Hong Kong Bishop Misses Mark in Apology to Lesbian and Gay People

Hong Kong’s new bishop has apologized for gay-negative remarks he made two years ago, but his apology missed the mark and revealed a need for further education.

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Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung

Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung claimed he was misquoted when he made remarks about homosexuality two years ago. The South China Morning Post reported that the bishop explained his comparison of sexual orientation to drug addiction was not proper:

“Maybe that was really a bad example. I said maybe your son is a drug addict, do you love him still? Yes, you still love him … The only thing I haven’t really said very clearly [was that] homosexuality was not like that,’ Yeung said.

“He added that even if a Catholic said he or she was homosexual, there was little he could do but to teach that person what the Bible said.

“The bishop said he would be more careful with his words in future to avoid confusion.”

The initial remarks were made when he was auxiliary bishop in November 2015. He was defending a pastoral letter released by then-Cardinal John Tong which instructed Hong Kong voters to consider candidates’ stances on marriage and family, specifically their views on a non-discrimination ordinance. Marriage equality, Tong said, would “turn [society] upside-down.”

Yeung Ming-cheung defended the letter by saying “the church doesn’t have any enemy” and offered the following comparison to being gay: “it was wrong to [abuse] drugs and we would say so, but we still love drug addicts.” Local politicians pushed back against both Tong and Yeung Ming-cheung’s statements.

Hong Kong’s church leaders have struggled to be welcoming to lesbian and gay people. Cardinal Tong’s 2012 Christmas message stridently attacked same-gender couples, but then all mentions of such couples were removed in the 2013 message. Some commentators attributed the change to the influence of Pope Francis.

In this latest statement, Yeung Ming-cheung recognized that his earlier comparison of gay people to people suffering from addiction was inappropriate. Taken at his word now, it seems the bishop intended to offer a more positive statement about showing love towards gay family members. He committed himself to being more responsible about language in the future.

Still, Yeung Ming-cheung seems incapable of providing an effective pastoral response to the LGBT community. The bishop and his pastoral ministers could be doing a lot more for lesbian and gay people than quoting the Bible to them.

First of all, a proper scriptural interpretation in accordance with Dei Verbum’s historical-critical principles helps Catholics understand the Bible never directly addresses homosexual orientation. Second, good pastoral care can be offered even if the bishop is unwilling to affirm same-gender sexual acts. Finally, the bishop could educate Catholics in his diocese to understand that “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” are due to lesbian and gay people.

Bishop Yeung Ming-cheung needs to learn more about sexual orientation and how lesbian and gay people experience this dimension of themselves.  His remarks now and in 2015 reveal a lack of knowledge, and until he fills that gap, he will continue to be unable to offer true words of healing and support.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 7, 2017

Might This Be Joy: LGBTQ People’s Witness to Audacious Love

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College.  The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10; Psalm 146:6-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

alfred-pang
Alfred Pang

Today’s reflection is from Alfred Pang, a doctoral student in theology and education at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. To read Alfred’s previous posts on Bondings 2.0, click here.

I struggled to write this reflection. The central focus of Gaudete Sunday, this Third Sunday of Advent, is the joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth, but how to write convincingly about joy when it eludes me as I wrestle as a single, gay Catholic away from home with the pain of loneliness?

The long stretches of night and blistering winter cold now encroaching have only deepened my sense of isolation. Doctoral study is terribly long, and all that mental digging has left me craving for companionship. In these days of political anxiety that have left so many bruised, I am muted by and aghast at the bleakness of violence and division consuming our world. In such wearying circumstances when stupefied hearts do not feel free to rejoice, how do I–and how do we as people of faith– properly celebrate Gaudete Sunday?

At least, by God’s grace, there is something in today’s Gospel that could still speak to me. It is a small textual detail: John the Baptist is in prison. Despite being in prison, he hears of the works of Christ and sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Even imprisonment does not deter John from being prayerfully alive to the signs of life he senses in Jesus Christ.

It strikes me that part of being prayerfully alive means engaging our capacity for amazement. If this is so, John exemplifies a posture that challenges us this Gaudete Sunday: in the prisons that we find ourselves – of discouragement, despair, and depression – how might we remain attentive to and discerning of the signs of the times that herald God’s liberating love? How are we invited this Advent to pause and make room for radical amazement at God’s divine life, which is always at work in spite of and through the fragility of human love that can disappoint and has failed?

As the Gospel reminds us, Jesus must be the source of amazement that is reflected in Christian witness. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” What is proclaimed here is that in and through the Incarnation, God will and has come as audacious love that transgresses, subverts and heals.

thevisitationYet, Jesus who reveals God’s sovereignty does something else in this passage: he lifts up the witness of John the Baptist as “more than a prophet,” as the “messenger” that Isaiah prophesied. This mutual confirmation and affirmation between John and Jesus echoes the encounter between Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 1:39-45. John, as a baby in Elizabeth’s womb, leaps for joy upon the greeting of Mary who bears the good news, Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. Echoing this encounter, joy is the subtext in today’s Gospel.

In these dramas of mutual recognition, I find consolation: that in the midst of my darkness that renders me invisible to myself, God sees and understands. There is also profound strength felt in knowing that God sees our giftedness as LGBTQ persons and calls us out to be fruitful witnesses of an audacious love as siblings, friends, lovers and neighbors. Might this be joy? Is joy the fruit of being fully alive in God who takes delights in us as beloved children, standing with and living within us?

I suspect the joy that we anticipate in Christmas is not based on our own striving to make room for Jesus at all. Rather, it is the joy that comes when we make room for amazement to see that God has chosen to meet us down below in the shoddiness and messiness of the manger. As theologian Karl Barth preached in a Christmas homily to prisoners:

“Down there Jesus Christ sets up his quarters. Even better, he has already done so! Yes, praise be to God for this dark place, for this manger, for this stable in our lives! There we need him, and there he can use each one of us … There he only waits that we see him, recognize him, believe in him, and love him.”[1]

God is nearer to us than we imagine, and for this we can rejoice. Should not we then rejoice?

Still, I find joy ungraspable. Maybe this absence allows me to clear a space in my heart to be attentive and amazed once again so that joy can then grasp me. I stare at the trees shedding their leaves. They stand barren in the blasting cold of winter. Yet, in the crisp sharp air, I stand amazed at the sturdiness of these trees. They do not shiver, but speak back to me the words of Isaiah – “Be strong, fear not!” They remain firm, deepening their roots. I wonder at life on the underside, beneath the ground and in the soil.

This, I suggest, is the call of Advent: to be astonished at and delight in the small signs of life found at the most unexpected places in the bleakness of time. Where there is life, there is God – with the possibility and reality of indefatigable joy, still elusive, but ever graced.

[1] Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives, trans. Marguerite Wieser (New York: Harper and Row, 1961), 142.

Alfred Pang, December 11, 2016

To read the Advent reflection for the First Sunday, click here, and for the Second Sunday, click here. For all of Bondings 2.0‘s Advent reflections from past years, click here.

Australia’s Catholic Prime Minister Defends Marriage Equality

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia

As Australians cast their ballots this weekend, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s promise to pass marriage equality within 100 days of the election will be fresh on their mind. Rudd, who is Catholic, made a strong defense of equality on national television this past Tuesday while responding to an audience member’s question, and cited his Catholic faith at several points.

Abbot led in recent polls, but regardless of the election’s outcome, Rudd’s public witness as a practicing Catholic is worth celebrating. A full essay on why he evolved in favor of equal marriage can be read on The Australian‘s website.

A local Christian pastor asked the prime minister about his evolution on marriage equality on the popular Australian television show “Q&A,”  The pastor wondered whether this evolution was merely politicking to win votes,  BBC News reports that Rudd changed his position on the issue in May, while his opponent, Tony Abbot, remains sharply opposed to equal marriage rights.

You can view the video and text for key moments of the exchange this week on “Q&A” below.


After the pastor finished his question, Rudd first addressed the issue of sexual orientation using the language of an ‘informed conscience’:

” ‘I concluded in my conscience — through an informed conscience and a Christian conscience — it was the right thing to do [supporting marriage equality] and let me tell you why. Number one, I do not believe people when they are born choose their sexuality…And therefore the idea that this is somehow an abnormal condition is just wrong. I don’t get that…Secondly if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay because that’s the way they are, then it follows from that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here who are in love with each other and of the same gender should be denied the opportunity for legal recognition of the duration their relationship by having marriage equality.’ “

Afterwards, Rudd asked for clarification from the pastor on why Christians should oppose equal marriage rights. The pastor cited Scripture and ended with the challenge, “If you call yourself a Christian, then why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?” The prime minister responded with a rejection of fundamentalism by saying:

“If I were to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition…For goodness sake, the human condition and social conditions change. What is the fundamental principle that the New Testament? It is one of universal love. Loving your fellow man. And if we get obsessed with a particular definition of that through a form of sexuality then I think we’re missing the centrality of what the gospel — whether you call it a social gospel, a personal gospel, or a spiritual gospel is all is all about…If you think homosexuality is unnatural condition then, frankly, I cannot agree with you based on any element of the science and, therefore, if a person’s sexuality is as they are made, then you’ve got to ask the second question: should their loving relationships be legally recognized and the conclusion I’ve reached is that they should.”

Prime Minister Rudd echoes the beliefs of many Catholics that same-gender relationships are both good and deserving of legal recognition from the government.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Alaska Writer Takes On Bishop Over Marriage Equality

marriage equality 2An op-ed in Alaska’s Juneau Empire newspaper presents one of the best Catholic defenses of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples that I have seen in a long time.  Jim Hale, a heterosexually married Catholic man wrote the piece, entitled “Marriage, gender, and religion,” in response to a July 7th op-ed from Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Juneau, entitled “Liberty and justice for all requires the truth.”

What makes Hale’s argument so good is that he takes on the bishop’s definition of marriage as being primarily about sexual activity, and he does so from someone who is, in fact, married:

“As Bishop Burns notes, the Church defines marriage as ‘a sexual union.’ No one who has ever been married would define marriage that way. As the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid writes of marriage, ‘All’s far from done when pleasure’s over.’ And the task of marriage isn’t just to create babies; all living things reproduce. Marriage is a mutual commitment of two people to create themselves — to forge in their love and loyalty to each other an atmosphere where each can discover all the inchoate power of his or her own soul. It’s demanding, to be sure; it asks of us a certain largeness of heart that we may not always be comfortable with or even capable of. But that’s love — and in the end that’s the only thing that makes a marriage sacred.”

Hale does not deny the role of sexual activity in marriage, but he notes that as a society we have evolved into a different understanding of sexuality, particularly in regard to its connection to procreation

“As a Catholic, I love the Church’s adamant defense of that fecundity as sacred — how could it not be? But in the history of human culture we have somehow gotten that fecundity and the desires that engender it all mixed up with stuff that is not sacred, stuff like power and prejudice, pornography and prostitution, misogyny and homophobia — stuff that desecrates the sanctity of creation by placing false limits on the growth and flourishing of the individual human spirit.”

He points out the absurdity of arguments which claim that same-sex marriage will harm or detract from heterosexual marriage:

“It is a rank false dilemma to suggest that same-sex marriage in any way compromises or detracts from the beautiful fecundity of God’s universe or that same-sex marriage ‘removes the basis’ of traditional marriage and somehow inhibits marriage between a man and a woman and the concomitant procreation. It does not. A gay man will not go cruising for a woman to marry and impregnate simply because he can’t marry the man he loves; unable to marry the woman she loves, a lesbian will not be out there hunting down a man. And it is an insult to think so. The Church’s position privileges procreation and physiology (‘complementarity’) over love.”

And as for Scriptural arguments, Hale proposes looking at the Bible in a more hoiistic manner than fundamentalists do:

“[T]he history of the Bible as a religious document, as a guide for how to live well, is the story of how readers over the ages have slowly and carefully winnowed what is timeless and universal (and hence divinely inspired) from the time-bound biases and assumptions of the ancient cultures from which the books of the Bible emerged. No one today can reasonably defend the deep misogyny or the promotion of slavery that we find fairly often in some books of the Bible. Lose the bath water, but keep the baby.”

The sheer practicality of Hale’s argument makes a larger point than just his case for supporting marriage equality.  Hale’s reasonable perspective is an important illustration of the need for lay people to be involved in the development of church teaching, particularly in matters of sexuality, gender, marriage, and intimate love.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Mexican Bishop Calls Homophobia a “Mental Illness”

A Mexican Catholic bishop who has been a strong supporter of LGBT issues has declared that homophobia is a “mental illness.”  Is that really an accurate classification?

The Billerico Project is reporting on an interview given by Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez to a television show, “Terra Mexico,” in which he stated:

“Why would I immediately think a gay or lesbian person is perverse or depraved the moment they approach me? That’s how people who are homophobic react. It’s a mental illness in which you see gays as depraved and promiscuous. You have to be sick in the head for that.”

Bishop Vera Lopez, who is the head of the Diocese of Saltillo, Mexico,   You can view a two and a half minute  video clip from the interview complete with English subtitles here:

Here are some other notable quotations from the interview in regard to lesbian and gay people:

“They are human beings and deserve respect.  The Holy Father knows it’s a. . . .I am certain he knows because the reality is that many in the church do not want to acknowledge the scientific reality on the issue of sexuality.  They want to keep homosexuality as a form of human perversion, an illness.  But that is no longer the case, scientifically speaking. “

Bishop Vera Lopez also commented on Scripture citations which seem to condemn gay and lesbian persons:

“We just have to read the Bible more carefully within a historical context and within a real context.  The Biblical texts we have used to bash the heads of homosexuals to say they are condemned by the Bible?  We have to read them much more carefully.”

Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez
Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez

It is wonderful to know that this bishop is speaking out so strongly for lesbian and gay rights.  One caution:  I don’t think that he was using “mental illness” as a technical or clinical term.  From the manner in which he is speaking on the video, he seems to be using it as a rhetorical flourish, more than a diagnosis.  It is interesting to see him turn the tables on homophobic people:  it is usually they who are calling lesbian and gay people “mentally ill.”

And because lesbian and gay people have so often been so mislabeled with that diagnosis, I think we have to be very careful of labeling their opponents in the same way.  In my experience in working with LGBT issues, homophobia is more often a result of ignorance and misguided piety than by a clinical disturbance.

Another comment worth noting is that during the interview, Bishop Vera Lopez discusses the genesis of sexual orientation as being a result of hormonal influences in the womb.  With all due respect to the bishop, while that is one theory, it is still simply a theory, and not totally conclusive as the effective cause of one’s homosexuality.  The scientific community is still debating various theories as to the origin of sexual orientation in an individual.

Despite these cautions, I am delighted to read these statements from this courageous bishop.  Our church needs more leaders like him who are willing to approach LGBT issues from a knowledgeable and compassionate perspective.

Bishop Vera Lopez has spoken out many times before on lesbian and gay equality.  In fact, he was even summoned to the Vatican to defend his point of view, but no sanctions were administered to him.  You can read more about him in an article that appears on page three of this PDF of the newsletter version of Bondings.   You can also read more about other social issues with which this Nobel Peace Prize nominee is associated by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Australian Priest Publicly Endorses the Goodness of Same-Gender Relationships

Fr. Michael Fallon

A priest in Australia is calling for public recognition of same-gender relationship and says they should be celebrated joyfully.  While not extending this recognition to marriage, he advances the Catholic position by speaking to the goodness of these couples’ relationships.

Fr. Michael Fallon’s comments were reported in The Canberra Times:

“In a notable departure from the public teachings of some church authorities, Dickson-based priest Michael Fallon called for a ‘public celebration of committed love for homosexual couples’, saying he feared ordinary people were being driven away from the Catholic faith by views they saw as hardline and irrelevant.’…

“‘[The public should offer] not just recognition, but joy, public joy in their communion with each other, that’s the least we can offer people,’ he said.”

He credits time as university chaplain, including ministry with LGBT students, as a key step in overcoming personal homophobia. He also appeals to his academic work as a scripture scholar for his position:

“…there were church authorities who saw homosexual behaviour and partnerships as immoral, but many priests he spoke to supported recognition of committed same-sex relationships.

“He said biblical references to homosexuality should be seen within the context of the time, rather than taken literally. ‘When Paul spoke about homosexual behaviour, the key is what was he actually speaking about? Did he know about two adults lovingly committing themselves to each other? We haven’t the faintest idea, and it’s quite unlikely,’ he said.”

This Australian priest is the latest among clergy calling for legal protections of LGBT people, with several bishops supporting civil unions in recent months and other priests speaking strongly for a rethinking of the Church’s sexual ethics.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Cardinal Dolan: All Are Welcome, But. . .

Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan made headlines at the beginning of April because he acknowledged that the church could do better in terms of outreach to lesbian and gay people.   Commentators all over the U.S. offered him suggestions as to how he could begin better outreach. A month later, though, and Dolan has not shown any evidence of following any of this advice.  Instead, he  has offered a blog post on hospitality which offers, quite frankly, a bizarre notion of welcome, and he particularly mentions lesbian and gay people in this unusual message.

On his personal blog, Dolan recounts a story from his childhood when his playmate, Freddie, was invited to dinner, but first admonished to wash his hands before eating.   While he claims that as a child he was excited that his friend was welcome, he also notes that he learned the lesson that “All are welcome, but. . . .”  And he thinks that is a good lesson to learn.  His words:

“Simple enough . . . common sense . . . you are a most welcome and respected member now of our table, our household, dad was saying, but, there are a few very natural expectations this family has.  Like, wash your hands!…

“So it is with the supernatural family we call the Church:all are welcome!

“But, welcome to what?  To a community that will love and respect you, but which has rather clear expectations defining it, revealed by God in the Bible, through His Son, Jesus, instilled in the human heart, and taught by His Church.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find this notion to be welcoming at all.  I find it condescending.  Dolan continues:

“We love and respect everyone . . . but that doesn’t necessarily mean we love and respect their actions.

“Who  a person is?  We love and respect him or her . . .

“What a person does?  Truth may require that we tell the person we love that such actions are not consonant with what God has revealed.

“We can never judge a person . . . but, we can judge a person’s actions.”

So, Dolan wants an escape clause:  he still wants to be able to sit in judgment about something.  Humans judge.  It’s part of our condition.  But when we are trying to offer a welcome, we do best to check our judgments, and instead observe and listen in holy dialogue.  We do best to take off our shoes on the holy ground of someone else’s life and experiences.

Dolan doesn’t see it this way.  In his view, he has the right to tell people that they are dirty, and then the presumption of calling that a welcome:

“Freddie and I were loved and welcomed at our family table, but the clear expectation was, no dirty hands!”

And then, most stingingly, Dolan offers examples of people that the church wants to welcome while at the same time standing in judgment of :  alcoholics,  greedy businessmen, exploitative capitalists, women who’ve had an abortion, and. . . . lesbian and gay people.    Does he not see how offensive that notion is to include lesbian and gay people with those who are physically challenged or who have moral choices to make?  Being gay or lesbian is not an activity or an action or a choice one makes.

Another offensive angle on this commentary is the Scripture story that Dolan uses to justify his prejudice–the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11):

Jesus did it best.  Remember the woman caught in adultery?  The elders were going to stone her.  At the words of Jesus, they walked away.

“Is there no one left to condemn you?”  the Lord tenderly asked the accused woman.

“No one, Sir,” she whispered.

“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus concluded.  “Now go, but sin no more.”

Hate the sin; love the sinner . . .

Another lesson to be learned from this story is that religious people can often let their penchant for judgment get the better of them and forget that love and welcome are more important than judgment.  And also that Jesus does not condemn her, even before he knows whether or not she will continue her patterns.

I recommend to Dolan (and to others) to read the ground-breaking book, Jesus, An Historical Approximation (Convivium Press, 2009), in which Spanish theologian Jose Pagola, proves the idea that Jesus’ model of ministry was to welcome all people–even those the religious authorities called sinners–and tell them that they are loved by an all-gracious God, regardless of whether or not they will decide to refrain from what others might consider sin.   That  is what welcome is all about.  Welcome with no “buts” or conditions.

Cardinal Dolan has a long way to go to learn about welcoming not only LGBT people, but all people, too.  We all have to continually learn this lesson for ourselves, and practice it fearlessly and generously.

New Ways Ministry repeats its offer to meet with Cardinal Dolan to help him understand effective ways of pastoral outreach to LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry