Malta, an Officially Catholic Nation, Passes Marriage Equality Law

In yet another LGBT equality advance for the officially Catholic nation of Malta, that nation’s parliament legalized same-gender this week.

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A celebration of marriage equality’s passage in Malta.

Legislators passed the Marriage Act in a 66-1 vote, building on the 2014 passage of civil unions for same-gender couples.

The new law’s language says it seeks “to modernise the institution of marriage and ensure that all consenting, adult couples have the legal right to enter into marriage.” The Washington Post reported:

“[Prime Minister Joseph] Muscat had said it would be ‘discriminatory’ to have separate laws for mixed and same-sex couples. So the amendments to existing laws included eliminating any reference to ‘husband and wife.’ In its place is now the gender-neutral term ‘spouse’ to cover all situations.

“The law also calls for the removal of the terms ‘father’ and ‘mother,’ to be substituted by ‘parents.’ Lesbian couples who have children via medical interventions are distinguished by the terms ‘the person who gave birth’ and ‘the other parent.'”

Passing the law allows Maltese society to affirm that now “we are equal,” said Muscat, who made passage of marriage equality a hallmark of his party’s campaign in elections this past June.

Gabi Calleja of the Malta Gay Rights Movement said this victory was particularly meaningful because, for most same-gender couples, marriage, and not civil unions, is “the institution that best expresses the commitment and love they have for each other.”

Unlike in many other nations where civil marriage equality has been considered, Malta’s bishops remained relatively quiet about the issue. Last month, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta did speak  in defense of a heteronormative understanding of marriage, saying marriage equality would be “lamentable.”

But the nation’s bishops failed to include the issue in their 2017 election letter, and even publicly distanced themselves from a newspaper ad from anti-equality Catholics that used extreme rhetoric. These actions build on their LGBT-positive record, which includes apologizing for initial support of conversion therapy and not punishing a priest who blessed a same-gender couples’ relationship.

The bishops have also listened closely to members of the Catholic LGBT groups Drachma and Drachma Parents. Indeed, Bishop Mario Grech said his encounter with parents helped him understand the urgent need for new pastoral care of LGBT people.

Marriage equality’s passage is but the latest step for LGBT equality taken by the small island nation: it passed a law on transgender and intersex rights that is considered the gold standard in Europe; it was the first nation in Europe to ban conversion therapy; it has welcomed an openly transgender legislator; and it has witnessed true dialogue happen between the bishops and other Catholics.

More than 90% of Maltese citizens identify as Catholic, including the prime minister, and Roman Catholicism remains the state religion in the nation’s Constitution. What happened in Malta is historic not only for the people of that nation, but for Catholics worldwide. Celebrating marriage equality in another highly-Catholic nation is a reminder, once again, that Catholics support LGBT rights because of and not in spite of their faith. In February, I wrote about the lessons Malta can teach other Catholic nations, which you can find here. This week, those lessons are doubly true.

Congratulations to Maltese LGBT Catholics, their families, and allies–and, indeed, to all in Malta!

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 14, 2017

Catholic Groups Object to Bishop Paprocki’s Anti-Gay Decree

Weeks after an Illinois bishop announced pastoral guidelines that bar people in same-gender marriages from church life, Catholics continue to object while the bishop has begun responding to critics.

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Reform organizations’ letter to Bishop Paprocki

Catholic Church reform organizations sent a letter to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield to express their disappointment about his decree which would, among other prohibitions, bar Catholics in same-gender marriages from having funerals. The letter read, in part:

“As communities of Catholics, we were shocked and gravely disappointed at the decree you recently promulgated. . .The Church, at its best, is a haven, a source of spiritual nourishment in a sometimes harsh world. In times of confusion, loss and grief, the Sacraments are especially valued for the strength and grace they provide to all who wish to avail themselves of them. It is disheartening to us as Catholics that our family would forego such cherished ideals in favor of mean and unkind policies.”

The organizations wrote they “decry the rancor and derision that has become such a pervasive part of public life and community,” and expect the church to be a refuge in troubled times. The fourteen organizations include Call to Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, who has written an open letter to the bishop which you can read here, commented to WGLT 89.1:

“The reaction has run the gamut from anger to shock to real disgust at such a Draconian prohibition against lesbian and gay people, especially in this era of Pope Francis where more and more Catholic leaders are making gestures of welcome. . .People feel there are so many other areas the church declares as sin that are not included in this prohibition, such as greed, militarism, racism and support for the death penalty.”

Women-Church Convergence, a coalition of Catholic feminist groups, released its own pastoral letter to the people of Springfield to “offer words of comfort” to LGBTQI persons and their families. The letter read, in part:

“The Decree misses the signal importance of public, joyfully celebrated baptisms of babies, young people, and adults as they become part of our community. It ignores the welcome table that is the Eucharist. And, it dishonors the dead who are denied church funerals not because of sin but because of love. Let especially your young people hear us sing atop our voices, ‘All are welcome.'”

In a statement, Deborah Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch said Paprocki’s “harsh tactics defy the Gospel and deny the God’s own people the love, care, and acceptance that we are called to offer one another.”

While the National Catholic Reporter noted that few bishops are willing to offer criticism of another publicly, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego did support San Jose’s Bishop Patrick McGrath who released a communique to pastoral ministers in his diocese that said all Catholics would be welcome to the sacraments. McElroy commented:

“‘I think that is the appropriate policy that I would hope the priests would observe, especially in the times of funerals, but more broadly in the sense of regular pastoral action in support of men and women who are in all states of lives and who have all sorts of challenges. . .Our fundamental stance has to be one of inclusion in the church, especially during a time of burial.'”

Bishop Paprocki (1)
Contact Bishop Paprocki about his decree

In the face of criticism from many quarters, Bishop Paprocki is speaking out in defense of his decree through a diocesan statement, a column in the diocesan newspaper, and an interview. NCR reported about the interview:

“. . .Paprocki states that he was surprised by the attention the decree received as it is ‘a rather straightforward application of existing Church teaching and canon law.’ He also said he has ‘received many supportive comments and assurances of prayer,’ including ‘positive reactions’ from the priests in the diocese.

“When the online news magazine asked about Martin’s Facebook post, Paprocki said, ‘Father Martin gets a lot wrong in those remarks.'”

Paprocki also clarified that his decree applied not to lesbian and gay people generally, but specifically to those persons who had entered into civil same-gender marriages. He added that even someone in such a marriage could be fully admitted to the sacraments “if they repent and renounce their ‘marriage.’ ”

Responding to DeBernardo’s open letter, which suggested people would leave the church because of such exclusive policies, Paprocki told Catholic World Report “the real issue is not how many people will come to church, but how to become holy, how to become a saint.” The bishop added, “It is disappointing when people leave the Church, just as it surely must have been disappointing for Jesus when people walked away from Him.”

Such clarifications are doing little to pacify the bishop’s critics. The look to his lengthy LGBT-negative record for proof that this decree is but one instance among many harmful actions. You can read about Paprocki’s full record by clicking here.

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John Freml

John Freml, a married gay Catholic in Springfield, told WGLT 89.1 he was “disappointed and very hurt” by the decree. But, Freml added, the church is not simply the bishops but the entire people of God. He was supported while coming out at a Catholic high school, and he and his husband have found welcome at their parish where “we didn’t make any effort to hide who we were.”

To read more Catholic reactions to Paprocki’s decree, click here and here.

New Ways Ministry continues to recommend you contact Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him. 

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 13, 2017

Fr. James Martin Responds to Critics of New Book on LGBT Issues

Amid the flurry of reviews and interviews surrounding his new book, Building a Bridge, Fr. James Martin, S.J. has responded to critics as a way to create greater dialogue. Today’s post features one review along with Martin’s responses. To read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of previous reviews by David Cloutier and Eve Tushnet, click here and here respectively.

y450-293Martin responded to Cloutier’s review in America by addressing the three problems which Cloutier believed makes the proposed bridge “shaky.”

First, Martin argues against Cloutier’s critique that LGBT people are problematically lumped together as a singular group in the book. Cloutier claimed that, in reality, there is tremendous difference among LGBT persons. He also stated that LGBT people differ from other groups in the church because their identities directly challenge church teaching. Martin replied:

“[M]y point was not that L.G.B.T. Catholics are all the same (or that that label is comprehensive) but that many have faced similar problems in the church: prejudice and exclusion based on sexual orientation and identity. . .

“We have an unfortunate tendency to view L.G.B.T. issues purely through the prism of only one of the Catechism’s teachings on homosexuality—its prohibition on sexual expression—rather than through the experiences of L.G.B.T. people as human beings. We tend to view them as a category of people who present a theological problem rather than as individuals with a graced history. I know that Prof. Cloutier does not wish to negate their pain, but it is important to see them as not inherently presenting a ‘problem.'”

Second, against Cloutier’s claim that the book seems more fitting for the LGBT conversation of the 1990s than the 21st century discussion, Martin said what has changed in the church is the number of LGBT Catholics who have come out:

“As more Catholics are affected, more parishes will be. As more parishes are, more priests will be. As more priests are, more bishops will be. And so on. I believe the explosion of L.G.B.T. Catholics ‘coming out’ and claiming their identities will lead to a growing desire among the entire People of God for welcome, and for what Pope Francis calls ‘encounter.'”

Encounter, Martin explained, is the work of the Holy Spirit and has no expiration date. Widespread social acceptance of LGBT persons “has been drive largely by encounter,” and within the church coming out “would still be quite novel, even radical in some circles.”

Third, Martin tackles Cloutier’s critique that the book never addresses sexual ethics. Martin said the omission was “intentional” because church teaching is already quite clear, but:

“At the same time, the L.G.B.T. community’s stance on the matter is clear: Same-sex relations are part and parcel of their lives. (I am leaving out the relatively small portion of the L.G.B.T. community that thinks otherwise.) Theologically speaking, you could say that this teaching has not been ‘received’ by the L.G.B.T. community, to whom it was directed.

“So I intentionally decided not to discuss that question, since it was an area on which the two sides are too far apart.”

Another review came from Sally Kohn, a lesbian essayist writing in The Washington Post, who offered an outsider perspective on the book. A secular Jew, Kohn said the book was “a lovely glimpse at church-community relations buttressed by an enlightening collection of uplifting scripture.” But, she continued:

“The problem is that Martin doesn’t adequately address the deep ecclesiastical and theological roots of the Catholic Church’s anti-gay antagonism. And so his book reads like a solution to a problem he fundamentally misunderstands.”

Kohn also questioned whether the question of homophobia in the Catholic Church could be adequately dealt with if not also addressing misogyny in the church. She added:

“Beyond the most superficial gestures and rhetoric of respect, compassion and sensitivity, Martin doesn’t address the sorts of lives he envisions for LGBT Catholics. Should they be celibate? Not marry? Exactly how welcome does Martin think they should be? Absent these details, Martin risks promising merely the illusion of equal dignity. LGBT Catholics don’t just want the lip service of respect, they want actual equal treatment.”

Martin responded to Kohn on the America website, saying her review “downplays [LGBT Catholics’] religious convictions and the mystical nature of the church.” He continued:

“To be sure, the onus is on the institutional church to reach out, to take risks and to take the first steps along the bridge of reconciliation. Why? Because it is members of the hierarchy who have marginalized the L.G.B.T. community, not the other way around. . .

“Moreover, the question of dialogue between L.G.B.T. Catholics and the institutional church cannot be seen strictly in ‘political’ terms, as Ms. Kohn seems to do in her piece. Granted, our ‘intrachurch’ discussion has ramifications beyond the Catholic world, but the discussion cannot be separated from questions of faith in God, companionship with Jesus Christ and trust in the Holy Spirit. A critique that does not work within this framework is going to come up short.”

Martin has a bigger message beyond answering the specific objections of this first round of reviewers:

“I hope the book shows how much in our Catholic tradition, particularly the Gospels, points us forward to a culture of radical welcome. The central assertion of the book—that for Jesus is there is no us and them, there is only us—does not need approval.

“My overall goal was not to win an argument but to help start a conversation and create a space for church officials who want to reach out to L.G.B.T. people, and for L.G.B.T. Catholics who want to know that they have a place in the church.”

Given the book’s high profile, and how contentious LGBT issues in the church can be, the conversation over Fr. Martin’s work will  surely continue, just as he intended.

Have you read Building a Bridge? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below. To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage about Fr. James Martin’s involvement on LGBT issues, click here. You can order Fr. Martin’s book by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 12, 2017

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A Pastoral Approach to the Celibacy vs. Relationship Debate

In London’s Catholic Herald, Msgr. Keith Barltrop offers sound advice to pastoral ministers working with lesbian and gay people, particularly in the area of the celibacy vs. relationship debate.

Barltrop, who is Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ representative to the LGBT Catholics Westminster group which meets at the Farm Street Jesuit parish in the Mayfair section of London, is also a chaplain to the Courage group in that city.  He is thus in a unique position of participating in a parish-based ministry which welcomes all, and a one-on-one spiritual direction ministry which aims at helping lesbian and gay people lead chaste lives.

Msgr. Keith Barltrop

Barltrop begins by observing that lesbian and gay ministry is not different from other forms of ministry in the church:

“Pastoral care of homosexual people is essentially the same as all ministry: seeking to communicate the unconditional love of Christ and his Church, and to accompany people on their journey towards holiness. But in practice this particular ministry encounters powerful feelings of pain and anger which can cause difficulties.”

[Barltrop, who in the past has advocated that the Church accompany transgender people through their processes of transition, mostly limits the discussion in this article to lesbian and gay people.]

Yet, he does observe some important distinctions:

“LGBT people often feel hurt by the Church, either because of the way its teaching comes across, or through concrete experiences of rejection, or both. Those from non-Western cultures are sometimes even in danger of their lives, while some other Catholics seem threatened by the very existence of gay people and react angrily towards attempts to accommodate them within the Church.”

Barltrop also makes the important distinction that a wide variety of opinions and attitudes about personal sexual involvement exists among lesbian and gay Catholics.  Some seek intimate, committeed sexual relationships, some seek casual sexual involvement, others seek to lead chaste lives.    Despite these different perspectives, Barltrop finds a common thread:

“. . . [O]ne thing is common to virtually all LGBT Catholics today: they will not take the Church’s teaching on trust, but must learn from experience. Even those who hold a very traditional attitude have likely arrived at it through many experiences.

“This being so, ministers to gay Catholics need two main resources: a moral theology that can face the critical scrutiny of life experience; and a well-grounded spirituality of discernment. These can help LGBT Catholics look honestly at their behaviour, see where it is leading them and discover alternatives where indicated.”

Barltrop’s recommendation is a holistic moral theology that, like Pope Francis, emphasizes discernment over rules:

Fr. Servais Pinckaers, OP

“The moral theology I have found most helpful in this ministry is that of the Belgian Dominican Servais Pinckaers, who shows that from biblical times to St Thomas Aquinas, Catholic moral theology was essentially based on the search for true happiness, on earth and in heaven, and on the cultivation of virtues leading to it – a happiness deeper than mere pleasure, and consisting above all in communion with God and his holy people.

“A theology based on observing rules was a later distortion, and led by reaction in the 1960s to an equally unhelpful liberalism.

“In Pinckaers’ perspective, moral theology does not just define what one is allowed to do, or the minimum one must do, but joins hands with spirituality in promoting the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the uttermost. Ignatian discernment of spirits is the obvious spiritual partner for such a theology.”

I could quibble with some items in Barltrop’s argument, such as when he says that lesbian and gay people feel rejected by the church  “because of the way its teaching comes across.”  While that may be true for some,  I think there are two things amiss in that statement:  1) It’s not just the way the “teaching comes across,” but the substance of the teaching itself which causes feelings of rejection; 2) Many gay and lesbian people feel rejected because, well, they have been rejected directly by messages that they are not welcome.

But, generally, I find his argument, and especially his conclusion, to be very helpful.  Indeed, I think that many lesbian and gay Catholics have already gone through such a moral/spiritual process as they navigated and negotiated their seemingly conflicting identities of being Catholic and homosexual.  Unfortunately, many of these Catholics have had to go through that process without the support of pastoral ministers because for too long, too many pastoral ministers had subscribed to the distorted theology of observing rules.  Barltrop’s alternative is one of accompanying instead of dictating.

Conservative Catholics will probably not like Barltrop’s proposal because it doesn’t provide an answer that can be applied in all situations.  While I am not familiar with Pinckaers’ writing, it seems that by focusing on the goal–happiness through “the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the utmost”–he puts the discussion of morality in a different context, one that mirrors more the ministry of Jesus, who addressed people’s individual needs and situations rather than focusing on whatever the current interpretations of the Law were.

To read the entire text of Baltrop’s commentary, click here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 11, 2017

 

 

Cardinal Tobin and Pope Francis on LGBTQ Issues: Half-Empty or Half-Full?

In a recent interview with the Crux website, Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin elaborated on his decision to welcome a recent LGBTQ pilgrimage to his archdiocese’s cathedral.  His explanation aligns very clearly, for better or worse, with many of Pope Francis’ messages about LGBT issues.

