Here are some items that you might find of interest:
1) At an ordination in Rome, Pope Francis told 19 priests “With baptism, you unite the new faithful to the People of God. It is never necessary to refuse baptism to someone who asks for it!” According to The National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua McElwee, these words “may be interpreted to rebut Catholic priests who refuse to baptize children of same-sex couples.”
2) The bishop of Northampton, England, has removed three members of a hermit community from a local presbytery after they refused to continue distributing vicious anti-gay material, according to The Tablet.
4) Some graduating seniors at LeMoyne College, a Jesuit school in Syracuse, N.Y., will be protesting the school’s commencement speech this year, which is to be given by N.Y.C.’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, according to TWCnews.com. Dolan’s record of being critical of LGBT equality is part of the motivation for the students’ protest.
5) At the annual March for Marriage in Washington, DC, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke against marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, calling it “the greatest social experiment of our time,” according to The Catholic Sun. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, also attended the rally and gave the opening prayer.
“Now the St. Patrick’s Parade is becoming of parade of disorder, chaos, and fake unity. Let’s be honest: St. Patrick’s Day nationally has become a disgraceful display of drunkenness and foolishness in the middle of Lent that more often embarrasses the memory of Patrick than honors it.
“In New York City in particular, the ‘parade’ is devolving into a farcical and hateful ridicule of the faith that St. Patrick preached.
“It’s time to cancel the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Al Smith Dinner and all the other ‘Catholic’ traditions that have been hijacked by the world. Better for Catholics to enter their churches and get down on their knees on St. Patrick’s Day to pray in reparation for the foolishness, and to pray for this confused world to return to its senses.”
Msgr. Pope is right about the drunkenness and foolishness of St. Patrick’s Day, but it must be noted that those behaviors have gone on for the many decades when LGBT groups were not allowed to march.
The Archdiocese of Washington is to be commended for removing this post from their site, as such vindictive commentary is pastorally damaging. The Archdiocese has made no comment as to why they removed the post, though, and it would have been better if they had made a clear repudiation of Msgr. Pope’s attack.
While the conservative Catholic blogosphere was red hot all week with people claiming that Dolan and the parade committees were traitorous, another pastoral voice came from America magazine correspondent Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM. In a blog post on the magazine’s website, Walsh defended Dolan by pointing out the pastoral message that his parade presence was setting. In making that defense, Walsh also touches on some other important issues and re-frames them as pastoral concerns:
“. . . Cardinal Dolan also has pastoral obligations. Many Catholics are gay, are related to gays, have gay friends. That is a reality to be dealt with. The U.S. bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family voted in 1997 on a statement ‘Always Our Children,’ that addressed the relationship between parents and their gay children. It drew fierce opposition from a number of people, but it cleared the air and comforted families who felt torn between what they understood to be church teaching and the natural love of mothers and fathers for children.
“Where to draw the line?
“Can a gay person participate in the corporal works of mercy, for example, by working in a church sponsored soup kitchen? Why not? Feeding the hungry is a religious obligation that crosses religious lines and is well rooted in Christianity.
“Can a gay person take up the collection at Mass? It’s a service, not a doctrine. Why not?
” . . . Cardinal Dolan’s position on the parade is the pastoral one; you don’t reject people for who they are. If a parent of a gay or lesbian child asked if they should invite their child to Thanksgiving dinner, any decent church person would say yes. When torn between being pastoral or political, a basic understanding of what it means to be a church community demands that pastoral take the day.”
It is refreshing to read these words from Sister Mary Ann, who for many years was a spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and who often defended some of their pastorally harmful stances. Perhaps it is one more sign of the new era of openness being led by Pope Francis.
Perhaps the best news about the conservative protest of the St. Patrick’s Day decision is that the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights has announced that it will withdraw from the parade next year. The leader of this group made wildly outlandish and ridiculous claims about LGBT people throughout his career, and most recently, about their participation in the parade. We elected not to report on them here because they were beyond the standards of civil discourse and reasoned discussion.
In David Gibson’s Religion News Service article about the conservative Catholic camp’s criticism of Dolan, the reporter alludes to the influence of Pope Francis on Dolan’s approach to the parade issue:
“. . . Dolan clearly seems to be comfortable with the more inclusive posture adopted by Pope Francis.
The cardinal last month gave a lengthy interview to the Boston Globe’s Vatican expert, John Allen, in which Dolan indicated that the days of the culture wars in the church were coming to a close.
The effort to withhold Communion from pro-choice Catholic pols “is in the past,” he said. And he also said that Francis wants pastoral, social justice-focused bishops “who would not be associated with any one ideological camp.”
For more than two weeks, my email inbox has been swamped with messages from folks sending me links to articles and essays responding to Pope Francis’ Jesuit magazine interview, in which he chastised church leaders for being too obsessed with gay issues. Early on, we tried providing you with some of the best of the responses, and you can read those here, here, here, and here.
But as I sifted through all these emails, one group that has remained pretty silent on the matter have been the U.S. bishops themselves. Now, I admit that I did not do a major web search for every U.S. bishop to see what he might have said about the interview. Yet, their remarks did not seem prominent in most of the news stories that I saw on the topic.
What is more surprising is that while almost everyone else in the U.S., Catholic and non-Catholic alike, were pleasantly surprised and astonished by what they detected as a new tone from the papacy, the few bishops who did make public responses tended to downplay any innovation on the part of Pope Francis. Their responses reflect a strong ambivalence about the pope’s new direction.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was one of the first bishops to respond. As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he is the spokesperson for the conference, and so many media outlets were interested in what he had to say.
In aNew York Times interview, he called the pope’s words “a breath of fresh air,” yet then went on to stress continuity, not change, in the papal message:
“ ‘One of the lines that nobody seems to be paying attention to was when he said I’m a loyal son of the church,’ he said. ‘He knows that the highest and most sacred responsibility is to pass on the timeless teaching of the church.’ “
What’s odd is that most people saw as more significant Pope Francis’ admission of himself as a sinner, which he described as the most “accurate” description of himself. Furthermore, while Dolan sees the pope’s job as passing on “timeless teaching,” Pope Francis in the interview emphasized the development of church teaching through history.
And while most commentators noted the compassionate and merciful tone in the pope’s words, Dolan seemed to see some sort of loophole for church leaders to continue to criticize:
“What he’s saying is that we have to think of a more effective way to do it, because if the church comes off as a scold, it’s counterproductive. If the church comes off as a loving, embracing mother, who periodically has to correct her children, then we will be effective.”
Dolan also tried to shift the reason why bishops speak so much about abortion and homosexuality to the media. On Top Magazinereported that Dolan mentioned the following in a television interview, responding to a reporter’s question about whether bishops were obsessed about these topics:
“I wonder if we all spend too much time talking about that. I mean you guys would admit that’s usually the things you ask me about, right? So, I don’t know if it’s just the church that seems obsessed with those issues. It seems to be culture, society,”
Like Dolan, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago also seemed to want to shift the cause for “obsession” to the general society, not to the bishops. In The Chicago Tribune, he stated:
“If the society is obsessed with those issues, then the church will respond. If the society doesn’t bring them up, the church won’t respond.”
Also like Dolan, George wanted to retain some form of judgmentalism for church leaders. He stated:
“Everybody is welcome,but not everything we do can be acceptable. Not everything I do, and not everything anybody else does. . . .
“His position was, ‘Don’t judge a person.’ It wasn’t anything about saying, ‘Don’t judge an action as moral or immoral.’ It was taken to say we shouldn’t judge the activity.”
Bishop David O’Connell tried to downplay any change that might be reflected in the pope’s words. In a CNN interview, he said:
“I think it is a slight departure . . . .This was an interview. This was not an instant of papal pronouncement or teaching, . . .This pope is accustomed to speak off the cuff, and to speak in a very common way with people, and I think that’s what you saw in this interview.
“He really was just sharing some of his thoughts and reflections.”
Madison, Wisconsin’s Bishop Robert Morlino offered perhaps the most stubborn refusal to recognizing any change in the papacy. In an email sent to Channel 3000, Morlino stated:
“The Pope is clearly offering his good pastoral counsel about our being, first and foremost, ministers of Jesus’ love and mercy. This is something that every member of Christ’s Church should take to heart and make part of their evangelization efforts. Given the confusion about Pope Francis’ statements that has emerged from the media coverage to date, I think it’s inopportune to offer extensive observations which will probably be subjected to like misinterpretation. I think that, analogous to the “spirit of Vatican II”, a distorted “spirit of Pope Francis” is being concocted which is equally, if not more misleading. For me, it is not prudent to respond further to the Holy Father’s remarks at this time.”
Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, was enthusiastic in his praise for the pope’s comments, though some wondered about the sincerity of his praise since only a short time before the papal interview, he had written in his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed” in the new pope for not mentioning abortion enough. Tobin told The Providence Journal:
“I enthusiastically welcome the balanced and inclusive approach our Holy Father is bringing to the pastoral ministry of the church. . . .
“Being a Catholic does not mean having to choose between doctrine and charity, between truth and love. It includes both.”
Perhaps the most genuine response from a bishop came from Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Maryland. Lori, an ardent and vocal opponent of marriage equalitly, who is also the U.S. bishops’ point person on religious liberty, told the Associated Press:
“Every time I make a statement about one of these things, I will certainly take another look at it and ask, ‘Does this really lead people back to the heart of the Gospel?’ “
I consider this response most “genuine” because it alone acknowledges that bishops may not have been considering this question about the gospel before uttering statements in the past.
John Allen, a Vatican analyst for The National Catholic Reporter, recently commented on why it might take a while before Pope Francis’ “imprint” will be seen among the American bishops. He posits that Pope Francis seems to be taking his time making changes in the Vatican administration, which could influence the type of bishops appointed. Additionally, since few American bishops are at or near retirement age of 75, it might take a while before Pope Francis has an opportunity to replace them.
Yesterday, we posted comments from bishops and dioceses that tended to downplay Pope Francis’ gay-positive remarks. Today, we will look at comments from these church leaders that were either mixed in their reactions or that welcomed the difference that the pope seemed to be emphasizing.
Most of the comments from yesterday tended to stress that nothing had changed because of the pope’s comments. In the category of “mixed” responses, we can see that some leaders stress continuity in substance, but acknowledge that there has been a tone shift. Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa, stated to RadioIowa.com:
“The Holy Father made some comments that really were not terribly surprising. He just, in essence, repeated what the church taught, has taught for a long time and has written in the catechism of the Catholic Church but he put it in his own, more personal, direct manner.”
In Erie, Pennsylvania, a diocesan official also emphasized the pope’s new tone and approach, in an interview with ErieTVNews.com:
“Father Chris Singer, Chancellor of the Diocese of Erie said, ‘Pope Francis once again has challenged us in his unique refreshing style what is at the core of the church’s teaching and that is that every man and woman is made in the image of God and God meets them where they are at.’ Singer added, ‘So Pope Francis has not made a change at all, he’s just reminding us to treat all people with respect, to meet them where they are and help them to grow in holiness and that’s exactly how Jesus lived.’ “
Also in the “mixed” category were those bishops who acknowledged something positive about the pope’s comments, but also seemed to want to tone down what they pope’s message was. In The San Francisco Chronicle, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of that city, exemplified this well:
“First, Cordileone praised the Pope Tuesday for ‘reiterating the Church’s love and welcome to all people,’ and said the Church should be a ‘welcome’ and ‘safe’ place for people ‘who experience same sex attraction,’ (and says the Church needs to do a better job on ‘following through’ on being that welcoming place).
“But Cordileone also wanted to clarify one point:
“ ‘While the Church does not judge individuals, the Church does judge actions,’ Cordileone said. To wit: ‘Any sexual act’ outside the boundaries of a male-female marriage, be it gay or straight, is ‘sinful.’”
While it was refreshing to see Cordileone acknowledge that the church has to do a better on welcoming LGBT people, it is disappointing that he uses “same-sex attraction” and the distinction about judging people versus judging acts.
The distinction on judging also featured prominently in the comments of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. On NBC’s Today show, Cardinal Dolan stated:
“It’s been a pretty clear teaching of the church based on the words of Jesus that we can’t judge people; we can judge actions.”
Dolan’s message tried to stress the positive about the papal remarks, but he also stressed the sexual ethics teaching. On one hand, he said:
“What the pope is saying [is] don’t forget forget there is another element to God’s teaching. Namely, that we treat everybody with dignity and respect, that we don’t judge their heart and that we love and respect them.”
But on the other hand, he said:
“Homosexual people deserve love respect and dignity, while homosexual acts are immoral.
“The church’s teaching, which is based on the Bible and God’s revelation, is that sexual love is reserved only between a man and woman in the life-long, life-giving relationship of marriage and any relations outside of that, hetero or homo, would be less than God’s intention. That hasn’t changed.”
“ ‘The Holy Father is not going to make up church doctrine at a news conference.’ But he added that the church teaches understanding and compassion and that the doors are open.”
On the more positive side were some bishops who further commented on the pope’s new approach to gay and lesbian issues. Fox21News.com, in Colorado Springs, carried comments from that city’s Bishop Michael Sheridan, which encouraged a more accepting outlook:
” ‘He speaks to individual people he speaks on a clear level, so it doesn’t surprise me he would stand strong,’ Bishop Sheridan said.
“The Pope’s words mark a sharp shift in tone, but the Bishop said it’s not a change in the church’s teaching.
” ‘Every single human being, heterosexual, homosexual, old, young, is deserving of love and of respect and all human rights, etc,’ Bishop Sheridan explained. ‘This is the clear teaching of the church.’
“Bishop Sheridan said this is how it’s been all along, just maybe not how it’s been perceived.
” ‘It’s a shame, unfortunately, some individual people, Catholics and non-Catholics, do not act that way. But that isn’t what the church says it says we owe respect and love to every human being,’ he affirmed.”
Bishop David Walkowiak of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was even stronger in mirroring the pope’s accepting words. In an article on MLive.com, he offered encouragement to follow the pope’s lead of respecting human dignity and was not afraid to criticize the older approach to these issues:
“ ‘The church has not said much about homosexuality and when it has it’s reiterated the teachings,’ said the Most Rev. David Walkowiak, bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids that includes more than 180,000 Catholics in 11 West Michigan counties. ‘That is helpful. It’s true. But the tone is usually one which is not a source of encouragement or a source of support.
” ‘We’re hoping that the pope’s tone sets a hope and an attitude that if you come to the church you will be respected, you will be welcomed, you will receive the support of the sacraments. My hope would be that people with same-sex attraction would feel more encouraged to walk into a Catholic church.’
“Walkowiak said the pope’s comment responded specifically to a question about gay priests, who ‘are called to celibacy’ regardless of their sexual orientation. But the pope’s ‘sympathetic’ remarks signal a more pastoral tone on gays in general, if not a change in church doctrine on homosexuality, he said.
“ ‘Certainly, the church’s teaching is not going to change during a press conference on a trans-Atlantic flight,’ Walkowiak said. But ‘he reminded us that whomever you’re interacting with, they should be welcomed and treated with sympathy and compassion and love,’ he said.
” ‘(Practicing gays) need to be accorded respect, compassion and support,’ Walkowiak said. ‘That’s the Christian outlook of how to treat people.’ “
Albany, New York’s Bishop Howard Hubbard also emphasized the new pastoral tone of the papacy, in his interview with the Times-Union:
” ‘Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality in general and specifically on accepting candidates for the priesthood who have a homosexual orientation reveal the pastoral tone and approach he has taken since assuming his responsibilities as the spiritual leader of our Roman Catholic Christian community,’ Albany Roman Catholic Bishop Howard J. Hubbard said Monday.
“Hubbard said Francis’ statements reflect the church’s teaching about the ‘sacred dignity and worth of every person, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.’ “
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh also emphasized the new pastoral approach that Pope Francis is taking. In the Post-Gazette, he stated:
“He is saying things that the church has already said, but he is saying them in ways that people can understand. Pope John Paul II was a philosopher. Pope Benedict XVI is a theologian. Pope Francis is a pastor. … He tells us that you have to know your people, you have to know what their struggles are.”
Reading yesterday’s and today’s posts together, you can get the impression that some bishops want things to remain the same, others are mixed, and still others are welcoming the new attitude in the church that Pope Francis seems to want.
Many people have commented on Pope Francis’ gay-positive statements on his flight home from World Youth Day last week. One group that has not received as much attention for their commentary, however, are the U.S. bishops themselves. Only statements made on two morning news shows by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made any kind of national headlines.
But in local newspapers around the country bishops and/or diocesan officials did make statements commenting on the pope’s remarks. These comments deserve some examination because they reveal not only these bishops’ approach to gay and lesbian issues, but also how they view the magisterium of the church and perhaps even the new pope. A variety of themes emerge from looking at the bishops’ statements.
Today’s post will examine the responses which tended to downplay the pope’s comments, and tomorrow’s post will look the responses which saw some change in the pope’s message.
(Before I start the examination of these comments, I must make a note that in many cases the local bishop was not available for comment, often because he was out of town. In those instances, I will be relying on the responses of a diocesan official.)
Despite the fact that the pope’s comments made headlines around the world in every form of news media imaginable, one dominant theme that the bishops expressed was surprise that people were interested in what the pope had to say about gay people. They tried to emphasize that the pope had not made any serious change in church teaching.
One good example of this theme came from Bishop Robert Vasa of the Santa Rosa Diocese, California. The Press Democrat newspaper in his city had the following message from him:
“. . . . Bishop Vasa said these comments were anything but ‘groundbreaking’ and echoed certain paragraphs from the catechism of the Catholic Church.
” ‘I don’t know that I would see them as any more conciliatory than the church documents have always been,’ he said. . . .
“In several news reports, Pope Francis’ statements Monday were contrasted with former Pope Benedict XVI’s signing of a document in 2005 that said men with gay tendencies should not be allowed to become priests.
“Bishop Vasa said the pope made no statements contradicting his predecessor.
” ‘I don’t know that those are necessarily two different statements,’ he said. . . .
“Bishop Vasa said the candid nature of the pope’s press conference, where the pontiff was not afraid to answer questions, was a reflection of the church’s new leader.
” ‘He is his own man. He is not afraid to engage with discussion of matters in secular society that may be controversial,’ Vasa said.
” ‘But at the same time, he holds true to the clear teachings of the church. Nothing in what he said suggested acceptance of gay priests or otherwise engaging in homosexual acts.’ “
In the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, a diocesan official followed along the line of the “continuity” theme, but made a point of adding some comments about celibacy, in an interview with The Providence Journal:
“ ‘In a sense, the Holy Father has said nothing new, and his comments only echo the Catholic Church’s consistent position that priests are still called to a life of celibate chastity and that homosexuals are welcome in the church,’ the Diocese of Providence’s chancellor, the Rev. Timothy Reilly said Monday night.”
The spokesperson for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, argued for continuity, too, but he also chose to stress that church teaching is really about “sin” in his comments to The Tampa Tribune:
“The comment doesn’t bode any shift in Catholic policy on the topic, said John Morris, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. He acknowledged a lot of people around the world will hear and read the statement and interpret it in different ways.
” ‘I don’t think this signals any kind of change in what the church is doing,” Morris said Monday. ‘It’s just going at it from different angle.’
“The Catholic Church traditionally has called homosexuality a sin and opposed gay marriage, and the pope’s statement Monday does not change that, Morris said.
” ‘I don’t know if this nudges (the church) in a different direction,’ he said. ‘The church always has had its stance on sins. The church accepts everyone. The sin is the issue.’ “
While many commentators viewed the pope’s comments as stressing the human dignity aspect of church teaching on homosexuality over the sexual ethics teaching, Chicago’s Cardinal George, in a National Catholic Reporter article seems to think that the sexual ethics teaching was prominent in the papal remarks:
“Chicago Cardinal Francis George said in a statement Monday that the pope ‘reaffirmed the teaching of the Catholic faith and other religions that homosexual genital relations are morally wrong. The pope also reaffirmed the church’s teaching that every man and woman should be accepted with love, including those with same-sex orientation.’ “
The Archdiocese of St. Louis, in a statement quoted on FirstCoastNews.com, also viewed the pope’s comments primarily in terms of sexual behavior:
“The Archdiocese of St. Louis supports the remarks by Pope Francis which reiterate church teaching that homosexuals are welcome in the church but homosexual activity is forbidden. The Catholic Church teaches that all people are called to responsibility when it comes to sexuality, whether homosexual or heterosexual, priest or lay person. She believes that all sexual activity belongs within a marriage between a man and a woman.
“The Catholic Church does not condemn people for having same-sex attraction. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states quite clearly that homosexual persons ‘must be accepted with compassion, respect and sensitivity.’ The Catechism adds that ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided.’
“While the Catholic Church objects to homosexual activity, she does not object to homosexuals.”
Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit had what was probably the harshest interpretation of the pope’s comments. The city’s Free Press recorded his response:
“But for Archbishop Allen Vigneron, spiritual head of metro Detroit’s 1.3 million Catholics, the pope “didn’t say anything different.”
“ ‘There’s no change’ on the Catholic Church’s view on homosexuality, Vigneron told the Free Press this week. ‘He may have had his own Pope Francis way of putting it, different from maybe the way Pope Benedict would put it, but they’re saying the same things.’ ”
“While some have said Pope Francis struck a new tone with regard to gay people, Vigneron said the worldwide leader of Catholics reiterated what is already in Catholic doctrine, which opposes homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Vigneron said the pope made it clear that gays must try to ‘repent and put their lives in order.’
“ ‘The pope presented the church’s Catholic teaching … endorsed it, and then called us to live up to it, especially to live up to assisting those who have challenges to keep the commandments, and to embrace them when they repent and put their lives in order,’ Vigneron explained.
“ ‘We will do what we can to sustain the definition of marriage as traditional marriage in our Michigan life,’ Vigneron said.
I label Vigneron’s statement the “harshest” because he managed to include references to repentance and marriage law into his comments, while Pope Francis did not even allude to either of these.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post which features bishops’ comments that are a bit more positive in their outlook.
The New Civil Rights Movementreports that Cardinal Dolan spoke for only nineteen seconds on the matter at the end of his weekly radio show. His remarks are quoted in full:
“’You look at even the violence in our own city with some homosexuals who have recently been beaten and killed…I mean that’s just awful, that flies in the face of divine justice. Every human life deserves dignity and respect, right? Anytime life is attacked we all suffer.'”
His comments came after public questions from LGBT advocates about why the cardinal remained silent on the increasing violence, and instead pushed for anti-marriage equality sermons this past Sunday. These voices included Joseph Amodeo at The Huffington Post who notes solidarity statements from Catholic parishes in the NYC area. Even the National Organization on Marriage condemned the violence. Amodeo writes:
“In the absence of a clear and unconditional condemnation of these hate crimes, Cardinal Dolan’s silence is symptomatic of the culture of silence that continues to plague the hierarchy of the Catholic Church…
“If Cardinal Dolan truly wants to express the message that “all are welcome,” then he must break this dangerous silence, condemn these acts of hate, and stand in solidarity with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the face of prejudice. Passive homophobia can no longer be accepted as the status quo in our churches, because conditional statements of welcome…provide a breeding ground for intolerance.”
As for Cardinal Dolan’s spot on the radio show, Amodeo spoke critically of the passing comment by the cardinal as an insufficient response to injustice and hopes it is only the beginning of greater solidarity from the hierarchy with the LGBT community. Recent activity on Cardinal Dolan’s Facebook reveal New Yorkers are dissatisfied with what amounts to continued silence weeks into this uptick in hate crimes. Many are questioning if the cardinal is paying attention to Pope Francis’ welcoming messaging in Rome, which will be the topic of an upcoming blog post.
“It’s still not clear what the second step [after Dolan’s positive remarks] in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated…
“Moreover, as Americans — and American Catholics — grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy ‘Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell’ policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.”
Gibson details the firings of Nicholas Coppola and Carla Hale, while Bondings 2.0 has reported on these and several other cases in recent months that are making LGBT-Catholic relations strained. Gibson quotes Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who questions how these actions fit with other Catholic principles about justice.
“’How just is it to fire someone whose life or practices are not in accord with official church teaching?’…
“’Where do you draw the line?…Do you get fired if you have remarried without an annulment? Do you get fired if you don’t attend Mass on Sunday regularly? Do you get fired because you are a Protestant who does not recognize the Catholic hierarchical structure?’”
Yet, not only are LGBT advocates within the Catholic Church worried, priests and others in ministry recognize the increasing frequency of these conflicts at local levels:
“’The fact is that it is going to get worse,’ said the pastor of a large Midwest parish who has had to fend off complaints about a lesbian member of his staff. As critics become more insistent, and as gay and lesbian Catholics become more public, he fears the resulting controversies will take a serious toll on the church.
“’We have to come to some kind of pastoral accommodation,’ he said.
Fr. Joe Muth
New Ways Ministry hosts a listing of gay-friendly parishes, which has grown to over 200 from just 20 a decade ago that are making pastoral accommodations. One parish with extensive experience doing LGBT ministry is St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, led by Fr. Joe Muth
“Gays and lesbians ‘just move into the regular life of the church’ at St. Matthew’s, Muth said, as he believes is perfectly normal.
“But he also said they are aware of the ‘sensitivity’ of their presence, so they have made a concerted effort to reach out to other groups in the parish, and the parish has also made sure to include one of Baltimore’s bishops in meetings.
“That dialogue has been invaluable, he said, and he has received few complaints or protests.”
Fr. Muth acknowledges that the framework is troubled, and limitations on engaging marriage equality or having LGBT ministers in public relations remain due to the bishops’ pressure. Gibson continues:
“In fact, the patchwork nature of the responses is part of the problem, say gay advocates. ‘It’s not that there is a witch hunt out there,’ said DeBernardo. ‘But there are witch hunters. … For the most part I don’t think bishops go after these folks. They don’t create controversy; they only respond to controversy.’
“At the moment, there are no guidelines to help pastors and parishioners deal with these issues, and there doesn’t seem to be an effort to develop anything comprehensive’…
“’Right now it’s a step-by-step process of helping people to be church,’ said Muth, of St. Matthew’s in Baltimore. ‘That’s the way I see it.’”
This piecemeal approach to solving the increasing number of parish conflicts does not seem sufficient to some, and leaves us asking LGBT Catholics, family, friends, and allies the very same question with which Gibson titled his article: Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?
Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below about if it is possible, and how you remain Catholic.