The Time Is Now for Church’s Sexuality Dialogue

The National Catholic Reporter’s editors have called for a “Time for dialogue on sexual ethics” as a response to recent developments in the world of Catholic LGBT issues.

The publication of Jesuit Father James Martin’s book,  Building a Bridge, which examines the relationship between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church, along with Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s recent decree banning lesbian and gay married people from most of parish life, have highlighted, respectively, a path to better dialogue in the church and an example of the worst of episcopal excesses in regard to sexuality.

These events have drawn the NCR editors to focus in on LGBT discussions as the linchpin for a wider issue in the church:  the need for doctrine on all sexuality to up examined and updated. The consternation that LGBT issues cause traditional Catholic thinkers brings to relief the fact that the very foundations of church teaching about sex is dangerously antiquated.

The magisterium’s disapproval of genital same-sex relationships is based on what the editorial calls  “an indissoluble connection between the procreative and unitive meaning of the sexual act.”  Re-evaluating this concept could bring about “far-reaching consequences for all Catholics, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”  The procreative norm is harming a lot more people than just the LGBT community.  A reexamination of it could produce healthy and holy results for all.  The editorial provides the following example:

“Much is often made about the church’s teaching that same-sex relations are ‘intrinsically disordered.’ But equally harsh language is used for other sexual transgressions of the church’s procreative norm. For example, the catechism declares that every action used to render conception impossible, such as use of contraceptives, is ‘intrinsically evil’ (2370). The catechism also condemns masturbation as an ‘intrinsically and gravely disordered action’ because ‘the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose’ (2352). . . .

“The institutional church’s vocal objections to same-sex marriage often mask the fact that church teaching is fundamentally opposed to sexual acts that a majority of human beings participate in. The church condemns any sex acts — including those engaged in by married couples — that do not respect the procreative norm. Therefore, in reality, few Catholics ever live up to the church’s moral norms governing sexual activity. . . .

“If bishops like Paprocki were more vocal about their opposition to masturbation, in vitro fertilization or vasectomies as they are in their campaign against same-sex marriage, perhaps more Catholics would realize how urgent the need is to rethink the entirety of the church’s sexual ethics.”

While the editorial calls for laypeople and bishops to dialogue about all matters sexual, it also recognizes that “dialogue can have its limits, particularly if those in leadership do not demonstrate an openness to developing the church’s teaching on sex and sexuality.”

The modern dialogue on sexuality began at Vatican II, the editorial notes, but it was “stalled by the hierarchy’s unwillingness to loosen its rigid interpretation of millennia-old ideas about natural law and the procreation norm.”  While theologians and other scholars in the Church have produced great insights into Tradition and modern views of sexuality, “those who have made the greatest contributions to deepening our understanding of sexual ethics, such as Fr. Charles Curran and Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, have been silenced or had their work condemned by bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Congratulations and thanks to The National Catholic Reporter for this insightful analysis and helpful recommendations!  Since at least 1968, with the publication of  Humanae Vitae, the Church has been aware that its sexual ethics doctrine was not received by the majority of the faithful. Leaders, for the most part, have kept their heads in the sand.

The success of the movement for LGBT equality in the U.S. and around the globe highlight that new understandings of sexuality can be life-giving and holy.  This new reality also has brought opposition to the church’s antiquated sexual ethics teaching “out of the closet” and into the open.  Church leaders can continue to keep their heads buried, or they can courageously move forward with a dialogue that has been waiting to happen for 50 years.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 12, 2017

 

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Reforming Doctrinal Investigations Could Help Church Grow on LGBT Issues

An international group of theologians, bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers who had been investigated by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) are urging Pope Francis to reform the Church’s doctrinal investigation process.  If the proposed reforms are instituted, they could signal not only a re-vamping of CDF investigations, but they could help re-shape the entire Church into the more merciful community which Pope Francis envisioned in his recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith office building, just outside of St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

In a letter addressed to the pope and to CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller, eight reforms were urged by the 15 signers, some of whom were investigated because of  LGBT issues or spoken out to support LGBT people.  These include: New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a U.S. activist for peace and women’s rights in the Church, Rev. Charles Curran, a U.S. moral theologian, Rev. Tony Flannery, CSsR., a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, Ireland, and Sister Teresa Forcades, OSB, a social activist and speaker in Spain. (You can read the entire letter and see the full list of signatories by clicking here.)

In the letter’s introduction, the authors outline the problems with the CDF’s current processes and procedures, noting that these are:

“. . . contrary to natural justice and in need of reform. They represent the legal principles, processes and attitudes of the absolutism of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. They don’t reflect the gospel values of justice, truth, integrity and mercy that the church professes to uphold. They are out of keeping with contemporary concepts of human rights, accountability and transparency that the world expects from the Christian community and which the Catholic Church demands from secular organizations.”

Among the procedures that the letter proposes the CDF dispense with include:

  • allowing accusers and consultor to remain anonymous
  • dealing with accused persons indirectly through religious superiors, instead of direct personal communication
  • permitting the same people to act as investigators, prosecutors, and judge
  • enforcing secrecy of the investigation and isolation of the accused.

The letter proposes that the CDF should institute a new set of processes and procedures that

“. . . involve a just and equitable process, accountability on the part of the CDF and Bishops’ Conferences, the presumption of sincerity, innocence, and loyalty to the church on the part of the person being investigated, as well as transparency and the wider involvement of the local Catholic community and the Synod of Bishops representing the universal church.”

In addition to correcting the procedural problems enumerated, the letter also suggests some broader reforms, including:

“The wider community of theologians, the faithful people of God and the sensus fidelium are involved in the discernment of the faith and belief of the church. No longer should the CDF and its Rome-based advisers be the sole arbiters of correct doctrine and belief” . . . .

“The process should be tempered by the mercy and forgiveness of God, and by the open dialogue that should characterize the community of Jesus. It integrates something of the contemporary emphasis on human rights and the need for free speech, pluralism, transparency and accountability within the church community.”

Fr. Tony Flannery, one of the signers, commented in a media release about why such reforms are needed and how they can create a Church which follows its own principles more faithfully:

“Under the last two popes, as the Church became increasingly centralised, the Magisterium was understood as the Vatican, or, more specifically, the Curia, and in particular the pre-eminent body within the Curia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But an older understanding, which was central to the Second Vatican Council, has a more complex, wider view of what constitutes the Magisterium. According to this perspective, it consists of the Vatican, the bishops of the universal Church, the body of theologians, and, most significantly of all, the sensus fidelium, the good sense of the ordinary Catholic faithful. The Council goes so far as to say that unless a teaching is accepted by the consensus of the faithful it cannot be considered a defined teaching. This is the kind of theology we are trying to get through to the CDF.”

The reforms suggested could open up the Church to become a more honest and just institution, and they could facilitate greater debate on issues such as LGBT topics.  Moreover, a new set of procedures at the CDF would not only be more humane and Christian, but it would alleviate the suffering caused not only to the accused, but to the people that the abused minister with.  Investigations often harm do great spiritual harm to the many people who identify with the theologians, pastoral ministers, or bishops under scrutiny.

A reform of CDF procedures would be a great way for Pope Francis to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and a great way for him to enact the more communal views on doctrine and dialogue which he outlined in Amoris Laetitia.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The National Catholic Reporter:  “In letter to CDF, theologians and bishops call for reform of Vatican doctrinal investigations”

 

LGBT Injustices Central at Loretto Community 200th Jubilee Celebration in DC

Loretto Sisters, Co-members and Friends at the USCCB

LGBT issues were front and center when 40 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th Jubilee.

Planned on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the DC gathering included visits to seven sights of injustice where the group prayed and sang a litany of saints and heroes. Sites visited were the US Supreme Court, the US Capitol, the DC Jail, the Vietnam War Memorial, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the Vatican Embassy, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a Sister of Loretto and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Matthew Myers, a co-member of Loretto who currently chairs New Ways Ministry’s Board of Directors, joined Sr. Maureen Fiedler of the Sisters of Loretto and Eileen Harrington, a co-member, in leading the afternoon’s celebrations.

Amongst the injustices called to mind were those committed against the LGBT community. These included the exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons from equal protections under the law at the Supreme Court and the campaign against marriage equality launched by Catholic bishops that makes LGBT persons objects of discrimination.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Sr. Maureen Fiedler

In the Loretto tradition of  ‘working for justice and acting for peace,’ the saints and heroes who struggle for equality and conscience were called to mind as well.

In the political and legal realm, those gathered sang the names of John Lawrence, plaintiff in the case that decriminalized same-gender consensual sex, as well as President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who have refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the ecclesiastical realm, theologians Hans Kung, Charles Curran, and Margaret Farley were sung at the Vatican Embassy for their progressive views on human sexuality and the Vatican censures that followed. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was intoned at the USCCB for his outspoken voice for LGBT rights within the Catholic Church.

Fittingly, Sr. Jeannine was included in the litany, along with several other women religious. The program described Sr. Jeannine in the following way:

“Loretto Sister who advocates for LGBT persons in the face of continual Vatican opposition.”

In 1992, after the Vatican had directed U.S. bishops to pull back from their support of civil rights’ legislation for lesbian and gay people, the Loretto General Assembly issued a statement in support of lesbian and gay civil rights which included the following:

“. . . as U.S. citizens, we believe that our constitutional tradition–properly understood and interpreted–ought to guarantee basic civil rights and equal protection of our laws to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation. It saddens us that the Vatican would enter the U.S. political arena by encouraging a departure from the finest ideals of our political tradition, ideals which promote equality and basic civil rights for everyone.
“Consequently, we call upon our political leaders to guarantee the civil rights of lesbian and gay persons in the law of our land. We call upon the U.S. Catholic Bishops to support such legislation as an authentic expression of the gospel call to respect the intrinsic human rights and dignity of all persons.”

New Ways Ministry applauds Loretto for 200 years of powerful witness to working for justice and acting for peace because of the Gospel’s urgent call.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Rochester’s Bishop Matthew Clark Submits Resignation Letter

Bishop Matthew Clark

Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, New York, a longtime supporter of LGBT people in the Catholic Church, turned 75 on July 15th, the required age for submitting a resignation to the Vatican.

Two Rochester news organizations have been observing this milestone with stories reviewing Bishop Clark’s tenure and also looking toward the future for the diocese. A Rochester.YNN.com article recalled Bishop Clark’s welcome of LGBT people in the church, quoting him:

“One of the very enriching parts of my ministry over the years has been many, many opportunities I’ve had to sit down with gay and lesbian people and to hear from them their experience of their lives and the pain it causes them when people speak of them in derogatory ways or with ugly statements or inferences that are damaging.”

In 1997, Bishop Clark presided at a Mass for LGBT people at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral.  Although there were many protests from traditionalist Catholics that he not host the liturgy, Bishop Clark stood firm.   The cathedral seats 900 people; 1300 responded warmly to his welcome by attending that day.

In that same year,  Bishop Clark spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Fourth National Symposium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and also presided at the conference liturgy.  I recall that when he proclaimed the Gospel for that day, which included the famous John 3:16 verse–“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”–he choked up with emotion and had to pause for a few seconds before continuing.  It was a moving experience that was not lost on the assembled crowd who recognized in it Bishop Clark’s commitment to the Gospel.

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle article on Bishop Clark’s resignation had a lengthy comment on his commitment to LGBT people:

“Thomas Wahl remembers Bishop Clark taking the pulpit in September 1998, before a Mass of gay and lesbian Catholics. [This was the Mass for the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries conference which Bishop Clark hosted that year.]

“Wahl, the one-time head of the local chapter of Dignity U.S.A., a group of gay and lesbian Catholics seeking acceptance from the Catholic Church, was among the more than 600 who pushed past the protesting crowds at the door and watched as Bishop Clark took the altar at St. Mary’s Church.

“ ‘He said “Good afternoon,” and then he just stopped,’ said Wahl. ‘And for 15 or 20 seconds, the tears rolled down his cheeks.’

“It was only the second such Mass that Clark had attended, and it came in the midst of a two-year stretch that saw the Rochester diocese take center stage in a national debate on how the Catholic Church should treat its gay parishioners.

“After the diocese’s first gay Mass, which Clark had convened in March 1997, protestors got the attention of the Vatican, who began keeping a close eye on the region as the diocese made some seemingly conflicting decisions regarding its gay outreach.

“In the summer of 1998, Clark reassigned Rev. James Callan of Corpus Christi Church for three offenses, one of which was blessing gay weddings. Shortly after, he ordered diocesan priests to stop participating in a special weekly Mass for members of Dignity U.S.A.

“But just one week after barring his own priests from the Dignity Masses, Clark turned around and hosted a national conference of Catholics that minister to homosexuals, and gave his second Mass for gays and lesbians, further confounding his critics.

“ ‘I have so much love for this man, because he doesn’t really care who he pisses off,’ said Wahl. ‘He will go as far as he can while still staying within the letter of the law so he can continue to be a shepherd for the Rochester gay Catholic community.’ “

Bishop Clark acknowledges the congregation at his installation Mass in 1979. Then 37, he was the youngest bishop in the U.S.

Indeed, although Bishop Clark did not support New York’s marriage equality law in 2011,  traditionalist Catholics were angered by his lack of zeal in the fight to defeat the bill:

“ ‘He put out a few letters (last year), but it was the same letter they put out years before that just said “This is what the Catholic Church believes,” ‘ said Ben Anderson, [a blogger] . . .  critical of Bishop Clark. ‘That was it. There was no standing up. No going in front of the media and saying “You can’t propose this.” Bishop Clark was just sort of mum on that legislation.’ ”

Bishop Clark’s forthright role in the controversy surrounding Fr. Charles Curran, a Rochester priest who is a theologian that was  fired by the Catholic University of America, was also cited as a high point in the Rochester Ordinary’s tenure:

“Bishop Matthew H. Clark remembers the letter: stern, foreboding, and signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — the man whom the world knows today as Pope Benedict XVI.

“Delivered to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester in 1986, the Vatican’s letter said that Rev. Charles E. Curran’s beliefs on the subjects of masturbation, homosexuality and premarital sex would promote a questionable ‘pluralism in teaching moral doctrine,’ and that Clark was not to defend the man’s opinions any more.

“But Clark didn’t back down.

“ ‘Your Eminence, I fail to see how such a description does justice to what I wrote,’ Clark responded in a return letter. ‘My intention was to portray moral theology as a living discipline, which ever faces new questions and which historically has developed a great deal.’ ”

In a separate Rochester Democrat and Chronicle article which considers the type of bishop that the diocese will have as Bishop Clark’s successor, one Rochester Catholic expressed hope:

“ ‘I have no idea who’s coming, so I can’t worry,’ said Joan Tannous of Gates, who currently serves on the diocese’s Women’s Commission. ‘But I’m hoping someone like (Clark) with his charisma, his foresight, his insight, will replace him. Someone to carry on his accomplishments. The essentials of Bishop Clark’s tenure need to be continued.’ ”

Amen!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry