QUOTE TO NOTE: Trans Catholic ‘Clings to Faith’ As Church Guidance is Absent

Earlier this spring, Commonweal magazine featured a pair of articles on gender identity, titled “The Church and Transgender Identity: Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.” You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of theologian David Cloutier’s piece here and theologian Luke Timothy Johnson’s piece here.

istock-499902638_0In response, a transgender person, who remained anonymous, wrote a powerful letter to the editor about their experiences with the church. “Anonymous” explained:

“I was a transgender child raised in a very religious Catholic family. . .the price of living ‘in the closet’ has been high: hundreds of hours of psychotherapy and spiritual direction, a lifetime of eating disorders and psychological suffering, and very little experience of deep, fulfilling friendships. When interacting with people, I am guarded, not myself. I feel as if I’m putting on an act, to spare other people from having to ‘freak out,’ as the people in my pre-school did.”

Still, the letter’s author has no clear answers about what the church or society should do with transgender children. The author only knows that their identity was “inborn” and nothing could change it. The letter concluded:

“Over the years I have longed for better guidance from the church. Nowhere does the vast literature of Catholic spirituality ask how a transgender person can lead a Christian life. All I can do is cling to the faith that, if the Creator made the kind of universe in which transgender people are possible, then the God ‘who wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth’ must have a plan even for me. I just wish I knew what it is.”

Letters like this one clearly indicate how much the church must improves its pastoral care for trans Catholics and their families. To read the full letter from  “Anonymous” in Commonweal, click here.

To read the latest updates on transgender Catholic issues, see Bondings 2.0’s “Transgender” category in the right-hand column or click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 28, 2017

Theologian’s Autobiography Explains His Gay Journey

Those who are familiar with Catholic LGBT history will remember that in 1976, Rev. John J. McNeill, SJ, published The Church and the Homosexual, the first book-length theological critique of the Catholic Church’s moral ban on same-sex relationships.  It is a monumental work.

But the first defense of same-sex relationships by a Catholic theologian actually was made two years earlier by Gregory Baum, an ethicist from Canada.  In an article in the February 15, 1974 issue of Commonweal, Baum wrote an article entitled “Catholic Homosexuals” in which he defended the ethical status of same-sex relationships.

Baum, who was a towering theological figure during and after the Second Vatican Council, is now in his 90s, and he just published his autobiography, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway (published by McGill-Queen’s University Press). In this book, for the first time publicly, Baum acknowledges that he is a gay man.

The acknowledgment comes in chapter 32, where the recounting of his experience will, I’m sure, sound familiar to any LGBT person who came of age before the turn of the 21st century.  It is a poignant tale, filled with the usual confusion, fear, and denial which many had experienced.  The twists and turns of his life will also be familiar.  Describing his young adulthood, he writes:

“In subsequent years I fell in love with men on several occasions with a passion that was both joyful and painful at the same time:  I had great joy in the presence of the beloved and great pain because my love could not be received.”

He explains that he became a priest, but that now, in hindsight, he sees it was for the wrong reason:

“Looking back I began to realize that my vow of celibacy had not bee a meaningful religious commitment but simply a promise to bracket my homosexuality, to refuse to explore its meaning and power.”

He decided to leave the priesthood “since I no longer agreed with the church’s official sexual ethics and was exploring my sexuality in non-conformist ways.”

Baum’s affectional and relational journey took additional twists and turns after leaving the priesthood, but I’ll leave it to you to discover those as you read his book.

Recalling his publication of the 1974 Commonweal article, Baum describes it genesis.  After giving a lecture in 1973, he received a letter from Rev. Pat Nidorf, the founder of Dignity, then a ministerial support organization of gay and lesbian Catholics, which continues today in a much-expanded organization.  Nidorf sent him a copy of Dignity’s faith statement for Baum to evaluate theologically.

Baum’s Commonweal article was the result of that evaluation.  He made the case for same-sex relationships in two ways.  First, he argued that “The definition of human nature tends to reflect the self-understanding of the cultural elite”  and so “To say that homosexual love is ‘unnatural’ is to make a cultural statement,” not a moral one.

His second point comes from his background in ecumenical and interfaith relations.  (Baum, whose mother was Jewish, wrote the first draft of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s document on the Church’s relationship to the Jewish people, when he was a theological advisor at the Council.) So he argued that “The church’s anti-homosexual rhetoric has produced a culture that despises and persecutes homosexuals, devises cruel punishments for homosexual acts, and fosters self-doubt and self-hatred in homosexual men and women.”  The antidote for this, he says, is “Christ’s great commandment–to love one’s neighbor  as oneself.”   To follow that commandment, he said, the Church needed to review its teachings in regard to all marginalized people.

Baum’s book is a treasure trove of the background of one of the great theological debates of the twentieth century, especially the Second Vatican Council.  New Ways Ministry was blessed to have Baum as a plenary speaker at our Fifth National Symposium in 2002 which was entitled “Out of Silence God Has Called Us:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics in the Vatican II Church.”

Even more so, the book is an inside look at a very gentle soul.  In closing the chapter where he acknowledged his gay identity, Baum wrote the following beautiful analysis:

“I have asked myself if there is a special meaning in the homosexual condition.  God creates the great majority of humans heterosexual and only a small minority homosexual.  Is there a special task associated with the condition of the latter?  Since they are an oppressed minority, aware of the hypocrisy of society and the damage done by the dominant culture, I have suggested that gays and lesbians are intended to extend solidarity to all marginalized groups and demand greater justice. Because homosexuals are largely invisible in society, their prophetic vocation will have a cultural impact and support the struggle for human emancipation.”

Gregory Baum has already been a gift to the Church.  With his new book, he shows us the inner soul behind his keen mind, making the gift of himself that much more precious.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 29, 2017

 

 

 

The Church and Transgender Identity, Part 2

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 began a two-part series about Commonweal magazine’s paired feature articles about “The Church and Transgender Identity: Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.”  The two Catholic theologians who penned the articles are David Cloutier, associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and the author of Walking God’s Earth: The Environment and Catholic Faith (Liturgical Press); and Luke Timothy Johnson, emeritus Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University and the author of The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art (Eerdmans).

Yesterday, we reviewed and evaluated Cloutier’s article, which took a more negative view of current transgender discourse on identity and legal rights.  Today we will look at Johnson’s argument which takes a more positive approach. Johnson is not a newcomer to Catholic LGBT issues.  He spoke at New Ways Ministry’s 2007 and 2012 national symposiums, and his ideas were very positively received by the participants.

It’s first important to point out that though Cloutier and Johnson have opposing positions, they do share some ideas in common.  Just as Cloutier took a negative position, but also expressed sympathy and respect fo transgender people, Johnson takes a positive position but also turns a critical eye to some of what he sees as excesses of the pro-trans camp. Both lament the speed with which decisions on transgender issues are being made and both decry the hardening of polarized camps which the discussion seems to have fostered.  Johnson describes the contemporary situation:

“. . . [T]he pace of social change, or at least the agitation for it, is drastically accelerated by social media and the 24/7 news cycle, and that for users of Facebook and Twitter, immediacy is all.

“. . .[L]iberals are not simply wrong, they are demonic; conservatives are not merely in error, they are evil. In a paradoxical twist, agitators for the recognition of sexual difference in the name of diversity demonize any appeal to norm or nature as oppressive; they seem unaware of the way in which ‘diversity’ easily becomes an equally hegemonic norm.”

In his essay, Johnson sets out to examine “whether Christian theology has anything to offer our present situation. My effort focuses on gender, identity, and the body, and begins by addressing a theological tendency I regard as profoundly unhelpful, precisely to the degree that it pays no attention to actual human experience—and thus, in fact, fails to ‘respond’ at all.”

Luke Timothy Johnson

Before presenting Johnson’s theological critique, I want to point out that his preference to pay “attention to actual human experience” is exactly the point where he and Cloutier diverge.  Although Cloutier does not discuss human testimony, I pointed out in yesterday’s post that his writing exhibited a lack of knowledge about transgender personal experience.  Johnson’s approach, on the other hand, values human experience as an important source of theological reflection.

Johnson critiques the heavy emphasis on gender division and gender roles expounded in the writings of Catholic theologians like Hans von Balthasar, John Paul II, and Angelo Scola, as well as Protestant theologians Karl Barth and Stanley Grenz.  He provides a succinct and careful analysis of the main trends in their theologies and concludes that their approach is

“. . . based neither on observation of human behavior, nor on genuine philosophical reflection on the behavior of real people in conversation with all the texts of Scripture, but rather on elevating selected texts of Scripture perceived as possessing a distinct and absolute revelatory character.”

Johnson, who is primarily a Scripture scholar, takes a more dynamic view of Scripture than these traditionalist theologians:

“However important Scripture is as a witness to God’s activity in the world, and however truly Scripture participates in divine revelation, it is wrong to proceed as though revelation were contained in it alone. If theology has to do with the Living God, then it must pay attention to the ways in which God continuously manifests his power and presence in the world. Catholics have always regarded tradition as a second source of witness to God’s work—in liturgy and Creed, to be sure, but above all also in the living testimony of the saints. For where holiness speaks, the church must pay attention.

“. . . . Regarding subjects like sex and gender, theologians risk seeming deaf to the voice of the living God if they do not listen carefully to what God might be up to in the sexual experience of actual humans and in the study of sexuality and gender offered by philosophy, anthropology, psychology, and—for goodness sake!—biology.”

Unlike traditional theologians who have clear definitions of gender and gendered bodies, Johnson believes that “bodily expression is always ambiguous, always difficult to decipher. If we believe, however, that God lives and continues to touch us, then we must learn something of the grammar and syntax of real bodies.”  This awareness is especially true because human beings reveal  “a variety of ways in which “male” and “female” can be individually embodied and expressed.”  He proceeds into an informative discussion of people who are intersex, meaning that they may have been born with ambiguous genitalia or other hormonal or secondary sex characteristics that can not easily be classified as male or female.

Most important to the Catholic discussion of transgender issues, Johnson asserts that gender is not a moral or religious classification, but a biological and social one.  As such, he says it is a relative, not an absolute, good, “not constitutive of humans but is rather an accidental (if extremely important) dimension of being human.”   He continues:

” . . . [T]he desire to change one’s gender is not itself a moral issue. It is not in itself a disordered drive, or a form of rebellion against the creator. It could be, to be sure, but it need not be; like the discovery of one’s sexual attraction to persons of the same gender, it may in fact be a recognition of oneself that is deeply respectful of the Creator.”

Similarly, he notes that gender change is not a religious issue per se, but can be considered such only on the basis of an individual’s motivation for change:

“. . . [I]f I make gender change an absolute good (I cannot be myself in this body) rather than a relative one (what counts is serving God and others in any body), I may in fact reveal a disordered desire, a form of idolatrous impulse. The moral or religious issue is not our gender, in other words, but what we make of it.”

And while it is sad that Johnson has to highlight the following idea, the tenor of the current political debate on transgender issues does make it necessary to do so:

“Openness to gender change does not equal openness to sexual vice.”

Johnson concludes with a hope for a process of Christian discernment about transgender identity, noting that what is needed is “face-to-face conversation; rather than the glare of publicity, intimate and honest exchange.”  And the Chuch can and should be the place where such a discernment takes place, as well as being, Johnson’s words, “the place where openness to change is a corollary of belief in the new creation and its endless inventiveness, even as it remains the place where the goal of change is greater than the discovery of the autonomous self.”

The discussion on transgender identity in the Catholic Church is just beginning.  Both Cloutier’s and Johnson’s articles are important reading for those who want to look at this issue through theological lenses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 5, 2017

Lexi Dever, a young transgender Catholic woman, and Deacon Ray Dever, her father, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. They will join Nicole Santamaria, an intersex advocate, in a focus session on transgender and intersex family issues.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

 

 

 

 

The Church and Transgender Identity, Part 1

Last month, one of Commonweal magazine’s cover features was a pair of articles from two theologians on the topic “The Church and Transgender Identity:  Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.” The theologians were David Cloutier, associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and the author of Walking God’s Earth: The Environment and Catholic Faith (Liturgical Press); and Luke Timothy Johnson, emeritus Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University and the author of The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art (Eerdmans).

In today’s post, Bondings 2.0 will present Cloutier’s argument, and tomorrow we will present Johnson’s perspective.

If we think of the pairing of these two articles as representing a pro and con position, Cloutier’s essay would have to be put into the con column.  I’m not sure that this is a totally fair assessment, though, for while Cloutier clearly questions a lot of transgender discourse, another dimension that comes through his essay is some sensitivity to people who identify as transgender.  He seems interested in finding a way that understands and respects them, even though it is obvious that he does not approve of what he sees as underlying assumptions of a lot of transgender equality rationales.

