Cardinal Schönborn Offers Model for Pastoral Outreach to Lesbian and Gay Couples

For several years now, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna has spoken acted very forthrightly in support of lesbian and gay couples.  In his latest interview with an Italian Catholic magazine, Schönborn continued his advocacy for greater recognition of same-gender couples, while at the same time tempering his recommendations by stating his adherence to the magisterium’s heterosexual norm for sexual expression. [For a list of Schönborn’s previous statements on lesbian and gay couples, see the end of this post.]

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn

In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica‘s editor, Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, Schönborn enunciated both one of his strongest statements of support for lesbian and gay couples, as well as one of his strongest statements of support for the hierarchy’s view of sexual ethics. The interview was conducted in Italian, but excerpts from it were included in a news article in the United Kingdom’s Catholic Herald:

“Cardinal Schönborn spoke in the interview about a gay friend of his who, after many temporary relationships, is now in a stable relationship. ‘It’s an improvement,’ he said. They share ‘a life, they share their joys and sufferings, they help one another. It must be recognised that this person took an important step for his own good and the good of others, even though it certainly is not a situation the Church can consider “regular.” ‘

“The Church’s negative ‘judgment about homosexual acts is necessary,’ he said, ‘but the Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room! It must accompany people.’ “

The cardinal gave a description of how he understands what it means to pastorally accompany gay and lesbian couples:

“Pastoral accompaniment ‘cannot transform an irregular situation into a regular one,’ he said, ‘but there do exist paths for healing, for learning,’ for moving gradually closer to a situation in compliance with Church teaching.

” ‘We are not at risk of diluting the clarity [of Church teaching] while walking with people because we are called to walk in the faith,’ he said.

Though his comments about gay and lesbian relationships are not the most positive that they can be, there is a hopeful message in the methodology that Schönborn lays out.  His pastoral methodology seems very close to ideas offered by Pope Francis:

” ‘We are all called to observe the situation, not gazing from above and beginning with abstract ideas, but with the gaze of pastors who scrutinise today’s reality in an evangelical spirit,’ the cardinal said . . .

“The approach the bishops are called to take, he said, ‘is not first of all a critical gaze that highlights every failure, but a benevolent gaze that sees how much good will and how much effort there is even in the midst of much suffering.’

“The next step, he said, is not to pretend that everything in all those situations is fine, but to help Catholics build on what is good, growing in holiness and faithfulness to God and to each other.”

Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I tend to think that if such an approach were actually practiced by bishops and other pastoral ministers, these church leaders would also be changed by the encounter they experience.  In giving up their harsh judgmental stance, bishops and pastoral ministers will be opening their hearts to seeing goodness and holiness, and I can’t help but think that this new vision will change their own hearts and minds.

How did Cardinal Schönborn develop such an open approach to these pastoral situations?  Perhaps the detail of his biography that he mentioned in the interview holds a clue:

“Cardinal Schönborn said that being a child of divorced parents – and of a father who remarried – he knows what it is to grow up in a ‘patchwork family.’ And despite it not conforming fully to the Church’s ideal, ‘I also experienced the radical goodness of the family’ with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who helped out.

In 1999,  Detroit’s Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a great advocate for LGBT Catholics, was asked a question at a talk he gave, “How can more bishops become like you?”  Gumbleton, whose eyes were opened about LGBT people because of having a gay brother, answered, “Tell the bishops to find the gay and lesbian members in their families.”

I strongly suspect that the reason Cardinal Schönborn has such an open view about what the church would call an “irregular” relationship is that he experienced these realities in his own family.  And he is courageous enough–and vulnerable enough–to face those facts, reflect on his experience, and share those thoughts publicly.  I’m not sure enough church leaders are willing to be so vulnerable.

If you can read Italian, you can read the entire interview with Cardinal Schönborn in La Civiltà Cattolica by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Previous posts about Cardinal Schönborn’s statements on lesbian and gay couples:

April 3, 2012: “Austrian Cardinal: Gay Man Can Stay on Parish Council”

April 12, 2013: “Two More Cardinals on the Record Endorsing Civil Unions

February 11, 2014: “Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders”

 

Translation Issues Cause Mystery at Synod, While Austrian Cardinal Speaks Clearly About a “Saintly” Same-Gender Couple

More news broke today about the way the bishops at the synod are discussing lesbian and gay people in their relatio document, the working text they are using to develop a final set of recommendations.  At the same time, an Austrian cardinal, who has spoken in support of lesbian and gay couples before, gave a ringing endorsement of one such couple that he knew personally.

A new English translation has been issued which changes some of the language that had been issued earlier in the week.  You can read the new translation by clicking here.  (Relevant comparisons of the two translations appear at the end of this post.)

The National Catholic Reporter pointed out some discrepancy and vagueness concerning the new translation.  It seems only the English version of the document was changed, not the original Italian:

“. . . [T]he Italian version of the document from the meeting, known as a synod, remains the same and does not reflect the changes in the English translation.

“Responding to questions from reporters about the change at a briefing Thursday, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi emphasized that the official language of the synod is Italian and ‘we have said always that the text to refer to is the Italian.’

“Pressed about who had asked for the change and why the English version no longer matches the Italian, Lombardi said the Vatican press office released the revision at the request of the Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops and would not provide further details.”

While some of the changes seem to be neutral semantic choices, others may indicate that the bishops want to indicate a different direction.  This second category is important to examine.

For example, in terms of gay and lesbian people’s participation in parish life, the old translation talked of “welcoming these people,” while the new translation speaks of “providing for their needs.”  This could be considered not a minor change, except for the fact that it leaves open the question of who will decide what the “needs” of lesbian and gay people are.   In some cases, lesbian and gay people have gone to church to develop their relationship with God and others, and they have found that parish staff determines that their “needs” are to be supported in celibacy.  Such differing perspectives are problematic.

Another possibly substantial change is in paragraph 51, where the bishops stated that same-gender commitments could not be viewed as equal to heterosexual ones.  In the old translation, they described such commitments as “matrimony,’ and in the new translation, they describe them as “marriage.”  Since “matrimony” is generally used to describe a sacramental union and “marriage” can describe either a sacramental or civil union, it would seem that this change is intended to include the bishops’ opposition to civil marriages for lesbian and gay couples, as well as sacramental ones.

The final possibly substantial changes are in paragraph 52, in which gay and lesbian couples are discussed.  The original translation defined  the members of a couple as “partners,”  and the new translation refers to them as “these persons.”  It seems that the bishops may be reluctant to acknowledge the partnership that exists between the members of a couple.

When describing the support members of a couple offer each other, the first translation described it as “precious,” while the new translation describes it as “valuable.”  Perhaps the bishops felt the first choice was too tender, though an equal argument could be made that changing it to “valuable” strengthens the bond of the relationship.

It is hard to judge these changes since no reason was offered for why new the new word choices were made.  I still think that the relatio offers a more positive welcome to lesbian and gay people than such a high level Catholic Church body has ever made.  The substance of such a welcome, for the most part, remains in tact.

It’s also important to remember that the relatio is an interim document. Translation changes are not as important as whatever possible changes may be coming in the final, definitive synod statement, which should be released some time on Saturday, according to press reports.

The fact remains that the original translation (and to some extent this second one, too) shows that there are many voices in the synod which want a more welcoming stances in the Church towards lesbian and gay people and couples.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

In the same National Catholic Reporter article which reported on the translation changes,  one such voice came through loud and clear. a statement by Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schonborn at a press conference offered some hope that voices which recognize the goodness and holiness of lesbian and gay couples do exist in the synod.  Here’s the relevant passage from the article:

Although Monday’s document re-emphasizes church teaching against same-sex marriage, it also asks blunt questions about how the wider church treats gay people and if it is offering space for them in the community.

Asked about that change during the Vatican press briefing Thursday — specifically if it meant the church no longer holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” — Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said, “The basic principle is that we first look at the person and not the sexual orientation.”

“Every human person has a dignity beyond any other question,” said Schönborn, who is representing the Austrian bishops at the synod. “This does not mean and certainly will not mean that the church can say the respect for every human person means the respect for every human behavior.”

He said he thinks “the church will … always maintain that the fundamental gift of God’s creation is difference and relation between man and woman,” the cardinal also said he knows a same-sex couple in Austria that “are marvelous human persons.”

One of the partners in the couple, he said, became severely ill, and the other partner cared for them. The care, Schönborn said, “was saintly. Full stop.”

To me, Schonborn’s avoidance of discussing “intrinsically disordered” indicates that he recognizes this term as not useful.  His discussion of the “basic principle” of accepting the person indicates that someone’s sexual orientation is not an issue for him.  And though he supports marriage as a heterosexual-only institution, he is able to praise, in the highest terms, the love that exists between two men or two women.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s a major step.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Related articles

Al-Jazeera: “Vatican waters down ‘welcome note’ to gays”

Huffington Post: Now The English Speaking Catholic Church Will ‘Provide for Homosexuals’ Not Welcome Them”

 

Comparison of Translations

The relevant passages of the two translations are reproduced for you here, juxtaposing the old translation with the new one. The first paragraph of each pair is the version that was released Monday.  The second paragraph of each pair, in italics, is the version released on Thursday, with changes marked in boldface italics.

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing […] them […] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

51. The question of homosexuality requires serious reflection on how to devise realistic approaches to affective growth, human development and maturation in the Gospel, while integrating the sexual aspect, all of which constitute an important educative challenge. Moreover, the Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that the pastor’s outlook be pressured or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations based on gender ideology.

52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.
52. Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to […] children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders

Two European prelates have made statements recently which point, once again, toward a more open discussion of LGBT and marriage issues, topics which will be discussed at October’s Synod on Marriage and the Family.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

In Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin acknowledged that some people in the church have used doctrine “in a homophobic way.”  The Irish Times reported that the archbishop made these comments in a discussion about the upcoming national referendum in Ireland about the legalization of same-gender marriage:

“Discussions have to be carried out in a ‘mature’ way so that people can freely express their views, while at the same time being respectful and not causing offence, he said. He said that in general he believed it was the person who was offended who defined what being offended is.

” ‘Anyone who grew up in Ireland would have told jokes that were pointed at the gay community; at Travellers [gypsies]; it is part of the culture we grew up in, but we have to grow out of it,’ he said. He said church teaching was that marriage was between a man and a woman, exclusively, but that this approach did not exclude gay people from celebrating their union by a different means.”

The Independent quotes Martin as saying further:

” ‘God never created anybody that he doesn’t love.’…

“Speaking to the Irish Independent, the senior cleric said this meant that ‘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’…

“He added: ‘We all belong to one another and there is no way we can build up a society in which people are excluded or insulted. We have to learn a new way in Ireland to live with our differences and for all of us to live with respect for one another.’ “

According to RTE.ie, a leader of Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), was disappointed that the archbishop did not address pressing issues facing the LGBT community there, but affirmed his statements about the damage that cultural attitudes can cause:

“GLEN’s Brian Sheehan described it [the archbishop’s comment] as ‘a missed opportunity’ to tackle the role of the church and church teachings in creating what it said were ‘some of the difficult realities for lesbian and gay people in Ireland today.’

“However, he welcomed Dr Martin’s acknowledgement of the impact that a culture, which still has homophobia as part of it, has on those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (standing) and Austrian bishops meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna made some surprising statements about the hierarchy’s views on marriage, at the time of the Austrian bishops’ ad limina with Pope Francis. The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“In several interviews shortly before leaving Vienna, Schönborn advocated a more rational, down-to-earth approach toward family relationships. ‘For the most part, the church approaches the [family] issue unhistorically,’ he said. ‘People have always lived together in various ways. And today, we in the church tacitly live with the fact that the majority of our young people, including those with close ties to the Catholic church, quite naturally live together. The simple fact is that the environment has changed.’ . . . .

“Schönborn said he regretted that the Austrian bishops haven’t dared to speak out openly on necessary church reforms in the past. They haven’t had the courage to address the need for greater decentralization and to strengthen local churches’ responsibilities, he said. ‘We were far too hesitant. I beat my own breast here. We certainly lacked the courage to speak out openly.’ “

Schönborn had high praise for the work and message of Pope Francis, and said he sees the promise of change occurring in the church:

“Schönborn said he was convinced that far-reaching church reform was on the way, ‘but it will not be achieved through big words and programs but through people like Pope Francis.’ One could already see that the pope has become a role model, Schönborn said. ‘The atmosphere is changing and his behavior is making itself felt,’ he said. What impressed him most about the pope was his charisma. ‘You can feel his inner devotion to God from which his compassion, his warmth and his infectious sense of humor emanates,’ the cardinal said.”

Though U.S. bishops have not yet embraced the new era of Pope Francis, it seems that some of our European church leaders are, in fact, taking steps toward a new era of less judgement and more discussion and openness of the reality of people’s relational lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Sister Jeannine’s Debate with Bishop Thomas Paprocki on Marriage Equality

Sister Jeannine Gramick
Sister Jeannine Gramick
Bishop Thomas Paprocki
Bishop Thomas Paprocki

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.

U.S. Catholics

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 the Public Religion Research Institute.

The Hierarchy

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.

Marriage

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.

Same-Sex Unions

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.

Personal Experiences

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.

Change

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.

###

Papabile Rumors and Keeping Perspective About the Conclave

The Conclave of 115 cardinal electors has begun, and profiles of papabile abound reviewing old records and future visions of those rumored to be candidates for the next pope. LGBT issues hold a central place when commentators reflect on each front runner’s strengths and weaknesses, signalling a changing consciousness in the Church.

Pink News, a European-based LGBT news outlet, profiled the varied elements in the legacies of leading cardinals. For instance, they note Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet has been a strong opponent of LGBT rights, but who also once surprised the LGBT world:

Cardinal Marc Ouellet

“In 2005, he declared that the Catholic Church in Quebec would not baptise the babies of gay couples, despite baptism being a requirement of Catholic canon law.

“In 2007, he wrote an unexpected apology on behalf of the Catholic Church in which he wrote ‘humbly ask[ed] forgiveness’ for historic attitudes which had allowed for discrimination against gay people.

“This was largely dismissed by gay rights campaigners. Activist Laurent McCutcheon said the apology did nothing to make up for Cardinal Ouellet’s long opposition to same-sex marriage, or his ‘disparaging and hurtful’ comments about gay people.”

As for Cardinal Angelo Scola,  the Archbishop of Milan, Pink News reports:

Cardinal Angelo Scola

“Cardinal Scola is known as a scholar of human sexuality, having written extensively on the subject of the divine source of the ‘complementary nature of the two sexes’.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, his views on gay partnerships are that ‘Italy needs families based on the marriage of one man and one woman.’

“He is, at least, open to debate: ‘I can propose my beliefs, you propose yours,’ he said at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart last year. ‘Then we find out what the prevalent opinion is.’

“In 2012, Cardinal Scola surprised activists by allowing Catholic LGBT group Gionata to hold a prayer vigil for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), which was able to take place in Milan for the first time.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson
Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana is touted as a very real possibility, coming out of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, but his record on LGBT is one that denies condoms to help stymie HIV in Africa and, reportedly, he speaks favorably of “Kill the Gays” legislation in Uganda.

Resigned Catholic priest, Tony Adams, in the South Florida Gay News, shudders at the prospect of Cardinal Turkson’s election, while at the same time commenting on those papabile who would be better, though likely not good, on LGBT issues:

“Turkson sees cultural issues in primary and sometimes false colors. He confuses pedophilia and homosexuality which he thinks does not exist in Africa as it does elsewhere. If the cardinals elect a naïve soul like Turkson, they will be doing him a great disservice. He will be eaten alive.”

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn

Adams’ top five listing of gay-friendly papabile is Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri of Argentina, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy, and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria. Of this last prospect, he writes that this cardinal “walks the line between honoring real Christian love and traditional Catholic teachings.”  Adams points to a YouTube interview as evidence of Schonborn’s mixed record:

“There are many discussions about the reasons of same-sex attractions…One thing is certain, there is a great desire a great need of friendship. My experience is that if a person with same-sex attraction discovers true friendship this can be a real way out, a real way out of a situation that is very often a dramatic destruction of the person…there are some movements that foster the discovery of true friendship to overcome a gay lifestyle that is finally humanly, spiritually destructive.”

Few developments will emerge from the conclave until a new pope is presented to the world, but as rumors and rhetoric around the papabile swirls, it is essential that LGBT advocates maintain perspective. Eugene Cullen Kennedy writes in National Catholic Reporter:

“[The real church of ‘the faithful’] are so busy living their faith that, though they hope for the best, they are essentially uninvolved in papal politics or even in who will be elected pope or, for that matter, who their bishops are and what they may say in the letters read at Sunday Masses. These Catholics love their priests because, despite the sex abuse scandals, they have known too many good ones to be totally dismayed at the failures of some troubled ones and, despite the financial and sexual scandals, they keep supporting the church that understands, at its best moments, their suffering and longing, their hopes and their disappointments, and helps them, if they fall one way or other, to get up and keep going. These are the people who live in favor of life, who prize and nourish it and understand that religion does not pose implausible riddles to them but celebrates and supports them through the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the great and gripping mystery, that is life itself.”

Whomever emerges after the white smoke and bells will be faced with a Church that must confront LGBT issues, internally and in conversation with the world. Let us never forget though, that the pope is only one person and the hierarchy are only several thousand among more than a billion Catholics living their faith as the People of God.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry