Nuns Who Walked Out of Catholic H.S. Need a Lesson in Gospel Reconciliation

April 24, 2015

San Francisco’s continuing saga with the intersection of LGBT issues and Catholicism took an unusual turn this week when five Dominican Sisters of Mary walked out of their classes at Marin Catholic High School, just outside the city, to protest some students’ involvement with the national Day of Silence, a campaign to show solidarity with LGBT youth who are bullied.

The walk-out happened one day after a full-page ad appeared in the city’s daily newspaper in which over 100 Catholic lay leaders called on Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone from pastoral leadership in San Francisco.  The archbishop’s attempt to add morality clauses, a number of which referred negatively to LGBT issues,  to archdiocesan teacher handbooks has set off a movement of teachers, parents, students and other Catholics to call for the removal of such clauses, though Cordileone has remained firm.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the nuns objected to the Day of Silence campaign because it is spearheaded by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which, according to one of the Sisters, they see as a group which “believes actively in promoting homosexuality in all classrooms, K-12.”

The article reported a GLSEN official’s explanation of the organization’s mission:

Kari Hudnell, a spokeswoman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, denied that the group ‘actively promoted’ homosexuality in the classroom.

“ ‘We are not trying to convert anyone,’ she said. ‘We are just trying to make sure schools are a safe environment for all kids.’

“Hudnell pointed out that the group has pushed for anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws that apply to religious beliefs, as well as race, gender and sexual orientation.”

The nuns’ protest set off a chain-reaction of rumors and accusations, with some students saying that the nuns didn’t care about bullying (which the nuns denied) and with the nuns charging GLSEN with being anti-Catholic (which it is not). And although the involvement with the Day of Silence was an initiative started only by a group of students, some spread the false notion that it was the school as a whole who was sponsoring it and partnering with GLSEN.

When things get magnified so wildly, it is obvious that the atmosphere in this metropolitan area has become a tinderbox ready to explode.  The Chronicle reported that the school’s principal, Chris Valdez tried to diffuse the situation by sending a letter to parents which said it was “a challenging day on our campus resulting in both students and faculty feeling confused about our mission.”

Valdez has her work cut out for her, as she now tries to restore a productive school atmosphere in this charged environment.  She noted that she is trying to “bring authentic dialogue to the campus.”

It seems that among the lessons that needs to be taught is one to the protesting nuns, who seemed too quick to castigate GLSEN simply because they support LGBT youth.  The nuns seemed to have jumped immediately to assuming that GLSEN, because it is pro-LGBT, has nothing in common with Catholic values.  That is a very shortsighted assessment, and one which it seems was encouraged by the volatility of the atmosphere in the Catholic community of the Bay Area right now.

Another lesson that I wish were taught in this school, and in Catholic institutions everywhere, is that it is not charitable to cut off all connection with a person or organization just because one doesn’t agree with everything the organization stands for or because of their other associations.  Jesus was himself was harshly criticized for associating with people and hanging out in places that the religious leaders did not tolerate.  Part of following Jesus is about finding common ground and the good in people we may have disagreements with–even with people we might initially think of as enemies. That’s how reconciliation occurs.  That’s how love grows.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Large Majority of S.F. Teachers Publicly Reject Archbishop Cordileone’s Handbook Changes

March 5, 2015

Students protest handbook changes outside St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco (NY Times Photo)

80% of the teachers and staff at four Archdiocese of San Francisco Catholic high schools have signed a statement to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone in which they reject the changes that he has made to the teachers handbook which include an immense amount of “morality clauses” which condemn a wide variety of sexual issues, including homosexuality.

SFWeekly.com reported that the statement, which comes amid contract negotiations, declared the teachers’ reaffirmation to their

“commitment to our students and the Catholic educational mission … and the principles of respect for individual conscience, and the value placed on the diversity of our faculty, staff, and student and parent bodies.”

“We believe the recently proposed handbook language is harmful to our community and creates an atmosphere of mistrust and fear. We believe our schools should be places of inquiry and the free exchange of ideas where all feel welcome and affirmed. Such language has no place in our handbooks. We respectfully ask Archbishop Cordileone to use the faculty handbook currently in place.”

