Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, has implicitly critiqued the recent comments by Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago on the matter of conscience and the distribution of communion.
Paprocki responded to a letter to the editor of a local newspaper which had supported Cupich’s inclusive approach. The supportive letter, written by John Freml, coordinator of the Equally Blessed coalition, was published by The State Journal-Register. Freml praised Cupich’s advice that Catholics, including LGBT ones, must make their own conscience decision about whether or not to receive Communion and added that the church must respect this decision. You can read more about Cupich’s remarks by clicking here.
Freml noted further that, despite conservative opinions to the contrary, a properly formed conscience is not necessarily a conscience in harmony with magisterial teaching. Inviting more Catholics to communion, Equally Blessed’s coordinator concluded:
“In fact, the church has a rich history of saints who have stood up to church leaders in good conscience, including St. Joan of Arc and St. Catherine of Siena. . .I hope that local Catholics who have previously refrained from participating in communion will take to heart Jesus’ message: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat it.’ Remember that Jesus welcomed everyone to the table without condition, even Judas.”
Paprocki contradicted Archbishop Cupich’s claims about conscience. He suggested that only those who “recognize and repent of their sins” through the Sacrament of Reconciliation are actually in good conscience. He cited Canon 915 in his advocacy to deny Communion to those who are in same-gender marriages to, in his words:
“protect both the Sacrament from the risk of possible sacrilege and the faith community from the harm of scandal caused by someone’s public conduct that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Paprocki cited the new English translations of the Mass which state that Jesus died “for you and for many” in his conclusion to suggest that, while Jesus welcomes all, “not everyone accepts what Christ offers” like Judas. On a technical note, the “for many” cited is a disputed change in those new Mass translations, as the Latin phrase used for “many” actually implies an uncountable multitude synonymous with the “for all” in older translations.
While Bishop Paprocki’s argument challenged Cupich’s, his comments can also be seen as opposed to Pope Francis. Actions like zealously citing Canon Law to deny the sacraments are precisely what the pope has repeatedly criticized.
Catholics’ response to Bishop Paprocki should be precisely what Freml suggested: to answer Jesus’ call for all to come and be nourished regardless of who we are, from where we are coming, or how we ended up at the altar.
As 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!
Today we look at the worst news of 2014, and tomorrow, we will report on the best items.
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 worst category, in descending order, with the percentage of votes each item received:
TIE 1. The firing of LGBT and ally church workers continues throughout the year, with little sign of ending. 12.7%
TIE 2. Four U.S. Catholic dioceses add morality clauses to teacher contracts which explicitly forbid support of marriage equality and other forms of LGBT justice. 12.7%
3. In St. Louis, a lesbian couple is denied communion at the funeral of one partner’s mother. In Montana, an elderly gay couple is denied communion at a parish. In Michigan, a gay parishioner and music minister is expelled from parish activities. 12.3%
4. The Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family pulls back from the favorable language towards lesbian and gay people in its mid-term report and returns to language framed around opposition to marriage equality. 9.4%
5. Liberia’s Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier of Monrovia signs a Liberia Council of Churches’ statement linking Ebola as God’s punishment for homosexuality. 9.13%
6. A hospitalized gay man in Washington, DC is denied the sacrament of the anointing of the sick by a priest chaplain. 7.94%
7. The advance materials for the 2015 World Meeting of Families, to be held in Philadelphia and visited by Pope Francis, reveals negative messages regarding LGBT people. 7.54%
8. Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki says marriage equality supporters should be disciplined like children. 6.35%
9. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision threatens to redefine religious liberty in a dangerous way for LGBT concerns. 5.56%
10. Although Pope Francis has asked church leaders not to obsess on issues such as gay marriage, the U.S. bishops, at their annual meeting, re-affirm opposition to marriage equality. 4.76%
No one wrote in any additional items on the ballot. A few of those polled did add some commentary:
Brian Kneeland: “The anti-LGBT work by the church needs to stop and a real pastoral approach adopted by Church leaders!”
Alice Zachmann, SSND: “It was difficult to choose. Each one failed to pass the test,’WHERE THERE is LOVE, THERE IS GOD.’ ”
Casey Lopata: “Until the hierarchy and other institutional Catholic leaders come to accept that gay and lesbian people are NOT defective heterosexuals (but have a God-given sexual orientation on a continuum of natural sexual orientation variations), discriminatory statements and actions will continue.”
The fact that the top two vote-getters are both employment-related shows that this topic is of great concern. Other than that, it is hard to discern any other pattern in the voting. However, if you see a trend based on the results above, please inform us of it in the “Comments” section of this post.
Stay tuned for the BEST Catholic LGBT news tomorrow!
The most bizarre news stories that have come across my computer desktop in the last few weeks have to be those that have focused around space aliens and exorcisms. Are there any lessons in these topics that Catholic advocates for LGBT people can learn?
Space aliens made headlines because of Pope Francis’ well-noted line that if Martians showed up on earth and asked to be baptized, he would do so. Out of context, the statement sounds extremely bizarre, but in the context of the homily he was giving, the pope’s comments make some sense. He was trying to make the point that the Spirit of God, not our human prejudices, should lead us to act. Catholic News Service provided context for the pope’s remarks, which were given in a homily on Acts 11:1-18:
“From the very beginnings of Christianity, the pope said, church leaders and members have been tempted at times to block the Holy Spirit’s path or try to control it.
” ‘When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, “No, Lord, it is not prudent! No, let’s do it this way” he said. ‘Who are we to close doors?’
“Many parishes, Pope Francis said, have ushers to open the church doors and welcome people in, ‘but there has never been a ministry for those who close the doors. Never.’ “
When Gay Star News ran the story about aliens, they did so with the headline: “Pope Francis will not marry gay couples, but will baptize aliens.” While that is true enough, it is a little misleading, too, since the pope did not make any comment at the time about marrying gay couples. Moreover, the Gay Star News story doesn’t even mention marriage in the body of the text.
But more importantly, it misses the point that Pope Francis’ message was actually a message of welcome, of saying the church is open for all, even those who we might think of as the most “alien” to ourselves. To me, that is a wonderful message of welcome to Catholics who feel marginalized, such as many LGBT Catholics do.
What is also wonderful about this story is that Pope Francis’ question,”Who are we to close doors?” so beautifully echoes his famous comments about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?” It seems that Pope Francis is building up a theme in his pontificate of cautioning people from feeling too arrogant.
The news stories about the exorcisms might be a little more complicated. The Washington Post ran a story about Pope Francis’ seeming interest in the reality of the devil and the rite of exorcism. Entitled “A modern pope gets old school on the Devil,” the article notes:
“After his little more than a year atop the Throne of St. Peter, Francis’s teachings on Satan are already regarded as the most old school of any pope since at least Paul VI, whose papacy in the 1960s and 1970s fully embraced the notion of hellish forces plotting to deliver mankind unto damnation.
“Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces of evil at his beck and call.”
The article explores Catholic history and ideas about the devil, but where the topic becomes problematic for Catholic LGBT advocates is when it quotes a priest who is a practicing Catholic exorcist and an experience he had on an airplane:
“. . . [T]he Rev. Cesar Truqui, an exorcist based in Switzerland, recounted one experience he had aboard a Swissair flight. ‘Two lesbians,’ he said, had sat behind him on the plane. Soon afterward, he said, he felt Satan’s presence. As he silently sought to repel the evil spirit through prayer, one of the women, he said, began growling demonically and threw chocolates at his head.
“Asked how he knew the woman was possessed, he said that ‘once you hear a Satanic growl, you never forget it. It’s like smelling Margherita pizza for the first time. It’s something you never forget.’ ”
The homophobia in such a comment makes one realize that so much of “devil talk” relies more on people’s own prejudices, and less on a belief in objective evil.
It’s not just Catholicism that runs this risk of prejudicial Satan-labeling when it comes to lesbian and gay people. Certain Charismatic Christian groups are also involved in such activity. Slate.com’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote an article that took a look “Inside The Horrifying World of Gay Exorcisms.” He cites a very reliable source, credible because he experienced such an exorcism:
“Roland Stringfellow, a pastor of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, notes that these denominations spiritualize just about everything and believe that people have a spirit for every problem. Homosexuality, to these religions, is its own discrete problem—one even more troubling than alcoholism or drug addiction. Accordingly, Charismatic congregations are eager to cast the ‘demon’ of homosexuality out of gay people through exorcism, often in public at the altar of a church.
“Stringfellow himself was subject to such an exorcism when he was in college and was still closeted.
“ ‘I was trying to get rid of my same-sex attractions,’ he told me. ‘The person at the altar yelled so everyone could hear: “Demon of homosexuality! Come out of this young man!” And he smacked me on my forehead to “slay me in the spirit.”A friend had to get me up from the altar, pick me up, and get me back to my seat, because I was absolutely mortified. My secret had now been announced, proclaimed, to all of these individuals.’ ”
Professor Mathew Schmalz, College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school, acknowledges a belief in the reality of the Devil, but he notes that the recent rise of interest in Satan can be dangerous. Schmalz concludes aHuffington Post article on the topic with the following concluding paragraph:
“As a Catholic, I do believe that Satan exists and that there is something both intellectually and psychologically valuable in understanding evil as an objective force or entity. But I was also always taught that Lucifer was the most beautiful of the angels — and that evil can come under the most beguiling and attractive forms. For this reason, we have to be very careful where we see the Devil. When you try to cast out demons, it’s all too easy to conjure more in the process.”
Schmalz’ caution is one that U.S. Catholic bishops should heed, especially when they ramp up their rhetoric, a la Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki, to insinuate that marriage equality is the work of the devil.
On Valentine’s Day, we have two stories about how U.S. Catholics are showing their love for LGBT people by taking their message of equality and justice to the streets this week. One event has already occurred and one is scheduled for this coming weekend.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, on Wednesday evening, February 12th, Catholics gathered outside the Athenaeum, a Catholic seminary in that city, to protest a talk against marriage equality being given there by Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki. This bishop made headlines last year when he staged a prayer service that included prayers of exorcism in his cathedral on the day that marriage equality was signed into law in Illinois.
The protest, organized by Dignity/Dayton and Dignity/USA, demonstrated Catholic support for marriage equality. WCPO-TV reported that while inside the building Bishop Paprocki offered arguments against marriage equality, outside, the demonstrators told a different story:
“The protestors strongly disagree [with the bishop], saying his theory clashes with the Pope’s beliefs. According to protestor Bob Butts, the Pope’s bigger concern is poverty.
” ‘My partner and I have been together for 26 years,’ he said. ‘This stuff is mean, hateful, does a lot of harm, especially to young LGBT youth.’
“Protesting along with Butts was Peggy Hanna.
” ‘I believe those of us who are not in the LGBT community, we need to come out and support them,’ she said. ‘This is the right thing to do. I am wishing the church would open its mind and heart.’ “
You can watch the video of the news report on this protest by clicking here.
In May of 2013, Bishop Paprocki debated New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick on the topic of marriage equality.
On Sunday, February 16th, Catholics for Fairness, a pr0-LGBT group in Louisville, Kentucky, will march to the cathedral in that city to ask Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the ordinary of the city and also the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to “acknowledge the inherent dignity of all human beings, including LGBT people,” according to Father Joseph Fowler, an archdiocesan priest who has organized this demonstration for the last three years.
“While Pope Francis appears to be moving the church forward on LGBT acceptance, it seems Archbishop Kurtz is resisting. More than three years ago, Archbishop Kurtz made a promise — since unfulfilled — that he would review and consider support for a simple LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination Fairness law in Kentucky.
“House Bill 171, introduced by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian and co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Wayne and 15 other state legislators, would extend discrimination protections in employment, housing and public accommodations to LGBT people. It’s a law that says everyone deserves a fair shake at earning a living, putting a roof over their heads, and eating at their favorite restaurants without the fear of being turned away just because of who they are.
“And it’s the type of law the vast majority of Catholics support nationwide — 73 percent according to a recent Public Policy Research Institute poll. This same poll showed Catholics to be the most progressive Christian denomination in America on LGBT issues.
“With so much support among Catholics, and Pope Francis’ obvious overtures of LGBT acceptance, it remains an enigma why Archbishop Kurtz continues to avoid the issue.”
The Louisville marchers will meet on Sunday, February 16, 4:00 p.m., at 4 p.m. at the Volunteers of America of Kentucky headquarters, 570 South Fourth St. They will walk to the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 South Fifth Street.
Kudos to these Catholics in Cincinnati and Louisville for demonstrating their faith in such powerful ways! What a wonderful present for St. Valentine’s Day!
Yesterday, we posted our list of the worst of 2013 in Catholic LGBT news. Today, as promised, we end the year on a positive note by presenting our list of the BEST of the previous year. It has been quite a good year for Catholic LGBT issues, on all levels of the church. From a pope who is setting a more positive tone to Catholics in the pews organizing to support marriage equality, we have seen positive movement this year on all levels of the church. As we noted yesterday, when we drew up our list of “nominees,” it was hard to come up with 20 serious negative stories from last year, and it was just as hard to limit the positive stories to only 20.
