Can “Amoris Laetitia” Be a Starting Point for Progress on LGBT Issues?

April 23, 2016

screen_shot_2016-04-06_at_17-46-45-1-255x400“The apostolic exhortation is not just the last step of a long process. It is going to be another starting point.”

These words are from Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor of the influential Civiltà Cattolica, commenting on Pope Francis’ exhortation about the family, Amoris Laetitia.

The exhortation has been a disappointment to many in terms of LGBT issues, with some commentators saying that it offers a stale, cursory, and at times condemnatory treatment of these topics. How then, can Amoris Laetitia, become a starting point for LGBT equality that leads to progress and not simply more of the same? I offer two thoughts.

First, the exhortation’s deficiencies must be admitted and addressed. Notably absent in the document, and the Synod deliberations preceding it, are the lives and experiences of LGBT people. Michael Bayly of The Wild Reed, citing the many testimonies which LGBT faithful have offered before, wrote:

“Do I expect the Vatican to share these types of testimonies, word-for-word, in official church documents? No. But I do expect those who claim to be leaders and teachers within our Catholic tradition to be open and responsive to the transforming presence of God within all people’s relational lives (including the lives of LGBTQ people) and to be committed to ensuring that our statements of collective wisdom (i.e., our church teachings) actually reflect the diverse nature of the beautiful gift of sexuality. . .Is that too much to ask?”

Sr. Christine Schenk added similar criticism in the National Catholic Reporter, writing:

“The most distressing aspect of Amoris Laetitia is that it fails to incorporate the experiences of LGBT Catholics who also live deeply loving, holy and committed family lives. . .Instead of pastorally validating that great goodness exists in these relationships, the exhortation simply repeats condemnations of same-sex unions and adoptions by same-sex couples.”

Schenk said LGBT people are “among the most committed of Catholics” and “wrote the book about how to love and stay with a church whose hierarchy would often prefer that they go away.”

Second, LGBT advocates must be wary of how others in the church may use Pope Francis’ emphases on conscience and decentralization. Writer Kaya Oakes suggested in Foreign Policy that these emphases could potentially backfire:

“Handing this measure of flexibility to the clergy is a risky way of bringing about reform. The clergy are, after all, as diverse in their opinions about family life as the people they serve. . .It could, theoretically, also cause local church leaders to act more independently and harshly toward LGBT Catholics as a result of that independence — as the bishops in Malawi recently did when they denounced the government for failing to imprison LGBT citizens.”

More generally, Peter Steinfels wrote in Commonweal about the threat that mercy misused could pose to reform and renewal in the church:

“It is hard to say this, but the availability of mercy can be a tool of the powerful, an excuse for not reforming unjust laws or harsh practices, an alibi for skirting uncomfortable questions, a sop for those injured, a safety valve for discontent. Granting mercy can be an exercise in domination, a means for officeholders to demonstrate their power. This is not the mercy of God, not the mercy of love.”

Many Catholics, myself included, are still undertaking slow and thorough readings of Amoris Laetitia, as Pope Francis has advocated. With time and discussion, its wisdom and its failings will become clearer, as will its implications. But there is one clear starting point from which Catholics can begin right now. It is pointed out by Quest, a UK organization for LGB Catholics, in their statement:

“Everything that Pope Francis has said to change the criteria for moral judgements, and in challenging the competence of others to pass judgement in the first place, our people have been saying, for years. Buried in the lengthy text, are many other details of established but neglected doctrine that too, our people have been saying for years. . .The challenge now, is to continue saying these things, louder and more insistently than ever, but for the first time, with authoritative papal backing.”

Your faithful bloggers have been buried by reactions to and analyses of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ exhortation on family. And they keep coming and we will keep reporting. But what is important for LGBT Catholics and advocates to remember amid this buzz about the exhortation is that our stories, our faith journeys, our witnesses must continue to be shared. There is no starting point from Amoris Laetitia on LGBT issues in the church without all of us contributing to the conversation and keeping institutions accountable.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Theologians: Catholics Have “Civil Rights Imperative” to Seek LGBT Protections

April 22, 2016
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Todd A. Salzman

Two theologians from Creighton University have called for Catholics to support LGBT non-discrimination protections in a new essay published in the National Catholic Reporter. In it, they specifically target the ill-founded opposition of U.S. bishops to such protections.

Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler provide an in-depth response to Catholic bishops’ repeated claims at local, state, and federal levels that expanding LGBT protections will infringe on religious liberty. The theologians disprove these claims and conclude further:

“[L]egislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination is a civil rights imperative that the Catholic church is obligated to support in a pluralist society.”

How did they arrive at this conclusion?

Salzman and Lawler begin by noting just how many controversies there presently are over LGBT protections, and that the bishops’ engagement thus far has been inadequate. The theologians identify the bishops’ 2012 statement on religious liberty, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” as a key reason for the bishops’ present failings, and they critique it on three major points.

First, Salzman and Lawler address the bishops’ treatment of secularism and relativism, which they identify as “the basis for both the bishops’ claims that religious freedom is under attack and for their resistance to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA].” This concern has deep roots in the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but is not well understood or engaged by the magisterium, the theologians assert.

Salzman and Lawler point out theological implications of new sociological data.  Specifically, they cite the facts that 73% of U.S. Catholics support LGBT protections and that there is “a growing disconnect between what the Catholic faithful believe about sexual morality and official Catholic moral teaching,”

One implication is that what the bishops call “relativism” is actually “differing perspectives with respect to the definition of human dignity and to what norms facilitate or frustrate its attainment.” Another implication is that sociological data helps to discern the sensus fidelium. About these implications, Salzman and Lawler conclude:

“To present official Catholic teaching on sexual ethical issues as if it were the only morally legitimate perspective, to use that teaching to claim violation of religious liberty if and when legislation conflicts with it, and to discount those Catholic perspectives that disagree with official teaching as manifestations of relativism discount also the rich diversity of the Catholic tradition and the contemporary sensus fidelium.”

Such a dismissal by church leaders threatens ecclesial and societal peace and thereby the common good, which is the theologians’ next area of critique against the U.S. bishops. About the common good, the theologians ask:

“How are we to realize the common good in the public realm, given pluralism within and without the church? What is the church’s proper role for engaging with the public realm to promote its vision of the common good?”

They also question how civil legislation relates to morality, and how to understand this dynamic in a pluralistic society, which Salzman and Lawler called “a hugely complex endeavor.” There are questions of prioritizing competing goods:

“Which is a higher value, respecting human dignity and ensuring non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, or attempting to block or repeal legislation that might allow homosexual actions the church deems immoral?”

They also raise the issue of whether LGBT issues are matters of public or private morality, a distinction which will have implications for how these issues relate to the common good:

” If they are about private morality, the church can both teach the possibility of just discrimination based on homosexual orientation and gender identity and can also support laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of homosexual orientation and gender identity.

“If they are about public morality, the church needs to balance its sexual teachings with teachings on nondiscrimination, and grasp the impact of pluralism on definitions of public morality.”

Salzman and Lawler explain that when marriage equality became legalized in 2015,  there needed to be “a corresponding shift in the perception of religious freedom in relation to this evolution” by the church.

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Michael G. Lawler

Finally, the theologians take up the question of just and unjust law in relation to the U.S. bishops’ document. By opposing ENDA, Salzman and Lawler write,  “the bishops’ conference has shifted its religious liberty claims from exemptions from a just law on the basis of conscience to prevention or repeal of an unjust law.”

But how the bishops’ come to define ENDA as an unjust law is flawed itself, say the theologians. Their opposition is rooted in the law’s alleged failure to differentiate between sexual orientation and sexual expression; the bishops desire an allowance of just discrimination based upon the latter. Salzman and Lawler write that the bishops should have argued for religious exemptions to discriminate against heterosexual people who use artificial contraceptives or have premarital sex, too, if that was truly their concern. Having not done so, the theologians conclude:

“The conference has not made this logical argument, which would indicate that its objection is not to immoral sexual acts but simply to homosexual orientation.

“By rejecting the federal non-discrimination legislation, the bishops’ conference is violating the common good, the protection of individual human dignity, on the basis of a generalization that homosexuals might engage in immoral sexual activity, and it is promoting unjust discrimination against even celibate homosexuals performing no homosexual acts.”

Citing Catholic moral principles, Salzman and Lawler also clarify that a moral end, such as protecting religious liberty, can never justify an immoral means, the discrimination of LGBT people, and that, according to double-effect principle:

“The direct consequence of the federal legislation is the protection of LGBT individuals against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. An indirect consequence is that homosexual persons might engage in what the bishops deem immoral homosexual acts.”

Such principles are cited to reveal why Catholic support for ENDA is not only permissible, but should be encouraged. Yet Salzman and Lawler do not stop there, writing that a “more fundamental response. . .challenges the very claim that homosexual activity is intrinsically immoral and destructive of human dignity.” They continue, acknowledging Catholics’ widespread disagreement with the bishops over matters of sexuality:

“The burden of proof is on the church to demonstrate that homosexual acts are destructive of human dignity and cannot serve'”the good of the person or society.’ So far, it has not offered a compelling argument. An unproven assertion should not be advanced as the basis for an abusive use of religious freedom aimed at preventing or repealing nondiscrimination legislation and imposing the church’s morally questionable doctrine on the broader society.”

In short, the bishops “do not have the right to impose their moral teachings legislatively in a pluralistic society.” Salzman and Lawler convincingly argue that, not only should U.S. bishops not act thus, but they and the church actually have “a civil rights imperative” to advocate for LGBT non-discrimination protections. Their essay is well argued and grounded in reality, worth reading in full which you can do here. And there is one final note with which Salzman and Lawler, and now this post, conclude:

“The bishops should be ashamed of themselves for citing Martin Luther King Jr., the genuine and undisputed ‘conscience of the state’ for civil rights, to trample on the equal civil rights of homosexual, bisexual and transgender citizens.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


THIS MONTH IN CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Archbishop Instrumental in Passing Gay Rights Law

April 21, 2016

History-Option 1Today, Bondings 2.0 inaugurates a new feature, “This Month in Catholic LGBT History.” We hope this feature will serve to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor:  Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Since this is a new experiment, we would appreciate hearing from you in the “Comments” section if you think an occasional feature such as this is helpful to you.

1991: Archbishop Instrumental in Passing Gay Rights Law

In April 1991, Connecticut’s state legislature was debating a bill that would outlaw discrimination against lesbian and gay people  in housing, employment, and public accommodation.  The bill had originally been introduced in 1973, but always failed.  On April 5, 1991, in the midst of the debate, Hartford’s Archbishop John F. Whealon wrote a column entitled “The church and the homosexual person” in the archdiocesan newspaper The Catholic Transcript,  in which he stated that discrimination against lesbian and gay people “is always morally wrong.”

The Gay Paper reported:

“Whealon’s comments on homosexuality were quickly interpreted as a tacit endorsement of [the] gay rights bill that the state’s Roman Catholic bishops have opposed for years.”

The newspaper also noted:

“In the General Assembly, lawmakers on both sides of the debate said the bishops’ neutrality could mean the General Assembly will pass a gay rights bill this month.

” ‘The neutral position of the church is tantamount to approval.  There is no question about that,’  said Rep. William L. Wollenberg, R-Farmington. ‘People here have said, “If the church isn’t against it, I’m not against it.” ‘ “

The following are some excerpts from Whealon’s column:

Archbishop John F. Whealon

“What is the official teaching of the Catholic Church concerning homosexuality? . . . The cornerstone of this teaching is the dignity of every human being.  Every person is made in God’s image and therefore worthy of love, and must recognize in self a spiritual and mortal soul, and must regard the body as good and honorable because God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. . . . The dignity of every son and daughter of God is basic for any Catholic in approaching this question about homosexual persons. . . .

“The official teachings of the Catholic Church make a sharp distinction between homosexuality as an orientation, which is a tendency or attraction to the same sex, and homosexuality as expressing itself in sexual acts.  The Church clearly teaches that homosexual men and women should not suffer from prejudice on the basis of their sexual orientation.  Such discrimination is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is always morally wrong. The Church also consistently teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, against the natural law, and not to be practiced by any person who wants to follow God’s law. . . .

When parents and siblings learn that their son or daughter, brother or sister, is homosexual in orientations, often the topic is discussed in an atmosphere of fear and anger.  Alienation of members of a family from one another is the result. Relatives need to show understanding and the homosexual person needs to be more perceptive of the family’s lack of understanding.  Trust and openness and love are needed in every attempt at reconciliation.

To those who are burdened by the cross of homosexual self-hatred, a special message is also needed.  The Church reminds them that they must accept themselves as God made them, that as persons they also are the handiwork of God, redeemed by the Blood of Christ and cherished by the Church.”

What I think is interesting about Whealon’s approach is that he sees human dignity as the “cornerstone” of church teaching about lesbian and gay people.  While he clearly affirms the magisterium’s disapproval of sexual expression between people of the same sex, it seems that he sees the teaching on human dignity as more basic to the discussion.  It’s important to note this ordering of priorities because under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the reverse order was usually promoted:  sexual ethics was seen as primary, with human dignity mentioned often seemingly as an afterthought.  Pope Francis, who also upholds the church’s sexual ethics teaching about lesbian and gay relationships, does seem to be returning, however, to Whealon’s set of priorities.  Pope Francis and other church leaders need to be more explicit about this ordering or priorities, and to be more explicit in their defense of human dignity and rights for LGBT people.

On April 17, 1991,  The New York Times reported that Connecticut’s gay rights bill passed its final legislative hurdle, a Senate vote, and was on its way for the governor’s approval, which it received. At the time the bill’s passage was historically significant because only three other states and the District of Columbia had such protections:

“Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Hawaii have gay-rights laws on their books. Between 50 and 100 cities, counties and other jurisdictions also offer some legal protection, including New York City and the District of Columbia, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.”

The news story noted some legislators’ observation about the 1991 debate:

“Lawmakers said that several factors were different this year. The Roman Catholic Church, in particular, which had been perceived to be in opposition before, played no role in opposing the legislation this year. . . .

“The co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, Representative Richard D. Tulisano, Democrat of Rocky Hill, said the church’s role, or at least its lack of opposition, was probably the key.

” ‘It created a different atmosphere,’ he said in an interview. Mr. Tulisano, who has worked in support of the measure since the mid 1970’s in the Assembly, said that in previous years, much of the debate was spent on whether gay people represented a threat to traditional family values.

“This year, however, he said lawmakers finally focused equally on the threat that discrimination posed to society. ‘The whole tone was different,’ he said.”

Another interesting quality about Whealon’s column is he never once mentioned the gay rights bill in the legislature.  That is quite a difference from today’s bishops who frequently opine explicitly on bills.  Perhaps Whealon did not want to explicitly support the bill, or perhaps he did not want to be seen as engaging in political debate.  Regardless of his motivation, it is clear that politicians inferred his support, allowing them to vote for its passage in a strong Catholic state.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Top Gay Rights Campaigner in UK Speaks Movingly About Her Catholic Faith

April 20, 2016
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Ruth Hunt

In an interview with The Scottish Catholic Observer, a leading gay rights advocate in the United Kingdom spoke movingly about her faith, while at the same time she appealed again for more common ground between LGBT and religious communities.

Ruth Hunt, head of the LGBT rights organization Stonewall, and a Catholic lesbian woman, gave the interview to coincide with LGBT month in Scotland, which this year celebrates the theme “faith, religion and philosophy.” In the interview, Hunt spoke about being raised Catholic, and she said of the faith which she still practices:

” ‘I was brought up Catholic, I believe in one Holy Roman Catholic Church. . .I believe it is where Christ is most accurately reflected. I feel at home there, I maintain a good relationship with the Church, I am pleased to be part of it. . .

” ‘I never felt the need break away. . .In the past, when I didn’t go I found I missed it, it provides community and creates a space that is very profound and spiritual for me.’ “

Hunt later said she “never felt excluded from the Church I attended. . .never felt I wasn’t welcome.” Like many Catholics, though, Hunt has questioned the church, yet remaining Catholic was a “very important thing” in her teenage years and was reaffirmed during her college studies of medieval English.

Hunt acknowledged that some sharp divisions and deep hurt exist between LGBT and religious communities, which can create further difficulties for LGBT people of faith. She explained:

” ‘I do meet people who have had different, difficult experiences though who’ve been damaged by being told to deny their sexuality, who felt rejected by God. . .That’s saddens me, and at Stonewall we often talk about the need for “kind eyes,” when we listen to people.'”

But too often these divisions are “something artificially constructed,” particularly the “over inflated” conflict between religious freedom and LGBT rights that some propose. Hunt noted:

” ‘There are many LGBT people of faith and many LGBT people have lots of friends and family in faith communities. To think in terms of binaries and opposites is not helpful. . .It does concern me the way some opposition is expressed. I don’t think it is Christian to be harmfully offensive. I think there’s always room to disagree with compassion.’ “

Working towards more inclusion in religious communities and more common ground between LGBT and religious communities remain an important task, according to Hunt, because “legal rights only go so far.” She offered advice on how LGBT advocates could proceed as they seek greater justice and equality:

“Hearing the truth of people’s testament is very important. . . A lot can be achieved if you start on basis of love but it’s difficult when people are utterly determined not to hear each other. . .

“We need to reach deeper into communities, to help people be accepted as they live, work, socialise and pray. . .

“The rights of LGBT people don’t get in the way of people of faith who practice that faith.”

This interview is not Hunt’s first time speaking about the need to overcome divisions between LGBT and religious communities. When she was appointed Stonewall’s director in 2014, Hunt recognized that despite legal advances, there was still much work to do to bring about religious and cultural acceptance of LGBT people and their relationships. Last year, Hunt reaffirmed to The Tablet that changing attitudes rather than legislation was her priority. She welcomed Archbishop Vincent Nichol’s support of monthly LGBT outreach Masses near London as an effort to overcome the deep chasm that may exist between faithful Catholics and their church institutions.

Her wisdom is again insightful in this interview with the Observer, and LGBT advocates, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, would do well to read it. Hunt, who recommends listening to the truth of people’s lives, witnesses powerfully by living her own truth as a lesbian Catholic woman refusing to compromise on either her faith or her sexual orientation.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Beyond Pope Francis, What Else Has Been Happening in Catholic LGBT News?

April 19, 2016
Tony Flannery

Fr. Tony Flannery

Pope Francis’ document Amoris Laetitia has dominated Catholic LGBT news since its publication on April 8th. Everyone, it seems, is weighing in about the 250+ page document. You can access Bonding 2.0’s coverage of the document and selected reactions here.

But there has been other news relevant to Catholic LGBT issues that should not be missed. Below, Bondings 2.0 offers a sampling of some of the more important items.

Listen to Fr. Tony Flannery and Other Priests, Says Irish Bishop

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said Ireland’s church leaders need to dialogue with priests who are advocating for church reform. This outreach should include Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who faced Vatican persecution in 2012, and the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland which he co-founded. McKeown said the bishops “have to be constantly reaching out” and “willing to go way beyond our comfort zone,” reported the National Catholic Reporter. Citing Pope Francis, the bishop added:

” ‘It takes time to listen and to talk and to build bridges and to have an openness to hear their story.”

Fr. Flannery, who has been barred from public ministry since 2012, in part because of his openness on LGBT issues, said this support was a first for the Irish hierarchy. He commented on an important topic that such outreach by the bishops might focus upon:

“My answer to that is simple. All I have ever looked for in relation to myself and others who are accused of ‘dissent’ is a process that is fair, just and transparent. . .The present CDF process is a scandal, and brings shame on our church.”

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Bishops, Laity Remain Split Over Religious Freedom Bills

Virginia’s bishops expressed disappointment that Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Catholic, vetoed “license to discriminate” legislation passed by the legislature, reported the National Catholic Reporter.

According to a Virginia Catholic Conference statement, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington and Bishop Francix DiLorenzo of Richmond said the law, which would have protected those who withheld  services from same-gender couples, was about religious freedom . Vetoing the bill on live radio, Governor McAuliffe, himself a Catholic, described the bill as “nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize.”

Meanwhile, Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, who is also Catholic, rescinded an executive order protecting those persons involved with state business who discriminate against LGBT people and replaced it with a non-discrimination order, reported Buzzfeed.

Church Worker Faces Financial Burden in Legal Battle

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Jan Buterman

Fired Canadian educator Jan Buterman is facing financial difficulties in his legal battle against the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, Edmonton, Alberta, reported Metro News.

Buterman sued the district for removing him as a substitute teacher after his gender transition more than eight years ago. He has been in court since, losing the latest round in appeals court, but Buterman has promised to press on and is exploring funding options. He explained why he will keep struggling:

“I’m not the only trans person who has lost a job in this province, far from it, but most people don’t have it in writing or don’t have access to legal council. . .Most trans people who run into this don’t have the means to address it.”

Bishop Says Same-Gender Marriages Can “Destroy Everything Christian”

In a recent interview, Bishop Emeritus Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska claimed that marriage equality would lead to efforts “to destroy everything Christian” and called the increasingly successful movement for LGBT rights “devastating,” reported the Lincoln Journal Star.

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Laurent Stefanini

Gay Ambassador Nixed by Vatican is Reassigned to the UN

Laurent Stefanini, France’s one-time nominee as Ambassador to the Holy See, will take up a position at the United Nations instead by representing his nation in UNESCO, reported France 24. Stefanini’s nomination was seen to be rejected by the Vatican because it was never approved after being submitted January 2015. Many speculate this rejection was due to Stefanini’s identity as an openly gay man.

For all the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog using the provided box in the upper right hand corner of this page. Contact info@newwaysministry.org with questions and news tips.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Pope Francis Calling on African Bishops to Oppose LGBT Discrimination, Says Theologian

April 18, 2016
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Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator

More than a week after Pope Francis released Amoris Laetitia, his apostolic exhortation on family, new insights and analyses continue to be published.

Today, Bondings 2.o highlights several noteworthy contributions from theologians. Foremost among these is a Jesuit priest’s assertion that the document calls for change from African bishops who may support, or at least do not oppose, the criminalization of homosexuality.

Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J., a theologian based in Kenya, told the National Catholic Reporter  that the document was neither revolutionary nor disappointing. Applying Amoris Laetitia to an African context, Orobator said the document forcefully rejected LGBT discrimination, and should shake up the continent’s sometimes prejudiced episcopacy:

“Furthermore, on a continent where at least 38 countries criminalize homosexuality, the pope’s trenchant call for respect for human dignity, avoidance of unjust discrimination, aggression, and violence, and respectful pastoral guidance [paragraph 250], should galvanize the church in Africa to embrace wholeheartedly African families and their LGBT members who have been stigmatized, marginalized, and excluded from the life of the church. Church leaders need to dissociate themselves from governments and politicians who persecute gay people, and show example of respect for their dignity. In Africa, we say the church is “family of God,” implying that it welcomes all without discrimination. The preeminent mark of this church and the world church is hospitality. Clearly, Francis is calling the church in Africa to practice what it preaches by becoming a church that welcomes all into the family without discrimination.”

Orobator added that the document showed there was “long way to go before we actually make the bold steps that are long overdue” when it comes to sexual ethics and gender justice. But it is a “pastoral turn” and “much needed guide for the African church.” Orobator explained:

“In other words, the realization that the first task of the church is not merely to squabble over contested moral issues. . .We need to respect the diverse and complex reality of people’s situation — and avoid sweeping generalizations, hasty judgments, and damming labels.”

Many theologians did not comment specifically on LGBT issues, which received scant attention in the document, but these scholars’ insights about how Amoris Laetitia affects theology and pastoral praxis are easily applicable to LGBT issues despite Pope Francis’ omission of providing such applications.

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Massimo Faggioli

Massimo Faggioli of the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote in Commonweal, that the pope offered “almost complete silence” on homosexuality. Critical of the distance which has developed between the hierarchy’s teachings and theologians’ contributions, Faggioli suggested a manner by which Amoris Laetitia will impact the church, and help LGBT issues to move forward:

“Pope Francis has issued an exhortation that represents the first attempt by a pope to demonstrate how the episcopal collegiality of Vatican II is supposed to work. Relying heavily on the final synod reports of 2014 and 2015, the document takes into account the real and divisive debates that took place at the synod on the issues of family, marriage and divorce, and homosexuality.”

There were no clear victories on controversial issues, said Faggioli, but Pope Francis’ pastoral and practical way of engaging such issues is an “undeniable” change. In a separate article on Il Sismografo Faggioli, noted that part of this change was the pope’s contributions to building “a very inclusive ecclesiology.” This ecclesiology, or theology of the church, echoes Vatican II and Francis’ Latin American context in seeking a church which is synodal, collegial, and humble.

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Emily Reimer-Barry

Calling the document “wonderfully complicated,” Emily Reimer-Barry of the University of San Diego, writing at Catholic Moral Theology, said Amoris Laetitia was Pope Francis’ invitation to Catholics to live an adult faith:

“My overall take-away is that Pope Francis is saying it is time for lay people to discern their deepest values and take responsibility for living them out; we need to see church teaching for what it is—a complicated messy (even imperfect) tradition trying to form people to make healthy choices that are good for society. So this document becomes a celebration of conscience and a rejection of a legalistic paradigm.”

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Fr. James Bretzke

Instead of a church imposing laws, people of faith are asked to first know God’s love and then figure out how God invites them to respond in authentic ways. How one responds to God’s love is directly related one of the document’s foremost themes: conscience. Fr. James Bretzke, S.J. of Boston College noted in America that references to conscience doubled from the Synod’s 2015 final report. He continued:

“Though the word ‘conscience’ appears only 20 times in the Italian version of the exhortation, what the pope has given us is what I would call a “thick description” of what following a formed and informed conscience looks like in the concrete. While Pope Francis clearly believes there are few, if any, simple ‘recipes’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ concrete, absolute norms, neither does he fear that the attempt to discern what God is asking of us is impossible to find and put into practice.”

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David Cloutier

David Cloutier of Mount St. Mary’s University also commented on Amoris Laetitia‘s complexity, asking readers to engage these complexities rather than being satisfied with easy answers. He wrote in Commonweal:

“Yes, this document is ambiguous. Perhaps we as a Church can sense the opportunities possible if we live into that ambiguity, rather than prematurely close it down in one direction or the other.”

Cloutier’s call for the church to engage ambiguity, if applied to the lives, needs, and gifts of LGBT people, could be quite an opening. This insight is particularly true in regions where being openly gay or transgender still endangers one’s life. But since Catholic bishops sometimes support laws for LGBT people to be excluded and even jailed, the ambiguity could be used to continue church oppression of LGBT people.  For example, bishops in Malawi used a pastoral letter on mercy to call for LGBT people to be jailed. Such oppression will happen if bishops and pastoral agents reject Pope Francis’ wider call for mercy and  inclusion.  As general as this call is in the document, it could advance equality in the church.

How this document will be used to shape theology and pastoral practice around issues of sexual and gender identity remains uncertain. Despite initial disappointments, theologians seem to suggest there could be positive results if Catholics engage the text and set out to help transform their own lives and local communities.

You can read previous Amoris Laetitia reaction posts herehere,  and here. You can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Florida Catholic Official Moves to Erase LGBT Issues from Child Care Policy

April 17, 2016

In the fall of 2015, the Florida Catholic Conference joined with the Florida Baptist Children Homes to successfully eliminate language from a state agency’s provisional policy designed to protect homeless LGBT youth in group homes.  What is most astonishing, however, is a Catholic official’s reasoning for deleting such language.

CBS Miami reported that when the Department of Children and Families (DCF) wanted to include a stipulation that banned group home personnel from “(a)ttempt(ing) to change or discourage a child’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”   However opposition from the two religious groups caused the language to disappear from a later version of the policy’s draft.

One might think, given the recent flurry of religious freedom debates happening across the country that the religious groups’ objections might have been motivated by similar concerns.  However, Michael Sheedy, the spokesperson for the Florida Catholic Conference mentioned a different reason.  He said:

“The definition of ‘sexual orientation’ could encompass sexual conduct outside of marriage, thus legally affirming and specially protecting that conduct. Clearly, every child should be safe from bullying and harassment in the care of state of Florida. An expectation of abstinence for school-aged children from sexual activity should be established.”

Such a concern is misguided and ill-informed.  Sexual orientation is separate from sexual behavior.  There is no way that protecting orientation gives a carte-blanche to behavior.  Even Vatican teaching distinguishes between these two categories.   Does Sheedy truly not know enough about sexual orientation that he would make an such an inaccurate inference about it when it is being considered in policy?  Those debates have been going on for decades in the realm of public policy, and it is very clear that they are separate, refer to separate phenomenon, and do not carry the same equal legal weight.

Does he really think that child protection agents would consider that sexual activity for school-aged children is something allowable?   Why would he conflate children having sex with a homosexual orientation?  Does he believe that homosexuality has something to do with sexual behavior concerning children?  Again, such a topic shows an amazing ignorance of the definition of sexual orientation and of homosexuality.

The Tampa Bay Times captured another part of Sheedy’s statement:

“The policy goal should be to promote the healthy development of children, including their sexual development, and acceptance of their gender rightly understood.”

When many Catholic officials use language like “gender rightly understood,” it usually means the gender assigned at birth, based on biological sex.   The Tampa Bay Times news story stated that the letters from the two religious bodies spoke of  “being transgender as a ‘mistaken belief.’ ” New understandings of gender show that biological sex is not always the best evidence of a person’s gender, which also includes their psychological constitution.

Fortunately, the debate about the policy has not ended, nor has any final language yet been adopted.  LGBT advocates and child welfare proponents are protesting the changes that the Baptist and Catholic leaders have effected in the draft provision.  Orlando Weekly noted the comments of a state LGBT rights advocate:

“Hannah Willard, spokesperson for Equality Florida, says that like anti-discrimination protections against race, religion and national origin, LGBTQ youth also need specific protections to provide a clear expectation that some behaviors won’t be tolerated. Between 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ, according to Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization that focuses on these communities.

” ‘DCF asked child welfare advocates for recommendations,’ Willard says. ‘It’s not accurate to say these protections are not needed when the department asked for them last year,’ she says.”

The Tampa Bay Times provided the perspective of children’s rights advocates:

“Cindy Brown, an activist and foster parent, said she has heard “atrocious” stories from LGBT children in her care.

” ‘Counselors who are assigned by DCF telling kids that their problems are because of their orientation is certainly not in the best interest of any child,’ said Brown, who lives in Miami. ‘The fact that this conversation is even happening is shocking to me because I cannot imagine any reason not to protect these very vulnerable kids at their most vulnerable time.’

“It’s hard to know how many children have had such experiences. Many LGBT children are afraid to tell someone, said Christina Spudeas, executive director of Florida’s Children First.”

Catholic officials may know what their theology and doctrine state, but, in this case, Michael Sheedy has demonstrated that he has a lot to learn about LGBT reality, particularly the reality facing LGBT youth.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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