Bishop Cupich’s Message of Compassion Should Become a Message of Justice

Bishop Blaise Cupich

In his blog on the National Catholic Reporter  website, Michael Sean Winters rightly praises Spokane’s Bishop Blaise Cupich for a rare, and perhaps unique, bit of civility from a member of the Catholic hierarchy in discussing marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.   While praise is certainly due to Bishop Cupich for his compassionate approach, his way of dealing with the issue also highlights that what is still missing from the Catholic hierarchy in their dealings with LGBT people is the message of justice.

Winters writes:

“I would like to call readers’ attention to a pastoral letter read at all Masses this past weekend in the Diocese of Spokane from Bishop Blase Cupich. Washington State will have a referendum on same sex marriage this November, even though Washington State already has civil unions that confer all the rights that attend to marriage on same-sex partners. The debate has generated a lot of strong feelings and, in his letter, Bishop Cupich addresses those feelings:

Admittedly, the conflicting positions of this issue are deeply held and passionately argued. Proponents of the redefinition of marriage are often motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation. It is a compassion that is very personal, for those who have suffered and continue to suffer are close and beloved friends and family members. It is also a compassion forged in reaction to tragic national stories of violence against homosexuals, of verbal attacks that demean their human dignity, and of suicides by teens who have struggled with their sexual identity or have been bullied because of it. As a result, supporters of the referendum often speak passionately of the need to rebalance the scales of justice. This tends to frame the issue as a matter of equality in the minds of many people, a value that is deeply etched in our nation’s psyche.Likewise, many opponents of the law redefining marriage have close friends and family members who are gay or lesbian. They too recognize the importance of creating a supporting environment in society for everyone to live a full, happy and secure life. Yet, they also have sincere concerns about what a redefinition of marriage will mean for the good of society and the family, both of which face new strains in our modern world. They are asking the public to take a serious and dispassionate look at what a radical break with centuries of marriage law and practice will mean.

“What is remarkable about these paragraphs is that Bishop Cupich does not demean those whose views are different from his own. He does not distort or mischaracterize those views. Indeed, he recognizes that, seen from a certain point of view, these attitudes are entirely understandable. I dare say that any proponent of same sex marriage would have to allow that the bishop’s words are not only not incendiary, they are the fruit of a desire to understand, evidence of a stance of primordial respect for all people.”

I, too, want to praise Bishop Cupich for inserting some reasoned compassion into this contentious debate.  His statements, however, also serve as a reminder that what he said is not really enough at this time.  Catholic supporters of marriage equality already know what motivates their passion for the issue.  But hearing their motivations characterized by someone who opposes their position is not completely satisfactory, especially when the motivations are characterized as simply having soft hearts.

Catholics who support marriage equality indeed are motivated by compassion, but they are more strongly motivated by justice.    Marriage equality is not simply a matter of feeling sorry for people, but about the passion for justice that the Catholic social justice tradition has burned into their hearts.  Catholics who support marriage equality do so because they want to see human dignity protected, families strengthened, and equality promoted.

More importantly,  Bishop Cupich’s statements beg the question:  If he understands that marriage equality supporters have sincere motivations for their positions, why doesn’t he and other bishops meet with such supporters to dialogue about their deeply-held and faith-filled ideas?  Catholic marriage equality supporters don’t need or want acknowledgement from bishops that their ideas are valid.  They already know that. What they want is an opportunity to share those ideas with church officials in adult conversations, guided by both faith and reason.

Winters concludes his blog post on Bishop Cupich’s statement by praising the model of civility and compassion that the Spokane bishop offers, particularly in reminding all Catholics that the magisterium condemns discrimination against LGBT people:

“He then goes on to cite a document issued by the bishops, Ministry to Persons With a Homosexual Inclination, which in turn cites both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This last is especially bracing given the usual media narrative that the Catholic Church hates gays.

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.

“Sadly, too many Catholics, on the blogosphere, in the pulpit, and at the water cooler, do not echo these words from the CDF, still less that kind of language found in Bishop Cupich’s truly remarkable letter. I am not a fan of the culture warrior model, but admit there are times when I wonder if the culture is not moving in certain ways that are so hostile to the Church, that such a model will become unavoidable. But, now, when I despair that such may be the case, I can re-read this letter to the Catholics of Spokane and take heart. We can be faithful and reasonable, faithful and respectful, faithful and persuasive. We must, as Catholics and as Americans, care about our culture, but we don’t have to dress up as warriors to express our concern, and Bishop Cupich has shown the way.”

Again, while I would like to join in the praise of the bishop’s even-handedness, I take exception to Winters’ analysis of it.  Catholics who support marriage equality do not want or need “kinder, gentler” bishops whose compassion for LGBT people can be used to more persuasively argue against justice and equality for LGBT people.  While we certainly need fewer bishops who are culture warriors, we don’t need any whose compassion can be used as a persuasive tool to win people over to positions which are unjust.

What we do need are bishops who will open their minds and hearts to the Catholics who disagree with them.  We need bishops who are not merely defensive, but proactive in seeking out solutions that respond to the active faith of all Catholics.  We need bishops who not only feel sorry for LGBT people, but who respect their consciences and their faith journeys.  We need bishops who respond positively to Catholic people crying for justice, instead of identifying such people as enemies.

Bishop Cupich has certainly taken a first step in these directions, and he rightly deserves praise for his efforts.  I hope that he will be encouraged to take bolder ones in the future.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


At Catholic Colleges’ Commencements: Tutu, Yes; Kennedy, No

Commencement speaker controversies at two Catholic campuses on opposite sides of the country have sparked petition drives that have resulted in opposite results.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

On the West Coast, in Spokane, Washington, Jesuit-run Gonzaga University has held firm in hosting South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as commencement speaker this year.   A petition drive to rescind the invitation, motivated in part because of Tutu’s support for the ordination of gay clergy, collected 700 signatures.  However, another petition drive in support of Tutu collected 11,000 signatures in 48 hours, according to an article in The National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

NCR quotes Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh’s statement of support for Tutu:

“We are very much looking forward to having him.I really believe that this is very consistent with what both the church and Jesuits want for its institutions; and of course in any community people will have different points of view around that.”

In an earlier NCR article, McCulloh offered his reasoning for inviting Tutu:

“While we have received messages both positive and negative about our decision to invite Archbishop Tutu, the vast majority of responses indicate that there is great support. People see our invitation as honoring Tutu and the social justice activism of our institution.”

The same article cites a Religion News Service story which notes Spokane Bishop Blaise Cupich’s support of Gonzaga’s decision:

“When Bishop Cupich was asked in person about Gonzaga honoring this commencement speaker who publicly espouses views in fundamental opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church and most other Christian denominations, he indicated support for Gonzaga’s decision stating Archbishop Tutu is being honored for the work he did to end apartheid in South Africa.”

Victoria Reggie Kennedy

On the East Coast, a 20,000-signature petition failed to convince Worcester, Massachusetts, Bishop Robert McManus to ask Anna Maria College to reconsider its decision to cancel Victoria Reggie Kennedy as commencement speaker.   (You can read an earlier Bondings 2.0 posting about this decision here.)  According to an article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette,

“The liberal arts school in Paxton [Massachusetts] disinvited Mrs. Kennedy, the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, after the bishop told Anna Maria College President Jack Calareso that he had concerns about her positions on abortion, gay marriage and other social issues.”

Bishop McManus released a statement on the diocese’s website in support of Calareso’s decision:

“While I recognize that there are those who do not agree with Anna Maria’s decision to disinvite Mrs. Kennedy as its commencement speaker, I continue to stand behind the concerns which I shared with Dr. Jack Calareso, the college’s president, last March. As such, I support the public statement of the College’s Board of Trustees that ‘the invitation be withdrawn in the best interest of all parties and most importantly the students which will be graduating.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry