By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 1, 2016
Rev. Peter Daly, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter recently wrote about the untimely death of a priest-friend, Rev. Henry Rodriguez of San Diego. As Daly described Rodriguez’ diverse ministry activities, the mentions of his involvement with the LGBT community stood out for me, reminding me of the many unsung priests across the nation who are showing the love of Christ to people who feel cut off from the Church. Daly wrote:
“Henry was always a pastor and a priest, but his ministry did not stop at the church door. He was a community organizer with the San Diego Organizing Project. He was a police and fire chaplain. He was a social activist. He was a counselor at the gay and lesbian community center. He was a hospice and hospital chaplain. He said masses in half a dozen parishes around the diocese, rich and poor. . . .
“For many years, Henry marched in his clerical collar with the San Diego police department in various community parades including the annual Gay Pride Parade, which got him into trouble with his former bishop. The diocese refused to assign him to a parish or pay his health insurance or pension contributions. Henry managed; cobbling together a ministry by helping in many parishes, and serving as a hospice chaplain. He also did counseling at the gay and lesbian community center. The new bishop of San Diego, Robert McElroy, brought Henry back into the diocesan fold and made him pastor of the parish where much of the gay community lives. Just a few weeks ago, after the mass shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Henry went with the bishop to a memorial for the victims. He was a bridge to many communities.”
Fr. Rodriguez’s story reminded me of the case of Rev. Warren Hall, the Newark, New Jersey priest who was suspended from ministry by Archbishop John Myers due to Hall’s outreach to the LGBT community. The similarity hit me since Myers has already submitted his letter of resignation, and so a new archbishop will be appointed in the near future. Bishop McElroy, who reinstated Rodriguez, was appointed by Pope Francis. Let’s pray that the pope appoints someone of a similar mind to Newark–someone who will welcome back Fr. Hall to active ministry and affirm his outreach to the LGBT community.
By Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, September 25, 2016
Catholics and other members of the Hoboken, New Jersey, community gathered to support Fr. Warren Hall, a gay Catholic priest who was recently suspended from ministry by Newark Archbishop John Myers.
According toNJ.com, parishioners, LGBT community members and other locals gathered in a rally organized by Hoboken Pride and Jersey City Pride to show their support for Fr. Hall. The rally took place at Stevens Park in Hoboken, New Jersey.
In 2015, Hall was assigned by Myers to be a parochial vicar at both St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church in Weehawken, New Jersey, and Saints Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken, after he was dismissed from his position as the Director of Campus Ministry at Seton Hall University for supporting the NOH8 campaign. One reporter said that the suspension from priestly ministry came after Hall openly supported unofficial LGBT events at the World Youth Day last July, as well as PFLAG New Jersey, Gays Against Guns and New Ways Ministry.
Hall also publicly supported counselor and coach Kate Drumgoole, who was fired from Paramus Catholic High School for being in a same-gender marriage. As New Ways Ministry reported earlier, Paramus Catholic’s alumni organized and signed an open letter condemning the school’s decision and showing support for Drumgoole. After receiving the letter, the school announced that two top administrators have been suspended.
Hall spoke at the rally thanking the organizers and attendees while reinforcing his stance against Paramus High School’s dismissal of Drumgoole. NJ.com quoted him:
It seems to me she was fired because of her sexuality… We don’t see schools letting people go because they’re divorced and remarried or living with someone
Laura Knittel of Hoboken Pride, also spoke at the rally saying:
Change is here, it can happen, it has happened, it will happen… Let’s pray for the archbishop. Father Warren, you’re work has just begun in a whole new chapter of your life.
Michael Billy of Jersey City Pride noted:
We the people have a god-given right to stand up for what we know is right… This archbishop is vastly out of touch with what is going on in the world.
Joyce Flinn, a parishioner at Saints Peter and Paul and a supporter of Hall, spoke about Archbishop Myers’ decision, telling a reporter, “This is a terrible outrage… I appeal to this archbishop to retire.”
Hall explained in a video interview (see below) from NJ.com that while he understood the rationale behind Myers decision, which was reported as being based on breaking the vow of obedience, Hall insisted that he never actually spoke against the church or church teaching.
