QUOTE TO NOTE: London Cardinal ‘Rejoices’ in LGBT Acceptance, While Still ‘Obstinate’ on Marriage

London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols has been one of the global church’s strongest advocates of pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  At the same time, he has opposed marriage equality though, unlike U.S. bishops, he seems comfortable in making social and ecclesial accommodations for lesbian and gay couples.

The Catholic Herald recently reported on remarks Nichols made at a public lecture.  His remarks show the two sides of his approach to matters of gay sexuality.  The news story stated:

“Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, has said the Church will continue to be ‘obstinate’ about gay marriage and other questions of sexual morality.

“Answering questions after a talk at St Ethelburga’s Centre, London, Cardinal Nichols was asked about the Church’s response to homophobia. The cardinal said that society had become more empathetic and compassionate towards gay people, and that he ‘rejoiced’ in the change.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“However, he went on to say that Catholics ‘still stand for’ a definition of marriage as ‘between a man and a woman’ which is open to new life.

“Cardinal Nichols went on: ‘There has never been a time when Christian sexual morality has been totally accepted in any society.’ But, he said, Christians would ‘persist’ in being ‘awkward’ on such matters.”

No doubt some will criticize Nichols’ opposition to marriage equality and his upholding of traditional church teaching on sexuality.  Nichols is no stranger to criticism, though. For years, conservative Catholics in England have been criticizing the pastoral outreach he began to London’s LGBT community, some of these critics even bringing their complaints to the Vatican. Nichols, however, stood firm, and the pastoral outreach program, LGBT Catholics Westminster, is alive, well, and thriving today.

While Nichols may be correct that Christian sexual morality has never been totally accepted in any society, that doesn’t mean that Christian sexual ethics hasn’t changed as new scientific information and social understandings and customs have evolved.   The fact that ethical principles have changed over the centuries is the best argument that they can change in the future.

Still, Nichols serves as a model to other prelates that their opposition to same-gender marriage does not mean that they cannot welcome LGBT people into the church community.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 15, 2017

 

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London’s Catholic LGBT Ministry Rallies Around Ugandan Exile

In what is a strong display of Catholic advocacy for the human rights of gay people, the members of LGBT Catholics Westminster have rallied around a gay Ugandan who worships with them to prevent him from being deported to his native land where homosexuality is criminalized.

LGBT Catholics Westminster embers at London Pride.

London’s Tablet reported that the man “faces a very high risk of being killed if he is forced to return to the place of his birth.”  LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official diocesan pastoral ministry in London, approved by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Westminster Diocese.

The Tablet provided background about the man at the center of this situation:

“Godfrey Kawalya, a gay Ugandan refugee, LGBT campaigner and a member of LGBT Catholics Westminster, has been living in Britain since 2002. In Uganda, where same sex acts are illegal and punishable by life imprisonment, he says he was expelled from secondary school, sacked from his job and rejected by his family for being gay. He was also an active member of the political opposition to the current president, Yoweri Museveni.

“After he fled from Kampala to rebel-held territories in Northern Uganda, Kawalya said he was attacked and robbed, and a friend who sheltered him was killed. He escaped to Kenya with the help of some nuns and eventually made his way to England.

“In August 2015 the Home Office refused his claim for asylum on the grounds that they did not believe he was gay and because he didn’t disclose his sexuality when he first arrived. ‘I was fearful, it wasn’t easy. I don’t know why they don’t believe me’, Mr Kawalya told The Tablet.

“Several appeals have failed and Mr Kawalya has one final chance to appeal by supplying new evidence to support his case by 17 May.”

LGBT Catholics Westminster has organized a petition for UK citizens to sign, asking the British government to grant Kawalya asylum.  Several Catholic leaders have already signed the petition, including  Vincent Manning, chair of Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support, Ged Clapson, Jesuit Communications Officer in Britain, and Fr. Tony Nye, a pastor at Farm Street Jesuit Church in Mayfair, London, which hosts the LGBT Catholics Westminster organization.

Martin Pendergast, a leader in the LGBT Catholics group said of Kawalya’s case that “even if he were not (gay), the law takes the view that refugees who are in danger of death or persecution because they are perceived to be gay in their home country must be granted asylum.”

For more information about LGBT Catholics Westminster or to learn how to sign the petition if you are a UK citizen, visit www.lgbtcatholicswestminster.org or email lgbtcatholicswesminster@gmail.com.

When people speak about appropriate Catholic pastoral ministry for LGBT people, I can think of no better example than this story of Catholics using church teaching condemning discrimination against LGBT people to help save a person’s life.

In less than two weeks, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 19, 2017

 

In Wake of London Terror, Remembering How Violence Led to Ministry

As London begins to recover and heal from this week’s latest terror incident two days ago, I was reminded of an earlier terrorist act directed against the LGBT community in that city.  In April 1999, a neo-Nazi activated a nail bomb in the Admiral Duncan Pub, in Soho, London’s gay neighborhood.  Three people were killed then.

That act of terror inspired the local Catholic LGBT community to initiate a pastoral program to the LGBT community.  A priest who supported this initiative was recently interviewed by Islington Now, a London neighborhood news outlet, telling how a terror act inspired pastoral care.

Msgr. Seamus O’Boyle of the Diocese of Westminster (London) told the newspaper:

“After the pub bombing in Soho where people got killed, there was a group of gay Catholic men and women who wanted somewhere to pray. . . .They started gathering together in an Anglican church to have Catholic Mass. That was a bit of an anomaly really, to put it mildly.”

Eight years later Mgr O’Boyle was Vicar General, a senior position in the Church which made him responsible for every priest in London. He had an opportunity to do something.

Mass being celebrated for the LGBT community in London’s Soho neighborhood.

What O’Boyle did was welcome the LGBT Catholic group to use a Catholic parish in the Soho neighborhood for their twice-a-month Masses.  O’Boyle recalled:

“The move was to try and make sure this was happening in a Catholic parish instead, and that it was open to everyone.

“We looked for a church and it was decided that we would use Our Lady of the Assumption on Warwick Street in Soho. I was appointed as the parish priest so I was responsible for what went on, in the sense of having an oversight of what was going on there.”

He remembered both the beauty of the welcome and the challenge of criticism from ultra-conservative Catholic protestors who showed up frequently outside the Church:

“It was a wonderful thing to be able to reach out to that community. It was a very hurt community by the Church, and yet there they were wanting to be part of it. I think we did a very good thing by allowing that to happen, but others didn’t feel that way.

“More traditional Catholics didn’t like it much. There was a group who used to meet outside and protest, saying the rosary. It was just horrendous, really. And then writing every five minutes to Rome to tell them that we were doing this atrocious thing. All kinds of ministry of disinformation, it was awful.

“Sometimes the group didn’t help by reacting in a bad way to some of the criticism and trying to reign them in a bit was not always easy. The group meeting outside was always invited in, you know, ‘come in and see that we’ve not got two heads’. “

The witness of the LGBT Catholics and allies who showed up for liturgy, especially in the face of protesters at the church door, inspired O’Boyle:

“To go to a Mass on a Sunday evening and have 150 people there who wanted to be there and participate in that way was just extraordinary.”

[Editor’s Note:  I had the privilege of worshipping with this community in 2012 when I was in London for World Pride.  You can read my report on my visit to the Mass by clicking here.]

Unfortunately, part of the article incorrectly describes the 2013 decision by Archbishop Vincent Nichols to move the Mass from the Soho neighborhood to a Jesuit parish in the nearby Mayfair section of the city.  While there may have been some pressure on him to end the Masses, as the article states,  Nichols took the opportunity to help the LGBT Mass community to become more integrated into parish life, instead of being isolated from the larger body of the faithful.

Instead of abandoning the LGBT group to Jesuit pastoral care, as the article implies, Nichols has remained very close to the community.  Very soon after their move to the Farm Street parish, he visited the church to officially welcome them.  Indeed, he visited the group to preside at Mass in 2015, and made a call to other bishops in England and Wales to expand pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  When Nichols was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2014, some commenters suggested that his LGBT pastoral outreach was a determining factor in his elevation.

O’Boyle has great optimism for the relationship between the Church and the LGBT community, due mostly to what he sees as positive steps taken by Pope Francis.  O’Boyle stated:

“Pope Francis has given people hope that the church doesn’t seem quite so judgemental or dictatorial about things. . . .

“He’s trying to modernise the church but he’s up against it. He needs to do it, which I think is why he’s right for his time.

“He doesn’t care what he does really which is great – he’s the Pope isn’t he? He can do what he likes.

“I think there are those who would like to stop him doing what he’s doing – the establishment would. Centuries-old structures of bureaucracy are not easy to break down.

“But I think he’s been a breath of fresh air for the Church.”

Catholic London’s outreach to the LGBT community is a great model for other dioceses to emulate.  It is amazing that such a jewel arose from the ruins of a terrorist act.  We pray with all Londoners this week as they stare down terror once again. And we remember that when terror struck the LGBT community in the U.S. last summer in Orlando, the Farm Street community was one of the first Catholic groups to pray in solidarity with the victims and survivors.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 24, 2017

FOUR DAYS LEFT TO REGISTER TO AVOID A LATE FEE!

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org. REGISTER BY MARCH 27th TO AVOID A LATE FEE!

 

Challenges of Reporting from the Synod: Homophobic Statements, Leaked Documents, the Rumor Mill, and How to Keep Up With It All

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

We’ve passed the midway point here at the synod in Rome, and I have to say that trying to navigate through all the information coming out of it has been like trying to drive in a hurricane!  So much happens here everyday, followed by so much analysis, that it is barely possible to report even a small slice of it.

While I am trying to write about LGBT and related issues, I must acknowledge that these are not the big news items, at the synod–at least not so far. The exception this week was the intervention made by Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea. His speech to the synod, by any standard, bordered on the extreme.  Religion News Service reported:

“. . . [I]n one particularly eye-opening speech to the assembly last week, a leading African cardinal blasted the ‘idolatry of Western freedom’ as equivalent to ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and compared both to ‘apocalyptic beasts.’

“Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, a top official in the Roman Curia, also said that divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage in the West, and Islamic fundamentalism in Africa and elsewhere, both had a ‘demonic origin’ that the synod had to combat.

” ‘What Nazi-fascism and communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,’ Sarah said.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah

I mean, how does one rationally respond to such statements?  I fear that even reporting it gives it a a modicum of respectability which it clearly doesn’t deserve.   His statement is an example of how homophobia distorts a person’s thinking.  Fortunately, I have not heard that anyone else in the synod has voiced agreement with him, so I doubt his words have had much influence.  Having spoken them, though, Sarah provided ammunition (and, yes, the weaponry metaphor is correct here) to other homophobic people to physically and psychologically harm LGBT people.  His statements are irresponsible and un-Christian.

The much bigger news this week, though, was the leaked letter to Pope Francis organized by Australia’s Cardinal George Pell, and signed by about eight bishops (hard to say for sure because the original number of signatories was 13 but now four have disavowed signing it).  The letter criticized the new process of the synod which Pope Francis has instituted.  While Pell said it was not meant to be a public letter, it somehow found its way to an Italian daily newspaper.  If you are interested, more information can be found by clicking here.

And then there was the mysterious apology offered by Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square this week.   Pope Francis began his talk by saying, “I would like to ask forgiveness in the name of the church for the scandals that have happened in this last period both in Rome and at the Vatican. I ask forgiveness.” The Vatican Press Office declined to identify or speculate about what the pope’s reference was to.   Click here for more information on this topic.

Many guesses were made about what Pope Francis meant.  My guess, and it is one that I have not seen elsewhere, is that Francis may have been apologizing for Sarah’s speech, which was made in the synod last week, and which were made public two days before Francis’ audience.

The biggest part of my reluctance in posting information about these stories sooner is that it is hard for me to gauge how important these items are to the rest of the world outside of Rome.  Since I live in Washington, D.C., I am very aware that what is big news “inside the Beltway” is not always big news to the rest of the world.  When both of these stories broke this week, they both had the feel of being  “inside St. Peter’s Square” stories, but after the searching the web, I realized that they were being circulated more broadly than I originally perceived.

IMG_2294
Cardinal Vincent Nichols

So I am learning a lesson here that is also germane to one of the main discussion topics of the synod.   At Wednesday’s press briefing, London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols was discussing the proposed idea of whether to allow bishops more local decision-making in pastoral outreach on issues related to marriage and family.  Nichols offered the following analogy of how a broader perspective can help correct myopic vision.  The following is from The National Catholic Reporter’story on the briefing.

“Nichols also praised the universality of the church in his remarks, saying that the local church has to ‘strive for is a kind of critical distance from its local setting, its particular culture.’

” ‘The church has to have a critical distance, a bit like an arc light,’ he said. ‘If there’s going to be some light, then the two elements have to be at a critical distance. The universality of the church holds the local church to a critical distance, otherwise it gets too close to the prevailing culture and the light disappears.'”

I totally agree.  But only if we also recognize that sometimes the universal Church can also learn something from the particular cultures in which it is embedded.  The checks and balances should go both ways.

Another part of the challenge of keeping up with everything is that there are so many channels of information dispersing news and documents, and it seems that new ones emerge every day.   For instance, while neither journalists nor the public have access to the synod hall to hear the discussions,  many bishops have made their presentations and other thoughts public in a variety of different ways.

Here are a few sources that I have found helpful. I offer these to those of you whose appetite for synod news just can’t seem to be sated.  Just click on the links below to get to the named source.

Vatican Sources

The Vatican Press Office is maintaining a blog about the synod, which includes links to press briefings’ summaries and interviews with bishops.  You can read it in any one of six languages, including English.

Vatican Radio publishes a report on the press briefings daily, as well as other stories about the synod.  Additionally, the video of the daily press briefings are available each day on the Vatican’s YouTube channel.

You can read the Vatican’s Daily Bulletin (available in five languages;  click “EN” in the upper right-hand corner of the Bulletin page for English), which contains links to all press releases of the particular day, some are synod-related and some are not.

Individual Bishops’ Sources

Washington, D.C’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl made his synod intervention available on his blog.

New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan also posted his synod intervention on his archdiocesan blog.

Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge is maintaining a blog about his synod experiences and reflections.

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich is offering video reflections about the synod on the archdiocese’s YouTube channel.

Crux posted a news story on various ways that bishops are using the web and social media to get their messages directly to people.

Other sources

I’ve found the following news sources to be invaluable in interpreting the sometimes Byzantine language of the Vatican:

National Catholic Reporter‘s Joshua McElwee and Father Thomas Reese, SJ are providing news, interviews, and analysis

Religion News Service‘s David Gibson and Rosie Scammell are offering succinct and incisive news coverage of the synod.

Crux‘s Michael O’Loughlin, John Allen, and Ines San Martin have been reporting news, analysis, and background information.

Salt and Light TV, a Canadian Catholic outfit, is offering expanded synod coverage on their website and also on their blog.

Grant GallichoCommonweal’s associate editor, has been providing illuminating commentary on the magazine’s blog. 

Dispatches, a blog of America magazine, has synod reports from Gerald O’Connell

Robert Mickens, a seasoned Vatican observer, offers synod commentary in his “Letter from Rome” column on Global Pulse magazine.

For a British take on the synod, check out the blog reports by Christopher Lamb on The Tablet’s website.

Terence Weldon’s posts at Queering The Church always offer intelligent commentary on Catholic LGBT issues, and his posts about the synod are no exception.

I’ve previously mentioned, and it’s definitely worth repeating, that FutureChurch’s Debra Rose-Milavec has been blogging at SynodWatch, providing great reports and commentaries. Though other travel obligations have caused to be absent from Rome this week, she will be returning by the time the third and final week of the synod opens on October 18th.

So, while being here does have some advantages in terms of covering the news of the synod, I have to acknowledge that even if you are not present here,  the Internet has provided many ways to keep in touch with information that is being made public.

Have you found other internet sources of information about the synod that you find useful?  If so, please share your sources with other Bondings 2.0 readers by providing the web addresses for the sites you found in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

London Cardinal Celebrates Mass with LGBT Catholics

LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official archdiocesan ministry for gender and sexual minorities in London, England.  Their ministry has flourished for over a decade, and recently they experienced a big step forward from their diocese.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, joined LGBT Catholics and their families for Mass last Sunday, at the Jesuit church of the Immaculate Conception, where the group meets on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month.  Cardinal Nichols has been a strong supporter of the group, even when faced with harsh criticism from local detractors.  This was the first time that he joined the group for Eucharistic liturgy.

The church was packed with congregants and the cardinal thanked the parish and the LGBT group for journeying together in this pastoral outreach.

He used the occasion to sermonize on the idea that God has no favorites and that mercy must be foremost in Catholics’ minds and hearts.  A summary of the homily provided by LGBT Catholics Westminster:

Affirming that in God’s mercy and love, all are acceptable and accepted, the Cardinal warned against those who would set God’s mercy and Commandments against each other. It is this understanding of mercy which is informing so much of Pope Francis’ ministry, and also the Synods’ processes. The Commandments  are not simply regulations imposed from on high, but indications of how God’s mercy can be received and embraced as we journey in the transformation to which we are called. The Cardinal emphasised that it is in the Eucharist that we become what we see: the Body of Christ.

You can read the text of the cardinal’s sermon by clicking here.

LGBT Catholics Westminster welcomed Cardinal Nichols, offering new musical pieces, including Live every day in my love, based on the day’s Gospel reading, and a new version of Psalm 97.

Nichols’ occurred near the anniversary of the group’s 1999 founding after “the homophobic-motivated bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub” in London’s Soho neighborhood, reports The Tablet. Nichols previously supported the Soho Masses, though asked them to integrate into the Jesuit-run Farm Street Church in 2013 as part of the Archdiocese of Westminster’s LGBT pastoral plan.

When the group moved to the new location, Cardinal Nichols paid a pastoral visit to welcome them to the parish.

Nichols was named to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis, in his first set of cardinal appointments at the beginning of 2014.

At the end of last year’s extraordinary synod, he told the press that he did not vote for the paragraphs addressing lesbian and gay topics because he felt that the important words of “welcome,” “respect,” and “value” were missing from them.

In the United States in the 1990’s, I recall two bishops presiding at Masses for the LGBT communities in their dioceses:  Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, NY, and Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Virginia.  Both events attracted overflowing crowds.

Why aren’t more U.S. bishops following these examples?  A little kindness can go a long way.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

U.K. Catholic LGBT Leaders Meet With Cardinal Turkson While on Pilgrimage

As we mentioned before, when New Ways Ministry was on pilgrimage in Italy last month, another group of LGBT Catholics were also there.  The second group was from the United Kingdom, hailing from London’s Farm Street Jesuit Church (Immaculate Conception parish), where the Diocese of Westminster houses their official outreach ministry to LGBT people, known as “LGBT Catholics Westminster.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson
Cardinal Peter Turkson

Two of the members of this U.K. group also had the opportunity to meet with Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and his, Fr. Michael Czerny S.J., Secretary of the same Council.  The British representatives asked for the meeting on behalf of the Catholic members of the European Forum of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Christian Groups.  A press statement summarized the meeting:

“The discussion on 21 February 2015 included an exchange of views about the global impact of criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Cardinal Turkson reaffirmed his opposition to the criminalisation of homosexuals for who they are, while also urging that neither people nor states be penalized for not embracing such behaviour.

“The Lineamenta for the 2015 Synod on Marriage and Family, with particular reference to its paragraphs (55 & 56) dealing with same-sex relationships, also came up, with the hope that the pastoral needs of LGBT Catholics, their parents and families, including those of children in same-sex families, would meet with informed discussion during next October’s Ordinary Synod of Bishops.”

New Ways Ministry pilgrims with LGBT Catholic pilgrim group from UK
New Ways Ministry pilgrims with LGBT Catholic pilgrim group from UK

The U.K. pilgrims met with New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims for Eucharistic liturgies at St. Albert’s International Carmelite Center and Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) Basilica.

The U.K group also held Evening Prayer in Rome’s ancient San Bartolomeo Church, now dedicated to the memory of modern martyrs. The moving liturgy remembered the lives of victims of homophobic and transphobic violence, as well as those who had given their lives in witness to LGBT concerns.

While attending the papal audience on Ash Wednesday, the U.K. pilgrimage group was the first of the English language groups announced

LGBT Catholics Westminster  Pilgrims in St. Peter's Square
LGBT Catholics Westminster Pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square

at the event, identified as a pilgrimage group from Immaculate Conception parish, London.

They also celebrated Mass at San Alfonso Church, the titular church of Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who heads London’s Diocese of Westminster.  Nichols also sent the pilgrims off with a special prayer and blessing:

You are at the threshold of Lent. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. What an excellent time to be on pilgrimage in Rome! You are at the thresholds of the Apostles. What an excellent place to be on pilgrimage at the beginning of Lent.
May Saints Peter and Paul, and indeed all the Apostles, be your constant teachers, guides and companions throughout your stay in Rome – and when you return. Their heroic witness to the life, death and resurrection of the Lord is an inspiring example for us all. May their prayers again turn your gaze to the merciful face of Jesus, who calls out to you in unfailing love. He will give you grace to be his faithful missionary disciples. May you bring others into the family of the Church, founded on the Apostles, teaching us how to follow the pathways of faithfulness to Jesus in all the different aspects of our lives.
In this way may your lives be a true witness to all who are striving to find God’s love. Only Jesus can truly bring us the joy and fulfilment for which we all yearn. Let us be close to him. Be assured of my prayers for each and every one of you.Please pray for me at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, and at all the holy places you visit.
Have a wonderful pilgrimage. God bless you all. 
+ Cardinal Vincent Nichols.”
The U.K. and U.S. pilgrimages also met for an evening of discussion and interchange with members of Nuova Proposta, a Christian LGBT organization in Rome.  They shared ideas and models of LGBT pastoral ministry with one another.
I can speak for New Ways Ministry when I say that the encounter and collaboration with the U.K. pilgrims made our journey to Rome so much the richer.  Meeting with Nuova Proposta, the Roman group, and Kairos, an LGBT Christian group in Florence, also provided us with deeper understanding of the joys and challenges that our peers encounter in Italy.
New Ways Ministry is also very happy and excited that the meeting with Cardinal Turkson occurred.   May the conversation with this Vatican official bear fruit in terms of greater justice for LGBT people around the world!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? U.K. Bishops Open Dialogue; U.S. Bishops Should Do the Same

“WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?” is  Bondings 2.0’s series on how Catholics–the hierarchy and laity–can prepare for the Synod on Marriage and Family that will take place at the Vatican in October 2015. If you would like to consider contributing a post to this series, please click here

The news of a slate of mostly conservative bishops being elected to represent the U.S. church at the synod on marriage and the family in Rome next October was disappointing.  However, across the Atlantic, news about the synod preparatory plans of the bishops of England and Wales are much more optimistic.

The Tablet reports that these British bishops are going to “launch a wide-ranging consultation of parishes and clergy ahead of next year’s Synod on the Family.”  The article reports:

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“Following their biannual plenary meeting in Leeds this week, the bishops would like a period of spiritual reflection in each parish and, separately, to hear the experiences of clergy on the main “pastoral challenges” they encounter with families.

“Speaking at a press conference on Friday Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that material would be sent out to parishes and clergy after Christmas. The period of reflection should go on until June or July of next year ahead of the synod in October 2015.

“ ‘It is not so much a request for opinions as a request for testimony,’ Cardinal Vincent Nichols said at the bishops’ conference offices in London.

