In a scathing essay which excoriates Catholics who supported Donald Trump for U.S. President, Boston College theologian Stephen Pope also took to task U.S. bishops who were mum about so many of Candidate Trump’s statements which were directly opposed to Catholic teaching, particularly social teaching.
In a particularly strong passage, Pope compares the bishops’ reluctance to speak out against Trump with their loud and strong rhetoric about marriage equality and religious liberty. In his Commonweal essay entitled “Not the Time for Reconciliation: First Confront the Danger of Trump,” he states:
“. . .American bishops showed a stunning lack of leadership at a time when it was needed most. Some bishops publically expressed concern with Trump’s description of Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. To their credit, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Bishop Kevin Farrell, and some other bishops expressed public concern over Trump’s immigrant-bashing rhetoric, but they did not offer a direct and sustained criticism of the substance and tone of his campaign as a whole. . . . Yet no bishop had the courage of Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore to denounce Trump in no uncertain terms as a ‘walking affront to the Gospels.’ Most obtuse was Archbishop Charles Chaput’s assessment of both major-party candidates as ‘equally problematic.’ Truly problematic are prelates who raise their voices against same-sex marriage, but not against overt racism and misogyny. Or bishops who defend the religious liberty of Catholic institutions regarding contraception, but not the freedom of persecuted Muslim refugees who wish to immigrate to our shores.
“In his post-election statement, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, outgoing president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that he ‘looks forward to working President-elect Trump’ on issues of life, immigration and refugees, religious persecution, and marriage. Kurtz said nothing about poverty or climate change—concerns Pope Francis has made central to his papacy.
LGBT Catholics and their supporters will gather in vigil at the U.S. Bishops Conference November meeting to remember the victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre and to call on the bishops to acknowledge the reality of LGBT lives.
The vigil, sponsored by DignityUSA, will be held on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, 10:30 AM – 2:00 pm, outside the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, 700 Aliceanna Street, Baltimore. Maryland. The demonstration’s twin themes are “A Vigil to Remember the Pulse Victims And Our Murdered Transgender Kin” and “A Call to our Bishops to Dare to Speak our Names:
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Gender Queer”
An announcement from DignityUSA explained the purpose of the vigil:
“The Catholic Bishops response (or lack thereof) to the Pulse [the name of the Orlando nightclub] shooting demonstrated that most Bishops still refuse to even say the words ‘Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer’ and refuse to acknowledge the reality of LGBT lives. The bishops have also ignored the crisis of violence against our transgender siblings. In response, DignityUSA is calling on the bishops to ‘call us by name.’ “
Participants at the rally will pray the rosary. Many will be holding rainbow rosary bead sets. More information can be found on the event’s Facebook page. For more information, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
With few exceptions, most of the U.S. bishops who responded to the nightclub shooting in which 49 people were killed did not make mention of the fact that the targeted victims were LGBT people. In his official response to the shooting, U.S. Bishops Conference President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz did not mention the LGBT factor in the incident and made only a general call to an “ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every single person.”
San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s statement made the LGBT people even angrier than statements that made no reference to the the victims’ gender identity or sexual orientation. He said: “[R]egardless of race, religion, or personal lifestyle, we are all beloved children of God.”
Even Orlando’s local Catholic leader, Bishop John Noonan, of Orlando did not acknowledge the gay and lesbian dimension of the attack in his response. A diocesan Vigil to Dry Tears, which took place soon after the event, had no evidence that the victims were members of the LGBT community.
There were exceptions, of course. Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupichwas one of the first to speak up, addressing the regular Sunday Mass of the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach:
“For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: the Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you.”
Similarly, Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernadino, California, said in his response statement that he wanted to “make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community.”
Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, indicted the Catholic community as partly responsible for anti-gay violence:
“[S]adly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.
‘This tragedy is a call for us as Catholics to combat ever more vigorously the anti-gay prejudice which exists in our Catholic community and in our country.”
The Catholic community in the pews, and around the world, however, were much more supportive of LGBT people in the wake of the shooting. The following blog posts recount some of their actions and statements :
On Friday afternoon, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published a blog post about public officials who officiate at same-gender marriages. Written by three bishops, the post does not mention the Vice President by name but, given the post’s timing, he is most likely one of its targets.
The bishops who authored the post are Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB president; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. They wrote:
“When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”
The bishops said that faithful witness “will only grow more challenging in the years to come,” alluding to their claims that expanded LGBT rights threaten their religious liberty. They cited both Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia and the pontiff’s address to the U.S. Congress last fall to support their negative position on same-gender marriage. When it comes to marriage equality, it seems some U.S. bishops are willing to reverse their general silence about Francis to use the popular pontiff in their opposition to LGBT rights.
Conservative Catholics have criticized Biden as well, reported Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter. The Lepanto Institute, an ultra-conservative watchdog group, wrote letter to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. asking whether Biden has excommunicated himself by his action. Yet, Edward Peters, a conservative canonist, acknowledged that canon law does not provide for excommunication in such a case. Peters did suggest, however, that he thought that there are grounds to deny Communion to the Vice President. So far, Wuerl has not responded, at least publicly, to either charge.
Last Monday, Biden officiated his first wedding, conducted for White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie. The Vice President, who is Catholic, has a long record of supporting LGBT rights and is credited with pushing President Barack Obama to endorse marriage equality.
Marriage equality is an irreversible given in the United States now. Why do the bishops keep expending their energy and resources fighting this new reality which protects families and expands love? Their opposition to LGBT rights is well-known, as is their public feud with the Obama administration. It is unclear what impact the bishops had hoped for with this blog post–especially since it seems that they took a swipe at the Vice President without directly confronting him. These bishops need to read a little more of Pope Francis’ writings, and reflect a little more on his witness of living out a church that is “home for all.”
I would point them specifically to Amoris Laetitia’s line that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them. Like many Catholics who affirm LGBT people and their relationships, Biden seems to have properly formed his conscience and then acted upon it by choosing to officiate this wedding ceremony. And like so many other Catholics, he is witnessing to God’s expansive and ever-present love.
The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, released on June 12, 2016, in response to the mass shooting at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida, earlier that day.
Words truly cannot express the horror, anguish, anger, and revulsion at the news of the mass murder of at least 50 people at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Such an action should instill in all people around the globe a commitment to end gun violence and to protect the lives of LGBT people.
Adding to the anguish of this tragedy is the response of most Catholic leaders. The Vatican’s initial statement expressed sorrow and condemnation, and hope “that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence . . .” But the Vatican did not refer to the fact that this violence was directed at the LGBT community.
Similarly, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made no direct reference to the LGBT community in his statement, noting only that the incident should call people to “ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every single person.”
While individual bishops have reacted publicly to the violence, the only statement thus far from a Catholic leader which mentions the gay and lesbian community is Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. In sympathy, Archbishop Cupich stated that “our prayers and hearts are with. . . our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.” Such simple words should not be difficult for Catholic leaders to mention in the face of such vicious horror. Archbishop Cupich is to be praised for being a light in the darkness.
Clearly the targeting of a gay nightclub shows that, homophobia is a major factor which causes “terrible and absurd violence.” This attack highlights the fact that around the globe, every day, LGBT people face oppression, intimidation, and violence. Homophobic and transphobic attitudes and behaviors are carried out all-too-commonly in the form of discriminatory practices, verbal abuse, bullying, imprisonment, physical and sexual abuse, torture, and death. In many cases, this brutality is sanctioned by governments and religious leaders who propagate homophobic and transphobic messages. The Vatican and other church leaders have yet to speak clearly and definitively on these contemporary issues despite the fact that official church teaching would support condemnations of these hate-filled messages, practices, and laws.
As we pray for an end to gun violence and an end to violence directed against LGBT people, we also include in our prayers the hope that Muslim people will not become victims of a backlash against them because of the shooter’s religious background. Such a response is as vicious and senseless as the violence perpetrated against the nightclub victims.
The Orlando murders should move all Catholic leaders to reflect on how their silence about homophobic and transphobic attitudes and violence contributes to behaviors which treat LGBT people as less than human and deserving of punishment. This sad moment in our history should become a time when Catholic leaders speak loudly and clearly, with one voice, that attacks on LGBT people must stop.
This post is the fifth in 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.
So far, there has been little news from the synod about many of the vigorously debated topics from last year: LGBT issues and divorce/remarriage. Many bishops have noted that this year, the synod will focus instead on broader issues facing the family. My own interpretation is that they might want to be steering away from topics that perhaps might question doctrine, and instead focus on issues where doctrine is non-controversial.
The main topic discussed so far has been the concern with language. I assumed that the concern about language had to do with the use of specific terms such as “homosexual tendencies,” and other reporters here told me that was their assumption, too. At today’s press briefing, though, we learned that the concern about language was at a much more general level. Bishops are concerned that the synod document not sound too negative about family problems and that the synod text be less abstract and more focused on common, everyday phenomena. Manila’s Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, a speaker at the briefing, pointed out that a word like “catechist” can mean different things in different cultures.
At he press briefing, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville observed that the language of the Instrumentum Laboris (the synod’s working document) failed to “inspire” people, that it was often too abstract. He cited the example of Pope Francis, who, he said, “has the capacity to touch the hearts of people.” He also offered an example that was included in the report from his small group discussion concerning language:
“Expanding the words to explain the ‘Good News regarding the family,’ we sought to speak less of ‘crisis’ and more of ‘lights and shadows.’ “
[The reports of 13 small group discussions, broken down in language groups can be found here. The English language groups are titled by “Anglicus,” the Latin word for “English.” I will try to synthesize more of these reports once I can get them basically translated and read.]
But that doesn’t mean that we won’t see new language about LGBT issues and people. In an interview with Crux,Australian Bishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane offered some hopeful possibilities:
There’s been talk in the synod about the need for a ‘new language’ on marriage and the family. What does that mean?
[We need] a new way of speaking about the situation of those who are same-sex attracted or in a same-sex partnership of some kind, or those who are divorced and civilly remarried.
I personally think it’s just not in touch with reality to say there is no good in those relationships. I understand that there’s no continuum between good and evil, but that’s all theory. The reality is, and any pastor knows this, that when you meet people in these relationships, it’s not black and white.
Keeping Church teaching intact can still open up a vast field of pastoral creativity. It’s a challenge to the pastoral imagination. More and more, this synod seems to me to be a summons to that kind of thing. Our danger, and not just the bishops but others in the Church, is to think that we’re condemned to dance in chains unless we can change the Church’s teaching.
There is a Catholic pathology sometimes of all or nothing. If it doesn’t conform to our ideal of what a marriage is, then somehow it’s nothing. It’s a Catholic absolutism. . . .
What about the issue of the need for a more positive, inclusive language about homosexuality, without getting into precisely what that language would be?
I think there would be very large support for that, something like 70/30. There’s very strong support for a less condemnatory approach, and language is at the heart of that. There’s a desire to include [people], without taking on board the claims of what’s sometimes called ‘gay ideology.’
That may involve not just words, but also the language of gestures, of which the pope himself is such a master.
What do you mean by ‘gestures’? I assume you’re not talking, for instance, about blessing ceremonies for gay couples?
No, absolutely not. There’d be no support for that kind of thing, any kind of comparability between marriage and same-sex unions. I doubt there would be a bishop in the hall who would support that.
What I have in mind, for instance, is simply being ready to sit down and talk to people who are gay or in same-sex unions. In other words, not treating them as some kind of diabolical plot, but recognizing their human face and the cry of need, in the belief that somehow the truth of God is to be found there and not in some disembodied world that takes its leave of human experience.
In the press briefing on Wednesday, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput said:
“I hope we find language that we can all agree to be both faithful to the church’s teaching and faithful to love and support of people with same-sex attraction.”
Unfortunately, I don’t think he realizes that his use of the term “people with same-sex attraction” is exactly part of the reason that gay and lesbian people don’t experience love and support from Catholic leaders.
As Chaput’s quote illustrates, language is very important, and I do hope that the synod comes up with new language that is inclusive and welcoming. For instance, the report from English language group “C” stated:
“. . . [W]e had a lengthy discussion about what we meant by ‘the family,’ which is nothing if not basic to this Synod. Some thought it would make more sense to talk of ‘families,’ given the many different kinds of families we now see.”
And English language group “D” commented on what the synod’s final report should look like:
“. . . [I]t’s important to speak in a way that will draw people’s attention.
“Still others thought that the text lacked anything that would attract people. If the document is destined to the general public, they felt that stories from family life, or the lives of the saints along with illustrations, should be included to make the material more compelling. They stressed the need to review the language of the document and ensure that it appeals to both men and women, leaving no one out.”
Language is important, but it is not the only thing the Church hierarchy needs to do to address issues of marriage and family. My biggest worry as I read and listen here in Rome is that the synod will spend all their time on trying to put better language on old doctrines and pastoral practices. It reminds me of the message I heard frequently from bishops during the U.S. marriage equality debates: the problem is that we haven’t communicated our teaching on marriage effectively enough. What these bishops failed to understand was that the problem is not the language or presentation which makes people disagree with the Church or feel alienated from it. The problem is that people are hurt and diminished by the Church’s doctrines and pastoral practices.
I hope and pray that the synod does a lot more than only look at language, and start to look at more creative ways of welcoming and affirming ALL families through new pastoral policies and initiatives.
Here are some items that you might find of interest:
1) At an ordination in Rome, Pope Francis told 19 priests “With baptism, you unite the new faithful to the People of God. It is never necessary to refuse baptism to someone who asks for it!” According to The National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua McElwee, these words “may be interpreted to rebut Catholic priests who refuse to baptize children of same-sex couples.”
2) The bishop of Northampton, England, has removed three members of a hermit community from a local presbytery after they refused to continue distributing vicious anti-gay material, according to The Tablet.
4) Some graduating seniors at LeMoyne College, a Jesuit school in Syracuse, N.Y., will be protesting the school’s commencement speech this year, which is to be given by N.Y.C.’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, according to TWCnews.com. Dolan’s record of being critical of LGBT equality is part of the motivation for the students’ protest.
5) At the annual March for Marriage in Washington, DC, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke against marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, calling it “the greatest social experiment of our time,” according to The Catholic Sun. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, also attended the rally and gave the opening prayer.
Though the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Baltimore this week has not produced anything substantial in terms of policy, the news coming from that gathering focused on the split reaction that bishops have had to Pope Francis’ call for a more open church.
Of course, not all bishops fear the pope’s new approach. In fact, some seem to be emulating his style, as I will point out later in this post. First, I’d like to examine the tension that appears to exist in the bishops’ conference with regard to Pope Francis. Such an examination may be fruitful because the same dynamic of tension exists in the discussion of LGBT issues in the church.
Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich, who will soon lead the archdiocese of Chicago said:
“The pope is saying some very challenging things for people. He’s not saying, this is the law and you follow it and you get to heaven. He’s saying we have to do something about our world today that’s suffering, people are being excluded, neglected. We have a responsibility, and he’s calling people to task.”
But a few paragraphs later, the former archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, had a totally opposite evaluation of the pope:
“He says wonderful things, but he doesn’t put them together all the time, so you’re left at times puzzling over what his intention is. What he says is clear enough, but what does he want us to do?”
Those two quotations sum up a lot for me. While Cupich emphasized that the pope is not ordering people to follow rules, George’s response is a question which asks the pope to provide the bishops with definite direction. To me, that distinction underlines a difference in the church between people who are more comfortable with discussion and discernment versus those who are more comfortable with authority and obedience.
The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters estimates that “As many as half of the bishops are those who simply do not understand what Pope Francis is trying to achieve.” He thinks 25% “are genuinely enthusiastic about Pope Francis,” and another 25% are “digging in, resisting the pope, hoping it will all blow over quickly.”
“The prelates know they can’t go back to the way things were, said Palmo, who was covering the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which runs through Thursday.
“But, he said, they are still trying to figure out how to adapt Francis’ flexible pastoral style to their local situations. ‘When you come from an institutional mindset,’ as Palmo said many American bishops do, ‘that’s going to create some apprehension.’ ”
Many of the news reports seem to focus on the fact that many of the U.S. bishops fall into the “authority and obedience” camp. But other reports have been sprinkled with quotations showing that some bishops are following Pope Francis’ lead.
For instance, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, who a few weeks ago referred to the synod as “rather Protestant,” and who has been a strong opponent of marriage equality, seemed to acknowledge past errors in pastoral practice. Michael O’Loughlin of CruxNow.com, interviewed Tobin at the meeting :
“As for his letter condemning same-sex marriage, Tobin acknowledged that gay Catholics seek ‘a sense of welcoming’ in the Church. He said that he believes the Church is open to them, but ‘have we always expressed that very clearly? I’m not so sure.’ ”
In a second article, O’Loughlin of CruxNow.comreported on Archbishop Joseph Kurtz’ presidential address to the conference:
“Kurtz defended the pope’s emerging “culture of encounter,” with its emphasis on mercy over judgment, embracing those not living in accord with Church teaching, and more directly assisting the poor and disadvantaged. He likened Francis’ philosophy to his own visits to the homes of parishioners when he was a pastor.
“ ‘When I’d come to someone’s home, I wouldn’t start by telling them how I’d rearrange their furniture. In the same way, I wouldn’t begin by giving them a list of rules to follow. . . .’
“ ‘I would then invite them to follow Christ, and I’d offer to accompany them as we, together, follow the Gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way,’ he said. ‘Such an approach isn’t in opposition to Church teachings; it’s an affirmation of them. . . .’
“Notably absent from the address was a direct condemnation of same-sex marriage or even talk of threats to marriage, discussion of which had become a mainstay of the bishops’ group under Kurtz’ predecessor, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan.”
Kurtz did seem to be playing both sides of the coin, however, since in the same address he also heavily praised “St. John Paul II’s remarkable vision of marriage and family life as developed in his theology of the body.”
“Bishops, however, maintained they would continue opposition to legalized same-sex marriage and linked the issue to their outspoken campaign for religious liberty, which they say is being challenged by gay-rights legislation.”
As I mentioned, this same dynamic exists in the debate about LGBT issues in the church. Should we be a church of welcome or of rules? Which is more important: “discussion and discernment” or “authority and obedience”? “A flexible pastoral style” or “an institutional mindset”? A ministry of accompaniment or Theology of the Body?
It comes down to a simple dichotomy that Catholics have been noting for decades regarding LGBT issues: social justice or sexual ethics? Which of these moral traditions should govern how the Church approaches LGBT persons? Pope Francis has elevated that distinction to the front and center of the church’s discussion on marriage, sexuality, and the family.
I hope and pray for a Church where social justice and concern for individuals is primary. I will watch with continued interest to see how this debate, now amplified, will play out.
This year’s bishops’ meeting may not have delivered anything memorable in terms of statements or policies, but it sure did help to make apparent this important tension in our Church.