In the video, Hall explained:
I think by being involved with the groups I was involved with, who are viewed by the archbishop and some church leadership as being opposed to Catholic teaching, I think in that regard they believe i am being disobedient because in a letter or notice that the archbishop sent out last year, you know, he made clear that groups that have positions opposite of the Catholic Church, we should not be involved with.
However, my belief in that is that my involvement with those groups were for positive reasons: PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gay Children. I went to those groups to talk about how God loved their children and that we should welcome their children. And so I think I see why I’m accused of being disobedient. But I don’t believe it’s disobedience because the message that I brought to those groups, in every case, was not anti-catholic.
According to NJ.com, Hoboken Councilman Michael DeFusco, a gay man and parishioner of Saints Peter and Paul Church, read Mary Oliver’s poem, “Sunrise.”
You can die for it —
or the world. People
have done so,
their small bodies be bound to the stake,
an unforgettable fury
DeFusco concluded with his own words, saying, “Thank you, Father Hall.”
While instances of retaliation against LGBT workers in Catholic organizations and LGBT-supportive priests continue, the support of communities to those discriminated against is truly encouraging. When Catholics gather together in support of their LGBT and LGBT-positive family, we find new life in our faith. For those who support Fr. Warren Hall or other dismissed church workers, being at a rally or signing a petition is an authentic way to live their faith.
The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, released on July 6, 2016, in response to Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s new pastoral directives.
In a move which seems diametrically opposite to Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput has instructed pastoral ministers in his archdiocese not to distribute communion to divorced/remarried and cohabitating couples, and not to allow individuals involved in same-sex relationships to occupy leadership or ministerial roles in parish life. Chaput’s instruction came in a six-page document which he called “Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia,” the apostolic exhortation that Pope Francis released in April. (For more information about the document, click here.)
Sacramental denials and restricting parish involvement are not effective pastoral strategies for the Church to be following. Pope Francis’ emphasis has been to move away from such measures, and instead, offer an open and welcoming hand to all–even, and perhaps especially, to those whose lives do not always conform to all of the church’s official teachings. Denials and restrictions will only cause more people to leave the Church, thus contributing to its demise, rather than towards building it up. Chaput has offered a losing pastoral strategy.
Though this instruction will anger and frustrate many Catholics, whose hearts are much wider in accepting people regardless of their state in life, it is not a strategy that will pass the test of time. It is just one more attempt to hold on to a model of church which has long been rendered obsolete.
Chaput’s directives are distinctly at odds with the tone and recommendations of Amoris Laetitia which stressed church leaders should provide pastoral accompaniment and encounter, as well as encouragement, instead of discipline. In many places, Chaput’s instruction reads schizophrenically, by emphasizing the need for such accompaniment, but then each time concluding with a recommendation that is a harsh restriction.
Chaput’s instructions should be, and most likely will be, ignored by pastoral ministers in his archdiocese. They will most likely use their own pastoral judgement about administering sacraments and appointing people to ministerial and leadership roles. Such is what happened last year when Newark’s Archbishop John Myers sent out similar instructions to pastoral staff in his archdiocese. On the whole, the directives were ignored.
This issue becomes worrisome, though, because it is also very possible that self-appointed conservative “watchdogs” will take it upon themselves to report violations to the archdiocese. Should this be what happens, then Chaput would have opened a Pandora’s box or problems for himself and the church of Philadelphia when dismissals and communion rejections become public, along with the guaranteed protests by Catholics who support those dismissed and rejected.
Because of these possibilities, in one sense Chaput’s instructions may end up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back. With such an outpouring of protest, his leadership, already widely ignored, will become more irrelevant, paving the way for new leadership and directions for this archdiocese which has already had more than its share of tragedies caused by rigidly conservative leaders.
Also troubling is the fact that Chaput was recently named chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee to implement Amoris Laetitia nationally. This archdiocesan document does not bode well for the direction this committee may take. Since Chaput represents the most conservative wing of the U.S. church, it is unlikely that any recommendations which emerge will be useful to most bishops, who will likely take a more compassionate approach to implementing the apostolic exhortation than the narrow one that Chaput has offered.
In October, Bondings 2.0 criticized Newark’s Archbishop John Myers for issuing a pastoral directive to his priests instructing them to refuse communion to, among others, people in legal same-gender marriages or those who publicly supported such marriages.
Now, a follow-up story in The National Catholic Reporter noted that this drastic policy has basically been ignored by the lay people and pastors of New Jersey’s archdiocese.
For one thing, it seems that the policy is somewhat impractical to enforce, since lay people are the ones who choose to go to communion, not the other way around. The NCR story quoted Fr. Warren Hall, an openly gay pastor in the archdiocese, who said:
” “Most people aren’t aware he sent it out. . . .
” ‘I don’t think the average person in the pew has been affected by it,’ said Hall, who thought the timing of Myers’ letter, coming soon before the papal visit to the United States and the Synod of Bishops on the family, worked against the goal of reaching out to alienated Catholics who might be giving the church a second look.”
Another pastor, Msgr. William Reilly, who pastors a mostly Spanish-speaking parish said the most parishioners were not even aware of Myers’ directive. He explained his own approach:
“When it comes to who can receive Communion, and who can’t, his parishioners generally are respectful of church regulations, said Reilly. ‘I don’t delve into people’s consciences,’ the pastor said.”
Meanwhile, when challenged with how the communion policy squared with Pope Francis’ more merciful approach to those who may not be in line with all church doctrine, the archdiocesan spokesperson, James Goodness, clarified Myers’ intention, saying the directive was not intended to be punitive:
” ‘The statement was a set of principles that priests should be looking at and keeping in mind as they walk with people in varying circumstances,’ said Goodness. He added the statement came in response to pastors asking the archbishop for guidance ‘to find out how we can walk with people within the confines of church teaching.’ “
Once again we see the power of the “sense of the faithful” regarding church instruction, even when the instruction is not a doctrinal statement, but a policy one. Many, many Catholics follow Pope Francis’ understanding that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
Denying access to communion is a bad enough policy. To write an instruction, like Myers did, encouraging such denial is even worse. It looks like the practice of the people, as well as the example of Pope Francis, have caused the archdiocese to re-think this policy.
Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.
Today, I would like to look at a creative strategy being discussed here at the synod in Rome that may bode well for LGBT people. An idea that has been proposed by several bishops in several different ways is to allow for more local decision-making on pastoral approaches to some of the family issues considered more controversial such as divorce/remarriage and LGBT issues.
One of the first bishops to raise this question was Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, who made headlines at the end of 2014 when he became the first Catholic bishop to call on the Church to bless same-sex couples. In Caelo blog carried an English translation of the text (original can be found here) of Bonny’s synod intervention on October 5th. Here’s the relevant passage:
“In their local Churches bishops encounter a great variety of questions and needs, to which they must provide a pastoral answer today. Across the world, faithful and pastors have made use of the Synod and the questionnaire to present their pressing questions to the bishops and the Pope. Those questions clearly differ between countries and continents. There is however a common theme in those questions, namely the desire that the Church will stand in “the great river of mercy” (IL 68, 106). It is important that the Synod give space and responsibility to the local bishops to formulate suitable answers to the pastoral questions of that part of the people of God which is entrusted to their pastoral care. The individual bishops’ conferences have a special role in this. The Synod not only deals with ‘the family as Church,’ but also with ‘the Church as family.’ Every family knows what it means to work on unity in diversity, with patience and creativity.”
Michael O’Loughlin of Crux wrote a good article on the subject of local pastoral decision-making in which he connected the idea to changes that have come about since Pope Francis entered the scene:
“For decades, some bishops and theologians have complained of what they see as an excessive concentration of power in Rome, and the need to empower bishops’ conferences and local churches to handle more matters on their own.
“What has changed under Francis is the sense that movement in the direction of greater ‘collegiality,’ meaning shared authority, is possible.”
O’Loughlin also quoted another synod proponent of local decision-making:
“Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila said cultural differences might precipitate the need for various solutions, but always with unity in mind.
” ‘There is unity of the faith, one Church, one doctrine, but the situations differ,’ he said. ‘There was a serious proposal to see what space could be given to the bishops’ conferences to address issues somehow peculiar to them, but always in the light of the common faith.’ “
At today’s press briefing, Abbot Jeremias Schroder, OSB, arch-abbot of the Benedictine Congregation of St. Odile, Germany, said that many proposals for decentralizing pastoral strategies have been raised many times during the synod discussions, especially around dealing with cohabitation and pastoral outreach to homosexual people. He said that the German Catholic public are very concerned with the issue of outreach to divorced/remarried people, and “that seems to be an area where regional pastoral solutions could be envisaged.”
He then went on:
“I also have the impression that the understanding of homosexuality, the social acceptance of homosexuality, is culturally very diverse and that seems to me very obviously to also be an area where bishops conferences should be allowed to formulate pastoral responses that are in tune with what can be preached and announced and lived in a given context.”
[You can view a video interview with Schroder in which he discusses the idea of local decision making by clicking here. His discussion of this topic begins at about 1:05.)
I have to say that I have been very intrigued by this idea, and I left the synod press briefing feeling excited by this possibility. But by the time I got back to my guesthouse room and re-connected my computer, I saw a story that made me wonder if local decision-making is really a good idea.
David Gibson of Religion News Service had posted a story with the headline: “NJ archbishop sets rules for barring Catholics from Communion.” Here’s the gist of it:
“Even as Pope Francis and Catholic leaders from around the world debate ways to make the Catholic Church more inclusive, Newark Archbishop John Myers has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.
“In the two-page memo, Myers also orders parishes and Catholic institutions not to host people or organizations that disagree with church teachings.
“He says Catholics, ‘especially ministers and others who represent the Church, should not participate in or be present at religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law.’ “
Myers’ local decision-making shows the downside of a decentralized approach. It allows local bishops to be exclusionary in their pastoral ministry. I mentioned this problems somewhat the other day in my post about criminalization laws for LGBT people. In some cases in the world, bishops give tacit approval or even strongly support such laws, which are obviously opposed to Catholic teaching. In these cases, it is good for the universal Church to have some oversight to fraternally correct bishops whose policies, pastoral or political, are not in line with Gospel values.
But, as I’m learning here at the synod by hearing so many different cultural perspectives of our universal Catholic Church, solutions don’t have to be binary: Plan A or Plan Z. In fact, there seem to be a great variety of ways to approach a problem, more than my puny mind has ever imagined, that’s for sure. We just need to both trust and facilitate the Holy Spirit by letting all the voices and all the perspectives speak their truths so that we can arrive at good solutions for all.
Two stories came across my computer screen this week, both first person accounts by Catholics, both of whom support marriage equality, but both who have different relationships with the church. While it would be irresponsible of me to speculate further about why each of these writers has a different approach to Catholicism, I did find the juxtaposition of their two stories interesting since they raised a lot of questions for me.
Not In Spite of Being Catholic, But Because of Being Catholic
Dan McGrath, a Minnesota Catholic, wrote on Sojourners magazine’s blog that he is voting “no” to the state’s proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and his essay explains his decision:
“When I was 10 my parents divorced. A couple years later my mom came out to my family as lesbian. By then she no longer felt welcome at church and stopped going to mass, though she has remained a deeply spiritual person. This one case of social exclusion is deeply meaningful to me, but is nothing compared to political decision by church leadership to spend millions of dollars to limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota. By doing so church leaders seek to permanently exclude gays and lesbians from the civil rights and benefits straight couples enjoy.”
Like many Catholics who support LGBT equality, McGrath is often quizzed as to how he can remain loyal to his church:
“Some have asked how I can embrace a faith whose leadership has taken such a hard line against gay and lesbian equality, and which is painfully quiet on the threat to limit voting rights. I understand why people ask this question. For me, my decision to vote no is not in spite of my Catholic faith, it’s because of it. . . .
“I’m a religious person because I need help figuring out how to apply the values I believe in to the real world. Prayer, reflection, the sacraments, and regular attendance at mass are important elements of the Catholic faith. But a great thing about being Catholic is that there are also countless examples of how others live faithful lives that one can look to for inspiration.”
McGrath attributes his faith and his commitment to social justice to his aunt, Sister Kathleen Ries, a long-time community organizer. Her example helped him to see faith as an integral part of life, and it is that sense of integrity which still motivates him today:
“My choice to vote no has everything to do with being Catholic. The marriage amendment says that gays and lesbians should not have equal access to the financial and social rights and benefits my wife and I enjoy. Nothing in my faith experience justifies this. The voter restriction amendment will set in place permanent barriers to the civic participation of all voters. The fact that it will quiet, if not silence, the voices of those who are poor, homeless, unemployed, in foreclosure, elderly, people of color, and students makes this amendment morally out of bounds.
“Another great thing about being Catholic is that by practicing our faith in community we help each other live the values of the gospel. This is why we Catholics can see how our lot in life – and the fate of our souls – is tied to the fate of others. This sense of purpose and interconnection is what I want for my daughter. I’m voting no because that’s what my faith – and my family – have taught me to do. I’m voting no for my faith and my family.”
A Spiritual Refugee
Tom Moran, a columnist for Newark’s Star-Ledger, is also a Catholic, and he also supports marriage equality, but his experience with church leaders has moved him in a different direction than McGrath.
In his column, Moran relates how his early faith formation from his father stressed faith as a way of serving the poor. Yet, he did not receive reinforcement for this aspect of faith from future church leaders:
“In the decades since, I have fled a million miles from the church, and have never found a new religious home. I am a spiritual refugee.
“One in three American adults was raised in a Catholic family, but fewer than one in four identify as Catholic today. No other church has shed so many followers, according to surveys by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“So if I am a refugee, I am walking on a road that is crowded with others who feel the same way.”
Newark’s Archbishop John Myers’ recent statements against marriage equality re-fueled the sense of alienation that Moran feels toward Catholicism:
” [Myers] said, all Catholics must embrace his views. And those who refuse should not take Holy Communion.
“I’ve gone through stages when it comes to the church, bouncing between anger, estrangement and exasperation. It started when one of my six sisters, at age 10, wrote the Vatican a letter asking why she couldn’t be an altar girl. She never heard back. But the dinner discussions on that planted seeds of revolt in all of us.
“They flowered as I began to understand the church’s views on birth control and divorce, which put even my mother on the wrong side of the law, and taught us how Catholics cope with the hierarchy.”
Moran relates the story of his mother’s decision to stick with Catholicism, but he is not so optimistic that others will follow her example:
“In the meantime, though, men like Myers will drive millions more onto the refugee highway. He had his own small share of complicity in the sex abuse scandal, transferring a priest who had confessed to abuse to St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark without telling the staff. He refuses to release the names of priests who have been credibly accused, as some New Jersey dioceses do.
“But the fixation on same-sex marriage may do even more damage in the long run. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage, a number that rises to 72 percent among those between ages 18 and 34. Remember, they shouldn’t be taking Holy Communion.”
Moran criticizes Myers for discussing marriage, but never mentioning poverty, and he notes that other Catholics probably do not share the archbishop’s priorities:
“ ‘Catholic citizens must exercise their right to be heard in the public square by defending marriage,’ Myers wrote.
“I doubt most Catholics will see this election in such pinched terms. They know how to sidestep this land mine, too.
“Because if you visit any poor neighborhood in New Jersey, you can see a more vibrant Catholicism at work in schools, hospitals and food pantries.”
Do These Stories Tell Us Anything?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not going to play “armchair spiritual counselor” and imagine why these two men have taken such different approaches to their Catholic heritage. Similarly, I don’t intend to judge either one as better or worse than the other. I presume that each has faced his life experience in the way that they found revealed the greatest integrity for them.
Both, it seems to me, have retained their Catholic sense of passion for justice and strong distaste for hypocrisy of leadership figures. In my life and travels, I have met many folks in situations that are similar to each of these men. Some find it is the right thing to stay, some find it is the right thing to leave. What I find interesting, though, is that what they share in common is their belief that the Catholicism they were taught as young people stressed love and justice, and that both think that church leaders are not heeding those messages when it comes to the question of marriage equality.