Pope Francis’ Call to Apologize Can Begin with Him — Or Us

July 16, 2016

Pope Francis addressing the Orlando shooting during an in-flight interview

Headlines celebrated Pope Francis’ recommendation that the church apologize to lesbian and gay people, as well as other communities it had marginalized and harmed. But we can’t forget that the pope did not actually apologize and, as of yet, has not done so. So how can the church move forward?

Many people have welcomed the pope’s recommendation for apology as progress, including the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. Their statement called the comments an “historical milestone” and read, in part:

“His first personal statement to the LGBTQI community, since the Orlando shooting, brings light and hope not only for us but also to our families. . .Even if Pope Francis` words were brief, their content is powerful. After three years, the Pope amplifies his famous sentence “Who am I to judge?” (2013) to “Who are we to judge?”, extending his original message from a personal reflection to an open call for the whole Church. This is a statement that cannot be underestimated. It shows his vision for the Catholic community.”

Other responses have been more negative towards the pope’s statement. Mac McCann editorialized about the pontiff’s remarks in the The Dallas Morning News, writing:

“In the mean time, let’s stop praising Pope Francis as if he’s done anything for gay rights. Instead, let’s start praying that Pope Francis actually does something, anything, for the LGBT community. Because, in the end, politely supporting homophobia is still supporting homophobia.”

What many agree upon is that any apology must be backed by action. Dignity/Boston president Peggy Hayes told The Boston Globe:

” ‘I was taught by nuns that it’s not enough to say ‘I’m sorry,’ we had to make amends, and firmly commit to try as hard as we could not to make that mistake again. . .I need to see that change of heart.’ “

Thankfully, many voices are offering suggestions about how the pope and others in the church could apologize and make it meaningful. Michelangelo Signorile of The Huffington Post suggested the pope could apologize “for his own harsh and, yes, violence inciting words about gays” as cardinal-archbishop in Argentina. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he “was quietly lobbying for civil unions” when the country considered marriage equality in 2010. But, Signorile wrote:

“When that didn’t work, and the government made it clear it was moving forward on marriage, Bergoglio did what the Vatican expected of him and which, like a politician, he knew he likely had to do if he were ever to have a shot at becoming pope in Benedict’s Vatican: He issued an ugly, earth-scorching attack against gays, equating gay marriage and adoption by gay couples with the work of the Devil, and declared that gay marriage was a ‘destructive attack on God’s plan.’

“Those kinds of words are the kind that killers of gay people take solace in. Those are the words that empower those who bash gays, and those who fire gays from their jobs. And those are the kinds of words that Francis clearly is saying the church must apologize for. If it’s not those words, after all, then what exactly is Francis referring to?”

Instead of waiting for “the church” to apologize, Signorile opined, the pope could begin by saying “I apologize” right now.

Taking a different perspective was Melinda Selmys of Catholic Authenticity who wrote about an obligation the Catholic faithful have, where appropriate, to apologize for the church’s anti-LGBT actions. She wrote:

“If, as Christians, we want to proclaim a Gospel that is based on repentance for sin, we need to demonstrate that repentance. If our priests are frustrated that the lines for the Confessional are increasingly non-existent, perhaps it’s time to examine what kind of confession and contrition the hierarchy is modeling. When Catholics have corporately sinned, Catholics must offer apologies. . .

“The Pope has now made the first step towards apologizing for the Church’s homophobia, for Christian contributions to discrimination, bullying and hatred shown towards gay people. . .I hope, sincerely, that the rest of the Catholic community will join him in seeking to repent, and to make amends for the harm that Christians have done to their LGBTQ siblings. May this be the first of many apologies; a first, and necessary step on the road to reconciliation.”

Similarly, the GNRC quoted above called on Catholics to become involved in building on the pope’s words with a concrete action:

“For the GNRC, the Pope’s call to the Church to ‘apologize’ to LGBTQI Catholics is a great opportunity for all of us to become part of the solution. Following this spirit, we propose as a concrete step, to establish and develop an official commission at the Vatican to formalize that discussion.”

Whether a personal apology or a Vatican commission or something in between, Pope Francis’ recommendation, insufficient though it may be, is a cornerstone upon which more progress can be built. This pope does not wish to perpetuate a church where top-down authority dictates how Catholics think and act.

Pope Francis’ call to apologize may be an invitation for real change to emerge from the grassroots. If this is true, then every Catholic must examine their conscience for ways they might have contributed to anti-LGBT prejudices and every Catholic must also consider the ways by which they can contribute to the healing and reconciliation of divided LGBT and religious communities in our world.  Such a universal call includes church leaders, especially bishops, to participate in this apology process, too.  But, as has been the case many times in the past regarding LGBT issues,  it is more likely that lay people will have to lead the way.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, which will offer a very simple and practical step that Pope Francis can make his call for apology a tangible reality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholics React Swiftly and Strongly to Archbishop’s Restrictive Guidelines

July 15, 2016

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Pastoral guidelines excluding LGBT people from church ministries and encouraging same-gender couples and others to refrain from Communion have provoked strong responses in the Philadelphia area.

Archbishop Charles Chaput released the guidelines as his response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, though they many have found them contradictory to the the document.

The guidelines instruct church ministers to restrict LGBT people from parish ministries, and to deny Communion to many others. Chaput said that same-gender couples offer a “serious counter-witness to Catholic belief” and “undermine the faith of the community.”

Responses to these restrictive guidelines have been swift and strong. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a Catholic, tweeted that Jesus gave Communion out of love and to all people, and therefore “Chaput’s actions are not Christian.”

Stephen Seufert of Keystone Catholics, an online advocacy organization, criticized the archbishop in The Huffington Posthighlighting a challenging illustration to the ban on LGBT people in ministry:

“I hate to break it to Archbishop Chaput, but there are likely thousands of sexually active LGBT Catholics serving in ministry positions across the world. They’re consoling families, teaching children, healing the sick, feeding the poor, and are administering sacraments like the Eucharist. The Church would most certainly be poorer spiritually if all LGBT Catholics were removed from leadership positions.”

Seufert questioned the impact Archbishop Chaput’s lengthy LGBT-negative record has caused, and the further implications it may have. Citing the Jesuit truism about finding God in all things, Seufert concluded:

“If Archbishop Chaput can’t find any semblance of God in civilly married same-sex couples and their families, he’s not spending enough time with LGBT people and their families. . .

“He may not realizes this, but the more Archbishop Chaput resists civil liberties for non-traditional families, the more likely Catholics will push for internal change within the Church on marriage and the family. This internal change will occur with or without people like Archbishop Chaput because an ever increasing number of straight Catholics like me are taking the time to learn about, live with, and unconditionally love their LGBT brothers and sisters.”

It is an established reality that U.S. Catholics are, as Seufert noted, overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT rights. This dissonance between how Catholics are practicing their faith and what the archbishop seeks to impose could be problematic.

Kevin Hughes, a theology professor at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, told the Delco Times the ambiguities in Amoris Laetitia mean implementation could either expand pastoral care or it could lead to restrictions. If it is the latter, as with Chaput’s guidelines, Hughes said:

“I think there are parish communities in which divorced and civilly remarried people and/or gay couples are active participants in the life of a parish. The guidelines will ask for some very serious soul-searching among pastors and parishioners alike, and it will be very painful for some communities to sort out the questions of leadership and liturgical roles.”

Not all priests in the Archdiocese are following Chaput’s path. Fr. Joseph Corley of Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Darby, will host a discussion of the exhortation and the guidelines at his suburban Philadelphia parish, but with the aim of “helping people to develop an informed conscience.”

Letters to the editor published by The Inquirer in Philadelphia reveal members of the Catholic faithful deeply critical of the archbishop. Laura Szatny wrote that the “sheer arrogance and un-Christian attitude of Chaput continue to stun.” Kate Fleming questioned his priorities, noting the archbishop’s opposition to state legislation expanding the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse:

“Archbishop Charles Chaput should focus on policing his priests, who take a vow of celibacy, instead of his flock. Protecting innocent victims of sexual abuse by his employees seems to be a much more important problem than the sex lives of lay Catholics.”

Writing in Philly Mag, columnist Liz Spikol also noted the abuse scandals currently exploding in the Pennsylvania church and the harm the church has caused to people. She queried:

“Obviously, Chaput had no personal involvement in the tragic case of Brian Gergely [an clergy abuse survivor who committed suicide the same week the guidelines were released]. But Gergely’s fellow survivors know the kind of Church Chaput represents all too well — the kind where higher-ups are exalted regardless of their lack of humanity, where preventing scandal is more important that preventing harm. . .

“In his Pastoral Guidelines, Chaput refused to use common terms for members of the LGBT community. . .It is utterly dehumanizing. When will Chaput and those in his circle understand that his hardline approach, which has already caused so much damage, only does the Church harm? I look forward to the day when the Philadelphia Archdiocese — as well as those in other parts of Pennsylvania — serve as a model for Francis’s supremely humane teachings.”

Catholics all over Philadelphia have criticized the archbishop adequately. I would add only one more point to their observations. In Amoris Laetitia, one of the most striking lines from Pope Francis is when he addresses church ministers with these words, “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” There is much more in the 256-page document that contradicts Chaput’s guidelines, but these words about conscience seem paramount. The archbishop continues to replace Catholics’ consciences with his own judgements. Thankfully, Philadelphia Catholics are still listening to the that voice of God echoing in the depths of their being, and living the Gospel as they know best.

You can read more about the pastoral guidelines by clicking here. You can access New Ways Ministry’s statement in response by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Massachusetts Bishops Offer Temperate Response to New Transgender Law

July 14, 2016

mcc-logoCatholic bishops in Massachusetts have offered a tempered, though not perfect, response to newly passed anti-discrimination law aimed at protecting transgender people. Their statement improves upon other church leaders’ responses to this contentious human rights issue in other U.S. states.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill in law last Friday. Building on employment protections passed in 2011, the new law provides non-discrimination protections based on gender identity for all public accommodations in the state. The Massachusetts Catholic Conference, representing the state’s bishops, released a statement which said, in part:

“While the purpose and intent of the legislation is to provide protection and access to public accommodations for transgender individuals in the Commonwealth, the issue of its implementation will require both careful oversight and respect for all individuals using such public accommodations. . .

“The understanding of and respect for transgender persons has only recently commanded widespread attention. The complex challenge of crafting legislative protections for some in our community while meeting the needs of the wider population will require sensitive application of the legislation just passed.”

The Conference statement suggested debate will continue, citing contested gender and sexuality issues addressed by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris LaetitiaBut the Conference urged civility, concluding:

“Debate about this legislation and its implementation will undoubtedly continue in some form. It will inevitably touch on themes not easily captured by law. . .We urge respect in this discussion for all those whose rights require protection. In our parishes, schools and other institutions, the Church will respect the civil law while upholding the principles of our faith and our religious freedom.”

Public accommodation protections for transgender people have been hotly debated in the U.S., with more than 100 pieces of anti-LGBT legislation having been debated in state legislatures this year. Debates about these bills, and the broader issue of transgender public accommodations, have very often become rancorous.

The country’s Catholic bishops, for the most part, have responded poorly. North Carolina’s bishops welcomed that state’s HB 2 law which mandates restroom use according to assigned sex at birth, though one bishop later qualified his support. Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson offered qualified praise for Mississippi’s HB 1523 law, a law which allowed for some discrimination.  It was described by one state legislator as “the most hateful bill I have seen in my career in this legislature.” Bishops in Nebraska actively opposed newly-approved policies to protect transgender student-athletes in the state’s schools. And at least two dioceses criticized President Barack Obama’s directive mandating public school students be able to use restrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity. It is worth noting, too, that Vatican official Cardinal Robert Sarah, while addressing the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, referred to transgender rights as “demonic.”

Respecting transgender people should be a “fairly simple thing to do,” to quote Jesuit Fr. James Martin, but unfortunately this has been too difficult for many church leaders. Issues around gender identity and expression, civil law, and true religious liberty can be very complicated, as Bondings 2.0 has noted at least twice (here and here).

The church’s response should be respectful, a simple thing to do, but should not rely upon simple answers where nuance is required. The Massachusetts’ bishops response in this case should have highlighted more strongly Catholic teaching about opposing discrimination, but even with that deficiency, its tempered tone and willingness to dialogue is a step forward.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

One Month After Orlando Massacre, Sr. Jeannine Gramick Decries Silence On Violence

July 12, 2016
Jeannine Gramick Photo

Sister Jeannine Gramick

49 people were murdered one month ago today at Pulse, a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, and 53 more were wounded. These victims, constituting the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, have stirred conversations about anti-LGBT prejudice and violence and prompted many Catholics to memorialize the victims.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry, says even more speech is needed around this event, given that there is still too much silence in the world–and in the church–around anti-LGBT violence. Acknowledging a long history of violence against LGBT people, and the daily threats they continue to face “through verbal threats, intimidation and bullying, and even imprisonment, torture and death,” she wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

“One kind of violence not often recognized is the violence of silence. After the Orlando massacre, some in our church were guilty of this kind of violence. Headlines the world over noted that the shooting took place in a gay club, but statements released by the Vatican press office, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Orlando’s bishop conspicuously passed over references that the people targeted were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Some bishops issued no statement at all.

“Silence is violence when, as in this instance, it denies the existence of a whole category of people, people who have been targeted with physical violence because of who they are. If I don’t acknowledge your existence, I do not need to recognize your rights; I do not see that you need added protections. Furthermore, I am unable to know you or to relate to you in a meaningful way.

” ‘Silence=Death,’ the slogan of AIDS activists in the 1980s, not only questioned President Ronald Reagan’s silence about the disease, it also boldly declared that, as a matter of survival, silence about the repression of LGBT people must end. The violence of silence kills.”

Gramick acknowledged that less than ten U.S. bishops identified the Orlando victims as predominantly LGBT people. Of these, only a few challenged anti-gay prejudices in the church and in society. One Florida bishop even criticized another bishop who courageously acknowledged the church’s contributions to homophobia.

Tying the Orlando incident to the news of the Vatican’s proposed further questioning of at least three communities of U.S. women religious, Gramick called for an end to silence and secrecy:

“Church investigations of individuals or groups have usually been shrouded in secrecy, which has had disastrous consequences for the life of the church. Secrecy instills fear and enables authorities to exercise control of mind or action. When significant matters are kept secret from the faithful, church leaders cannot be held accountable for their actions, nor can the faithful engage in informed conversations about important issues. . .

“Silence can even destroy the spiritual family we call church. . .If our church were a democracy and this a campaign year, my yard signs and buttons would read, ‘Down with the violence of silence and up with a victory for speech!’ “


Memorial at the Farm Street Jesuit Parish in London

Other Catholics around the globe have spoken out since the shooting in Orlando a month ago, too, remembering the victims and recommitting to the cause of LGBT justice.

LGBT Catholics Westminster, gathered at the Farm Street Jesuit Parish in the Mayfair section of London, remembered the victims during Mass in late June. Homilist Fr. Tony Nye challenged his listeners to question their priorities in view of Orlando, asking them:

“Do we put God and God’s justice first in our thinking? That may mean controlling our anger and discovering any prejudice that lingers in our thinking. That may mean being ready for the cost that following our Lord may entail, the cost of standing up and being counted on behalf of justice, of respect for our neighbour whoever he or she may be, of truly seeking God’s will in our attempt to follow Christ’s call.”

The Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach in Chicago remembered victims at Mass the following week, placing victims’ photos before the altar and reading each person’s name and age, reported Crux. A comforting letter from Archbishop Blase Cupich was read, which included Cupich’s statement to LGBT people that he and the archdiocese stand with them.

In a more troublesome incident, a June 24th Mass for the victims held in San Juan, Puerto Rico was interrupted by a bomb threat and Communion was distributed outside, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Fears about an unattended backpack, later disproven, reveal the heightened vigilance many have felt during commemorations. San Juan’s Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves tied the memorial to the day’s feast, St. John the Baptist, patron of the city, who the archbishop said “was also a victim of hate and caprice.” Gonzalez called for an end to discrimination facing LGBT people, imploring Catholics to be converted like John the Baptist away from violence and to Christ.

Beyond just remembering those people killed at Pulse, Catholic memorials include acts of prophetic speaking out. They have made room in the church for LGBT people, to acknowledge not just their sufferings at this time, but their ongoing presences in our communities and the contributions they offer the church. Alfred Pang recently reflected on this blog about the way Pride celebrations have functioned in the wake of Orlando. The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics launched a sign-on statement of solidarity with the victims of Orlando and LGBT people in the United States, which you can sign here.