If you’d like further testimony to the positive movement this year in regard to Catholic LGBT issue, you might want to take a look at Michael O’Loughlin’s essay entitled “For Gay Catholics, 2013 Was A Banner Year. Will It Continue? It was published on the WBUR website, Boston’s public radio station.
Thanks to the 286 of you who voted in our poll to determine the selection and ranking of these best news stories. The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five.
The Top Eleven (It would have been the top ten, but we had a number of ties) :
1. Pope Francis, in word and action, begins moving the worldwide Catholic Church towards a more accepting and pastoral approach towards LGBT people. 22%
Catholics joined with thousands of other Illinois marriage equality supporters this past week for a March on Springfield, to support the bill for marriage equality in that state. A coalition called Catholics for Marriage Equality Illinois showed up stalwartly in rainy weather to let state lawmakers and others know that their Catholic faith urged them to work for legal protections for gay and lesbian couples and their families.
The fate of the marriage equality bill, SB10, is currently undecided, The Chicago Tribune noted this about the march:
“The show of force that police estimated at 3,000 people ran up against the political reality that there’s little indication the Illinois House is any closer to approving a gay marriage bill than it was before a summer of lobbying efforts.”
But the newspaper also noted that if the bill does pass the legislature. the Catholic governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, is prepared to sign it into law. The article stated:
“Gov. Pat Quinn, a practicing Roman Catholic, has vowed to sign the gay marriage bill if it reaches his desk. . . . [He] said he decided to support same-sex marriage against the teachings of the Catholic Church as a matter of ‘conscience.’
” ‘I believe everyone of faith should listen to their conscience, and I have in my case,’ Quinn said. ‘The time for marriage equality has come. This is our time. This is our moment.'”
Catholics who were at the event said that the news media generally failed to recognize the strong faith contingent in the demonstration. Instead, a number of media reports focused on the fact that Springfield’s Bishop Thomas Paprocki refused to allow Catholics who support marriage equality to enter the cathedral to pray the rosary. The Tribune reported:
“Paprocki said the plan by demonstrators to pray for gay marriage amounted to blasphemy, but he noted that ‘our cathedral and parish churches are always open to everyone who wishes to repent their sins and ask for God’s forgiveness.’ “
Governor Quinn called Paprocki’s reaction “disappointing.”
The Catholics who marched tell another story of how their witness touched and empowered others at the demonstration. Lena Woltering, of Faithful of Southern Illinois, commented:
“There was good reaction to the Catholic presence. A young lesbian couple noticed I was holding the Catholics for Marriage Equality sign and asked if I was from Springfield. I told them I was not and they proceeded to tell me how they had gone to the Springfield Cathedral that morning for Eucharist and throughout the service the priest was very hateful, saying good Catholics should be appalled that the rally was taking place and he encouraged all to attend the anti-gay marriage rally the following day. They had tears in their eyes as they spoke and thanked us for being visible at the rally. Quite a few others stopped to thank us for our presence.”
Barbara Marian, of Fortunate Families, told the following story:
“It was cold and raining in Springfield on Tuesday, October 22nd but standing among the more than 3,000 chanting and cheering advocates of equal marriage we were flooded with warmth and hope and joy and gratitude to be there and to know we will soon see the day that all citizens of Illinois will be able to marry the person they love.”A number of advocates from other mainline faith communities were present and waving their signs and we Catholics appeared to have the largest number of supporters under the Catholics for Marriage Equality and Fortunate Families banners.”The speakers and the great music were rousing and wonderful but the most encouraging aspect of the rally for us was the constant steam of people coming up to talk to us and take photos of us with the banners so we know that we ‘went home’ with hundreds of the marchers and will appear thousands of times on their friends and families’ Facebook pages.
“Some of us strolled among the people in the crowd offering our greetings and giving out the Catholics for Marriage Equality bumper stickers on paint stirrers when they asked, ‘Oo-o! Where can I get one of THOSE?’ Thousands saw that we were there on that important day and were happy to know Catholics from the pews were working with them to bend the arc of history in Illinois toward justice and equality for all. ”
At the end of May, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick participated in a marriage equality debate with Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki. The debate took place in Phoenix, Arizona, and was sponsored by the Jesuit Alumni of Arizona. You can read the blog post and news story about the event here.
Though Sister Jeannine spoke from an outline, she has since crafted her remarks into a readable text, and we present that to you below. The text of Bishop Paprocki’s remarks can be found on the Diocese of Springfield website.
Same-Sex Marriage and Change
By Jeannine Gramick, SL
In 1971, while I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, I met a young gay man and his friends who turned my thinking around. I remember a young woman who was intelligent, socially responsible, had a healthy sense of self-esteem, and was working for her rights at the ACLU. I was impressed by a lesbian couple who cared lovingly for their two children.
I believed that I had never met a homosexual in my entire life although, of course, I unknowingly had. Some years later I remade the acquaintance of a high school friend who discovered her lesbianism when she fell in love with a woman in medical school. She then understood her feelings toward the boys at the Saturday night dances we attended at a local parish. I remember her saying, “They’re really nice guys, but I feel for them like I feel about my brother.”
My personal experiences began to clash with what I had been told—not by the Church (for I don’t remember ever hearing the word “homosexual” as I was growing up in the 1950s in Philadelphia)—but by society. Society told me that gay people were sick and perverted. But most of the homosexual people I encountered seemed as well-balanced psychologically as the heterosexual people I knew. The term “disorder” just did not fit. Except for the fact of their sexual orientation, my new friends seemed no more different from my heterosexual ones.
Just as my personal views changed, I noticed change among Catholics in the pew regarding their attitudes about lesbian and gay people. Like me, Catholics were reading newspaper and magazine articles about research that showed that a large percentage of people have same-sex feelings. In fact, professionals told us that homosexual feelings and attractions are perfectly natural for anyone. Catholics heard about the judgments of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association that homosexuality was not an emotional disorder. While they were learning all this new information, they were discovering that their sons or daughters, their brothers or sisters, their aunts or uncles, and their friends, were lesbian or gay. Like me, Catholics listened to the stories of the people they loved. Hearts, as well as minds, started to change.
In the 1990s, I began a more formal pastoral ministry with parents who have lesbian or gay children. During retreat weekends, I heard grief in their voices as they told me how sad they felt because their children no longer went to church. Over the years, I noticed that the sorrow and anguish were replaced by bewilderment and anger at the institutional church. They now ask me, “Why doesn’t the Church accept my child? I want the same happiness for my gay son as for my heterosexual daughter. I want them both to be able to share a life with someone they love.”
I have tracked public opinion polls on Catholic attitudes toward same-sex marriage since the early 1990s. At that time, about 20% of Catholics were in favor of same-sex marriage. By 2003, the percentage had doubled. A decade later, the percentage had risen to 59%. If same-sex marriage is specifically defined as civil marriage, the level of Catholic acceptance jumps to 71%. (These polls were commissioned by ABC News and The Washington Post.)
Catholics have indeed changed their opinions about homosexuality. In fact, 56% believe sexual relations between two people of the same gender is not a sin, according to thePublic Religion Research Institute.
While the Catholic faithful now generally accept same-sex marriage, the Catholic hierarchy has not, although there is recently an openness to accept civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. Most prominent among these Church leaders, of course, is Pope Francis.
Before he became pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio publicly condemned a proposed same-sex marriage law in 2010 in Argentina as the work of the devil. We now know that, in heated, closed-door debates, he advocated civil unions as a compromise position. In the end, because he was President of the Bishops’ Conference, his public remarks reflected the views of the majority of the Argentine bishops, not his own views. During the political debate, a gay rights leader and theologian wrote a pointed letter to Cardinal Bergoglio. Shortly thereafter the man received a phone call and met twice with the Cardinal, who reaffirmed his support for civil unions and legal rights for lesbian and gay persons.
Six other cardinals have advocated civil unions for same-sex couples: Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, DC; Carlo Martini (now deceased) of Milan; Christoph Schonborn of Vienna; Ruben Salazar of Colombia; Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop Emeritus of Brussels; and Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin.
For example, last year at a major Church sponsored conference in Mannheim, Germany, that drew more than 50,000 Catholics, Cardinal Woelki told the assembly, “When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationships.” His statement recognizes and affirms the qualities of care, trust, commitment, and fidelity that are marks of a marriage. Of course, Cardinal Woelki did not use the word marriage. He stated that the relationship between a man and a woman was the basis for creation. Nevertheless, his words of support for civil unions amazed the crowd of assembly participants.
Also last year, a parish priest denied a gay man in a partnered relationship his elected seat on the parish council. The man asked to meet with Cardinal Schonborn, the influential Archbishop of Vienna. After inviting the man and his partner for lunch, the Cardinal stated that he was impressed by the gay couple’s commitment to living a life of faith, humility, and dedication to the Church. Commenting that the lifestyles of many parish council members do not conform to the ideals of the Church, the Cardinal reinstated the man to the parish council. This year at a lecture in London, Cardinal Schonborn reiterated that same-sex relationships need respect and civil protection.
Two national Bishops’ conferences and about a dozen bishops and archbishops throughout the world have likewise given public support to civil unions. Two of these prelates are Vatican officials. In February of this year, Archbishop Vincent Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council of the Family, said that the Church could recognize private law solutions for same-gender couples to prevent injustice. He condemned discrimination against gay and lesbian people because of their dignity as children of God. He said he would like Church officials to oppose bills that would make homosexuality a crime.
These remarks were followed by those of Archbishop Piero Marini, President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, who said, “In these discussions, it’s necessary, for instance, to recognize the union of persons of the same sex, because there are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized.” In his press interview, Archbishop Marini also said that the election of Francis has generated an air of freedom and a window of springtime and hope.
The most substantial challenge to official Church teaching comes from Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired bishop from Australia. In his current book, For Christ’s Sake, and in a previous book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church, Bishop Robinson calls for a radical reexamination of the Church’s teaching on all sexual issues, which would affect both homosexual and heterosexual relationships. He believes that sexual morality should be based not on authority, but on people taking responsibility for their actions and their lives. Bishop Robinson is asking Catholics all over the world to sign a petition for a third Vatican Council to begin worldwide discussions not only among the bishops, but also among all the members of the Church. See “For Christ’s Sake! Stop Sexual Abuse for good!” or http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/pope-francis-the-vatican-for-christ-s-sake-stop-sexual-abuse-for-good
These actions and comments indicate that the official Church is beginning to acknowledge a need to rethink homosexual relationships and, according to some bishops, its theology of sexuality.
How can we explain these changes in attitude among Catholics? Why have Catholics’ views altered or been modified to be more accepting of lesbian and gay persons and their love relationships? I believe that part of the explanation in understanding any complex issue rests in obtaining correct information. Historians, anthropologists, biological and social scientists, and other professionals have helped us grow in our awareness of the nature of homosexuality in general, and of same-sex marriage in particular.
The meaning and rituals of marriage have varied over time and culture. The Israelites held no belief that marriage was between one man and one woman. In that patriarchal society, a man could have more than one wife if he could afford it. The great kings David and Solomon attested to the practice of multiple wives. The story of Adam and Eve was not an endorsement of monogamy among the Hebrews; monogamy became an ideal of prophets, such as Ezekiel and Hosea.
In the early Christian church, marriage had no religious significance. Christians merely adopted the customs of the culture. Marriages were arrangements made by the civil government of Rome that defined rights and responsibilities, provided continuity in society, and facilitated the inheritance of property. Weddings were private ceremonies, with no official sanction from church or state. None of the liturgical books in the early Church mention wedding ceremonies.
In the late 4th century in some parts of the Christian East, it was considered an honor if a priest or bishop blessed the couple during the wedding feast. A century later, the priest participated in the ceremony by joining the couples’ hands or putting a garland over their hands. This ritual may be the origin of the expression, “to tie the knot.” By the 8th century, marriage ceremonies were commonly held in a church, with legal recognition. By the 11th century, church officials required that marriages at least be blessed by a priest. With the fall of the Roman Empire in the West in the 5th century and the decline of the Empire in the East from the 11th century, the institutional church exerted more and more legal control over marriage. By the 12th century, a priest was obliged to conduct the ritual.
By the late 12th and 13th centuries, marriage began to be regarded as a sacrament to be regulated by church officials. Many theologians of the time objected to this sacramental view of marriage because marriages involved financial arrangements. It thus appeared as though grace, which comes from the sacraments, could be bought and sold. Furthermore, the institution of marriage existed before Christ, but if the sacraments were instituted by Christ to give grace, how could Christ have instituted marriage? Thirdly, marriage involved sex, which was considered polluted in some way.
In his book, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-modern Europe, the medieval historian, John Boswell, presents numerous ceremonies that celebrate same-sex unions. Boswell found and translated more than 60 manuscripts of such ceremonies between the 8th and 16th centuries. These ceremonies had striking word and visual parallels to ceremonies of heterosexual unions. For example, both kinds of ceremonies commonly included the joining or tying of right hands with a stole. Both kinds included a binding with a stole or veil, or the imposition of crowns, or making circles around the altar.
Boswell claims that Church authorities accepted these same-sex ceremonies prior to the 13th century, after which they were considered illicit. Almost all historians agree that the late 11th and early 12th centuries were periods of openness & tolerance, and that the social and ecclesiastical climate became less tolerant in the 13th & 14th centuries, as inquisitions to investigate unorthodoxy began to appear. Scholars have generally accepted the authenticity of the manuscripts Boswell unearthed and the accuracy of his translations, but they have largely disagreed with his interpretations of the facts. Many claim these same sex unions were celebrating brotherly love, not marriage; however, the striking similarities to heterosexual marriage ceremonies cannot be denied. Many question whether Church authorities endorsed these ceremonies, but their existence indicates that they were approved in at least some parts of the Christian world where they were celebrated.
Same-sex unions are being sanctioned today in the United States by large segments of the Catholic community. I believe that another explanation for this acceptance, more important than the additional knowledge we have about marriage, is the personal experience of knowing friends, neighbors, relatives, or co-workers who are lesbian or gay. Lesbian and gay people have come out in record numbers in recent years. Their personal testimonies are affecting the hearts and minds of Catholics because our most profound beliefs are shaped by personal experience.
A number of years ago, I had a providential meeting on a plane with Benedict XVI before he was elected pope. I was making a pilgrimage to Munich and we both happened to be on the same flight from Rome. In our 20- minute discussion about lesbian and gay people, I asked him if he had ever met any gay people. “Yes, in Germany,” he said. “In Berlin, they were demonstrating against the pope.” This was his experience of gay people—in a conflict situation. Apparently, he had not heard the personal stories of lesbian or gay people and how they feel about their lives, their beliefs, and the struggles they have encountered from society and the church. I explained to him that lesbian and gay Catholics are often ridiculed by those who ask, “How can you stay with a Church that oppresses you?” “They stay,” I said, “because they love God and their Christian faith.”
Only when we meet lesbian and gay people in the ordinary circumstances of life, will we see them as the normal human beings they are. Only then will we begin to question our notions about same-sex marriage. We then ask the central question: What is the essence of marriage? What did marriage mean before the Christian era? What did it mean in pre-modern Europe? What does marriage mean today? In 2004, the board of the National Coalition of American Nuns answered the question this way: “Love, care, and commitment to another human being, not gender or procreation, form the essence or meaning of marriage.”
The Church’s Teaching
How can Catholics reconcile this new view of marriage with the traditional teachings of the Church? How can Catholics, who love the Church as their spiritual family, formulate a framework in which lesbian and gay people can live justly and wholly within the tradition of the faith community they love? Too often the application of the church’s teaching on social justice toward lesbian and gay persons seems to be thwarted or usurped by the official teaching on sexual ethics. What is needed is a continued development of sexual ethics by the Christian community.
In the first centuries of the Christian era, sexual ethics was not wedded to procreation. This came only with the early Church Fathers, particularly Augustine, who believed that procreation was the only justification for sexual pleasure and marriage. After many centuries, the official Church acknowledged that the love of the couple was a secondary purpose of sexuality and marriage. Vatican II taught that procreation and mutual love were equally important. Contemporary moral theologians have developed the teaching still further. They maintain that the procreative purpose can be broadened and described as creativity for the community. Using traditional Catholic theology based on natural law, this approach acknowledges that our appreciation of what is natural for the human person has also developed.
The thread woven throughout these remarks is change: change in my personal opinions, change in the attitudes of U. S. Catholics, change in the public statements of some high ranking church officials, change in our understanding of marriage, change in our personal experiences, and change in the Church’s official teaching on sexual ethics. Too often we are frightened by change because we are comfortable with the status quo and are skeptical that one change will lead down a slippery slope of still more changes with which we cannot cope. When I fear change, I remind myself of the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who said in his Development of Christian Doctrine, “To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Let us pray to Blessed John Henry Newman to help us accept the changes needed in our Church.