Synod Data Collection Is Slow, Uneven, and Complex in U.S. Dioceses

March 27, 2015

They Synod on Marriage and the Family which will take place in October 2015 at the Vatican will be as strongly debated as the extraordinary synod on the same topic which took place last year, according to John Allen, veteran Vatican observer, who writes at Crux

Allen predicted that lesbian and gay family issues will be one of three hot-button topics, along with discussions of co-habitating couples, and divorced and remarried people.  Allen’s analysis provides detailed insights into a large number of the bishops and cardinals who will be delegates there, noting who is progressive, who is conservative, and who is in-between.  His descriptions read like a “scorecard” for the various “players” who will be in attendance.  You can read his entire essay by clicking here.

One somewhat hopeful sign for the question of lesbian and gay couples will be the presence of Santiago, Chile’s Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, who, while not supporting marriage equality, does support civil unions for same-gender couples. Not ideal, but at least there’s indication that these questions will continue to be debated.

While there is a some evidence that many dioceses have been collecting input from Catholics in the pew, the statistics are not remarkable, and, as one analyst has shown, they don’t show the full picture. In February, The National Catholic Reporter (NCR)surveyed the websites of 178 U.S. dioceses and archdioceses and found that 52% (93) of them have been collecting information in some fashion.

Of the six bishop-delegates and two alternates to the synod, six of them have shown evidence of collecting data.  No evidence of collection was available for Galveston-Houston’s Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, a delegate, and Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, an alternate.

But NCR Editor Dennis Coday observed, the data collection time period for a number of dioceses was very short, and in some cases, the input was asked only from a select group of Catholics.  For example, he cited “parish council members in Stockton, Calif., or ‘pastors, parochial administrators, and parochial vicars’ in Venice, Fla.”

Other Catholic groups have stepped up to fill in this void.  “Strong Catholic Families,” a coalition of four national Catholic associations, has made their own survey available online, noting that not only were many dioceses not collecting data, but of those that were, the questionnaires were often long, complex, and difficult to understand.   One official of the coalition spoke to the NCR:

” ‘It became pretty frustrating for me, even as a church leader, to read [the official synod surveys] and think of the people who had to respond to them, and how difficult it is to both understand and respond pastorally to those kinds of questions,” said Michael Theisen, director of Ministry Formation at the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, part of Strong Catholic Families”

The other three organizations that are part of this coalition are the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers, and the National Catholic Educational Association.

Additionally, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has sent out the Vatican survey to their membership, but did not ask them to answer the questions.  Instead, they asked them to rank the questions in order of importance.

Fr. Bernard Survil, an (ACP) board member, told the NCR:

“We want to let our delegates know … that this is what you should be focusing on.”

The ACP acknowledged the same problem with the Vatican survey that Strong Catholic Families noted: difficulty of answering it.  NCR reported:

“Part of the reason the priests association chose not to have priests answer the synod questions was the time associated with completing such a task. A priest from the Cheyenne, Mont., diocese told Survilthat it took him five hours to answer all 46 questions. In the instructions for its online survey, the Charlotte, N.C., diocese estimated two hours to complete.”

Perhaps the best data collection method is the simplest one, which was employed by Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky: he listened.   He held four public town hall meetings for Catholics in his diocese to express their views.

The Bowling Green Daily News noted the bishop’s motivation, which he spoke at the beginning of one meeting that the newspaper attended:

“When the pope said, ‘You need to listen,’ I tried to take him seriously. My job here tonight is to listen to what you have to say.”

And the people responded, the newspaper observed:

“Dozens of people spoke during the meeting, sharing their thoughts on how the church can more effectively address topics such as annulment, the sanctity of life and homosexuality. Many people shared personal stories, including their struggle to get an annulment and the challenges of making their children see church as a priority.”

Not surprisingly, the issue of homosexuality became a heated one.  When one woman spoke up expressing her thoughts along the line of “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” the mother of a gay son rose to refute such thinking:

“Donna Lauth, a Holy Spirit member whose son is gay, said homosexuality is not a condition.

“ ‘My son was born that way,’ she said. . . .

“Lauth said the church should ‘either accept everybody and love them the way God would, or don’t even bother at all.’

“She was glad for the chance to express her views to church leaders.

“ ‘They need to listen to us,’ she said. ‘Listening to us and getting some ideas, maybe there will be a change. You can only hope.’ ”

At the end of the meeting, Bishop Medley summed up his feelings about the evening’s wide-ranging discussion and debate:

“ ‘This is the church. It’s messy. It’s confusing,’ he said. ‘It’s a complex world and it’s a complex church, but it’s a church I love. (We’re trying to) be the best church we can be. In the end, it’s going to be an imperfect church.’ ”

While it is true that the church will always be in need of reform,  I believe that we should still strive for getting a number of things somewhere near right, at least.  Yes, we will be imperfect, but we can still begin to take a few steps closer to perfection.  It’s because of our imperfection, that we need much more debate and dialogue at all levels on so many issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

Bondings 2.0: New Video Focuses on LGBT Catholics ‘Owning Our Faith‘ ”

Bondings 2.0: “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Widen the Synod Circle with Diverse Voices

Bondings 2.0: SYNOD 2015: Preparations Begin with Key Questions About Collecting Data and the Goal of Church Ministry

For all Bondings 2.0 posts on Synod 2015, click here.

 


Puerto Rico’s Archbishop Calls for Referendum As Marriage Law Is Ignored

March 26, 2015

Puerto Rico will no longer uphold its defense of marriage law which only permits heterosexual couples to marry and will not recognize same-gender marriages from other jurisdictions.  But the archbishop of San Juan was not happy with the decision and has called on the island’s government to hold a referendum on same-sex unions

Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves

According to Latino. FoxNews.comArchbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves responded strongly to the decision by Justice Secretary César Miranda, stating:

“We urge our people to launch a process so that a decision of such historical magnitude and significance can be decided through a referendum in which (voters) can express themselves. If not, this would be a dictatorial imposition by the government.”

Gonzalez Nieves called the decision “”very regrettable and disconcerting.”

Miranda, on the other hand, views the decision as a victory for human rights. According to a Reuters article, the Justice Secretary said:

“The decision recognizes that all human beings are equal before the law. We believe in an equal society in which everyone enjoys the same rights.”

Miranda’s decision was announced just before the deadline for the Puerto Rican government to respond to a Court of Appeals case, being heard in Boston, in which five same-sex couples were challenging the prohibitive law.  The jurisdiction of the Boston court also includes five states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Ricky Martin

Other prominent Puerto Ricans applauded the government’s decision, including openly gay singer Ricky Martin, who stated, in Spanish, on social media:

“My thanks to Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla for demonstrating that he is a leader who is not afraid of the challenges of the present. His support for the determination of the Boston Court on marriage equality does justice to equality. My appreciation to Senators and Representatives and my sisters and brothers who joined this struggle for equality and human rights.”

“Today is a great day for my island, my heart beats fast in my chest. How proud I am to live in a country of equality. I love you Puerto Rico.”

In a statement quoted by Reuters, Governor Padilla pointed to the changing attitudes in the United States, of which Puerto Rico is a territory, stating that there was an

“undeniable consensus that does not allow discriminatory distinctions as that contained in our Civil Code with respect to the rights of same sex couples.”

Padilla, a 43-year old practicing Catholic, who in the past had supported the law, added:

“Everyone knows my religious beliefs but political leaders should not impose their beliefs.”

Though not a state, Puerto Rico has enormous cultural exchange with the United States.  It will be interesting to see if this Latin island nation, where 56% of the population is Roman Catholic, will follow the tide of growing acceptance of same-sex marriage both in the U.S. and Latin America.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Filipino Bishops Reverse Position on LGBT Non-Discrimination Bill

March 25, 2015

Archbishop Socrates Villegas in preparations for the papal visit

In a reversal from their earlier position, the Catholic bishops of the Philippines have endorsed an LGBT non-discrimination bill, with only one reservation.

Earlier this month, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines sent a pastoral guidance letter to dioceses endorsing non-discrimination as a “Christian imperative,” reports Gay Star News. Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the conference’s president, said further:

” ‘Insofar as the proposed piece of legislation renders illegitimate the relegation of persons with sexual orientation and gender identity issues to citizens of a lower category enjoying fewer rights, the CBCP cannot but lend its support to this proposed legislative measure.’

” ‘We must however reiterate that none must be demeaned, embarrassed, or humiliated for reasons of sexual orientation and gender identity.’ “

This support comes as legislators are about to pass a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity bill, which the bishops opposed in 2011. During a committee hearing earlier this year, a representative of the conference actually opposed this current bill saying some forms of discrimination were acceptable. The only caveat desired by the bishops now is that they retain full control of who is admitted into the priesthood, reserving the right to discriminate including due to sexual orientation.

The bishops’ initial opposition to protecting the rights of all people has clearly changed.  Perhaps it is due to Pope Francis’ recent visit and his ongoing emphasis on mercy and the dignity of all persons: the Francis Effect. Now, Archbishop Villegas is telling Filipino Catholics that sexual orientation and gender identity are gifts from God and, as such, are not chosen. What other fruits can we expect for LGBT equality in this heavily Catholic nation?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


What Are We to Make of Pope Francis’ Inclusive Prison Visit?

March 24, 2015

Pope Francis preaches at a Naples mass on the day he visited a prison in that city.

Pope Francis joined 90 prison inmates for lunch during his visit to Naples last Saturday, including 10 from the ward which houses those who are gay, transgender, or have HIV/AIDS. They were among the 1,900 inmates who participated in the lottery for a chance to eat with the pope.

The pope did not address LGBT issues specifically in his talk to the prisoners, but stuck to general themes about God’s love for those incarcerated.  In his talk, he stated:

“Sometimes it happens that you feel disappointed, discouraged, abandoned by all: but God does not forget his children, he never abandons them! He is always at our side, especially in trying times; he is a father ‘rich in mercy’ who always turns his peaceful and benevolent gaze on us, always waits for us with open arms. This is a certainty that instills consolation and hope, especially in moments of difficulty and sadness. Even if we have done wrong in life, the Lord does not tire of showing us the path of return and encounter with him. The love of Jesus for each one of us is a source of consolation and hope. It’s a fundamental certainty for us: nothing can ever separate us from the love of God! Not even the bars of a prison.”

The inclusion of the prisoners who are trans, gay, and HIV+ was not a special outreach by Pope Francis, but it is significant that their identities did not prevent the pope from meeting with them.  A Washington Blade article quoted New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo about the importance of this papal gesture:

“This is another example that Pope Francis does not consider sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status as something that should prevent him from engaging them in dialogue and conversation. Under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, these same personal characteristics were causes for the popes to shun and ignore people, much to the discredit of the church.”

The Washington Blade story also cited Andrea Miluzzo, director of LGBT News Italia, who said that there was an additional positive LGBT angle to the pope’s visit to Naples:

“Members of the local affiliate of Arcigay, an Italian LGBT advocacy group, were among those who were allowed to stand along the streets of Scampia, a poor Neapolitan neighborhood overrun with crime, earlier in the day as Francis passed through in his open-air car known as the pope-mobile.”

Pope Francis’ willingness to include trans, gay, and HIV+ prisoners in his luncheon and to allow an LGBT advocacy group on the parade route, but not mentioning either of them in his talks, shows the complicated approach he is taking to LGBT issues, and perhaps to other issues, too.  In an editorialThe National Catholic Reporter analyzed what they see as the pope’s strategy:

“Francis perplexes Europeans and North Americans who have split the analysis along a liberal-conservative axis, writes [Austen] Ivereigh, ‘because he uses a lens and a language that come from outside those categories.’

“Francis wades into slums, embraces those who otherwise might inspire revulsion, refuses to draw boundaries so rigidly as to exclude anyone, welcomes all questions and robust debate, and leads with the God of mercy.

“He preaches ‘the art of encounter,’ which requires moving beyond the safety of the church building and walking with the people. It is an approach schooled in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the norm is broken lives, messy, stressed and needy.

“It is in those circumstances, he preaches, in the irrational embrace of the prodigal, that grace abounds. In a recent visit to a parish in Rome, he instructed its leaders to avoid telling people where they were wrong, but to ‘get closer’ to the people, walking with them and respecting their needs.”

The power in Pope Francis’ symbolic gestures lies in the hope that other church leaders will soon imitate him, thus opening up greater possibility for encounter and discussion on LGBT and other important issues, too.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Dublin Archbishop: I’m No Expert on Family; Anti-Gay Groups’ Language is “Obnoxious”

March 23, 2015

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin displayed a humility rarely seen by someone of his office, admitting last week he knew little of the realities of family life today. He also criticized the language used by anti-marriage equality campaigners in Ireland, saying plural societies must respect gay and lesbian people.

Speaking on “The Teaching of the Church on Marriage Today,” at the Iona Institute, Martin answered critics who question the bishops’ credentials in pronouncing on marriage and family life, reports The Independent. These critics, including former Irish president Mary McAleese, doubt “rightly” because, Martin continued:

“I have no experience and understanding…I must be honest and say that I am also lacking in knowledge of more fundamental day-to-day realities of the sexual, marital or parental experiences in a family.”

The Iona Institute is a think tank actively involved in the ‘No’ campaign against marriage equality in Ireland.

Elsewhere in his talk, the archbishop criticized anti-LGBT groups during his speech . PinkNews quotes Martin as saying:

” ‘I have consistently said that the debate must be carried on respectfully without the use of intemperate language…

” ‘I do however feel obliged to say that I have received in recent time correspondence from people who support a “no” vote in the referendum in which the language used is not just intemperate but obnoxious, insulting and, unchristian in regard to gay and lesbian people.

” ‘If people use such language to support a position they feel is Christian, then all I can say is that they have forgotten something essential about the Christian message.’ “

While opposed to marriage equality, Martin said society must ensure equality before the law. The Independent reported:

“Dr. Martin suggested that a pluralist society could be creative in finding ways in which people of same-sex orientation had their rights and their loving and caring relationships recognised and cherished in a culture of difference.

” ‘I’m not saying that gay and lesbian people are unloving or that their love is somehow deficient compared to others, I am talking about a uniqueness in the male-female relationship,’ he said.”

Archbishop Martin has also called for a “conscience clause,” should the referendum pass, to allow lay people who are opposed to marriage equality to express objections, such as denying business services for lesbian and gay weddings, without breaking equality laws. LGBT organizations are calling such clauses a “license to discriminate,” reports Yahoo News.

Though opposed to marriage equality, Martin has also made a name for positive statements on LGBT issues. Just last week he and another archbishop openly condemned Irish Bishop Kevin Doran’s comparison of homosexuality to Down’s syndrome and spina bifida. He has previously said church teaching is “disconnected from real experiences of families” and had been used “in a homophobic way” to do great harm. There are also no reports that he sacked a Dublin priest for coming out and openly endorsing marriage equality during Mass a few months back.

Criticism of anti-LGBT voices from any church leader is rare and this is not Archbishop Martin’s first time calling for a more respectful tone from the church on LGBT civil rights. Rarer still is the humility displayed by Martin that he is no expert on marriage and family. That is unprecedented in all of the discussions during last year’s synod and those that are leading up to this year’s meeting. The archbishop seems to be willing to follow Pope Francis’ requests to bishops to be close to their flocks.

This latest admission of non-expertise will hopefully allow for a greater opening space for those with expertise in family life — like married couples and LGBT people — to speak their truths during next fall’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Following Jesus by Bringing Beauty Into the World

March 22, 2015

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

“The world will be saved by beauty.” Several years ago I saw this quote on a poster at a Catholic Worker house. I’m told that it’s from The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I think he’s on to something.

There’s something transcendent when you’re in the presence of beauty. Imagine the last time you experienced an epic natural landscape, admired a skillful work of art, or were in the presence of a lovely person. How did you feel? In the presence of such beauty, I sometimes feel like my soul is opened up and overwhelmed by the sight, blurring the edges between myself and the universe, making me feel a little intoxicated… it’s like briefly touching the infinite with my finite senses, if such an experience could be adequately expressed. And I think that gives us some insight into today’s Gospel.

Beauty is the key to understanding Jesus’ statement: “I will draw everyone to myself.” Jesus lived a profoundly beautiful life — perhaps not in a visual sense of beauty, but insofar as he showed us how to live a fully human life. He demonstrated compassion to the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society. He affirmed the best in people while encouraging them to overcome the worst. He shared and forgave and laughed and loved. The beauty of Jesus’ life attracts and amazes us, just as a mountain landscape or piece of timeless artwork does. That beauty inspires us to imitate his example because we too wish to be beautiful. That means overcoming our frailties and limitations, and claiming our shared identity as beloved sons and daughters of God. And that’s how beauty saves us.

To follow Jesus is to know and imitate the beauty of his life. Good disciples are signposts along the way who point others to Jesus. They are like Phillip and Andrew who, when approached by the foreigners in today’s Gospel, show the way to Jesus. As LGBT Catholics and allies, do our own actions point others to Jesus or away from him? Do we bring beauty into the world by imitating the example of Jesus? Do we practice compassion and forgiveness? Seek out the most marginalized and vulnerable?

The struggle for LGBT equality in our church and society can be disheartening at times. But you have an opportunity right now to inspire and encourage fellow blog readers by answering one or both of these two questions:

1) How do you, like Jesus, bring beauty into the world?
2) How do you see others following Jesus by bringing beauty into the world?

Write your response in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Leave Mass Over Bigoted Homily, but Not All Priests Oppose Marriage Equality

March 21, 2015

Gaelic footballer Eámon McGee, left, supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign

Catholics in Ireland walked out of Mass recently after a priest made prejudiced and personal attacks during a homily against marriage equality, about which the Irish are set to vote in a referendum later this spring.

Fr. John Britto, a Carmelite from India, encouraged parishioners at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Annagry, County Donegal, to deny same-gender couples the right to marry by voting ‘No.’ He also attacked local Gaelic footballer Eamon McGee, who has publicly supported the ‘Yes’ campaign, recently telling the Irish Examiner:

” ‘I don’t know would I be more ashamed that I didn’t vote or the fact I voted against it. It comes down to equality and one less difference in society…It’s not that I have any friends who are gay or any close family members but it’s a social issue.’ “

In response to Fr. Britto’s homily, more than a dozen attendees stood up and walked out, including family members of the woman for whom Mass was being offered on the first anniversary of her death. One parishioner who left told The Independent:

” ‘He (the priest) is entitled to his view but it didn’t go down well. After the Mass some members of the congregation approached the family of the woman being remembered to say they only stayed because of them, otherwise they would have walked out too.’ “

Former altar boy and longtime parishioner Noel Sharkey, who assists the ‘Yes’ campaign there also commented:

” ‘As a Catholic and a gay man from the area, I think it’s essential that we engage on this issue in a respectful and tolerant way, and I ask people to avoid using hurtful or upsetting language. Yes Equality Donegal asks people to focus their attention on the key principles of love and equality as they make their mind up on this important issue.’ “

Fr. Britto, however, denies these claims and refuses to clarify what happened, saying only:

“I didn’t see anybody leaving. I didn’t see that…I won’t talk to the media because the media will only twist what I have to say; I speak to the people in church and I only the speak the truth and the Word of God.”

It was reported that the priest issued an apology to McGee, but Fr. Britto denies apologizing for any of his homily, reports The Independent.

Fr. Iggy O’Donovan

On a slightly more positive note, an Augustinian priest from County Limerick announced he would vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum. Fr. Iggy O’Donovan wrote an op-ed for the Irish Times in which he stated:

” ‘It is possible to have deep and passionately-held convictions without seeking to have those convictions imposed by the State on fellow citizens who do not share them…respect for the freedom of others who differ from us is part and parcel of the faith we profess. For these and for other reasons I will be voting Yes.’ “

In a later radio interview, Fr. O’Donovan clarified that he does not endorse marriage equality and would never preside at a same-gender wedding, but he could not judge others and how they choose to live their lives. He ventured that other priests would likely vote ‘Yes,’ too.

With about ten weeks until Irish polls open, the ‘Yes’ campaign is launched and the debate over marriage equality is intensifying.

The damage by negative statements from church leaders such as Fr. John Britto or Bishop Kevin Doran, who said gay couples were not parents and compared homosexuality to Down syndrome, is enormous. Catholic clergy would do well to temper their anti-LGBT viewpoints, which are increasingly not accepted by an Irish Church already devastated due to the sexual abuse crisis and other problems, and keep these thoughts out of Mass. If they wish to make their opinions known on the issue, like Fr. Iggy O’Donovan, doing so in another venue, and in a way that is respectful of and sensitive to LGBT people, should be the foremost considerations.

Marriage equality coming to Ireland could be a moment of renewed belief in marriage, love, and family in this traditionally very Catholic nation. Church leaders should choose to prevent divisive pastoral harm in the lead up to the referendum.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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