“ ‘You will recall that the two great features of the synod in October was on the one hand for it to give a resounding trumpet call in support of marriage and stability of family life, and on the other hand express and strengthen the pastoral response of the Church in a wide variety of difficult and pressurised situations. We hope the material we prepare will find that same balance.’ ”

Nichols also made a point of saying that the results of such discussions should be made public.  When a synod organizer sent a questionnaire to bishops last year to disseminate to the laity, the Vatican asked that the results not be made public.

Such an open discussion is what is needed here in the United States, and it was exactly that kind of discussion that Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups that work for LGBT equality, asked of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) last week.  Coalition members–Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry–sent a letter to the conference last week in which they asked the bishops the following:

Equally Blessed Logo“To prepare for this upcoming event, we urge each of you to initiate a wide conversation with Catholics in your dioceses on marriage, sexuality, and family life, so that so that you can better understand how these realities are experienced by people of faith who actively work to discern how to follow God’s Will.  Since LGBT issues figured so prominently in this past October’s sessions, and since no openly LGBT person provided testimony at these events, it will be necessary to initiate those conversations with LGBT Catholics and their families, in particular. . . .

“Now is the time for bishops in the U.S. to replicate Pope Francis’ process on the local level by opening up a conversation on marriage, family, and sexuality. Many Catholics, especially LGBT people and their families, have waited decades for such an opportunity, and have been heartened by the fact that this year’s synod opened up this much needed discussion.”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo, writing for the Equally Blessed coalition, posted an essay on Advocate.com explaining the importance of such a dialogue:

“Since LGBT issues caused so much discussion and disagreement, it will be especially important for U.S. bishops to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. This synod showed that there were a majority of bishops who were willing to recognize that lesbian and gay people “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” in the words of an early draft report. Similarly, that same report noted that the “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” that same-sex partners offer one another “constitutes a precious support” in the couple’s life. It’s important for U.S. bishops to explore these ideas, and the best way of doing so is to listen intently to those closest to these issues. . . .

“The synod’s free and open discussion among bishops must be replicated in local churches. The Catholic laity are an educated and insightful resource. More importantly, they are the true experts on the topics of marriage, family, and sexual expression, since they are the people who live these realities every day, not the bishops. While Catholics develop their theology from scripture, tradition, and nature, they also develop it from examining the lived experience of people of faith. What leader of any organization would want to ignore the perspectives of the people who know an issue because they live it? . . .

“Last year a number of bishops complained that they could not gather input from laity because they only had two months to do so. Now they have 11 months, which is plenty of time to circulate surveys, hold listening sessions, meet with leaders, and post response forms on diocesan websites. When the bishops want to get a message out about opposing some legislative or judicial measure, they do not seem to lack in creativity in using all sorts of media to alert Catholics. Let’s see them use the same creativity to gather opinions on these matters.”

The U.S. bishops need to be encouraged to open such a dialogue, therefore we urge you to write to your local bishop and ask him for such a possibility.  Use some of the arguments and language from this blog post, the Equally Blessed letter, or the Advocate.com essay to make your point.  You can even start the dialogue yourself by sharing your personal story with your bishop so that he can see the faith lives of LGBT people and families, and also see the situations, positive and negative, that they encounter in their local churches.

#BishopsListen model sign. A blank form can be downloaded from the Equally Blessed website.

Equally Blessed is also promoting a Facebook  and Twitter campaign to encourage people to contact their local bishops.  Here’s how it works:

“Take a photo with a #BishopsListen sign to ask your local bishop to listen to families like yours. Then post your photo on facebook or twitter with the hashtag #bishopslisten, or email your photo to coordinator@equally-blessed.org.”

You can read more about the campaign by clicking here.

The U.S. bishops need to follow the example of the U.K. bishops.  But it is probably going to take the encouragement of the laity to get them to do so.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related posts

Queering the Church:  “For English Catholics, a ‘Request for Testimony’ ”

Bondings 2.0: “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Writing Letters to Our Bishops