One teacher explained the motivation behind the statement:

“Jim Jordan, an English teacher from Sacred Heart Cathedral, noted ‘As teachers, we are not only seeking to preserve a safe and vibrant community that supports education and the free exchange of ideas, but the safety and well-being of our students. This language in this judgmental context undermines the mission of Catholic education and the inclusive, diverse and welcoming community we prize at our schools. It is an attack not only on teachers’ labor and civil rights, but on young people who are discovering who they are in the world.’ ”

The San Francisco controversy is shaping up to be one of the most protracted protests in the numerous cases of diocesan morality clause additions and firing of church workers over LGBT-related issues.   Last week, Cordileone announced that he would form a committee of theology teachers from the affected schools to review the language of the additions, but a diocesan spokesperson said there would be no changes in substance, but only refinements in language to be more accommodating to ordinary readers.

In a New York Times article, one scholar noted that this situation serves as an example of a wider trend in modern Catholicism:

“Michele Dillon, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire who has written a book about American Catholics, said the situation in San Francisco reflected the flux in attitudes among people in the faith.

“ ‘The church wants people to be aware of official church teachings because they think there is confusion in the culture,’ Professor Dillon said. ‘A lot of Catholics aren’t confused. They simply ignore the church’s teachings.’ ”

The Times article carried responses to the handbook changes from a variety of different people connected to the schools:

“We pray for the archbishop that his heart is changed,” said Gus O’Sullivan, an openly gay senior at Sacred Heart who spoke at the candlelight protest.

Mr. Vezzali, the union official, who is also chairman of the English department at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco, said that union members were “worried about teachers who are gay and who are not able to live publicly.”

“We want to support our gay students,” Mr. Vezzali added. “We understand we are there to carry out the church’s mission.”

Mr. Vezzali said the archbishop was “a very wise man” and added, “We feel our schools are places where we’re supposed to share the gospel of Jesus and love, no matter what.” . . .

Some critics say Archbishop Cordileone should align his priorities more closely with those of Pope Francis, who has emphasized the plight of the poor.

“We sent our kids to these schools because they uphold the fundamental principles of our faith of love, acceptance and respect,” said Kathy Curran, a mother of a Sacred Heart freshman. “This language says some people are not O.K. — and that’s not O.K.”

With such an outpouring of protest from all quarters of these schools’ communities, it will be important for Archbishop Cordileone to take the path of reconciliation and justice.  He has already met once with teachers, but the fact that so many are now protesting his proposals indicate that he must continue to dialogue and reconcile.  The community of people protesting the new rules are not just employees, not just customers of an archdiocesan service agency.  They are Catholics who are expressing their faith, and by virtue of that, they need to be listened to.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Proposed Review of San Francisco Teachers’ Handbook Brings Confusion

February 26, 2015

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has announced that its revisions to the high school teachers’ handbook will be reviewed and refined by a committee of theology teachers from the schools, but how far their recommendations will be allowed to reach is not well understood.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone proposed a long list of loyalty oaths, primarily focusing on areas of church teaching regarding sexuality (including LGBT issues), be added to the publication.  A number of protests by teachers, parents, and students have erupted.

A certain amount of confusion about what Archbishop Cordileone wants this committee to do exists, based on a conflict between what some press outlets reported and what archdiocesan statements have said.

SFGate.com reported:

“Under pressure from parents, students and staffers at the San Francisco Catholic Archdiocese’s schools, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said Tuesday that he is re-examining strict guidelines he proposed for teachers that would require them to reject homosexuality, use of contraception and other ‘evil’ behavior.”

Yet a statement from Fr. John Piderit, Archdiocesan Vicar for Administration and Moderator of the Curia, indicated that the committee would be doing much less than re-examining:

“The Archbishop has not repealed anything.  He is adding explanations, clarifications, and material on Catholic social teaching, via a committee of religion teachers he is establishing.  The committee is to expand some areas of the material to be included in the faculty handbook, and clarify other areas by adding material.  Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.”

Crux reported that Cordileone is asking the committee to “recommend to me an expanded draft” and “adjust the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider leadership.”

One critical area that does seem to indicate some change from Cordileone is in regard to his proposal that teachers be classified as “ministers.”   Such a classification would exempt them from labor law protection.   The statement from Fr. Piderit indicates that there will be a revision in this language:

“With respect to the use of the word ‘ministers,’ the Archbishop only said that ‘ministers’ is no longer being considered. That is all the Archbishop said.  The word currently being used is ‘ministry.’ Nonetheless, the Archbishop did say that he would work hard to find language that satisfies two needs.  One is the need to protect the rights of the teachers in the Catholic high schools to have complaints fairly treated.  The other is the right of the Archdiocese to run Catholic schools that are faithful to their mission.  Language must be identified that meets both needs.  Even if a substitute for ‘ministry’ is found, the substitute must guarantee that the teachers in the Catholic archdiocesan high schools promote the Catholic mission of the institutions.”

A letter Cordileone sent to teachers explaining the formation of the committee was published in Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.  In one section he encourages their participation in the process and thanks them for their concern:

“. . . [A]fter speaking with your union negotiators, I have decided to form a committee consisting of theology teachers from the four Archdiocesan high schools to recommend to me a draft which, while retaining what is already there, expands on these statements and adjusts the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider readership. I will also leave to their discretion how to include the proper wider context within which to understand these points of doctrine. . . . Each of you may approach them with your thoughts, concerns and suggestions which they can then take under consideration as they prepare their draft. It is my hope that this can all be completed prior to the beginning of the next academic year.

“After my address to you on February 6, a number of you spoke to me seeking advice on how to effectively present the Church’s teaching in a compassionate and compelling way to your students who may be struggling in these areas and perhaps even feeling rejected or unwelcomed by the Church because of them. I was moved by your sincerity and commitment. Please know that I have already begun to look into resources that we can make available to you to assist you in this most important work.”

While Cordileone’s statement to the teachers is reconciliatory, his charge to the committee seems very narrow.  Based on what they are being asked to do, the committee may or may not be able to make recommendations to substantially change the material in the handbook which many find damaging.  Moreover, the language that the archdiocese develops to describe a teacher’s “ministry” will need to be parsed theologically and legally to see what the ramifications in both areas are.

How the committee responds to its charge will be critical in determining the next step of this controversy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “Controversial San Francisco handbook to be reviewed, expanded by theology teacher committee”

 


While Oakland Diocese Relaxes Teacher Contract, San Francisco Tightens Theirs

February 5, 2015

Two dioceses on either side of the San Francisco Bay have taken different approaches to morality clauses in their contracts for Catholic school teachers.  The difference highlights the fact that a detailed, micro-managed approach to employees’ lives is not necessary for a Catholic institution.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco released the “Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church,” one of the most detailed and restrictive of the recent spate of “morality clause” documents which some U.S. dioceses have introduced over the past year.

Bishop Michael Barber

Just the day before, on the other side of the Bay, the Diocese of Oakland released a letter from Bishop Michael Barber to teachers, explaining the new contract revisions of  morality clause language that had been introduced last year.   and at least one principal said that the revisions are more relaxed than last year’s original.

San Francisco’s statement outlines a number of theological concepts that must be affirmed and believed by the school, including the nature of God, the efficacy of the Sacraments, redemption, and the nature of the male-only priesthood.   Additionally, the statement requires affirmation and belief in a number of moral issues including:  opposition to contraception; condemnation of homosexual acts, masturbation, pornography; upholding heterosexual marriage as the only legal option; condemnation of artificial reproductive technology and cloning.

Students in the archdiocese have responded by setting up two Twitter hashtags, #teachacceptance and #trustSFteachers, and an online petition.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

In a letter to teachers, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said:

“At the outset, I wish to state clearly and emphatically that the intention underlying this document is not to target for dismissal from our schools any teachers, singly or collectively, nor does it introduce anything essentially new into the contract or the faculty handbook.”

The archdiocese also released a Q & A list related to the new material in the handbook.