A further petition, signed already by 1,300 people, asks Pope Francis to retract harmful language about lesbian, bisexual, and gay people in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well support decriminalization efforts at the United Nations. The petition, which you can find here, reads, in part:

“Faced with the horror [of Orlando], it is not enough to deplore or even sympathize, we must fight and fight which leads to hatred and crime. . .Pope Francis, you can combat hatred. Repeal immediately Article 2357 (1) of the catechism stigmatizing sexual orientation. The criminal repression of homosexuality is, as we know, a fertile ground for transition to the murderous act, which is why we call on you to engage in your UN authority and that of the Vatican, today strangely acting in abstention, for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality.”

These liturgies and prayer services, these statements and speaking out have all re-membered the Body of Christ, relocating a horrific tragedy in the context of the communion of saints and the resurrection. Sr. Julia Walsh wrote about her experience of this mourning, yet life-giving process for Global Sisters Report. Walsh attended a Mass where the victims’ faces were printed on posters, about which she wrote:


“Our bodies are united. We are one; together in the grief, pain and trauma. No one suffers alone. We hurt together; we are frustrated and disturbed together. . .

“We were gathered in sacred space, in a place where we could safely and fully express our common experience and beliefs. In some ways, we were not unlike those who entered the Pulse dance club in Orlando seeking sanctuary from a world that persecuted them for their difference. Just as they had found a home and a loving, accepting community where they felt free to be themselves, we Catholics had found our home around the Eucharistic table and were free to express our faith. Our sea of faces bowing toward the Bread Broken for All was not unlike the sea of sacred faces encountering safety and freedom on a dance floor.

“Expecting a typical liturgy, I entered the church with my grief for the Orlando victims engulfed by my busy life. I left changed, weary and soaked from a good cry, with the faces on the posters and of the kind people in the church community embalmed in my memory.”

To read Bondings 2.0′s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter, “Statements by us bishops on Orlando shooting

San Diego’s Bishop McElroy Backs LGBT Affirming Words with Action

July 10, 2016

Bishop Robert McElroy

An African proverb says the following, “When you pray, move your feet.” It captures well the reality that prayer is not platitudes, but an act of one’s whole being. Even in his brief tenure, few bishops have lived this truth as well as Bishop Robert McElroy when it comes to LGBT issues in the church.

Following the massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Bishop McElroy was one of less than ten U.S. bishops who acknowledged the victims’ targeted identities. He said LGBT people had been “specifically targeted and victimized,” and called on Catholics to root out anti-gay prejudices in church and in society.

McElroy expanded on this statement in an interview with the Jesuit-weekly, America. He affirmed Pope Francis’ recommendation that the church should apologize to LGBT people and others it has marginalized, saying:

” ‘When I go out and meet with laypeople. . .so many of them have family members, brother and sisters and sons and daughters, mothers and fathers who are gay or lesbian.’

” ‘For them it is a great and painful thing to feel excluded from the life of the church, and for that element. . .we are not moving fast enough.’

” ‘What we need to project in the life of the church is “You are part of us and we are part of you.” [LGBT Catholics] are part of our families. . .[An apology could] create an understanding and a reality in the life of the church that members of the [LGBT] community are welcome, and genuinely so.’ “

Treatment of LGBT issues in the church has been too limited, McElroy said, and too many pastoral workers have felt they must choose falsely between upholding church teachings and caring for marginalized peoples. He continued:

” ‘My own view is that much of the destructive attitude of many Catholics to the gay and lesbian community is motivated by a failure to comprehend the totality of the church’s teaching on homosexuality. . .

” ‘[Sexual activity exclusively in the context of heterosexual marriage is] not a teaching which applies just to gay men. . .It is teaching across the board and there is massive failure on that.’ “

Integral, but often lost in Catholics’ consideration is the Christian call “to build a society in which people are not victimized or violence visited upon them or unjustly discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.” Acknowledging existing Catholic efforts towards this end, McElroy called the church to “step it up.” He said bishops should not only issue institutional apologies, but “seek to collaborate with those in society who are working to banish discrimination and violence leveled against people because of their sexual orientation.”

McElroy also criticized language used in church teaching on homosexuality that is deeply harmful, like describing lesbian, bisexual, and gay people as ‘intrinsically disordered’:

” ‘We are not talking about some group or person who is the ‘other’. . .It has to be language that is inclusive, embracing, it has to be pastoral. . . [What exists is] very destructive language that I think we should not use pastorally.’ “

Bishop McElroy is backing his words with action. He participated in a San Diego memorial for the Orlando victims last night, hosted by Latinx and LGBT organizations. About his participation, LGBT Weekly columnist Nicole Murray Ramirez wrote:

“[McElroy’s attendance is] especially historic as is his statement on the Orlando attack; his outreach and compassion for the LGBT community has touched many of us gay Catholic’s hearts, and given us hope of a better relationship with the San Diego Catholic Diocese.”

[Editor’s note:  We will try to provide coverage of McElroy’s participation in this vigil in the next few days.]

McElroy’s prayers for the LGBT victims in Orlando are backed by his movements towards reconciliation. He clearly believes in Pope Francis’ welcoming approach, and is seeking to live it out in the local church which he oversees. We hope his efforts will be received well. and that improved relationships between Catholic communities, LGBT communities, and LGBT Catholic communities will come to San Diego.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Cardinal Schönborn: “Amoris Laetitia” Evolves Catholic Doctrine on Family Life

July 8, 2016

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, right, holding Amoris Laetitia when it was announced in April

A top cardinal who was closely connected to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, has again affirmed the exhortation’s authoritative status, and said it evolves understandings and expressions of Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a Dominican, made these remarks and others in an extensive interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro of the Vatican-reviewed Italian journal, La Civita Cattolica. Excerpts, available here, have been translated into English.

Amoris Laetitia is “the great text of moral theology” the church has awaited since Vatican II, America quoted Schönborn as saying. It is moving the church from ” ‘a defensive pastoral style in which evil becomes an obsession’ toward one that focuses on recognizing the value of encouraging what is good.” Asked about the exhortation’s authority and the exhortation’s relation to Catholic doctrine–in light of criticisms that it is a minor document, or even only the pope’s opinion, as Cardinal Raymond Burke claimed–Schönborn said:

“It is obvious that this is an act of the magisterium. . .I have no doubt that it must be said that this is a pontifical document of great quality, an authentic teaching of sacra doctrina, which leads us back to the contemporary relevance of the Word of God. . .

“In this sphere of human realities, the Holy Father has fundamentally renewed the discourse of the Church – certainly along the lines of Evangelii gaudium, but also of Gaudium et spes, which presents doctrinal principles and reflections on human beings today that are in a continuous evolution. There is a profound openness to accept reality.”

Schönborn said Pope Francis rejected doctrine which is “abstract pronouncements that are separated from the subject who lives,” saying the exhortation’s “bedrock” is understanding that families are not ideals but rather are journeying. He continued:

“The complexity of family situations, which goes far beyond what was customary in our Western societies even a few decades ago, has made it necessary to look in a more nuanced way at the complexity of these situations. To a greater degree than in the past, the objective situation of a person does not tell us everything about that person in relation to God and in relation to the Church. This evolution compels us urgently to rethink what we meant when we spoke of objective situations of sin. And this implicitly entails a homogeneous evolution in the understanding and in the expression of the doctrine.”

In short, Schönborn clarified, “There is no general norm that can cover all the particular cases.”

Other bishops have affirmed Amoris Laetitia‘s authority as they consider how it should be implemented. Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, Malta, called church ministers to exercise “cautious discernment and respect” when encountering people in irregular situations, reported the Independent. Naming LGBT Catholics in civil unions, Grech said:

“Our pastoral activity should be based on four actions – accepting, accompanying, discerning and integrating. The Pope tells us it is important that we help divorced people who are in a new relationship to feel part of the church, that they are not excommunicated or regarded as such, because they also form part of the ecclesiastical communion.”

Grech, whose record on LGBT issues is generally positive, encouraged church ministers not to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “torture chamber.” Instead, he said the church must engage people as people, not situations, and to “[be] mindful of the language you use.”

Yet despite Schönborn and others’ insistence that Amoris Laetitia represents a development of doctrine, especially in its respect for the complexities of family life today, not all bishops have treated it as such.

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on new guidelines from Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput establishing general norms in the archdiocese that ban LGBT people from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to Catholics in non-traditional families. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on these guidelines here.

Debates about Amoris Laetitia will certainly continue for months, if not years. What is important for LGBT Catholics and their advocates, however, is the growing admission by church leaders that doctrine can and has developed when it comes to family life. Opponents of same-gender sexual activity, relationships, and marriage equality frequently say church teaching is unchanging. But Cardinal Schönborn’s interview makes clear such a view is false, and that beyond the clear pastoral recommendations there are doctrinal implications, too. His voice possesses tremendous weight. He was the spokesperson at the April press conference that made Amoris Laetitia available to the public.  He appeared alongside a married Italian couple and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri, the Synod of Bishops’ secretary general.  In the 1990s,  Schönborn oversaw publication of the most recent edition of the Catechism.

The progressive changes sought by many Catholics on gender and sexuality issues were not accomplished in or by Amoris Laetitia. And Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines are evidence the document can and will be misinterpreted by church leaders who wish to suppress pastoral and doctrinal evolution. But there is tremendous hope in the reality that a growing number of church leaders are admitting change is possible, and even needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

New Guidelines Ban LGBT People from Parish Ministries

July 7, 2016

Archbishop Charles Chaput

In new guidelines, Philadelphia’s archbishop has banned people in same-gender relationships from pastoral or liturgical roles.

Archbishop Charles Chaput’s guidelines are a response to Amoris LaetitiaPope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on family, and the synodal process preceding the exhortation’s April publication. The guidelines, which became effective July 1, instruct church ministers involved with marriage and family life, or the church’s sacramental life on handling Catholics in diverse family arrangements.  In addition to restrictions on same-gender couples, the guidelines also tell pastors not to distribute communion to couples who are divorced and civilly remarried, as well as couples who are cohabitating.

(For New Ways Ministry’s response to the guidelines, click here.)

Addressing the pastoral care of people in same-gender relationships, Chaput wrote that pastors must prudentially judge an appropriate response to couples who “present themselves openly in a parish.” He continued:

“But two persons in an active, public same-sex relationship, no matter how sincere, offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community. Such a relationship cannot be accepted into the life of the parish without undermining the faith of the community, most notably the children.

“Finally, those living openly same-sex lifestyles should not hold positions of responsibility in a parish, nor should they carry out any liturgical ministry or function.”

Under a section titled “For persons who experience same-sex attraction,” Chaput said lesbian, bisexual, and gay Catholics should “struggle to live chastely” and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently.

Michael Rocks, president of Dignity/Philadelphia, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was “not surprised” by Chaput issuing such harsh guidelines, but questioned them nonetheless:

” ‘But I wonder how they tell if straight people are following the sexual rules of the church. . .How do they tell if the president of the parish council isn’t into child pornography or having a sexual relationship?’ “

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, said that instead of acknowledging the fullness of marriage and family, “in Philadelphia, it is all about the genitalia.” He continued:

“So intent are prelates like Archbishop Chaput in refusing to think there is anything really worth discussing here, they wish to shut down and foreclose the pope’s obvious invitation to discussion and adult decision making. . .

“When Archbishop Chaput gets to the situation of gay and lesbian Catholics, he declines to even show the simple respect of referring to gays and lesbians as they refer to themselves, adopting the awkward, and rude, circumlocution “those who experience same sex attraction. . .When such respect is seen to coincide with even the tiniest possibility that an opportunity to denounce homosexual relations as sinful will be missed, too many prelates follow Archbishop Chaput and decline the respect and seize the opportunity.”

Archbishop Chaput acknowledged part of the guidelines as a “hard teaching,” but insisted on these guidelines in the archdiocese. His record on LGBT issues had been already quite troubling before these guidelines were announced. He previously ejected LGBT organizations from hosting programs at a Catholic parish, and he warned LGBT Catholics against protesting ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Locally, he implemented a morality pledge for parents of Catholic schoolchildren that includes non-support of LGBT equality, dismissed the concerns of a Catholic mother with gay sons, and said he was “very grateful” lesbian educator Margie Winters had been fired by the Sisters of Mercy. This list of problematic statements and actions against LGBT people goes on.

Even with this record, banning Catholics in loving, fruitful same-gender relationships from all parish and liturgical ministries is notable. This exclusionary stance not only harms LGBT people and their families, but hinders the church’s mission too by depriving it of the many gifts and talents that faithful LGBT people offer the People of God.

Unfortunately, the archbishop’s merciless stance may not be limited to Philadelphia. Chaput, who participated in the 2015 General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, was appointed by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz to head a working group tasked with “furthering the reception and implementation of” Amoris Laetitia. He chairs, too, the Conference’s Committee on Family Life, and was elected to the Synod of Bishops’ 12-member permanent council.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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