Church’s Failure to Defend Gay Rights Contradicts Gospel, Says German Priest

July 21, 2016

Fr. Klaus Mertes, SJ

A German priest has critiqued systemic homophobia in the Catholic Church, doing so the day after Pope Francis recommended the church apologize to LGB people and others it had harmed.

Jesuit Fr. Klaus Mertes of Berlin, Germany, called the Catholic Church to re-evaluate how homophobia functions in ecclesial teachings and practice, reported Global Pulse. In an article for the academic journaltheologie.geschichte (“theology.history”), Mertes highlighted areas where homophobia is reinforced by church teaching, as well as where it influences the church’s work.

Mertes began by saying homophobia violates the commandment of charity, and that Scripture and early Christianity clearly witness to inclusive, equal relationships in opposition to today’s homophobia. Citing Galatians 3:28–“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”–the priest said modern adaptions could include that “there are no longer homosexual or heterosexual.” He continued:

“That the Church cannot bring itself to uphold the basic human rights of gay people, and that it even allows senior church representatives to champion cultural traditions which threaten homosexuals with death, contradicts the Gospel Message.”

Mertes examined how homophobia in the church influences its interpretation of Scripture. He noted that contemporary anti-gay prejudices “prevent an historical-critical look at the relevant passages” in Scripture and in non-canonical historical texts. Prejudice leads some to prefer a “fundamentalist Bible exegesis” at odds with the historical-critical approach endorsed during Vatican II. Scholars have repeatedly debunked the idea that any biblical condemnation of homosexual activity can be understood as a condemnation of the modern understanding of homosexual orientation and relationships.

Second, Mertes criticized church teaching as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He recognized not only the active homophobia in the Catechism’s explanations, but also sees it in ” blind spots and performative contradictions.” For instance, homosexuality is addressed in the Catechism’s treatment of offenses against chastity thereby suggesting that just being gay is an offense as are any longings and desires. Mertes wrote:

“This painfully affects the everyday experience of gay people in the Church. Instead of being assigned to the field of ‘chastity,’ the subject of homosexuality should be handled under the heading of ‘human rights.’

Where the Catechism does speak against anti-gay discrimination, the message is bizarre and gets “lost amidst discriminating statements” on homosexuality elsewhere, Mertes observed. Of the frequently cited Catechism section no. 2358, where the church is called to engage gay people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” Mertes said it is “patronizing and hurtful.” To those persons who believe homosexuality is a Cross to be carried, Mertes responded that it is not one’s orientation that is the Cross but the “aversion and hostility of homophobia” imposed upon someone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

The article, published in German and accessible here, noted other areas where anti-gay prejudices afflicts the church. Mertes criticized the Platonic and Aristotelian understandings of sexuality and gender which have negatively impacted church teaching and theology across the ages. He challenged lingering associations in the church of homosexuality with child sexual abuse; he challenged rumors of a “gay lobby” at the Vatican; he challenged the ways in which homophobia and misogyny function within all-male societies like the Catholic clergy.

Mertes concluded by recounting the story of the Australian couple that addressed the 2014 synod and spoke about their friends who have a partnered gay son. The Australian speakers were criticized afterwards for bringing up their friends’ support of the gay couple.  Mertes commented on this criticism:

“This reflects the face of homophobia. They do not want the discourse. That is the problem. Because the discourse is like paste that no longer can be pushed back into the tube. Homophobia experiences discourse as threatening,  and so it fights against it, instead of listening and arguing. But the scene from Rome also shows the power of the personal word: The discourse is not triggered by the ‘speaking about” in the third person singular, but by speaking in the first person singular (or plural). The most important contribution to the reduction of homophobia is therefore the discourse in the first person.”

This is not Fr. Mertes first time criticizing the church for how it approaches homosexuality. In a June interview, he said church leaders must reform the “deficient mindset” they hold on this issue and extolled LGBT Catholics who remain in the church despite oppression. Commenting on nations where bisexual, lesbian, and gay people face the death penalty, Mertes said he was “appalled that the church is so silent on this issue.” The German priest is well known, too, for being a whistleblower in Germany about sexual abuse at a Jesuit school in the country.

Much of what Fr. Mertes wrote in the journal article is not new, such as the Scriptural research or critiques of how church leaders understand clergy sexual abuse. What is striking, however, is the powerful and concise way in which he laid out a systemic homophobia in all areas of church life. When reading it all together, even LGBT people and their allies will be struck again by the deep problems in our church’s treatment of sexuality and gender.

Mertes’ two best contributions are, first, his recommendation that the church shift the lens through which it understands and engages homosexuality, moving from a focus on chastity to a focus on human rights. If an updated edition of the Catechism made only this revision, it would do much good. Second, the priest identified anew what LGBT advocates have long known, which is the power of personal narrative. Sharing stories and speaking in the first person invites connection and opens minds in the most powerful ways.

Homophobia is  intensely present in our church, as Mertes made clear, but I am hopeful because, so too, are the loving and courageous witnesses of LGBT people and their loved ones who break down prejudices and build up justice.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Welcome Center for World Youth Day in Poland

July 20, 2016

LGBT youth and their supporters will have a safe place to meet each other and share faith perspectives at World Youth Day in Poland, thanks to Faith and Rainbow, a Polish LGBT Christian organization, and the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, an ecumenical organization.

13438908_1128332957225446_5699180952132394142_n“Pilgrim’s Haven,” which will be housed in a cafe in Krakow’s Kazimierz Jewish quarter, will offer hospitality, as well as a program of presentations and discussions for pilgrim’s attending the week-long World Youth Day (WYD) program which is sponsored by the Vatican and hosted by the Polish bishops.  The Pilgrim’s Haven is not an official part of the program, but organizers feel that it fills an important purpose since there is no other place for LGBT pilgrims and supporters to connect.  WYD will take place July 26th-31st, and hundreds of thousands of young Catholics are expected to attend.

Misha Czerniak, one of the organizers, told (article in Polish):

“We wanted to create so-called. ‘safe space’ where people who participate in World Youth Day can talk, discuss topics of faith, orientation, or gender identity in the situation safe, friendly and accepting. Such a space missing in the WYD.”

Czerniak said that members of Faith and Rainbow contacted Bishop Damian Muskus, auxiliary of Krakow who is overseeing WYD, but they were told that the Pilgrim’s Haven could not be part of the program.  Still, the Polish LGBT group will invite the Polish bishops to stop by to meet with youth who gather there. Czerniak said that organizers had cordial meetings with Krakow’s Bishop Grzegorz Rys and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.   He hoped that these bishops’ kindness “will inspire Pope Francis to make positive statements about LGBT people.”

Pilgrim’s Haven has a Facebook page, which includes a schedule of events in Polish and English.  The first presentation at the center will be a screening of “In Good Conscience:  Sister Jeannine Gramick’s Journey of Faith,”  a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Barbara Rick, which chronicles the life and LGBT outreach of New Ways Ministry’s co-founder (whose heritage, coincidentally, is Polish).

On successive days, two films by Brendan Fay will be shown:  “Remembering Mychal” about New York Fire Department chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, who was openly gay and who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11;   “Taking a Chance on God” about John McNeill, the theologian who first critiqued the church’s ban on gay/lesbian sexual expression.

Krakow’s central square with St. Mary’s Basilica

Among other events, Marcela Kościańczuk, a religion scholar who is a member of Faith and Rainbow, will offer several pastoral presentations, and Michael Brinkschroder, a Catholic theologian and sociologist who has served as co-president of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups,  will discuss spirituality and advocacy topics.

Pilgrim’s Haven can be found in Ogniwo Cafe, located at Paulińska 28, in Krakow.

In addition to the schedule of presentations, the Facebook page describes the opportunities that the Pilgrim’s Haven will offer:

“The point is open for those who wish to rest a bit from the heat and the crowds. Several lay and clergy volunteers will also be available and ready to listen, to talk about issues of faith, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as to offer advice and counselling, or to pray together.
We invite LGBT believers as well as non-Catholics or those who do not belong to the Church but want to spend some time together with us.”
At World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013, a group of LGBT and ally pilgrims attended the programs and struck up conversations with youth from around the world.  Their received many positive reactions.  Their participation was sponsored by the Equally Blessed coalition which is made up of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.
Pope Francis will be in Krakow for five days for the WYD program, and will close the event with a Mass on July 31st.  It was on his return flight from his first WYD program that he uttered his famous “Who am I to judge?” statement, which was his first indication that LGBT issues would be treated differently under this papacy than they had been in the past.
Wouldn’t it be great if Pope Francis made history again during this WYD by visiting the Pilgrim’s Haven and greeting the LGBT youth there?  While security issues alone may not allow that to happen, perhaps the pontiff could simply address concerns of LGBT youth in his public remarks during his five days at the event.  LGBT issues are a high social justice priority for the next generation, and Pope Francis has already shown that he is willing to address these topics in a new and candid way.  World Youth Day would be a great opportunity for him to expand on his call for an apology to the LGBT community, and for him to continue to call for the members of our church to dialogue with individuals who have been historically ostracized from the church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related article:

Die Zeit:  “Homosexual Christians want to participate at Catholic World Youth Day in Poland” (article in German)


Priest Subjected to Homophobic Attacks Cleared of All Accusations

July 19, 2016

Fr. Pedro Corces

A Catholic priest who was subjected to homophobic attacks has been cleared of accusations leveled against him by a handful of right-wing Catholics.

The Archdiocese of Miami’s two month investigation of Fr. Pedro Corces found that “no sexual impropriety had occurred,” according to the Miami Herald. Archbishop Thomas Wenski notified parishioners of the findings through a July 5 letter, in which he noted:

“During these past weeks and days, I have received many letters from many people telling what a positive influence Father Corces and his ministry have played in their lives. Father has many gifts to share with God’s people but running a parish does not seem to be one of them.”

However, the archbishop did criticize Corces’ management style, saying the priest created the “perception among some of inappropriate behavior.”  Wenski said that Corces will be re-assigned to non-administrative ministry, which the archbishop said was the priest’s request.

The controversy around Corces arose when a small group of right-wing parishioners and school parents at St. Rose of Lima Church, Miami Shores, accused him of, among other improprieties, having relationships with four male individuals that included a deacon and a maintenance worker at the church and school.

Organized under the name “Christifidelis,” the accusing group made their attacks in a 129-page report, compiled after a private investigator stalked the priest for weeks. That report included repeated derogatory phrases against parish personnel, at one point calling maintenance workers at the parish “promiscuous gay practitioners.” Wenski called this report “false” and “old, long discredited gossip” in May, but still asked Corces to resign then, which the priest did, despite grassroots support from friends, parishioners, and other Catholics in the area.

Silvia Muñoz, a friend of Corces since 1987 and who previously said the priest “embodies mercy,” offered an important note in the Miami Herald about the priest’s attackers. Just ten families in a parish of 2,000 families constituted Christifidelis, or less than 0.5%, and the leader of the attacks against Corces was not a parishioner.

Muñoz’s point clarifies further that this attack was not about accountability in the church, but about the ability of some Catholics’ harmful prejudices to go unchecked in the church. Failure to address sexuality in healthy and honest ways means it remains a weapon that can be used against church workers and all Catholics whose sexual identity causes them to be marginalized. So-called evidence gathered through questionable and invasive means becomes the fodder from which self-appointed moralists launch their attacks.

The increasing assault on church workers has infected every level of the U.S. church, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which fired a top official last spring for simply tweeting about LGBT issues. More than 60 church workers have lost their jobs since 2008, often because they were forcibly outed.

Wenski recently made news by denying that church teaching on gay issues played any role in the homophobia which motivated the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub. Last month, in a homily tied to the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom,” the archbishop essentially denied homophobia in the church. He said nowhere in Catholic teaching “do we target and breed contempt for any group of people,” ignoring the harmful language church leaders and documents employ against LGBT people. Wenski even criticized his peer, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, for admitting the church’s complicity anti-LGBT prejudices which led to the Orlando mass shooting in which 49 people were killed at an LGBT nightclub.

Reconciliation is much needed in the parish, the school, and the archdiocese. Wenski prayed for such reconciliation in his letter to parishioners, but prayer must be complemented by action Wenski could use the painful incident involving Fr. Corces to bring about healing. Following Pope Francis’ recommendation, the archbishop could offer an apology to LGBT people and others the church has harmed, including its own ministers. He could affirm the church’ teachings against LGBT discrimination. He could support Fr. Corces by publicly standing with him in his next assignment, as a way to show that attacks on church workers, LGBT or otherwise, will not be tolerated.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Theological Society Gives Top Honor to Openly Gay Scholar

July 18, 2016

The most prestigious U.S. Catholic theological organization for the first time has awarded its highest honor to an openly gay scholar, the first.

The Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), the primary professional associations for this area’s scholars, presented its John Courtney Murray Award to Orlando Espin, a professor of systematic theology at the University of San Diego, a Catholic school in southern California.  Espin, who was awarded the honor at the society’s meeting in June, was cited for his work on intercultural issues.  The citation announcing the award praised him for having “wrestled with problems associated with the historical and contemporary legacies of colonization, slavery, racism, and prejudice against LGBT persons.”

Ricardo Gallego

Orlando Espin

In his acceptance speech, Espin included thanks to his husband, Ricardo Gallego, who was present at the meeting, which occurred in Puerto Rico. Gallego is director of Latinoa Services at the San Diego LGBT Community Center.  They have been married since 2008, though they have been a couple for 23 years.

In a statement to Bondings 2.0, Espin said that he thanked Gallego for his work with vulnerable minority populations, noting:  “I write theology. He lives it.”  His speech received a standing ovation.

The citation additionally praised Espin for being  “a pioneer and leader in the field of Latino/Latina theology” who “has played a central part in promoting the highest scholarly standards for Hispanic/Latino theology.”  According to The National Catholic Reporter, Espin also “founded and directs the Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism. He is also a founder of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS) and has twice served as its president.” He is only the third ethnic minority to receive this prestigious award, and the first openly gay theologian to do so.

Espin led a workshop on LGBT ministry in the Latino/a community during New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012.

The theme of this year’s CTSA meeting was “Justice and Mercy,”  examining themes that are key to Pope Francis’ papacy.  The theme  very similar to the theme of New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, which is “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”  It will be held in Chicago, April 28-30, 2017.  (For information send an email to or phone 301-277-5674.)

In addition to Espin, two previous New Ways Ministry guest speakers made presentations at the CTSA event.  The National Catholic Reporter quoted Fr. Paul Crowley, SJ, a professor at Santa Clara University, who gave the keynote speech in which he stated:

” ‘Religious institutions can be the source of so much good, as the holy church most surely is; but they also can be the source of so much suffering and even violence,’ he said, adding that ‘the church is itself the bearer of sin, not only through its members but as a body.’ “

The same news story quoted Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, professor emerita at Yale Divinity School:

” ‘Without justice, mercy has no power to meet the truly wounded or give hope to the truly broken. . . .

“In a world and church where ‘things are falling apart,’ forgiveness — out of all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy — is the work of mercy for our time, Farley said. Forgiveness is active, not passive, ‘a decision to let go of something within ourselves,’ she said, describing the need for ‘anticipatory forgiveness’ of those with no remorse or regret, even as resistance continues.”

LGBT issues were mentioned in one of the conference’s daily public Scripture reflections.  M.T. Dávila, a Catholic professor of Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School, Massachusetts,  commented on the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50), by noting:

“And we like this woman, we have cried at the absurd exclusion of our black and Latin@, Indigenous and Asian, and LGBTQ realities from syllabi and reading lists, department faculty rosters, promotion lists, conference themes, and all the other forms of exclusion at which the academy is so adept.”