Though the statement is framed as a manifesto of beliefs of the school institution, not of the individuals employed at it, the document also states:

“As effective professionals in a Catholic School setting, we all – administrators, faculty and staff – are required and expected to avoid fostering confusion among the faithful and any dilution of the schools’ primary Catholic mission. Therefore, administrators, faculty and staff of any faith or of no faith, are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny these truths. To that end, further, we all must refrain from public support of any cause or issue that is explicitly or implicitly contrary to that which the Catholic Church holds to be true, both those truths known from revelation and those from the natural law. Those of us who consider themselves to be Catholics but who are not in a state of full assent to the teachings of the Church, moreover, must refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves “Catholic” but support or advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the Church.”

On the other hand, Oakland revised its 2014 statement which originally said:

“In both the employee’s personal and professional life, the employee is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the school or to the Diocese of Oakland.”

The new version states that teachers should:

“demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and refrain from taking a public position contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

While the change here might be subtle, Catholic educators in Oakland expressed satisfaction with the new language, noting that it removed worries that the diocese would be investigating employees’ private lives.

An article on SFGate.com attempted to parse out the distinction:

“What if a teacher is part of an openly married, gay couple — is that a public position? What if a teacher marches in a pro-choice rally? Would a teacher who lives with a partner out of wedlock be fired?

“ ‘No to all of those,’ said Pam Shay, principal of Bishop O’Dowd High School, where parents demonstrated in support of teachers after The Chronicle reported on the details of the contract language change.”

“ ‘Now, if they were wearing their O’Dowd sweatshirt and marching in a (pro-choice) demonstration or posting a picture of them smoking a joint while wearing their school sweatshirt, that might be a different story,’ Shay said.”

The detailed approach that the San Francisco Archdiocese has instituted shows both a remarkable lack of trust in their employees and an incredibly restricted view of Catholicism.  Do they think that the professionals that were hired need to be policed so minutely?  Do they believe that the richness of the Catholic faith, identity, and tradition all boils down to this handful of dogmas and a list of sexual ethics issues? There is nothing in this list about conscience or respecting human dignity.  There is nothing in this list about a wide variety of personal and social sins that are other than ones connected with sexuality.

Perhaps the reason, however, is legal.  The Archdiocese may be listing these items because they want to be able to fire people legally, and not be vulnerable to suit afterwards.  While legal issues are important, pastoral ones are, too.    Though Archbishop Cordileone has said that he did not approve this language to target teachers for dismissal, one has to wonder why else it would have been written in such precise detail.  The future will tell if this language will be used to fire people or not.

Legalistic micro-managing will end up doing intense damage to Catholic schools as an institution in the archdiocese.  If competent professionals in these schools feel threatened by the restrictive language, they will likely seek employment elsewhere.  Parents who want their children to receive a quality education which emphasizes moral responsibility will avoid sending their children to schools that do no better than to cherry-pick morality. Catholic schools will become insular enclaves with no ability to communicate with the outside world.

Catholic schools will need to learn a better way to establish Catholic identity than just figuring out infractions by which to judge teachers’ fitness to educate students.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

National Catholic Reporter: New faculty handbooks in San Francisco to include statement developed by archbishop

SanFranciscoCBSLocal.com: “Gay Sex, Adultery, Masturbation, Porn Are ‘Gravely Evil': SF Archbishop Clarifies Sexual Morality For School Staffs”

East Bay Express: “San Francisco Archbishop’s New Proposed Teacher Contract Calls Gays “Gravely Evil”

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Best Catholic LGBT News of 2014

December 31, 2014

thumbs upAs the year 2014 comes to a close, Bondings 2.0 takes a look back at the worst and the best news in the Catholic LGBT world.  If  you want to keep up-to-date on the latest news about the ups and downs of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community, please consider subscribing to this blog.  To do so, enter your email address in the “Follow blog via email” box at the top of the column on the right-hand side of this page, and press “Follow.”  You will then receive an email every time the blog is updated, usually once a day.  You’ll never miss out on the latest news and opinion in the Catholic LGBT world! 

Yesterday, we surveyed the worst Catholic LGBT news of 2014, and today we end the year looking at the best news:  all the good things that have occurred and the advances that have been made.

Yesterday, we also commented on the news story that Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny became the first bishop in known history to explicitly call for the Catholic Church to bless committed lesbian and gay couples.  While in my mind, that could easily take the prize as the BEST Catholic LGBT news of 2014, unfortunately, it came after we had already polled our readers, and so it was not considered in the voting.  I can’t speak for the entire readership of Bondings 2.0, but I don’t think I would be too far off to say that this story certainly deserves an “honorable mention.”

A few days ago, we asked our readers to choose five stories in the “worst” category and five in the “best” category.  Each category had 15 items, and there was an option to “write in” other topics that we might have missed.  The following is the ranking of the top ten items from the “best” category, in descending order,  with the percentage of votes each item received:

1. Both lay guests and bishop participants speak positively about lesbian and gay lives and ministry at the Synod of Bishops in October, revealing a previously unknown progressive school of thought among church leaders. Throughout the year, more and more Catholic leaders support legal rights for same-gender couples.  17.59%

2. Pope Francis appoints Archbishop Blase Cupich to the Archdiocese of Chicago, signaling a new type of more pastorally-oriented “Francis bishops.” Other U.S. bishops soften their rhetoric on LGBT issues, in a seeming emulation of the pontiff. 15.86%

3. The heavily Catholic Republic of Ireland emerges as a leader in supporting LGBT rights. Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmid Martin says: “Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that—they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people. 12.07%

4.  In an interview with a New Ways Ministry staffer, Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley acknowledges that the trend of firing LGBT and ally personnel from Catholic institutions is a situation “that needs to be rectified.”  10.34%

5. Catholic students, parents, and supporters demonstrate in response to the continuing trend of LGBT and ally personnel being fired from Catholic institutions.  8.97%

6.  San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, holds two meetings with representatives of New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA.  5.52%

7. LGBT organizations are given permission to march in both New York City’s and Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parades in 2015.  5.17%

Three-way tie

8.  A Catholic parish in New York City honors the 44-year long commitment of a lesbian couple who are parishioners by featuring a profile about them in the parish bulletin. 4.48%

9.  The School Sisters of Notre Dame reverse an earlier decision and decide to allow lesbian couples to announce their weddings in the alumni newsletter. The Sisters of Mercy re-name a high school soccer field after a married lesbian alumna. 4.48%

10.   Catholic high schools and colleges begin to implement policies which support transgender students. 4.48%

As for analyzing, the results of the poll, I think it is easy to see the “Francis effect” in these events and numbers.  Almost all the responses had to do with something Pope Francis either directly or indirectly affected.  I think his example is inspiring Catholics at all levels to be more courageous in their support of LGBT people.  As one Bondings 2.0 reader and commenter, Casey Lopata, stated with his poll ballot:

“With Pope Francis leading the way by example, the positive remarks about gay people by bishops at the Synod together with more Catholic leaders supporting legal rights for gay people demonstrates that the grassroots supportive efforts of ordinary Catholics have been seen and taken seriously by institutional leaders within the Catholic community. At the same time grassroots supporters, emboldened by the words and actions of Francis, are increasingly becoming more active and in their public advocacy for justice for LGBT people within Catholic structures. As a result, opponents are squeezed between these two movements and find less and less support for their negative positions. May the Spirit lead us to make the most of this momentum in 2015!”

Although no one added any “write-in” suggestions, several other readers also added comments to their poll responses:

Chet Thompson:  “The five that I marked seem to me to be the most important and need DAILY Prayer. BUT we need to continually work to turn around the Homophobia that we have endured ESPECIALLY over the last 30 years!!!”

Brian Kneeland: “There were some real positives – but there certainly needs to be many more in the coming year!”

Diane Rapozo: “All of the above mentioned are important. Thank you.”

Alice Zachmann, SSND: “Thanks for the opportunity to share. I chose the ones that took courage to carry out…my personal opinion! Keep up your great ministry!”

2014 has been quite a year!  It’s been a pleasure and a blessing to share it with all our readers and commenters!  2015 is already sure to be another exciting 12 months, with the already scheduled World Meeting of Families in September, the second Synod in November, and Pope Francis appointing cardinals in February.  And who knows what else the Holy Spirit has in store!  Whatever it is, we look forward to the opportunity to share it with you in the coming year.  Stay tuned!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Louisiana Archbishop Stresses Pastoral Over Political in Marriage Case

September 10, 2014

A reporter once asked me what I thought of bishops who protest that their statements against marriage equality were not homophobic.  I answered that I thought the bishops sometimes don’t realize how demeaning their statements about marriage are to gay and lesbian people.  Because they often don’t know the experience of gay and lesbian couples, they often make vicious statements about marriage equality, and often make legal and political statements and not pastoral ones.  I think that many of them don’t even recognize how damaging their words and thoughts are.

Last week in Louisiana, a federal judge upheld the state’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, thus ruling out any possibility of marriage equality (without changing that law first).  While Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage,  gave a response based on legality, it is interesting that Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans instead used the opportunity to stress the idea of pastoral ministry to LGBT people.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Although Aymond supported the decision, in an interview he stated that

“It is my hope that through our pastoral ministry to the Catholic LGBT community we can minister to their spiritual needs and walk with them through their life journeys because as our brothers and sisters and children of God they must be loved and respected and always treated with dignity.”

What’s remarkable about this statement?  Well, first of all Aymond refers to “LGBT Catholics,” a term that few bishops would even dare breathe.  Instead of “LGBT,” they usually say “those with same-sex attractions.”   That, in itself, is a step forward.

Second, he stresses the idea of pastoral ministry focusing on spiritual needs and accompaniment, not on requiring celibacy.  That, too, is a step forward.

Aymond seems to have an awareness that there is more to LGBT people’s lives and experiences than just sexual matters.  He also seems more concerned about pastoral ministry than about politics.

The archbishop did support the decision, but he did so using very low-key rhetoric:

“The redefinition of marriage is a moral one for us as Catholics. We as Catholics believe marriage is defined in the Bible and through our Catholic Church teaching as a union between a man and a woman.”

My sense is that Archbishop Aymond has had some pastoral experience with LGBT people, and that he recognizes the consequences of any language that he might use.  It is not the first time since he has been archbishop of New Orleans that he has done something positive in regard to LGBT issues.  In 2013, he apologized for the Church’s silence in 1973 after 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar.  Also that year, he expressed openness to welcoming all to the Church, noting: “Part of respecting people is respecting their freedom.”

The U.S. bishops should learn from Aymond’s example, which seems to be very much in the mold of Pope Francis.  Yet, just recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined with other religious organizations to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to make a decide against the states’ constitutional right to enact marriage equality laws. According to an Associated Press story:

“The religious groups urged the Supreme Court on the basis of tradition and religious freedom to uphold a state’s right to disallow gay and lesbian couples to wed.”

The Supreme Court has not said yet if it would hear the case or not.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Is it Possible for Bishops to Move Away from Marriage Equality Opposition?

June 26, 2014

Last week’s appearance of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) March in Washington, DC, inspired several journalists to look more closely at the relationship between the Catholic hierarchy and anti-marriage equality groups.

While we’ve noted before that there is a growing trend in the church of some church leaders speaking favorably of lesbian and gay couples, the road to full acceptance still is a long one.  Some of the new insights that these journalists have expressed show that a new relationship between Catholic leaders and the issue of marriage equality, while a challenge, is possible.

The challenge comes from some of the “strange bedfellows” that some bishops are connecting with, politically speaking.  Jeremy Hooper, at the Human Rights Campaign’s NOM Exposed blog, points out that in addition to Cordileone’s appearance at the rally, he also continues working behind the scenes with NOM leaders.   He was listed as a host of a recent strategy meeting in Princeton, New Jersey, with several of NOM’s top leaders and associates.

Will this continued association with NOM continue? The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters says that it shouldn’t.  In a recent column, he questioned Cordileone’s involvement at the rally because he sees NOM as  “dedicated to a strategy that is not only counter-productive, which is bad enough, but a strategy that is profoundly un-Christian.”

Winters offers evidence of NOM’s role in stirring up anti-gay legislation aborad as a major reason Cordileone should not have participated in the event:

“Their president, Brian Brown, spent time strategizing in Russia, encouraging that country’s parliament to enact harsh anti-gay laws that do not reflect the kind of love Archbishop Cordileone called for in his speech yesterday. The Uganda parliamentarian, David Bahati, who authored that country’s truly draconian anti-gay laws acknowledges the influence of U.S.-based groups in encouraging him and helping him, including the shadowy ‘Fellowship.’

“NOM’s stateside efforts are not much better. They are smart enough to know that promoting a law that would call for killing gays is a non-starter. But, they apparently are not smart enough to recognize that the great threats to marriage in our day have nothing to do with what gays do. Among the great threats to marriage is a hook-up culture that is to human love what laissez-faire economics is to the world of commerce and finance, a libertarianism in action which, like all that flows from that ‘poisoned spring,’ as Pope Pius XI termed it, devastates the Gospel.”

Winters concludes with a warning to bishops about how they need to shape their future rhetoric and action on the question of marriage:

“Finally, if the leaders of the Church are to become credible again on the issue of marriage, they cannot simultaneously insist that they are not motivated by anti-gay bigotry and then give speeches at rallies organized by bigots. This is not guilt by association. It is recognizing that such participation is a counter-witness to the Gospel. Archbishop Cordileone’s comments about loving those who do not share the Church’s teachings on marriage are, I am sure, sincere, but he betrays his own words when he demonstrates common cause with the architects of draconian laws that seek to deny the human dignity of gays and lesbians. This is obvious to the rest of us. One wonders why it was not obvious to +Cordileone.”

Pope Francis

The role that Pope Francis is playing in the bishops’ rhetoric on marriage equality and other issues is also an important factor that needs to be considered.  U.S. Catholic’s Scott Alessi notes the ambiguity and ambivalence that seems to characterize the U.S. bishops’ desire to follow Francis’ lead in taking a softer tone in regard to marriage equality and LGBT issues.  Noting that some headlines about the recent United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting proclaimed concord with Pope Francis, while others asserted a striking difference between the bishops and the pontiff,  Alessi writes:

“As is often the case with such things, the reality is somewhere in the middle. The bishops are a large and diverse group, and I don’t think anyone realistically could have anticipated a radical shift in the conference’s overall agenda. Some bishops have surely been taking the pope’s words to heart and thinking about how that impacts their work, while others are much less concerned with what’s being said in Rome than they are with what is happening in their own backyard.”

U.S. News and World Report published an insightful essay with a title that explains the confusion surrounding the “Francis factor”:  “When It Comes to Same-Sex Marriage, Both Sides Claim Pope Francis.”     On the pro-marraige equality side, the article quotes Michael Sherrad, executive director of Faithful America:

“Pope Francis has powerfully inspired countless Catholics and other Christians to a new vision for how the church can be compassionate. Unfortunately too many – not all, but too many – of the bishops in the United States and their conservative activist allies have really flouted what Pope Francis has had to say about gay and lesbian people.”

On the anti-marriage equality side, the writer quotes Chris Plant,  regional director of NOM:

“[Plant says that] Pope Francis’s tone is in line with the approach he sees his organization taking on the issue. ‘He is focusing on the fact that our dialogue ought to be civil,’ Plant says. ‘We absolutely ask for it to be a civil.’ ”

The U.S. News and World Report article also quoted a seasoned Catholic Church observer, noting the pope’s influence on the debate:

“ ‘I think he wants to move a little bit beyond the culture wars, at least certainly key issues in the culture wars,’ says Rev. Thomas P. Rausch, a Jesuit priest and a professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. ‘He can’t simply change the church’s teachings – the whole church has to be involved in that. But he can change the way that the church is perceived in terms of the range of issues it addresses. And I suspect that is what he wants to do.’ “

In a recent interview with Faith in Public Life’s John Gehring, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, former president of the USCCB and archbishop emeritus of Galveston-Houston, Texas, offered words of wisdom for how Pope Francis’ more compassionate approach can succeed:

“We have to take what he is saying seriously. We need bishops who reflect his style, and laypeople have to be involved so that this Francis era is not just a passing moment but salt and light for our church for many years to come.”

What I like about Fiorenza’s remarks is that he reminds us that if the more compassionate approach is to come about, it depends on lay people, as much as on bishops.  We need to remind ourselves of this reality when the going gets tough.  A new relationship between marriage equality and Catholic leadership is possible–but we’re the ones who have to help it along.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


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