Bishop’s Insensible Remarks Reveal the Great Need for LGBT Dialogue

March 10, 2015

The greatest evidence that bishops need to have more dialogues with LGBT people is in the insensible remarks these prelates make regarding sexuality.

Last week, we pointed out how Ireland’s Bishop Kevin Doran made an uneducated remark about how gay people can already get married–just not to each other.   This week, Bishop Doran, of the Elphin Diocese, made an equally uninformed statement when he compared homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida.

Doran was a guest on Ireland’s NewsTalk Breakfast radio program discussing the nation’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality. RawStory.com captured part of the dialogue:

“The radio host asked the bishop people being born gay was ‘as God intended.’

“ ‘That would be to suggest that some people are born with Down’s syndrome or spina bifida, that that was what God intended,’ Doran opined. ‘The thing about it is, I can’t see it in the mind of God.’

“ ‘The things you mentioned are disabilities,’ the host pointed out. ‘Your sexual orientation is not a disability.’

“ ‘Well, I’m not entering into that,’ Doran replied. ‘I’m just saying it would be wrong to suggest that everything that happens, happens because God intended it. If that were the case, we’d be talking about a very different kind of God.’ “

[You can listen to the interview by clicking here.]

It is somewhat embarrassing for Catholics to have to have a radio interviewer point out to a bishop that his analogy is incorrect. Moreover, Doran’s remark seems predicated on the premise that people with Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida are somehow “less than” other people.  I don’t know people with spina bifida, or their friends and family members, react to this.  As someone who has a Down’s Syndrome relative, I know that he was sent to us by God.

Furthermore, the bishop fails to see that the magisterium’s approach to homosexuality codes it as a moral category, not simply a biological one.  That is not something it does with other biological manifestations. If homosexuality and Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida were truly comparable, then why doesn’t the magisterium remove the moral shadow it places over people’s attractions to those of their gender.

Most egregious in Doran’s comments, though, is the implication that he is somehow able to understand what God intends for a person.  I think that understanding God’s intentions for the life of a person is something that borders on mystery. Or, at the very least,  it is something which can be understood only by the person, through prayer and discernment, not by an outsider.

That is where dialogue comes into play.  Open, honest, candid conversations between bishops and LGBT people would help bishops better appreciate what many LGBT people understand so intimately: that they have been wonderfully made by God; that they experience their sexuality as a way of drawing into more intimate relationship with another human being and with the Source of Life and Love; that their gender identity allows them to see the world, other people, and God in new and life-giving ways.

Bishops will not learn about such realities from a book.  They will only learn about it from faith-filled discussions with real people.

Bishop Doran should start such conversations before he says another word about marriage equality or LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


QUOTE TO NOTE: LCWR on Dialogue and Respecting Differences

August 19, 2014

computer_key_Quotation_MarksAs this morning’s post explained, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) recent meeting focused on the important topic of how to respond to the Vatican’s directive that their important decisions be overseen by the Archbishop Peter Sartain, who was appointed to this position by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

The LCWR leadership released a statement in which they said they will continue respectful dialogue with the Vatican concerning the directive.  In that statement, they reflected beautifully on the need for dialogue and respect for differences in our Church:

“We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the church for healthy discussion of differences. We know that thousands of persons throughout the country and around the world long for places where they can raise questions and explore ideas on matters of faith in an atmosphere of freedom and respect. We believe that the ongoing conversations between CDF and LCWR may model a way of relating that only deepens and strengthens our capacity to serve a world in desperate need of our care and service.”

May it ever be so!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Reflections On Vatican II and LGBT Issues–Part 1: Dialogue

December 27, 2012

2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.  As we’ve noted before, the Second Vatican Council was instrumental in laying the groundwork that allowed a discussion of LGBT issues in the church to develop.

Earlier this year, theologian Richard Gaillardetz wrote an insightful essay in America magazine marking this important anniversary.  Gaillardetz identified three crucial dynamics at the Council that allowed it to emerge as the transformative experience it was for the church.  In three separate posts, I’d like to examine those three dynamics and reflect on how they apply to LGBT issues in the church today.  (The next two posts will appear here in the coming week.)

dialogueThe first dynamic Gaillardetz idenitifies is “the catholicity of dialogue.”  He observes:

“During the four sessions of the council, bishops were introduced to other prelates from diverse countries and continents, who looked at key pastoral and theological issues from strikingly different perspectives. One of the more felicitous decisions of the council concerned the seating of bishops in the aula (the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica where the main meetings of the council were conducted). The bishops were seated in order according to episcopal seniority rather than by region. This created the circumstances in which an Italian bishop, for example, might sit next to a bishop from Africa.

“This arrangement made possible a fruitful exchange of diverse perspectives and insights. Indeed, some of the most important work of the council was accomplished at the coffee bars (nicknamed after two Gospel characters, Bar-Jonah and Bar-Abbas) kept open behind the bleachers in the aula. Bishops, after struggling to stay awake during one mind-numbing Latin speech after another, found respite at these coffee bars and often engaged in frank conversation about a variety of topics. It was the sustained, face-to-face conversation and sharing of diverse experiences that opened episcopal eyes to new possibilities. These conversations were further facilitated by informal gatherings of bishops like the 22 bishops who met regularly at the Domus Mariae hotel and were committed to encouraging a more wide-ranging deliberation than was possible within the aula. These bishops met weekly to discuss topics being considered by the council. . . .

“It was the many opportunities for discussion and debate, both formal and informal, that allowed the bishops to discern the impulse of the Spirit.”

What a remarkable opportunity for the church!  Bishops actually had the opportunity to dialogue with one another, to share perspectives and test their ideas against what others think.

From so many hierarchical statements today on LGBT issues, one gets the idea that the bishops are not talking even with one another.  Instead, they seem to be listening to and repeating only statements that come from the Vatican.  Our church is clearly the poorer for this situation.

Bishops–and our entire church–need more opportunities like Vatican II to dialogue, particularly in the area of LGBT issues.  LGBT topics are a relatively new topic for examination and discussion in both society and the world.  It was only after the mid-point of the 20th century that even secular society began to slowly discuss these topics.  Clearly, LGBT topics are among those that needed the fresh air that Pope John XXIII discussed when he announced the Council as an opportunity to open the windows of the church.

Several bishops have told me personally that these days bishops rarely discuss ideas with one another in informal settings.  They, sadly, have few opportunities to test out ideas and theories with one another in free and open situations.  Only staleness could thrive in such a context.

For LGBT issues, and for all issues related to sexuality, bishops need to dialogue with more than one another.  Since all bishops are vowed celibates,  if they only speak with one another, they will only hear part of the necessary conversation. They need to hear the lived faith experiences of people involved in public and loving sexual relationships.

While it may take a long time to end the culture of silence and non-discussion that infects our current hierarchy,  we can foster that spirit of dialogue by starting conversations on LGBT issues on the grassroots level.  Start programs of dialogue and education on LGBT issues  in your parish or faith community if you can.  If you are unable to do that,  then raise LGBT issues whenever possible:  in social justice committee meetings, education  committee meetings, pastoral outreach meetings, evangelization meetings–wherever there is an opportunity to do so.

I know that in many quarters in the church  there is an unhealthy silence about LGBT issues.  We need to end that silence by addressing these issues whenever and wherever we can in ways that will not alienate those we are trying to engage in dialogue.    If we begin the dialogue in small ways in our home communities, then the larger dialogue that is needed in our church, and that Vatican II modeled for us, can become a reality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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