Referring to the woman’s action in the Gospel story as an “extravagant interruption,” Dávila observed:

“While Jesus had been at this home for a certain amount of time, it wasn’t until the woman’s extravagant interruption that Jesus became woke. For the #BlackLivesMatter, #TRANSLIVESMATTER, and other recent movements for social justice, STAY WOKE or BE WOKE means working toward that social consciousness that finally wakes us up to the realities of suffering around us and in which we participate or bear an impact, whether we know it or not. They too choose extravagant interruption to make us attentive to their tears. Because of the woman’s actions Jesus woke up both to her sacred affection and the deep emotion that brought on her tears, and also to how this contrasted with his host’s fumbles and omissions in hospitality.”

Theologians have been one of the groups leading the way on moving our church toward an appreciation of the fact that LGBT equality and justice are not just accommodations of the Catholic tradition, but are intimately linked to the Catholic tradition.   The events of this year’s conference show that LGBT issues are becoming part of the central fabric of these scholars’ discussions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Call for a Mass for LGBT People at the Vatican

July 17, 2016

Today’s post is from guest blogger Benjamin Brenkert, a contributor to The Daily Beast.  Brenkert will pursue doctoral studies in education at Columbia University, New York, in the fall.  His previous contribution to Bondings 2.0 can be read here.

As a Christian gay person, and former candidate for the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, I propose that in response to the recent LGBT mass shooting in Orlando, Pope Francis celebrate a Mass for LGBT people in St. Peter’s Basilica and Square in Vatican City.

The Pope’s effusive, rhetorical question, “Who am I to judge?” is a promising question, but it needs actions to back it up. While a non-judgmental tone sounds good, unless clear and tangible follow-up happens, it doesn’t mean much.

His call for an apology to gay people shows that he is willing to ask their forgiveness.  Jesuit Fr. James Martin told CNN, “No group feels more marginalized in the church today than LGBT people.” Clearly, active forgiveness and reconciliation are needed.  What better way to celebrate that than to participate in the Eucharist together?

What the secular and religious world needs is an unequivocal demonstration of prophetic support for LGBT people, especially youth. A Mass for LGBT people all over the world is a good first step to let gays know that they are accepted for who they are, and that they are loved unconditionally.

A public Mass is the type of action the LGBT community thirsts for.  They want to know you truly offer presence, inclusion and acceptance.  A Mass would allow a group that has been so excluded to participate in an action that is never conditional or situational: God loved the world so he sent His Son to save it.

At the Mass, Pope Francis could invite gay priests to come out of the shadows of their closets, allowing them to be completely and utterly honest about who they are. He could call parents of LGBT youth not to abandon their children. He could remind the rest of the world that pastoral outreach to the LGBT community is necessary.  He could decry governmental policies which discriminate against or criminalize LGBT people.

The Pope could remind the world that God delights in all people—straight, gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual, and all who don’t fit a label—and that God made us human, embodied beings. Pope Francis could do this by calling for a reform of the catechism of the church.

At a mass for gays, the Pope could finally lead the church out of people’s bedrooms, beyond talk about sex, and to human relationships and the whole life of every person. He could say that LGBT people are not sinners and that their relationships of love are not sinful.  Such is already the cornerstone of a papacy that proclaims the Joy of the Gospel.

The Pope should allow all LGBT people to receive the Holy Eucharist at such a Mass, creating an important symbolic gesture for all pastors and bishops who seek to limit reception of communion.  He must allow them back into the Catholic family. If the church is truly maternal, it will open her arms in welcome.

It is sad to point out that the world is still not safe for LGBT people. The recent massacre of gays in Orlando reminds us that, despite the gains in marriage equality and the overturning of other discriminatory laws, the current wave of LGBT equality is still met with resistance in the secular world and with destructive messages in the religious world.

I call out to you, Pope Francis, please invite LGBT people throughout the world to make a pilgrimage to Rome in order to celebrate Eucharist with you.  We will respond overwhelmingly, and this celebration will be a blessing for all.

–Benjamin Brenkert

Related article:

The Orlando Sentinel:  “Dear Pope: Open the doors of St. Peter’s to gays”



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



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,322 other followers