“Amoris Laetitia” Is a Step in Process that Is Far From Over, Say Commentators

April 10, 2016
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Martin Pendergast

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 featured reactions to Pope Francis’ new exhortation on family, Amoris Laetitia. Below are more reactions related to Catholic LGBT issues. You can read New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

You can read LGBT-related excerpts from Amoris Laetitia by clicking here.

Martin Pendergast, a UK advocate for LGBT Catholics, said many people realized LGBT issues would not be central, reported The Tablet. But even in the “light treatment” this document affords such issues, there are positive developments:

“First of all, no condemnations, no quoting of language of ‘intrinsic disorder’, a nuance around the use of language like same-sex attraction, which some of us find offensive, an actual recognition of homosexual orientation, which is very significant in a document of this status.

“One of the key debates in the Church has been: is there such a thing as a different sexual orientation and paragraph 250 refers to people who manifest homosexual orientation. So it’s actually acknowledging that homosexual orientation exists: that’s very important.”

Pendergast said the text lacks the coherence of Evangelii Gaudium or Laudato Si, instead showing “evidence of interventions from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith” in the conservative messages that were included. He concluded:

“The question that many of us will have is: how are you going to apply those very important principles about conscience, internal forum, not judging people, not throwing stones at people?”

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Jonathan Capehart

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post said the pope’s treatment of homosexuality “hues pretty closely” to paragraphs in the 2014 Synod’s midterm report that were celebrated for their positive approach but inspired quite a backlash. Capehart wrote:

“Sadly missing is this sentence: ‘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’. . .

“By talking about the humanity of gay and lesbian Catholics, Pope Francis is openly recognizing them as children of God. After centuries of demonization, that’s a revolutionary act that can’t be undone.”

Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt, theologian and co-director of WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual), criticized the text as “a study in ambiguity that gives new evidence for the use of the term “jesuitical.” She continued:

“Alas, the hetero monogamous ideal remains in place while lip service is paid to the remote possibility of other options. Clearly the input of lay people at the two Synods amounted to little or nothing. All in all, this is a missed opportunity for Pope Francis to demonstrate that there is anything new under the Vatican sun.”

Ryan Sattler

Ryan Sattler

Ryan Sattler of the LEAD Ministry (an LGBT outreach) at St. Matthew Catholic Church, and a board member of New Ways Ministry, told the Baltimore Sun

“As much as we love Pope Francis — he has changed the tone of conversation on so many issues — when you have real, deep substance and doctrine in the church that continues to hurt and marginalize people, changing the tone doesn’t do the job.”

Ken Briggs, writing at the National Catholic Reporter, said the effectiveness of Amoris Laetitia was hindered because its authorship precluded the voices of lay Catholics, including LGBT people, from sharing their wisdom and challenges:

“Despite the many eloquent and enlightening portions of the pope’s message, it still emanates from a place which practices no family life that resembles that of the laity, and loses much credibility accordingly. . .the analysis and prescription contents of the document operate entirely within the sometimes shadowy framework of defined doctrine. allowing for no valid concept of family life outside the narrow definitions of Catholic moral teaching. It precludes the possibility that other models might reflect the Creator’s purposes in yet other ways.”

David Gibson

David Gibson

Beyond the document itself, David Gibson of Religion News Service set Amoris Laetitia within the ongoing process under Pope Francis from which the text emerged:

“But the larger reality conveyed by the document — and one that could unsettle Catholic traditionalists more than anything — is that the pope clearly wants the debates over church teachings and pastoral practices to continue and, perhaps, to continue to evolve. . .

“In other words, don’t look to Rome for the solution to every challenge, and don’t stop looking for ways to welcome anyone and everyone who feels alienated from the faith because their personal lives do not conform to the Catholic ideal. . .

“If that journey is part of the pilgrimage of faith, it is far from over. In fact, it may never be over.”

The journey to justice and equality for LGBT people in the Catholic Church is certainly not over. The reactions to and understandings of Amoris Laetitia and how it will impact the church are not over yet, either. Bondings 2.0 will, as always, keep our readers updated about the new document and its reception.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Archbishop Admits Church’s Mistake in Supporting Reparative Therapy

March 1, 2016
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Archbishop Charles Scicluna

Malta’s top bishop acknowledged church leaders were mistaken when they released a controversial position paper designed to oppose a bill which seeks to make reparative therapy outlawed in the island nation.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta said he “would not have simply released a position paper” about the reparative therapy bill knowing what he knows now.

The bill, entitled the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression Act, seeks a “ban on professional conversion therapy” and an “outright ban on conversion therapy on vulnerable persons,” such as minors and those with disabilities. Professionals, such as therapists and ministers, and nonprofessionals, too, would face fines and jail time for engaging in or advertising reparative therapy if the bill is approved.

The Maltese bishops’ position paper stated, among a number of claims to draw heavy criticism, that the bill would privilege homosexuality and linked homosexual orientation to pedophilia. LGBT advocates and government officials were quick to condemn the eight-page document.

Drachma LGBTI and Drachma Parents Group, Malta’s leading LGBTI Christian organizations, said this position paper was a missed opportunity to build bridges, reported The Independent. The groups said in a statement that “LGBTIQ people who are living this reality” should have been included among the experts commissioned for the paper, adding:

“It would have been appropriate for the Church to dialogue with us about this delicate subject, especially after the significant gesture done by the Church when a few months ago it requested a member of Drachma to form part of the panel that prepared the Position Paper on the Embryo Act and to give a talk about LGBTIQ matters to the College of Parish Priests.

“We expected the Church not to miss out on an opportunity to build bridges with the LGBTIQ community by stating clearly that it is against conversion therapy, even though there might be certain elements in the bill that may require further clarification.”

The groups said the church should seek forgiveness from those subjected to reparative therapy, and  it should acknowledge the intense damage done to such victims, including spiritual damages.

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he opposed “the fundamental concept that equates homosexuality to illness or pedophilia,” reported Gay Star News. Helena Dalli, the Minister of Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties and sponsor of the bill, agreed and said the church’s position paper is “based on false premises,” reported Malta Today.

Mark Josef Rapa of We Are, a youth LGBTQQI organization, said the church’s position paper was unexpected and added that the position shows church leaders still believe “one can be cured from homosexuality,” , according to The Independent

The Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) said, in a statement reported by the Times of Malta, the bill “simply seeks to ensure that all persons, whatever their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression are valued equally.” MGRM noted the “serious prejudice towards bisexual persons” in the position paper, which suggested that such persons have difficulties being monogamous.

Among the other problems with the church’s position paper is that it described the bill as suffering “from a most basic and manifest discrimination,” as it would ostensibly allow conversion therapy for heterosexual people who would seek to become gay or bisexual. The paper, composed by Maltese academics in theology and law, claimed the bill ignores “grey areas of complex sexual orientations” and would bar those who seek to “curb his or her homosexual inclinations” because of a desire to be celibate or support a mixed-gender marriage. It attempted, too, a subtle critique of Malta’s Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, which became law in 2014 and is considered the gold standard for transgender protections in Europe.

Facing such sustained criticism from so many quarters, Archbishop Scicluna’s interview is a noteworthy admission that the church should have handled the reparative therapy legislation differently. He clarified:

“Any conversion therapy which forces someone to go against their decisions or their life choices is just a no go – a no go – and I want this to be absolutely clear.”

Pressed on this position, Scicluna said if experts say such therapies are “totally harmful then we should avoid it.” He said further that, given how pastorally sensitive this legislation is, the approach should have been “less technical and more pastoral.” In retrospect, he said, the church should “not have simply released a position paper,” and he added:

“The experience has taught me it is not enough, when discussing a Bill, to contribute to the debate only with the help of experts. You also need to factor in the impact on people’s emotions and the perception the document may create.”

Scicluna took responsibility for the position paper, saying that while it comes from Malta’s church leadership, he approved its publication. The paper also claimed the bill would violate a consenting adult’s “right to receive treatment,” reported the Times of Malta. Asked whether the bishops’ panel of experts who prepared the position paper should have included “somebody from the gay community,” the archbishop replied:

“It would have helped immensely to include people from Drachma in the preparation of the position paper because they have contributed in other papers and their contribution has been precious. When I asked Professor [Emanuel] Agius [who formed part of the panel of experts], he said that was something we could have done and we should have done, as was the case with another position paper we presented recently.”

Scicluna’s willingness to admit the bishops’ position paper was mishandled and misguided in its approach, if not in its substance, was complemented by his renewed commitment to dialogue with LGB people:

“But I feel I have to build bridges with the gay community who felt our language was too technical, too cold and too distant. . .I want to reassure them that we are dead set against conversion therapy because we believe, as they do, as government does, that it goes against human dignity.

“We do not subscribe to beliefs that describe gay people as sick. . .These are labels that demean them. And certainly we are not going to associate gay people with paedophilia.”

Commenting on the Jubilee Year of Mercy inaugurated by Pope Francis, Scicluna admitted, too, that in the church’s history “our actions and language have not been inclusive” at times, and this year bears a “message of compassion and inclusivity” to drive the church’s efforts.

The archbishop reaffirmed a desire for dialogue and for collaborative work in his ministry, describing his leadership style as “highly collegial. He said he prefers to consult advisors and host discussions before making decisions. More importantly, as is evident regarding the bishops’ position paper on reparative therapy, Scicluna reviews his decision and feels free to revise ineffective or incorrect ones.

Scicluna remarked, too, about the Catholic Church’s role in public life because of his outspoken leadership style in Malta. He said while people appreciate a church engaged in society, it must be a church “that accepts it is a voice among many others” because the church exists in “a pluralistic society.” Church leaders cannot pretend to have the last word on issues about which they speak, he concluded. Democratic environments requires that we “be able to discuss things with respect and not take matters personally.”

This interview in the Times of Malta, worth reading in full, adds to Archbishop Scicluna’s improving record on LGBT issues. He clearly opposes marriage equality. Before Malta approved civil unions, he joined other church leaders in opposing the law. But he apologized at the same time to lesbian and gay people whose lives had been made harder by the church. And Scicluna has defended the love which can exist between same-gender partners, saying in one interview that “Love is never a sin. God is love.” He refused to sanction a Dominican priest who blessed the rings of an engaged same-gender couple, exhorting the priest in a meeting to continue outreach to LGB people but to do so respectful of the church’s rites as they are presently understood.

Scicluna’s mixed but generally positive record led the Malta Gay Rights Movement to honor him at the LGBTI Community Awards in 2014, though the then-auxiliary bishop declined because he does not receive awards or honors for simply “doing his duty as Bishop.” He took part in events for the International Day Against Homophobia that same year.

The archbishop’s latest remarks about the reparative therapy bill and episcopal leadership help his record on LGBT issues to become even more positive. Malta’s church leaders submitted a position paper to the government and to the public which is not much different from other bishops’ statements on homosexuality. For this, they received sustained and intense criticism from many voices in the highly Catholic country. What is key here is the the deep humility which undergirds the type of “Francis Bishop” that Scicluna seems to be exemplifying. He is willing to listen and learn, to acknowledge his mistakes, to seek reconciliation, and to exist more comfortably than most bishops within life’s complexities.

One last regret expressed by Archbishop Scicluna in the interview was that he had not yet structured pastoral visits into his leadership. On Fridays, in his words, “the bishop has to be where suffering is and I have not managed to do that.” He seems to know there is much suffering at the church’s own margins, as well as at society’s margins. I hope Archbishop Scicluna will spend more Fridays cultivating relationships and building bridges with LGBT people and their loved ones so that pastorally harmful mistakes like the bishops’ position paper on reparative therapy will not happen in the future.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Is the Catholic Church Actually Progressive on LGBT Issues?

February 20, 2016
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Jane Fae

Is the Catholic Church actually progressive on LGBT issues, despite news headlines to the contrary? Yes and no, says Jane Fae,  a U.K. journalist who is a Catholic transgender woman. In a recent essay for Gay Star News, Fae asserts that what matters most is complexity and context of the issues involved.

Because of the complexity, Fae cautioned against LGBT advocates celebrating “bad news” about the Church, such as the contentious debates that took place at the Synod on the Family in October 2015.

Fae said secular LGBT advocates should not rejoice when it seems that the Church is splitting apart.  She wrote:

“The problem. . .is this particular piece of ‘bad news’ [about the Synod on the Family] is equally bad news for the millions of LGBTI people who do not live in broadly progressive countries.”

Why do LGBTI people suffer when the Catholic Church is troubled? Fae suggested any church critique must extend “beyond simple dislike” and include proper understandings of church history and ecclesial politics. Last fall’s Synod on the Family changed little, but those hoping for reforms should have been more realistic about the global church to begin with:

“The demographics of the present church show some 1.3 billion followers with the fastest growing segment in sub-Saharan Africa, an area not exactly known for its celebration of LGBTI values. . .

“Because of its size, the Catholic Church straddles the world, including millions of people whose views on LGBTI rights range from ultra-regressive to highly progressive. Inevitably, it ends up taking a middle of the road position which, equally inevitably, looks very backward from our perspective.”

Fae cautioned against a binary in which the West is progressive and others are “some dark opposite,” describing such thinking as “wrong” and “racist.” Instead, Catholics should consider both how the church fails on LGBT issues and how it leads, depending on the context discussed. She wrote:

“In those areas that are most antipathetic towards LGBTI rights, [the Catholic Church] is frequently a force for progress. Sometimes the main one, sometimes the only one.”

Fae contends that Catholics, including clergy, forcefully defend LGBTI human rights in some pats of Africa and Eastern Europe. She also noted the efforts by LGBT Catholics in London to aid LGBTQI asylum seekers. This is why a divided and troubled Catholic Church is no benefit to the cause of LGBT justice, as Fae explained:

“The church is not going to disappear. And while a split church might be helpful to campaigners in some parts of the world, it would be disastrous for those campaigning elsewhere, in areas where oppression is greatest, and where clergy protect minorities from persecution.”

As for the Synod on the Family, Fae does not consider it a loss. Pope Francis was deftly able to “balance a desire for a far more inclusive church with the need to avoid it splitting up.” For progressive Catholics who want same-gender weddings celebrated sacramentally, it was clearly not a victory. But the synod was a forward step because it avoided schism or disunity, hinted at by certain traditionalist members, while succeeding at shifting language. And to those suggesting shifts in language are not sufficient, Fae finds historical parallels in Vatican II. She wrote:

“Without defining a single new doctrine, just using a new positive vocabulary of spiritual kinship, the council significantly reshaped the church. . .That is the trick that Pope Francis was attempting to repeat.

“He has had few victories so far but the language is shifting. And, if what has gone before is any indicator of what is to follow, where language leads, hearts will eventually follow.”

Living in the Northeast U.S. where LGBT legal rights and cultural acceptance are basically normative, it can be easy for me to forget the harsh realities still faced by millions in our world. Jane Fae’s piece is a reminder that everything is grayer than we might prefer, that context matters significantly, and that change in the church is incremental and happening, even if the pace is painfully slow. You can read her column in full by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Examining Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to Mexico Through a Pro-LGBT Lens

February 19, 2016
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Pope Francis with crowds in Mexico

Preceding Pope Francis’ visit to the Mexico-U.S. border on Wednesday, an outlet called Borderzine published an article in which they interviewed gay Catholics living near the border about their excitement in getting to see the pontiff in their region.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz, a former priest and gay Catholic, said of the pontiff:

” ‘I love that he is coming here. . .[He] represents Catholicism, but in all of its diversity. . .He doesn’t condemn people just for being gay, so that certainly makes me feel like at least he is thinking about us. He is not just dismissing gay people and I think that says a lot.’ “

Gilbert Lopez, a Catholic student at the University of Texas, El Paso, said Pope Francis’ compassionate words, especially his famous “Who am I to judge?” remark, helped him come out as gay. He told Borderzine:

” ‘When I was not accepting of my sexuality, when I would come in contact with homosexuals, it was either you’re religious or you’re not. . .A lot of homosexuals get discouraged and it is really sad how they turn against God and against religion because of how rough people can act.”

Lopez expressed hope that with Pope Francis’ attitude of “Who am I to judge?”, the Catholic Church will expand its acceptance of LGBT people. And he reiterated his excitement about the border visit, stating he would attend “as a Latino, as a Catholic and as a gay man” and the experience will “bring all of these me’s together.”

Given Pope Francis’ recent and repeated condemnations of marriage equality, as in his meeting with Russian Patriarch Kirill or while addressing the Roman Rota in January, why do some LGBT Catholics and their allies remain excited by or hopeful about this pope? I believe the answer, at least partially, is evident in examples from his apostolic visit to Mexico.

1. Pope Francis is demanding better bishops. He comprehends that, in a world where many are skeptical of religious institutions, only authentically pastoral leadership that prioritizes mercy will suffice. Addressing Mexico’s bishops, the pope said the present moment “requires pastoral attention to persons and groups who hope to encounter the living Jesus.” He added, “Only a Church able to shelter the faces of men and women who knock on her doors will be able to speak to them of God. If we do not know how to decipher their sufferings, if we do not come to understand their needs, then we can offer them nothing.” In LGBT communities and among their loved ones and friends, many seek God but are stymied by the church’s ministers and structures. Because for decades they failed to listen or show a spirit of encounter, many in the hierarchy are woefully inept at expressing compassion for LGBT people’s sufferings or knowing their needs. This problem leaves the church incapable of receiving LGBT people’s gifts in their fullness. Pope Francis’ bishop appointments are helping renew the church’s leadership and so too are his exhortations to his brother bishops.

2. Pope Francis sees family in a wider context. He clearly disapproves of same-gender marriage and says so, but Pope Francis diverges from other church leaders by refusing to focus on this opposition when discussing family. Addressing families at a stadium in Tuxtla-Gutierrez,  he said the family was “on different fronts. . .weakened and questioned” and again referenced ideological colonization in ambiguous terms. But Pope Francis did not include marriage equality as a threat, instead highlighting contemporary tendencies towards fear of love, social isolationism, and an obsession with wealth as three major detriments to family life. Before his speech, a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic couple and a single mother spoke to the crowd. Their remarks were then referenced positively by the pope. Pope Francis and I may not agree on precisely what constitutes family or what threatens marriage, but we do agree on the importance of family and the church’s mandate to provide pastoral care for all families. I believe that is the essential common ground from which new conversations about family life, already underway in the synodal process, can really flourish.

3. Pope Francis opposes the violence of exclusion. He acknowledges what Protestant theologian Miroslav Volf calls the “violence of exclusion.” Addressing workers, he rejected modern economies which exclude people and promote a throwaway culture. He said, “We all have to struggle to make sure that work is a humanizing moment which looks to the future; that it is a space for building up society and each person’s participation in it. . . [to] transform society into a culture capable of promoting a dignified space for everyone.” More than 60 church workers since 2008 have been “thrown away” by the church, having their jobs because of LGBT issues. These injustices deprive them of work which is humanizing and deprive the church of these workers’ transformative labor. Pope Francis may not yet fully comprehend the ways in which the church itself harms people, but it would not be a stretch to flip his concern for exclusion by the church back onto the church. Indeed, the thousands of Catholics who oppose church worker injustices testify to this.

4. Pope Francis rejects parameters on God’s love. LGBT Catholics and their loved ones have too frequently experienced fellow Catholics explaining God’s love in ways that are restrictive. Denying sacraments to people or refusing to recognize the existence of divine love in one’s relationship or the holiness of one’s identity are all ways parameters are falsely imposed on God’s love. Pope Francis rejects this attitude forcefully. Addressing prisoners, the pope again said God’s love is expansive, ever present, and exists for all people, saying:

“United to you and with you today, I want to reiterate once more the confidence that Jesus urges us to have: the mercy that embraces everyone and is found in every corner of the world. There is no place beyond the reach of [God’s] mercy, no space or person it cannot touch.

During his many apostolic trips since 2013, Pope Francis routinely prioritized visits to places and with communities which exist on the world’s margins, such as Ciudad Juárez and U.S.-Mexico border. By his own admission, the pope seeks to bring God’s love and the world’s attention to these places. He does not yet pay enough attention to those existing at the church’s margins, such as LGBT people, but by leading the church to be a “poor church for the poor,” he is creating space for Catholics to go to the margins of our church and to then center the experiences of those marginalized. That is where we come in and why I share in the hopes of Lopez and Sáenz described at the beginning of this post.

For those concerned with building up a just and inclusive Catholic Church, there are reasons to hope in the era of Pope Francis. There remain deep problems, too, found in unhealed wounds and newly imposed sufferings. But each time Pope Francis travels and I follow his visits, watching videos and reading texts, I find myself uplifted. He is not the pope who will suddenly perform a same-gender wedding ceremony on the high altar of St. Peter’s. He will not be ordaining a woman. But he is the pope saying, “Go out into the world and minister in the reality of life!” And once that happens, the fact is the church, led by the Spirit, cannot be unchanged by encountering the beauty of God’s people in all our diversity.

Church renewal is always acknowledged after it already has happened.  For instance, the recent approval of washing female feet on Holy Thursday reflected a changet that was already a living reality for many Catholics. Right now, the church is changing even if we cannot see it or church leaders refuse to acknowledge the transformation. Now, more than ever, is the time for us to step into this freer space created by Pope Francis and carry out our work for justice in the church. As a group of migrant women, who walked 100 miles to see the pope, chanted: “Francisco, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” Yes, Pope Francis, listen. We are in the fight indeed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



LGBT Advocates to Cameroon’s Bishops: Retract Demand of “Zero Tolerance” for Homosexuality

February 16, 2016
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Members of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon

LGBT advocates are seeking Pope Francis’ intervention as they plead with Cameroon’s Catholic bishops to retract a harsh anti-gay statement released last month .

Following a mid-January meeting, the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC) released a statement advocating “zero tolerance” of homosexuality. The statement, unanimously approved, also stated that “this abominable thing that goes against nature risks becoming a social outbreak,” reported 76 Crimes, a blogsite which chronicles global developments in LGBT discrimination criminalization.

During the Conference’s discussion of homosexuality, individual bishops lodged their personal condemnations. NECC’s President, Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, commented that homosexuality “threatens. . .the church’s foundations.” Cameroon, where 38% of the population is Catholic, criminalizes homosexuality with jail terms up to five years and steep financial penalties. The country’s bishops have a deeply troubling record on homosexuality, which you can read here, leading the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups to call it as one of Africa’s “most hostile countries” for LGBT people.

Given that this legal reality is coupled with deep social stigma, the LGBTI human rights group “Alternatives Cameroon” is appealing for mercy from the country’s bishops. In a press release reported by 76 Crimes, the organization stated:

“The Catholic Church failed to demonstrate how an individual’s sexuality could influence social cohesion and equilibrium or the sustainability of the family. To the contrary, we believe an individual’s sexual fulfillment can’t help but contribute to cohesion, stability and sustainability.

“With this hypocritical and hateful language condemning homosexuality, the Catholic Church (which accounts for about 37 percent of the Christian population) is contributing yet again to the destabilization of society and the family and their cohesion.”

The statement also said that Catholic leaders seek to divide Cameroonians by the “institutionalization of hatred,” contradicting Pope Francis’ “more conciliatory approach.” Alternatives Cameroon’s statement concluded with two appeals:

“We call on the Catholic Church to fulfill its primary mission to promote peace, love and tolerance and finally to be at the sides of the oppressed and those left behind.

“Finally, we call on Pope Francis (the head of the Catholic Church) to get control of the Cameroonian prelates, including the bishops of the National Episcopal Conference, and to harmonize the discourse of the Church.”

When Pope Francis made his pastoral visit to Africa last fall, Catholics and LGBT advocates worldwide called on him to condemn laws which criminalize homosexuality and to appeal for mercy on behalf of sexual and gender minorities. Francis remained silent. While there is no direct link to the pope, it is easy to see how Cameroon’s bishops feel permitted to make such statements when the pope refuses to condemn anti-LGBT laws.

Importantly, though, the bishops’ call for “zero tolerance” defies even the hierarchy’s own teachings about homosexuality which call for all people to be welcomed with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and for all signs of discrimination to be opposed. Pope Francis seeks a more decentralized church  which respects local decision-making, and this can be good. But when people will suffer greatly and even die because of church leaders’ actions, there exists a case of justifiable intervention by a higher authority, according to the principle of subsidiarity. Pope Francis remained silent last fall, but it is not too late for him to speak out and end episcopal prejudice so openly displayed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Lay Catholics in Italy Split on Civil Unions Question

January 31, 2016
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Outside the Pantheon in Rome, equality supporters, including Catholics, call for civil unions to be legalized.

YesterdayBondings 2.0 explored how Pope Francis and the Italian hierarchy have engaged that nation’s present debate about civil unions for same-sex couples. One theologian’s analysis was that, for Pope Francis, this was an issue best left to the laity. Today’s post explores just how the laity have been involved and what their involvements could mean.

Italian Catholics on both sides of the civil unions question have participated in major demonstrations. Nearly a million LGBT supporters rallied on January 23 in public squares across Italy, bringing clocks with them to call on legislators to “wake up” about the necessity of recognizing same-gender partners in law. Rome’s Gay Center spokesperson Fabrizio Marrazzo said the 100+ demonstrations signal Italy’s “crisis point. . .about civil rights,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Among those experiencing this crisis is Andrea Rubera, a married gay Catholic in Rome, whose story, told in The New York Times ,reveals the urgent necessity of legal protections. Rubera married his partner, Dario De Gregorio, in Canada, and they became parents to three children. The Times article explained:

“But when they returned to their native Italy, a transformation occurred. Mr. Rubera suddenly became a single man, and his legally recognized husband in Canada became his single male roommate in Italy. Italian law also divided custody of their children.”

Of this, Rubera commented:

” ‘There are major injustices coming from this, all toward the kids. . .We are dreaming to be recognized as we are — as a family.’ “

Despite this reality, support for civil unions is declining, if the polls are accurate. Latest numbers have support below 50% whereas it peaked at 67% or higher last May, a decline tied to a clause supporting stepchild adoption for same-gender couples, according to some pundits. Attempting to assuage critics, the civil unions bill was watered down, reported Crux, when sponsors added “language clearly distinguishing the relationships from marriage” and other amendments.

Yesterday, groups and individuals against civil unions took part in “Family Day” protests, which received support from some church leaders, including Italian Episcopal Conference President, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. According to Crux’s John Allen, lay support for conservative church leaders is one reason that the Catholic Church “still has significant social capital and packs a political punch” in Italy. He wrote:

“That doesn’t mean the Italian Church wins all the time; famously, it lost referenda in 1974 over divorce and in 1981 over abortion, and prevailed in 2005 over stem cell research only by persuading Italians not to vote in order to invalidate the ballot.

“Yet Mass-going Catholics remain a sizable chunk of the national population and are well represented in both major political parties, and their sentiments have to be at least considered.”

Yet, simply citing that Catholics are politically involved is not sufficient evidence that LGBT rights will fail. It may actually be evidence for the contrary, as Out Magazine noted:

“At one time, the power of the conservative Roman Catholic Church seemed an almost insurmountable obstacle to the progress of LGBT rights. In 2003, Belgium became the first Catholic-majority country to adopt marriage equality, soon to be followed by Canada, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, France, and, most recently—and in a popular referendum—Ireland, revealing a trend that shatters such a pessimistic illusion. In fact, countries with a Catholic majority make up nearly half of those with marriage equality, and Catholics are overwhelmingly inclined to support same-sex marriages, or at least civil unions. So long as the false narrative of mainstream Catholicism’s lack of acceptance prevailed, LGBT progress for Italy looked bleak. Now, the country of 60 million looks poised to legalize same-sex civil unions. “

Ireland’s referendum and the marriage victories in many historically Catholic countries and states, aided in most cases by lay Catholics’ fervent efforts for equality, are true. But this is Italy, where the church’s political hold remains stronger due to the Vatican’s influence. With lay Catholics active both for and against civil unions, with Pope Francis advancing a more nuanced response, and with Italy’s bishops not united in strong opposition, it seems unclear just what influence Italian Catholics will have on Tuesday’s expected vote.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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