sheriff’s deputy from St. Joseph, said to a witness testifying against the bill:

“I don’t understand why you would object to someone’s private life.”

Representative Galen Higdon

This response came as a surprise to most because Higdon is a politically and religiously conservative Catholic.  St. Louis Today caught up with him to explain how he arrived at his position of support. The reporter described his response:

“Higdon, 60, indicated that, like much of the country, his position toward gays is complicated and evolving.

“Catholic and married for 41 years with three daughters and five grandchildren, he said he still believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“But when a gay couple rented an apartment he owned and told him, ‘we’re just going to use one room’ of the two bedrooms, he assured the couple he had no problem with their living arrangement.

“ ‘I’m not going to live there,’ Higdon said he told them. ‘It was the neatest my flat was ever kept,’ he added.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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