His introductory summary of the national transgender debate shows that he recognizes excesses on both sides of the discussion:

“One side views accepting an individual’s chosen identity as paramount and resistance not as simply erroneous, but downright offensive. Moreover, there is a (correct) recognition of the real struggle and suffering experienced by trans people. Yet the other side views the plain reality of male and female biology as so obvious (and often as a matter of religious truth) that it can envision no possibility of acceptance. What has increasingly resulted from this opposition are not reasoned arguments, but acts of coercion—whether in the Obama administration’s well-publicized anti-discrimination directives compelling schools and hospitals to accommodate “an individual’s internal sense of gender,” or in such backlash responses as North Carolina’s infamous ‘bathroom bill.’ “

Cloutier recognizes that the debate has revealed that “important things are at stake,” and so he sets out to examine two questions:  “What does a claim to transgender identity mean?” and “How does the debate over transgender identity and rights impact the common good?”

David Cloutier

To answer the first question, Cloutier examines some of the varying definitions of gender identity currently being used.  Unfortunately, he tends to focus on some of the extremes of this discussion, such as:

“. . . Facebook now offers fifty-six gender options. We seem to be rushing to embrace an ethic that dismisses the need to posit a real self, in favor of exploring the possibilities as they come.”

While some people may believe everything that is on Facebook, I don’t think many serious-minded people use that social media platform as the standard of legitimate evidence.

Cloutier is suspicious of transgender people’s personal testimonies that the body does not reflect “who I really am.”  He evaluates this kind of thinking negatively:

“. . . [W]e are essentially saying identity is a matter of free expression of an internal sense, and therefore what we are supposed to respect is the individual’s choice of the expression of identity feelings, regardless of his or her embodiment. . . . Both liberal and conservative Catholics have spent decades trying to rehabilitate the goodness of embodiment from problematic spiritualizations that understood our sexual bodies in particular as suspect sites of corruption requiring rigid regimes of mastery. We are committed to an ultimately sacramental worldview where the body and soul are a unity. From this perspective, an immaterial sense that one’s body is the ‘wrong’ one seems like a pretty big problem.”

Here’s one spot that I think that Cloutier is wrong.  From the many transgender people that I have encountered, I have not met many (maybe any) who said, in a totally serious way, that their bodies were wrong.  More accurately, they say that their bodies do not express their gender.  For those who seek some sort of biological modification, I have often understood that their decision to do so was because they appreciate and reverence their bodies and want them to be made whole, not because they saw them as wrong.

Cloutier’s line of thinking misleads him to inaccurately describe the goal of many transgender advocates:

“What I suspect is that the subjective sense of one’s own gender and sexual identity has become so important in our society that we are willing to sacrifice the body to it. In other words, the sense of gender identity being invoked here is construed as sacred. And the particular sense of the sacred has to do with a kind of radical self-determination. To stretch the metaphor, advocates of alternative gender paradigms are making a kind of ‘religious freedom’ argument for having their sacred sense of identity accepted.”

This characterization of gender identity as sacred seems to me to be in the mind of Cloutier, not in the minds of transgender advocates.  While many transgender people do acknowledge the spiritual dimension of their identity journeys, I don’t see them arguing in the public sphere for their equality on religious grounds.

In answering his second question, concerning transgender equality and the public good, Cloutier reveals a fear which was expressed many times during the struggle for lesbian and gay equality: What about the children?

In one spot, he states:

“. . . [W]hile it is reasonable for the state to tolerate, if not endorse, the wide exercise of individual autonomy, we also have a responsibility to ask questions about any potential damage done to our understanding of the common good, which also has real costs for individuals, especially children.”

And in another spot, he opines:

“. . . [W]hile it is reasonable for the state to tolerate, if not endorse, the wide exercise of individual autonomy, we also have a responsibility to ask questions about any potential damage done to our understanding of the common good, which also has real costs for individuals, especially children.”

I don’t believe that he intends simply to scare people. I think Cloutier is genuinely afraid that children will be easily influenced by encountering transgender people and issues. At one point, he writes:

“. . . [I]f we grant the persuasiveness of the ‘gender possibility’ argument in explaining the trans phenomenon, then it seems necessary to acknowledge that affirming and accommodating the transgender identity of one child will affect other children, in much the same way that gender stereotypes about alpha males and compliant females affect them.”

But his fear is unwarranted and the result of a faulty assumption. What’s wrong with this type of thinking is that Cloutier assumes that the idea of changing one’s gender identity is something contagious, attractive to others.  This kind of thinking seems to imagine gender identity as something easily manipulated.  It is the same kind of argument used in the discussion of gay and lesbian sexual orientation: the thinking ran that if a person, particularly a young person, became aware of gay and lesbian people or identities, then they would quickly abandon their heterosexual orientations to become gay and lesbian.  It was a ludicrous argument then, as it is now in the case of transgender people.

Cloutier concludes by advising caution (but not opposition) in discussing transgender topics in society:

“Given the conceptual difficulties involved in discerning the gender implications of ‘who I really am,’ plus the longstanding preference in both Christianity and in the general society for a unified body-soul anthropology, and the significant capacity for human folly and self-deception in these matters, at the very least we would seem to need a yellow light, not a green one.”

I will only remark here on the phrase about “significant capacity for human folly and self-deception in these matters.”  As the influence or contagion model of gender identity mentioned above in regard to children, this kind of thinking presumes that decisions about gender identity are matters of whim.  They are not.  For many people, they are the result of long, often painful, but sometimes joyful, discernments involving spirituality, personality, and relationships.

The remark about human folly and self-deception show a weakness evident throughout Cloutier’s essay:  he shows no evidence that he has seriously considered any transgender person’s testimony seriously, other than, perhaps, the wildly sensational story of Caitlyn Jenner.

As for Cloutier’s remark about the “longstanding preference in both Christianity and in the general society for a unified body-soul anthropology,”   I will make no comment.  I will it to Luke Timothy Johnson to answer that assertion as he does a much better and more erudite job than I could ever hope to do.   Tune into tomorrow’s post for a summary and evaluation of his Commonweal essay, which is the pro side of the Catholic transgender identity discussion.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 4, 2017

Lexi Dever, a young transgender Catholic woman, and Deacon Ray Dever, her father, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. They will join Nicole Santamaria, an intersex advocate, in a focus session on transgender and intersex family issues.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

“With All Families, Without Condemnation” (And More Synod Reactions)

Frank Bruni

“With All Families, Without Condemnation.” That was the headline last Sunday on Italy’s national Catholic newspaper, a further sign for many that this two-year synod process commenced a new moment in the church. Not all agree, though. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides more reactions to the Synod on the Family.

Frank Bruni, openly gay columnist for The New York Times asked an important question for those  who have closely followed the Synod’s happenings, analyzing each development and commenting on every statement: “Are most Catholics even paying attention?” While those in the media follow developments closely:

“People in the pews are less rapt. The warmth and respect they feel for the current pope doesn’t translate into any obeisance to church edict.”

Polling confirms what many Catholics know anecdotally, that wide rifts exist between official teaching and Catholics’ lived realities. Church leaders, according to Bruni, “see family in terms that are much too narrow and having a conversation that’s much too small” because they are “more interested in dictating the parameters of sex than in celebrating the boundlessness of love.”

Indeed, while some condemn contemporary family configurations as devaluing traditional morality, the columnist says the truth about reality is “more complicated and less somber than that.” Developments in family life are products of feminist and LGBT movements, which have lifted up marginalized and even abused communities to places of greater dignity and freedom. Bruni said that is all “change we should build on:

“Most of us understand, in a way we once didn’t, that there are men who will never know full romantic and sexual love with a woman, and there are women who will never experience that with a man.

“Was society better off when we denied that and trapped gay and lesbian people in heterosexual marriages that brought joy to neither spouse and were constructed on a lie? Did society benefit from marginalizing gay and lesbian people?

“Those are rhetorical questions. Or at least they should be.”

He holds up families who choose to be family, considered nontraditional by some, but in his estimation quite impressive:

“I saw this happen time and again in the 1980s and early 1990s, when AIDS ravaged gay America and many sufferers found themselves abandoned by relatives, whose religions prodded them toward judgment instead of compassion. Friends filled that gap, rushing in as saviors, stepping up as providers, signing on as protectors. Where families were absent, families were born.”

James Martin, SJ
James Martin, SJ

Jesuit Fr. James Martin identified some of they synod’s larger themes, such as discernment and conscience, enlivened by the bishops’ endorsement. He told the Salt Lake Tribune, “relies on the idea that God can deal directly with us, through our inner lives. It is another encouragement to remind people, especially remarried Catholics, that an informed conscience is, as the church has always taught, the final moral arbiter.”

Martin also released a video (which you can watch below on America’website explaining his key insights from the synod, such as:

“On LGBT issues, again the synod changed no doctrine, but it reminded Catholics of the need to respect the human dignity of LBGT people and, also, to have special care for families with LGBT members. That may not sound like much of a change, but it challenges Catholics in countries where respect and care for LGBT people are not as common.”

In a a CNN essay, he defended change in the church, saying those fearful of reform and of renewal may have conflated dogma, doctrine, and practice. Or perhaps they adhere foremost to a “crushing sense of legalism,” or even “a hatred of LGBT Catholics that masks itself as a concern for their souls.”

Grant Gallicho

Grant Gallicho of Commonweal said the synod “punted” on homosexuality, highlighting Bishop Johan Bonny’s inability to even raise the issue in his small group led by the cardinal who compared LGBT activists to Nazis. But there is hope, for Gallicho wrote: “[T]his listening synod, if it is to be true to the stirring vision of the pope who established it, can never truly come to an end. It is only the beginning.” Commonweal’s editorial echoed this idea, stating:

“In that regard, the real achievement of the synod has been the reinvigoration of the synodal process itself, one in which bishops feel free to speak their minds, to disagree with one another, and even to explore the possibility that reform is essential to the church’s evangelical mission.”

Future synod’s must include more voices within the church it said, given that some bishops like Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich admitted this Synod would have benefited from input by LGBT people. One emerging issue is transgender inclusion, a topic absent from this synod altogether. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented to The Advocate about “gender ideology” condemnations in the final report:

” ‘The remarks show that the bishops do not understand the transgender experience or how people experience their gender identity, which is often received as a spiritual, life-giving revelation.’ “

These reflections are just the first fruits of many more commentaries and reflections to come, worthwhile both for analyzing ecclesial happenings and, like with Frank Bruni’s column, spiritual nourishment as well. You can find Bondings 2.0‘s first reaction round-up by clicking hereFor Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the 2015 Synod on the Family, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Final Installment of Catholic Responses to Supreme Court Marriage Equality Ruling

Here’s what (we hope) is the final installment of immediate Catholic reactions to the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. Since the Catholic debate on this issue is not over yet, Bondings 2.0 will, of course, continue covering any ensuing controversies based on this decision as they develop.  [All previous Bondings 2.0 Catholic reaction compilation posts can be found at the end of this post.]

Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan, Writer and Political Analyst, The Dish:

Sullivan, one of the first people to propose the idea of gay marriage as a serious legal possibility (and certainly the first Catholic pundit to do so), provides a poignant brief memoir of the struggle to arrive at the Obergefell v. Hodges victory.  I found this to be, perhaps, his most stirring passage:

For many years, it felt like one step forward, two steps back. History is a miasma of contingency, and courage, and conviction, and chance.

But some things you know deep in your heart: that all human beings are made in the image of God; that their loves and lives are equally precious; that the pursuit of happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence has no meaning if it does not include the right to marry the person you love; and has no force if it denies that fundamental human freedom to a portion of its citizens. In the words of Hannah Arendt:

“The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which ‘the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one’s skin or color or race’ are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.” (from a blog post on The Dish)

Matthew Boudway

Matthew Boudway, Associate Editor, Commonweal:

Boudway categorizes the Obergefell v. Hodges case:

“. . . [It] was not about Constitutional theory or the burdens and perils of democracy. Nor was it about sex. It was about honoring people who promise to take care of each other and encouraging them to keep that promise.”

Yet, he disagrees with the outcome because on procedural grounds:

“Wherever possible, the Supreme Court should try to get out of the way, so that voters and their elected representatives can do the difficult work of democracy. If we want to change the definition of civil marriage so that it can accommodate gays and lesbians, there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent us, but neither is there anything to compel us. Why pretend otherwise?”  (from a blog post on Commonweal)

Margery Eagan

Margery Eagan, Columnist, Cruxnow.com:

” ‘The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times,’ wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy explaining, if inadvertently, a big part of the problem for the Catholic hierarchy. They can’t recognize that injustice, even in 2015, because they live apart, isolated from, and largely ignorant of, the real, changed world.

“They do not see the gay parents chaperoning the apple-picking field trip in kindergarten. They do not see the son of those parents grow up to captain the football team and marry his college sweetheart. They do not see the life-long devotion of gay couples, in sickness and health, or in the mundane particulars of everyday life. Cooking, cleaning, planting the garden, mowing the lawn, driving the carpool, helping with the homework, wanting the best for their families, just like everybody else.”  (From a column on Crux)

Bill Baird and John Kennedy

Bill Baird and John Kennedy, Retired Gay Catholic Married Couple in Santa Rosa, California:

” ‘It’s important to realize how many people are not happy about the decision,’ Baird said, ‘so we have to find a way to work together to promote marriage equality. . . .’ 

” ‘We’re lucky here in the Bay Area, but in many parts of the country you can be fired for being gay, and landlords may refuse to rent to a lesbian or gay couple,”’Baird said.

” ‘There really is a lack of protections for gay people, and while we’re delighted by the ruling, there is still a lot of education to do,’ Kennedy said.”  (From a feature article in Santa Rosa Press Democrat)

Christa Kerber

Christa Kerber, Catholic laywoman, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania:

Our Church teaches a preferential treatment for the marginalized. It teaches the dignity of all human beings. It teaches the primacy of conscience — the idea that it is our obligation to prayerfully consider tradition and doctrine, as well as our experience and the experience of those around us, in discerning what is moral and just.

My conscience has been formed with the help of family, friends, teachers, clergy, theologians, and strangers. Most of all, it has been formed through my relationship with God and my Church. . . 

I hope and pray that Church leaders will hear and understand the majority who support those in loving same-sex relationships. Love is of God and adults who have formed their consciences in faith are very capable of making good decisions about how to express their love for other human beings. (From an op-ed essay on Philly.com)
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Archbishop Blase Cupich

Archbishop Blase Cupich, Archdiocese of Chicago:

In an earlier post, we noted Archbishop Cupich’s reconciliatory statement following the Supreme Court decision.  Cupich’s follow-up comments in an interview with The National Catholic Reporter about the statement are also worth noting.  The archbishop stated:

“My concern is that we don’t lurch in one direction or another in terms of reaction, but that we really have a sense of serenity and maturity and keep ourselves walking together.

” ‘I think that’s the most important thing,’ the archbishop said, using the example of a family that discusses issues they face together.

” ‘When they have [a] crisis, when they have something new happening, a good, mature, serene family says, “OK, take a breath, everybody. We’re all in this together. We’re going to help each other,” ‘ he said.”  (From a news story in The National Catholic Reporter)

Local Catholics

In Boston and northern New Jersey, reporters visited local Catholic parishes to gather a wide variety of reactions which are chronicled in these two articles:

Boston Globe: “Boston churches split over Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling”

NorthJersey.com: “North Jersey Catholics divided on marriage ruling”

Catholic legal analyses

America magazine enlisted a variety of Catholic legal scholars and analysts to respond to the decision.  Their opinions and topics are diverse.  The legal arguments are difficult to summarize, so, instead of attempting to do so, we will just provide links to the complete essays.

Ellen K. Boegel, Associate Professor, Criminal Justice, Legal Studies, and Homeland Security, St. John’s University, N.Y.:Same-Sex Marriage Decision Resolves One Question, Raises Many Others

Teresa S. Collett, Professor of Law, University of St. Thomas School of Law, Minneapolis:  The Supreme Court’s Jurisprudence of Privacy”

Thomas C. Berg, the James L. Oberstar Professor of Law and Public Policy, University of St. Thomas School of Law, Minneapolis: “Religious Liberty Concerns After Supreme Court’s Call on Same-Sex Marriage”

Richard W. Garnett, the Paul J. Schierl / Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law , University of Notre Dame: “Hard Questions from Chief Justice on Same-Sex Decision”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Related article:

dotCommonweal: Calm, collected.”

 

Previous blog posts of Catholic commentary on Supreme Court marriage equality ruling:

July 7: Orthodox Catholic Offers Important Lesson for LGBT Supporters

July 6: Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese Spells Out Falsehoods and Possibilities in Marriage Equality Responses

July 5: Tending to Christ’s Blood: The U.S. Church’s Post-Marriage Equality Agenda

July 4: Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness, and Catholic Values

July 1: Father Martin’s Viral Facebook Post on ‘So Much Hatred From So Many Catholics’

June 30:  Here’s What Catholic Bishops Should Have Said About Marriage Equality Decision

June 29: Catholics Continue to React to Supreme Court Marriage Equality Ruling

June 28: Some Catholic Reactions to U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage Equality

June 27: A Prayerful Catholic Response to the U.S. Supreme Court Decision

June 26: New Ways Ministry and U.S. Catholics Rejoice at Supreme Court Marriage Equality Decision

 

Two Archbishops’ Gay-Related Stories Show How Our Church Needs to Grow

Two archbishops from the United States made headlines this week related to gay issues.  Each story leaves me with a different feeling, though neither one is a good feeling.

Archbishop John Nienstedt
Archbishop John Nienstedt

The bigger of the two stories centered on Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota.  A news report from Commonweal informed the world that multiple allegations have emerged that Nienstedt made sexual advances toward priests, seminarians, and other men.  The archbishop strongly denied the veracity of these claims.

Nienstedt ordered an investigation of allegations against him, and the archdiocese hired a Twin Cities law firm to conduct the investigation.  In his statement, the archbishop said that he did so because that is what he would do with allegations made against any other priest, too.

This story is complicated by a number of factors.  First, there is Nienstedt’s record of very strong anti-gay comments, many of which were made during Minnesota’s debate about a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-gender marriage in 2012.  Second, Nienstedt has already been under fire because of mishandling of sex abuse claims against some of his priests.

Naturally, one of this story’s most popular responses has been to note the irony of witnessing someone who has been strongly homophobic in his speech possibly turning out to be homosexual himself.   When this accusation is made, it is sometimes made with glee, probably because to many people’s eyes and ears it is so obviously a personal problem when someone becomes so obsessed with homosexuality.   We have seen this behavior so often in our public and private lives:  people hate most in others what they really hate about themselves, and usually cannot admit about themselves.

These allegations have to be further investigated, but should it turn out that they are true, I think I will be sadder, rather than happier, to learn this reality.  To me, what it would mean is that the homophobia in our church and in our world had so affected this particular man that his ability to respond with love towards himself and others was extremely stunted.  I am angry at the harm he has caused others, but I find myself strangely sympathetic towards him if it turns out that he caused even greater harm to himself.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland

The second story, reported briefly in only the Catholic press, focused on the fact that, for the second time, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the former archbishop of Milwaukee, was refused retirement residency at a Benedictine abbey.

Weakland, a Benedictine monk and former head of the worldwide Benedictine community of men, resigned as archbishop after it became public that he had had a sexual relationship with another man and that he had paid the man to be quiet about their involvement.   The relationship was not pedophilia and it was consensual.

Days after Weakland announced these facts, he expressed repentance publicly, celebrating a Mass where he asked for forgiveness.

The National Catholic Reporter noted that the rejection for residency came from St. Vincent Archabbey, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the same abbey where Weakland entered the community when he was 18 and lived for 20 years.  Although though the abbot of the community did not speak to the paper, Weakland offered his own thoughts about why he was refused:

“The Vatican recently laicized a Latrobe monk accused of misconduct, Mark Gruber, whose presence was creating some turmoil in the community. ‘The atmosphere was not a good one for me to return to,’ Weakland wrote. ‘Thus I will not be returning to Latrobe right now and at age 87 one never know what can happen in the future.’ “

The news story went on to explain the archbishop’s life since retirement:

“In Milwaukee, Weakland leads a low-profile life. He lives alone in an apartment and is said to attend daily Mass. He has no public role in the church, and when the current archbishop celebrates Mass and prays for the pope and bishops living in the diocese by name, Weakland is not mentioned. He was not allowed to deliver a homily at an annual priest retreat some years ago.”

This story leaves me feeling very sad–for Weakland, for the Benedictines, for our Church.  As in the Nienstedt case, we see how it is possible that fear of same-sex feelings and relationships can lead to behavior which harms one’s self and others.

The lesson that I take from both of these news stories is that we still have  a lot to learn in our church not only about sexuality, but also about forgiveness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Minnesota Public Radio: Archbishop authorized secret investigation of himself”

Star Tribune: Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt faces new sex claims”

National Catholic Reporter: Report: Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships”

TwinCities.com: “Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships, ex-official says”

The Wild Reed: “Has Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Shadow” Finally Caught Up With Him?”