Archbishop Discusses African Bishops’ Silence on Criminalization of LGBT People

October 9, 2015

This post is the fourth in 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.

Yesterday was my fourth day at an afternoon press briefing for the synod.  Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s main spokesperson briefs the attendees, mostly representatives from the international press, and then turns the microphone over to two or three synod delegates to make brief statements of their perspectives on what has transpired, and to answer questions.


Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle

One of the guests today was Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle, the head of the Accra Archdiocese, capital city of Ghana, in Africa.  Since criminalization of lesbian and gay people is such an important issue in some African nations, I put the following question to Archbishop Palmer-Buckle:

“Many African bishops have spoken vocally against marriage for lesbian and gay couples. Many fewer have spoken as vocally against criminalization laws against gay and lesbian people, though many Catholic leaders see this type of criminalization as a violation of Church teaching on human rights and also as destructive of family relationships. Do you think that the African bishops, or indeed any bishops, would support a statement from the synod condemning the criminalization of lesbian and gay people?”

Palmer-Buckle’s answer:*

“I can tell you that when the Holy Father, the pope, on his plane ride back from Rio de Janeiro, said ‘Who am I to condemn [judge]?, it had huge repercussions in our country. But some governments in Europe said we would not get their money without supporting marriage.  I agree with the Holy Father – that people who are different from us are sons and daughters of God and we have to welcome them and be able to open the doors of the church to them.  In Ghana we do this.  Yes, they are human and they have human rights, and their human rights and dignity should be respected and upheld.”

“We found it sad that some government could violate our sovereignty.  We know that all are sons and daughters of God and have dignity.  We are doing what we can.  It takes time for individual voices like that to be heard, when you are dealing especially with something that is culturally difficult for people to understand. They [Africans] have lived with it for millennia. Attitudes in Africa towards people who are different has been something that has been there for so long. It would be a bit deceptive to think overnight individuals will change their opinion–overnight documents would be written in favor and the rest of it.  I’d say give the countries time to deal with issues from our own cultural perspectives. And I’d like you to know that we must underline that the rights of all the sons and daughters as children of God are to be upheld by the church everywhere.  And we are trying.  “I don’t want to say we have reached there. No, no, no — perfection is not yet something that we have obtained but we are working towards it. Be patient with Africa.  We are growing.”

You can watch the video of this exchange on the following video, posted by the Vatican on their YouTube channel:

I appreciated Palmer-Buckle’s honesty.  He did not try to justify the stance of some African bishops who have remained silent about criminalization, or even sometimes tacitly and overtly supported it.  He acknowledged that accepting homosexuality is a difficult cultural problem that must be overcome.  He was also adamant that the Church should support the human dignity of gay and lesbian people, mentioning it at least twice in his response.  By saying “we are growing,” he acknowledged that the cultural homophobia which may be normative is not the ideal Christian situation for bishops.

He also seemed to be apologizing for the response of the bishops, saying that they were offended by the idea that aid to their countries would be tied to support for marriage equality.  It must be pointed out, though, that supporting marriage equality and condemning criminalization of lesbian and gay people are two separate issues.  According to church teaching, it would be extremely difficult for a bishop to support marriage equality, but, also by Catholic teaching, it would also be extremely easy for a bishop to oppose criminalization and the denial of human rights to lesbian and gay people.

While I understand his perspective that homophobia takes time to heal, especially culturally, we must also remember that lives hang in the balance when homophobia mushrooms into criminalization and institutionalized violence.  Overcoming one’s personal homophobia may take time, but we also have to remember that when homophobia becomes legalized, that people suffer greatly from this.  While I understand his call for patience,  I hope that he and others realize that the longer it takes to eradicate homophobia, the more LGBT people will suffer and pay the price with their lives.

That is why a synod statement opposing criminalization is so important.  The African bishops have shown that they are blinded by their cultural and personal homophobia, and they need to be led by their brother bishops to enact justice by speaking out against criminalization. Justice demands it and lives cannot wait.

Palmer-Buckle did not answer the question about whether the synod would issue a statement about criminalization. Perhaps it is too early in the process for him to be able to say anything with certainty about the matter.  Yet, the synod has been urged to make such a statement earlier this year by the then-fledgling Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC).  You can read about their recommendations by clicking here.

In their analysis of the Intstrumentum Laboris, the working document of the synod, the GNRC stated:

“The inclusion of the unfounded statement that international organisations are pressurising poorer countries to introduce same-sex marriage as a condition of receiving financial aid Para. 132) is scandalously dishonest. Far better for the Church to show its commitment to social justice through the condemnation of global criminalisation of LGBT people, including torture and the death penalty.”

The GNRC offered language to the synod for them to make such a statement about criminalizaiton:

“At a global level, people with variant sexual orientation are unjustly criminalised, tortured, subjected to death penalties, and those offering pastoral and practical care in such circumstances are also often penalised. This Synod of Bishops unequivocally condemns such injustices perpetrated on people and firmly opposes such patterns of criminalisation. It urges governments and civil society to respect the human rights of each person regardless of their sexual orientation.”

A statement condemning criminalization seems like the theologically easiest thing for the synod of bishops to do in regard to pastoral care for LGBT people.  Let’s hope and pray that the more open and honest attitude towards this situation exhibited by Archbishop Palmer-Buckle today will influence bishops who are more opposed to such a development.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

*Many thanks to Deborah Rose-Milavec, executive director of FutureChurch, a Catholic reform organization, who is also present in Rome, for transcribing the bishop’s answer for me so that I could listen attentively and courteously to his response. Deb is blogging about the synod on her blog, SynodWatch.  Her reports are excellent, and can be accessed by clicking here

Related articles:

Religion News Service:  “African archbishop: We’re not blocking progress in the church”

National Catholic Reporter: “Ghanaian archbishop: Africans not ‘blocking’ discussions at synod”

SynodWatch: “Heartbreaking stories, an Archbishop admits growing pains and the sweet sound of women deacons

Synod Day Two’s Question: Who Is Inside and Who Is Outside the Church?

October 7, 2015

This post is the second in 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. His first post can be reached by clicking here

Here in Rome, the synod is basically a closed event.  No reporters or the general public are allowed into the meeting room where the bishops are having their discussions.  But every day at 1:00 p.m., the Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, is joined by international staff (including English speaker Father Thomas Rosica, CSB) and a few of the synod participants, to explain what transpired since the day before.

At Tuesday’s briefing,  Lombardi told the assembled reporters that since Monday, 72 bishops had made short addresses to the synod, covering a wide range of topics concerning the family:  economic problems, unemployment, migration, violence against women, care for the elderly, child labor, and others.  The list seemed intended to illustrate a fact that was reiterated several times at the briefing:  the synod would not just be about divorced and remarried Catholics.

Pope Francis presides over the synod.

Lombardi emphasized that Pope Francis had warned the bishops that this would not be a single-issue meeting, just as he stressed that Catholic doctrine on marriage “has not been called into question.  The doctrine is still valid.”

Rosica reported that among the topics covered by the 72 bishops who spoke was a concern about lesbian and gay people.   He said that one message expressed was:  “We do not pity gay persons.  They are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and colleagues.”  He reported that another message expressed about gay and lesbian people was: “These are our children, our family members, our flesh and blood, not outsiders.”

Those messages of affirmation are part of the good news of today.

More worrisome were the remarks by Archbishop ‎Paul-André Durocher, the president of the Canadian bishops’ conference.  Durocher is known as being one of the more pastoral bishops at the synod, and, at first glance his remarks seemed to be balanced.

He explained that many of the bishops see a “growing division between cultural life and and what the church teaches.”  This division can elicit two different reactions, he said.  One way is emphasize what teaching is, so as to make sure that it is not diluted.   The other way is for the church to move away from secular culture, and thus become a ghetto.

Durocher said that  the challenge for the bishops in the synod was “how to hold onto the church teaching and enter into dialogue” with other ideas. Some bishops, he said, will emphasize the teaching and some will emphasize the dialogue.  He described the synod as a “collegial exercise to hold both sides together.”

The problem that I see with this kind of thinking, though, is two-fold.  First, if church leaders want to enter into dialogue, they must do so open to the possibility that their position might change.  Without that openness, they are not really having a dialogue.  They will only be having two separate monologues.  Repeated warnings leading up to the synod have all stressed that there will be no change in doctrine.  If that mantra is serious and not just a message to console conservatives,  then it means that the church leaders really do not want to dialogue with those who hold different opinions from the magisterium.

The second problem is that Durocher imagines that there are only two sides to these discussions: inside the church and outside the church.  He imagines the debate as being essentially between the sacred and the secular,  ecclesia vs. culture.  That simple division is not accurate.

In fact, the most serious debate is not between those inside the church vs. those outside the church, but between those inside the church who want to see changes in certain areas concerning families and those inside the church who want to keep things as they are or even move backward to earlier positions.

It is a serious mistake, one made far too often by church leaders, to see progressives inside the church as being too greatly shaped by secular culture.  If bishops would meet with progressives, they would learn that this group wants change because they have been influenced by the Gospel and the Catholic tradition.  As we say about those Catholics who support LGBT issues, they do so because they are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic.  They have taken the best principles of Catholic social teaching–equality, human dignity, respect–as well as the best ideas about the goodness of loving relationships for human personal and spiritual growth, and have applied them to the various situations in which LGBT people find themselves.

Although I am most familiar with the LGBT community, I know from talking with others who advocate for the divorced/remarried Catholics and for the equality of women, that the same foundation in Church principles exist.  Faithful Catholic theologians have long argued that the tradition of Catholicism supports changes in the areas of LGBT concerns, divorced/remarried issues, and gender equality.  To imagine that it is only secular cultural forces that want to see these changes is a dangerous mistake which does not recognize how the Spirit of God is moving in the Church.

Among other bits of good news from today, Rosica also mentioned that the problem of terminology also was discussed as a major theme. One bishop said “there must be an end to exclusionary language and a strong emphasis of embracing reality as it is.” A different bishop noted that sometimes “our church can often be a dangerous place,” and suggested the synod explore the question: “How do we make our homes and ecclesial communities welcoming places?”  Though no one referred to LGBT issues, I can’t help but think that this was on the minds of some of the speakers.  Rosica stated: “Some of the interventions suggested we should be more inclusionary in our language, especially in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.” He stressed that some bishops said “The language of inclusion must be our language.”

A reporter asked Durocher about the question of the Church’s prohibition of divorce, inquiring if it was a matter of doctrine or discipline.  The importance of such a question is due to the fact that there have been so many statements that doctrine will not change.  But can a church discipline change?

Durocher’s answer was: “To be quite honest, there might be differences of opinion” on that question, and it “will be debated.  We will discuss it seriously.”   Though the question was asked in terms of the situation of divorced people, it can also be applied to LGBT issues such as the reception of communion, the baptism of children of lesbian and gay couples, allowing transgender people to serve as godparents, and the firing of married lesbian and gay church employees–all of which are matters of discipline, but not doctrine.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “Vatican: Pope reminded Synod that divorced and remarried not only issue”

On Synod’s First Day, Differing Opinions on What Can Be Expected

October 6, 2015

As I mentioned last week, I’m in Rome for the first part of October to observe the proceedings of the Vatican’s synod on marriage and family topics.  Of course, lingering over the proceedings are the strong echoes from last week’s incredible set of news stories:  that someone arranged for Kim Davis to meet Pope Francis in Washington, DC; that Pope Francis himself arranged to meet with a former student who is a gay man with a partner, who also met the pontiff; the announcement for a priest at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he is gay. As news develops at that meeting.


Archbishop Bruno Forte, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, and Cardinal Peter Erdo at the midday press briefing for the synod’s first day.

As the synod progresses, I’ll be posting here both from news articles, as well as some of my personal impressions. Today, the first day of the synod, there was not much news on any particular topic, especially LGBT concerns. Cardinal Péter Erdő, of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, who is the synod’s general relator, commented on lesbian and gay issues, though not with much significance or specificity.    The National Catholic Reporter noted his comment:

“The cardinal also spoke of the church’s ministry to gay and lesbian persons, addressing the topic of persons with ‘homosexual tendencies.’

” ‘It is reiterated that every persons should be respected in their dignity, independent of their sexual tendency,’ he said. ‘It is desirable that pastoral programs might set aside a particular attention to the families in which persons with homosexual tendencies live.’ “

At the midday press conference, the comments from three bishops, including Erdo, were similarly non-committal. Perhaps the most significant line of the day came from Paris’ Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, a synod president, who said that if people are expecting “a spectacular change in the Church’s doctrine you will be disappointed.”

This sentiment was echoed by Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte, the synod secretary, who said of the meeting:

“It will not lead to doctrinal changes, because it is about pastoral attention, pastoral care. We are about resonating pastorally.”

The cautionary tone of these prelates differed greatly from the more open tone that Pope Francis expressed in opening the first session of the synod.  The National Catholic Reporter noted:

“Pope Francis has called on the hundreds of prelates gathered for his second worldwide meeting of Catholic bishops on family issues to remain open in their deliberations to the call of the Holy Spirit, repeating his frequent assertion that God is a God of surprises. . . .

” ‘It is the Church that questions itself on its fidelity to the deposit of the faith, so that it does not represent a museum to be looked at or only to be safeguarded, but a living spring from which the church drinks to quench thirst and illuminate the deposit of life,’ the pontiff said of the Synod.

” ‘The Synod is also a protected space where the Church goes through the action of the Holy Spirit,’ said Francis.

” ‘In the Synod, the Spirit speaks through the language of all people who allow themselves to be guided by God who always surprises, by God who reveals to the little ones that which he has hidden from the wise and intelligent,’ he said.”

Of course, since the Spirit speaks though “all people,” LGBT people should have been invited to speak at the synod. As well as a lot more women.  Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland and the mother of a gay son, said at a Catholic LGBT conference in Rome this weekend (more on this event in another post) that she thought that the composition of the family synod as all unmarried men was “absurd” because not one of its voting members ever had to change a baby’s diaper.

On Sunday, at the Mass opening the synod, Pope Francis, commenting on the day’s liturgical readings, re-affirmed the magisterium’s selection of the heterosexual norm for marriage.  The Huffington Post reported:

Francis dedicated one third of his homily to the topic of love between man and woman and its role in procreation.

” ‘This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self,’ he said.

“He also spoke of the ‘true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan,’ a clear reference to heterosexual marriage.

“But Francis also stressed that the Church must be more welcoming, charitable, compassionate and merciful to all people, particularly those whose lives have been wounded and who those find it difficult to adhere to all of the Church’s regulations.

“The leader of the 1.2 billion member Church said the person ‘who falls or errs must be understood and loved.’

” ‘The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock,’ he said.”

While I do hope that the Church will at some point make doctrinal change, I think that any positive steps in pastoral care would also be a good next step.  Doctrine does not change over night.  The first step is dialogue, and Pope Francis has been encouraging that at this synod and through his other messages.  Dialogue can bring about change in pastoral practice, which is a very important step.  Following pastoral practice is the step of theological reflection on that practice, noting what the Church has experienced and learned.  Only after theological reflection will a change in doctrine occur.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry







More Details Emerge About Gay Priest Dismissed from Vatican After Coming Out

October 5, 2015

Monsignor Krzystof Charamsa

A few more details and commentaries have emerged about the gay priest serving at the Vatican priest who came out this past weekend

Monsignor Krzystof Charamsa announced he was gay and partnered last week just days before the Synod of Bishops kicked off in Rome, reported Crux.  The news report quoted another news story in the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, in which the priest provided some background for his decision:

“[He] was motivated to make his sexual orientation public by hate mail that he received after publicly criticizing a right-wing Polish priest who is strongly anti-gay in the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny.

The 43-year old priest said he hoped to be “a Christian voice” influencing the Synod on Marriage and Family [which began yesterday] as it discusses LGBT pastoral care among other topics related to family life.

Charamsa, a theologian for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, assistant to the International Theological Commission, and professor at several pontifical universities in Rome, initially came out in interviews published in Italy and Poland. Crux quoted his message to the LGBT community in his coming out announcement


” ‘Do not apologize for what you are,’ he said in comments meant for the LGBT community, ‘because you’re full members of the community, and in the case of the baptized, of the Church. [You’re part of a] civilized community, and the Church doesn’t have the moral right to deny your right to love and get married.’ “

The priest, who has not been laicized although this decision remains in his bishop’s hands, said the decision to come out was “a very personal, difficult, and tough” one because the Catholic Church is homophobic. For this reason, he also said LGBT Catholics should fight for their “dignity and right to happiness” when the Church persecutes them.

Charasma’s announcement led to his immediate dismissal from both the CDF and university faculties.The priest acknowledged these potential sanctions in the Irish Times, but was clear he could not remain silent:

” ‘I am ready to pay the consequences of this but the moment has come for the Church to open its eyes to gay believers and to understand that the solution which it offers to gays, namely total abstinence from a love life, is simply inhuman’ . . .

“Monsignor Charamsa said on Saturday there was a day when ‘something breaks inside you’, adding that God guided him to this decision, ‘which should be the most simple for any homosexual’.

“He said: ‘It seems to me that, in the Church, we don’t know homosexuality because we don’t know homosexuals, yet we have them all over the place. With my story I want to shake the conscience of the Church a bit.’ “

Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi called the priest’s actions “very serious and irresponsible” because they made a “pointed statement” as the Synod was beginning, reported Vatican Radio. Others, however, have welcomed Monsignor Charasma’s integrity and openness precisely because it shakes the church’s conscience while criticizing the Vatican’s expulsion.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told The Independent:

“Charamsa now joins the long list of people fired from jobs in Catholic institutions because of LGBT issues. It is unfortunate that Church leaders did not see this as an opportunity for further dialogue with someone they have known and trusted.”

You can read New Ways Ministry’s full statement applauding Charamsa’s courage and honesty here.

Michael Bayly, who blogs at The Wild Reed, commented on Charamsa’s firing:

“I remind myself that expulsion is often the cost of true discipleship.”

Before Charasma’s announcement theologian Mary Hunt penned an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun noting that a large number of closeted gay men are involved in church decisions which harm LGBT people:

“Finally, it is time to end the gay charade in the Roman Catholic Church. The sea of men in every church and papal meeting during the U.S. visit underscored a homosocial power structure. It is an open secret that a high percentage of clergy and religious leaders are same-sex loving people, whether sexually active or not. For those same men to collude in anti-LGBTIQ efforts, including legislation and theology, is morally repugnant.”

Monsignor Charamsa’s coming out and dismissal come in a charged week for LGBT Catholics news, as reports surfaced about Pope Francis’ encounter with Kim Davis and a same-sex couple. Even with those items swirling, the gay priest’s announcement cut through and made headlines — a testament, I think, to the power that such a revelation has to move people and potentially effect change in the church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Pope Francis’ Actions May Speak Louder Than His Words on LGBT Issues

October 4, 2015

Yayo Grassi

The news that Pope Francis’ “only real audience’ (in the words of a Vatican press statement) in his United States visit was with a gay man and his partner has re-awakened the hopes of many in the Catholic LGBT community that the pontiff has not aligned himself with conservative political forces, but that he is still open to showing affirmation to the LGBT people.

While this news is positive, one of the people at the center of this story, Yayo Grassi, the pope’s gay ex-student, cautioned against reading too much into this encounter.

Grassi told The New York Times that his meeting with the pope was a personal encounter, not a political one:

“I don’t think he was trying to say anything in particular. He was just meeting with his ex-student and a very close friend of his.”

Similarly, Jesuit Father James Martin, noted author and Catholic commentator, told The Huffington Post that the pope’s meeting with Grassi, while significant, should not be seen as acceptance of same-gender relationships:

“Of course it does not betoken any sort of papal approval of same-sex marriage. But if the story is accurate, I’m glad to hear that the Pope keeps in touch with old friends, gay or straight.”

In the same article, Father Thomas Rosica, Vatican spokesperson highlighted the pastoral aspect of the visit:

“As noted in the past, the Pope, as pastor, has maintained many personal relationships with people in a spirit of kindness, welcome and dialogue.”

More details and analyses have emerged which offer some insights into why the Vatican was slow to responding to this brouhaha.

An Associated Press news story explained the difference between an “audience” and a “meeting” in Vatican-speak:

“An audience differs from a meeting in that it is a planned, somewhat formal affair. Popes have audiences with heads of state. They have meetings and greeting sessions with benefactors or Catholic VIPs. So the fact that Lombardi described Grassi’s encounter as the only ‘real audience’ in Washington made clear that Francis wanted to emphasize that encounter over Davis’ “brief meeting” with several dozen other people invited to the embassy at the same time.”

The same news story offered some background as to how the Vatican’s clarification on the Davis meeting came about:

“Initially the Vatican only reluctantly confirmed the meeting but offered no comment.

“On Friday, Lombardi met with Francis and issued a fuller statement to ‘contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired.’ Francis has made clear he dislikes being used for political ends, and Lombardi’s statement appeared intended to make clear that the encounter should in no way be exploited.”

New York Times article reported the response of Jesuit Father James Martin, who earlier this week had cautioned that the Kim Davis meeting was not an indication of the pope’s support of her cause.  He offered a theory as to why the Vatican did not speak quickly to explain the Davis meeting:

“I was very disappointed to see the pope having been used that way, and that his willingness to be friendly to someone was turned against him. What may originally have prevented them from issuing a statement was the desire not to give this story too much air. But what they eventually came to realize was that they needed to correct some gross misrepresentations of what had happened. It shows that Pope Francis met with many people on the trip, and that she was simply another person who he tried to be kind to.”

In the same article, an Italian Vatican observer also offered his view of the Kim Davis situation:

” ‘Nobody in the Catholic Church wants another Regensburg,’ said Massimo Faggioli, an associate professor of theology and director of the Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He was referring to the backlash after Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor, gave a speech in Regensburg, Germany, that appeared to denigrate Islam.

” ‘This was not as serious as Regensburg, when Benedict read his own speech,’ Dr. Faggioli said about the meeting attended by Ms. Davis. ‘But the pope has to be able to rely on his own system, and in this case the system failed him. The question is, was it a mistake, or was it done with full knowledge of how toxic she was?’ ”

“The meeting with Ms. Davis was clearly a misstep, Dr. Faggioli said, ‘because the whole trip to the United States he very carefully didn’t want to give the impression that he was being politicized by any side.’

“He added, ‘And this thing is the most politicized thing that you can imagine.’ “

While Pope Francis’ meeting with Grassi was not the important pastoral step that needs to be done:  meeting with LGBT people because they are LGBT, it still serves as a great model for bishops and other pastoral leaders.  He showed them, as he has done in the past, that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity should not mean they are excluded from conversations and relationships with church officials.

While Pope Francis’ words about LGBT people and relationships may not be clear, his warm and friendly gestures are very clear.  May his actions speak louder than his words!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

New Ways Ministry: Gay Priest’s Revelation Is Big Step for Himself & the Church

October 3, 2015

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

Monsignor Krzystof Charamsa’s announcement of his gay sexual orientation is an important step for him personally and an important step for the Catholic Church.  This Vatican official, who worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,  exhibited courage and honesty in making his orientation public.

Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa

His revelation is an acknowledgement of the truth of the way God has made him, and, like millions of other LGBT Catholics, his self-acceptance and self-affirmation will help him better understand God’s love for him. For the Catholic Church, his news is another step in our growing process of coming to better terms with our LGBT brothers and sisters.

[For news stories about Monsignor Charamsa’s announcement, see the end of this post.  An English language translation of the Italian newspaper interview with him in which he revealed his orientation can be found by clicking here. The Vatican’s response to the announcement can be read by clicking here. ] 

It is sadly disappointing that the Vatican fired him when they learned of his announcement.  He now joins the long list of LGBT people and allies who have been fired from jobs in Catholic institutions because of LGBT issues.  It is unfortunate that Church leaders did not see Charamsa’s announcement as an opportunity for further dialogue with someone they have known and trusted.

We hope that his news will help the bishops of the world gathering in Rome this weekend for three weeks of synod discussions which will include pastoral outreach to families with LGBT members.  His witness to the holiness of the lives of LGBT people and the goodness of their relational lives could help these church leaders discern more appropriate and accepting forms of pastoral care.   His testimony of struggle and overcoming fear should help these bishops see the challenges and joys that many LGBT people and their families face.

The decision to come out is a highly personal one, and one which only the individual can make.  Only the individual can decide when it is safe and responsible to do so, taking into account the possible negative repercussions that can occur in terms of employment, housing, and relationships.  Only the individual can decide when the pressures of the closet have become too difficult for their emotional and spiritual lives. New Ways Ministry continues to support all LGBT people–including priests, nuns, brothers, deacons, bishops–as they discern when is the appropriate time for them to make such a revelation about themselves.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Reuters: “Vatican sacks priest after he comes out as gay”

Huffington Post:  Vatican Fires Gay Priest On Eve Of Synod”


Just When You Thought the Pope Francis-Kim Davis Story Could Not Get More Surprising. . .

October 3, 2015

The other shoe finally dropped. And then a third one dropped, too.

More than two days after the meeting Pope Francis had with Kim Davis made headlines and spawned a global debate the Vatican issued a clarification about the nature of the meeting, downplaying any support by the pontiff of the Kentucky court clerk’s stand against issuing marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples.

Yayo Grassi meets Pope Francis in Washington, DC

But just hours after that revelation, CNN reported something even more surprising:  the day before Davis encountered Pope Francis, the pontiff had a private, personal meeting with a gay couple and their friends.  More surprising, it was the pope who had requested the meeting with the Argentine gay man, who was his high school student in the 1960s, and the man’s partner of 19 years, saying that he wanted to give the former student a hug.   You can watch the video of their meeting here:

CNN’s Daniel Burke wrote:

“Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man, brought his partner, Iwan, as well several other friends to the Vatican Embassy on September 23 for a brief visit with the Pope. A video of the meeting shows Grassi and Francis greeting each other with a warm hug.

“In an exclusive interview with CNN, Grassi declined to disclose details about the short visit, but said it was arranged personally by the Pope via email in the weeks ahead of Francis’ highly anticipated visit to the United States.

” ‘Three weeks before the trip, he called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,’ Grassi said. . .

“Grassi said the Pope has long known that he is gay, but has never condemned his sexuality or his same-sex relationship. Grassi said he and Iwan (he declined to disclose his last name due to privacy concerns) had previously met Francis in Rome.

“Greeting Iwan with a handshake, Francis says that he recalls meeting him, according to the brief video. At the end the meeting, the Pope hugs both men and kisses them on the cheek.

” ‘He has never been judgmental,’ Grassi said. ‘He has never said anything negative.’ “

In the Vatican statement explaining the Davis meeting, the Vatican alluded to the Grassi meeting, but did not explain the gay dimension of it:

“[T]he only real audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature (embassy) was with one of his former students and his family.”

Thus, what was already a complicated story becomes more complicated.

While I am glad to hear this story of the Grassi meeting, I still wish that Pope Francis would be more forthcoming about his personal experiences and relationships with LGBT people.  That kind of openness would set a great example for bishops and other church leaders who cringe at the thought of any association with LGBT people or issues.

And while it is wonderful to hear of Pope Francis’ personal admiration for this gay couple, it would be much more effective if he would set up formal dialogues with LGBT Catholics to discuss church teaching, policy, and pastoral practice.  As I stated two days ago, the time for vagueness, ambiguity, and secret meetings is over.

Had the Vatican responded more quickly and efficiently to the Davis story, so much ink and computer time could have been saved. When the pope has made statements that have been interpreted positively by progressives, the Vatican spokesperson is always swift to clarify that such an interpretation is wrong.  They should have also been equally speedy in clarifying the insignificance of the Kim Davis meeting, saving much heartache and concern by people all over the U.S. and around the world.

Moreover, had the Vatican been more forthcoming about the context of the Grassi meeting, they would have immediately gained much respect and admiration from the LGBT community.

The Vatican’s statement on Davis was brief, and, in my reading of it, seems like it was crafted to emphasize that the pope was not supporting Ms. Davis’ cause.  So, far from being a victory for the U.S. bishops who see Davis as a hero of “religious liberty,” the experience has turned into a confirmation that Pope Francis did not intend to make a statement of any sort of her case.

Indeed, it seems that this story has further confirmed the openness, albeit a small amount, of Pope Francis to personally engage with LGBT people and not treat them as pariahs.  Yet, I wonder why the Vatican, besieged in the last few days by criticisms from the LGBT community, did not reveal the details of this meeting the pope had with a gay couple.  It would have won great support for them and the pontiff.  The pope is a public person and so his meetings have public significance.  Was the Vatican totally unaware of the many repeated calls by LGBT Catholics for an opportunity to visit with him while he was in the U.S.?

In the last few days, rumors have been flying as to who might have been the initiator of the Davis meeting.  That mystery still remains to be solved, acknowledged, and admitted.

 The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters offered this theory:
“Somebody messed up. A source at the bishops’ conference told me on background that the meeting happened “against the advice of the bishops’ conference.” Other reports in both the Washington Post and the New York Times agree that the meeting was arranged by a ‘Vatican official.’ Seeing as the meeting happened at the nunciature in Washington, it could only have happened with the approval and participation of the nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.”
Yet, in the same newspaper, a few days later, Vatican reporter Joshua McElwee cited a Vatican spokesperson’s explanation:

“Basilian Fr. Tom Rosica, a Canadian who assists the Vatican press office with English-language media, said Friday that the encounter between Davis and Francis was not organized by Vatican staff.

“Rosica said the Vatican was unsure who the meeting was organized by, and that it might have been an initiative by the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Vigano.”

Esquire magazine offered some strong evidence that points the finger, though non-conclusively, at Vigano:

“Vigano is well-known to be a Ratzinger loyalist and he always has been a cultural conservative, particularly on the issue of marriage equality. In April, in a move that was unprecedented, Vigano got involved with an anti-marriage equality march in Washington sponsored by the National Association For Marriage. (And, mirabile dictu, as we say around Castel Gandolfo at happy hour, one of the speakers at this rally was Mat Staver, who happens now to be Kim Davis’s lawyer.) In short, Vigano, a Ratzinger loyalist, who has been conspicuous and publicly involved in the same cause as Kim Davis and her legal team, arranges a meeting with Davis that the legal team uses to its great public advantage.”

Clearly, a definite answer is still needed.

I hope that both Pope Francis and the Vatican have learned some lessons from these experiences about communication and symbolism.  The main lesson that I hope they take away from these incidents is that many people are confused as to where Pope Francis stands on LGBT issues  If Pope Francis would clarify where he stands on some of the vague messages he has made with regard to LGBT issues, this whole media storm could have been avoided.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related articles:
The New York Times:  “Pope Francis, the Kentucky Clerk and Culture Wars Revisited”
The Washington Post: “Vatican: Pope’s Kim Davis meeting not meant to support her position”
The Huffington Post:  “Kim Davis And The Trap For Pope Francis”



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