The interviewers elicited from Tobin a statement of welcome to LGBTQ people, a statement about LGBT lives, and a statement of fidelity to church teaching about sexual morality.

Cardinal Tobin and Pope Francis

First, the welcome.  Tobin stated:

My intention was to welcome. I would justify that with the words of somebody like Benedict XVI, who would frequently say: ‘If we proclaim the Gospel first and foremost as a moral code, then we’ve destroyed the Gospel, it becomes something else.’ It doesn’t mean that our moral choices aren’t important, but they’re a response to the previous announcement of good news, the encounter.

Then, concerning LGBT lives, the cardinal said:

I don’t presume that every person who identifies him or herself as LGBTQ is sexually active. If they’re attempting to live a chaste life, then they certainly need the support of the believing community, a chance to pray, and to know that they’re welcomed within the body of Christ.

And he also acknowledged his support of church teaching:

If anybody asks me, I preach what the Church preaches, and teach what the Church teaches, and believe it with great serenity. But I also feel that it’s my job to welcome people. When I received the crozier in St. Peter’s in Rome, what I did was say a prayer that says, ‘You’re to be attentive to the hearts of the people entrusted to you.’ I feel these people were entrusted to me too.

Tobin’s remarks are a complex series of statements.  Like Pope Francis,  he emphasizes welcome. What is good is that he prioritizes welcome over morality.  The “announcement of good news, the encounter” is what is important to both men.  Though they don’t ignore morality, they don’t see it as primary in terms of initiating pastoral outreach.

This tension between morality and welcome is evidenced in the third section of his comments where he professes his support for church teaching.  He places that support, however, within the context of welcome once again.  He sees that LGBT people are part of the people “entrusted” to him.  He has a responsibility toward them.  He can’t ignore them.

His middle comment about LGBTQ lives is a bit more ambiguous than his other comments.  On the one hand, he acknowledges that he doesn’t see sexual or gender minorities primarily in terms of being sexually active.  That is a good step.  It means that he recognizes that there is more to being an LGBTQ person than sexual activity.  LGBTQ people have whole lives, and, often because of their sometimes stigmatized identities, those lives often experience an undue amount of oppression and discrimination. At the same time, their lives also evidence an amazing amount of courage and honesty.  All of these shadings are lost when church leaders think of LGBTQ people on in terms of sexuality.

Tobin goes on in that section seemingly to place a greater value on LGBTQ people who live chaste lives.  He identifies only them as needing “the support of the believing community.”  That is wrong.   ALL LGBTQ people need the support of the believing community. Without exception.

The cardinal’s comments seem to encapsulate the identical tension that is so often present in Pope Francis’ discourse about LGBTQ people.  Pope Francis emphasizes welcome and encounter. Pope Francis places welcome above morality.  Pope Francis certainly supports church teaching about sexual morality, sometimes going so far as to speak out passionately against marriage equality initiatives around the globe.

So, in assessing both Cardinal Tobin and Pope Francis, the question comes down to:  Do we see their efforts in regard to LGBTQ people as a glass half-empty or a glass-half full?  I admit that I tend to see the latter choice.  Neither the cardinal nor the pope are expressing positions of full equality of LGBTQ people.  But they are certainly steps ahead of where their predecessors have been.

So what do you think:  half-empty or half-full?   Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 10, 2017

 

Sharing of Stories Is Key to DignityUSA Conference

This past weekend, I was privileged to be with the DignityUSA community at their conference in Boston. The theme, “A Place at the Table,” lent itself to the power of shared stories, many of which were expressed in the formal sessions and the more informal hallway conversations.

e3202eb004In one session, transgender members of Dignity and one mother of a trans child shared stories of being faithful Catholics. Skylar Kelley, a panelist who uses they/them pronouns, explained what it means to identify as non-binary. They also shared how being assigned female at birth remains a part of their history that should not be erased. In light of the fact that some church leaders have been publicly speaking against trans lives, each panelist’s reflection on “Why stay in the church?” was a powerful testimony of faith.

In another session, Krzysztof Charamsa, a former priest and theologian who worked at at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and who came out as a gay man right before the 2015 Synod on the Family began, spoke personally and theologically.  He shared his coming out story as he addressed the institutional church’s treatment of homosexuality. He told those gathered, “When you want your community to change, you must change.” More pointedly, he echoed Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium saying, “We need to confront ideas with Christ, Christ who lived in this world.” Charamsa said clearly that this work is done well when LGBTQI Catholics who remain the church offer their witness.

Stories were central during a Saturday morning plenary which featured Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter, Louis Mitchell of TransFaith who is a Congregationalist minister, and Walter Robinson of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team which broke open the clergy sexual abuse in the early 2000’s.

Mitchell spoke to the cost of noticing another person’s story, and the vulnerability required to share one’s story. He made a special appeal for attendees to take seriously the stories of transgender women of color who are “not victims, sex toys, HIV statistics, or some bad RuPaul joke,” but human beings with the fullness of dignity.

Speaking about self-care, Manson discussed how the work of seeking justice in the church can be lonely and even lead to despair at times. But, she added:

“What pushes me forward more often than not is that people are suffering, and they’re suffering at the hands of this institution. And they’re suffering in the Global South. . .It is the church that isn’t speaking when our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are being imprisoned for who they are.”

Another story shared was the history of Always Our Children, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata. founders of Fortunate Families, led a conversation about how the document came to be and its effect on the church. It is document, they said, that shattered the silence around homosexuality in the church, opened up new possibilities based on the lived experiences of lesbian and gay people, and helped empower parents and pastoral ministers.

These highlighted instances are just a few examples of the many stories shared over the weekend. What kept coming to mind as I listened to speakers and Dignity members was how I wished church leaders could be there, sitting in the back rows, simply listening.

What they would hear are real stories, the grounding realities of LGBT Catholics and their families.  While some of these stories were about the trials of being marginalized by church and by society, others were also about how and why faithful Catholics live out their faith in community. All of these are stories that our church very much needs to hear.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 9, 2017

Hanging from a Thread, Vatican Sex Orgy Story Circles the Globe

I didn’t want to write this post.

For the past week, my inbox has been filled with stories from all over the globe and the internet about an alleged gay sex and drug orgy at the home of a prominent Vatican official.  Despite the multiplication of these stories, they are all based on one Italian newspaper article which is thin on evidence, and rests mainly on a single thread of rumor.

When the story made it into The Times of London, I thought there was probably more  substantial evidence supporting the allegation.  Alas, even The Times simply repeated the weakly supported evidence from the first story.

So, I debated all week whether to report and comment on this story here.  I finally felt that since many Bondings 2.0 readers have probably heard about it from other sources, I should probably say something.

My reluctance is not because I don’t think that such a story is possible.  Priests, bishops, cardinals are human, and experience human desires and frailty.  Like many people, they may not always make choices that work best at answering their needs or advancing their personal, professional, and ministerial goals.

So, is it possible that such an orgy happened? Yes, but not because it is a bizarre thing, but because it is a very human thing.  As I say that, I am not defending orgiastic behavior, but just noting that though we tend to think of it as beyond the pale of normality, I would daresay that every one of us has sometimes engaged in behavior which others might be shocked at hearing. And I’m not just talking about sexual behavior here, but the entire spectrum of human activity. Who among us doesn’t have something in our past that we would rather people do not know?

Not surprisingly, conservative Catholic news sites are using this thin story to criticize Pope Francis’ administration.  Similarly, many secular news sites are using it as a way to brand church leaders with hypocrisy on gay issues.

Another problem I have with this story is that as it gets spread, it seems to get bigger.  Headlines which originally noted that the accusations of misbehavior were alleged have morphed into headlines asserting the misbehavior as solid fact.  That is not honest journalism, and it is certainly not Christian behavior.

While I think that people’s curious minds are one thing that feeds the life and vitality of such a story, I think another factor here is the intense secrecy that surrounds both the Vatican and the sexuality of priests.

If church leaders were more honest and transparent about their decision-making, there would be less curiosity about the possibility of Vatican intrigue and surreptitious activity.

If Catholic clergy were more honest about their sexuality and acknowledged themselves more as sexual beings, people would wonder less about the possibility of sexual activity of men who vow celibacy.

Silence and secrecy are two strategies which seem to be favored by the Vatican and other high-ranking church leaders and institutions.  Unfortunately, these strategies do more harm to the church than help.  Simple honesty would clear up so much misunderstanding, and it would certainly stave off the expansion and multiplication of rumors.

And, of course, the end of silence and secrecy–especially around sexuality– would benefit so much more than the Church as an institution, but would greatly benefit all its members, too.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 8, 2017