Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, bishops around the world will be joining in celebrating the Chrism Mass with the priests of their diocese, blessing oils for use in the sacraments and remembering their call to priesthood.
It’s a good time to pause to remember that a good portion of those priests and bishops gathered in cathedrals tomorrow will be gay men, many of them having to hide their identities from their confreres and parishioners, family and friends. These situations are often personally challenging and difficult for men who have given their lives in service to others. What makes these situations even more poignant is the fact that, given the growing evidence that Catholics overwhelmingly support LGBT equality, it would be very likely that many of these priests would be welcomed and supported by their parishioners and friends if they shared their identities with them.
A recent essay on Huffington Post describes a grassroots initiative for lay people to begin to show their support for gay priests. Rev. Gary Meier, an openly gay priest who works as a mental health counselor describes “The 4th Day Initiative,” the brainchild of Barbara Marian and Jerry Powers, the Illinois parents of a lesbian daughter. Meier wrote:
“. . . [O]ver a year ago, I began corresponding with Barbara [Marian] and Jerry [Powers] from Illinois. Our communications resulted in what Barbara and Jerry call the ‘4th Day Initiative’ which seeks to promote visible faith allies by encouraging churchgoers to wear white strips to mass which are symbolic of the burial linens that Lazarus was wearing when Jesus tells the community to ‘Unbind him and let him go.’ (John 11:1-14)
“Here’s an adaptation and summary of what they wrote: The church has many faith allies and perhaps they get their inspiration in the biblical account of the raising of Lazarus, found in the Gospel according to St. John 11:1-44. According to the story, Jesus begins his miracle by turning to those mourning the death of Lazarus, and telling them, ‘Take away the stone.’ When Lazarus rises from the dead at Jesus’ command and comes out of the cave still bound in his burial linens, Jesus again turns to the mourners and bids them, ‘Unbind him and let him go.’
Meier describes how this Gospel story can be interpreted to apply to the context of gay priests and their parishioners, families, and friends:
“Lazarus, beloved friend of Jesus and brother of Mary and Martha, represents every one of our gay clergy, trapped and bound by denial and concealment.
“The central action of wearing white strips declares the readiness of people in the pews to support our gay clergy and church employees in their emergence from the tomb of hollow holiness.
“The mourners in the Lazarus story stand in for Catholics in the pews who experience turmoil, grief and anger in response to the rejection, devaluing, shaming, bullying and firing of gay clergy and personnel. . . .
“The wearing of white strips of material is a powerful visual statement of solidarity with their priests and church employees.”
Barbara Marian offered the following comment to Bondings 2.0 to encourage Catholics to support the “4th Day Initiative”:
“In every movement towards justice ‘coming out’ changes everything. It always has and always will. To support our priests the people in the assembly must come out first.
“Catholics coming out at Mass is the most powerful and effective action we can take because it evokes and demands deeper conversation and dialogue about and with our clergy and church employees.
“We must push with all our might to roll away the stone! We are called to open the Church to Easter’s new life through our show of support for the LGBT community.
“I believe that attitudes and policies in the Church will not be transformed unless and until the people of God come out of the cave into the light as we act together to include, value and embrace our gender- and sexually-diverse brothers and sisters.”
As we prepare to celebrate the gift of the priesthood and the glorious feast of Easter, let us remember the gay priests and bishops in our midst. To testify to our support for them and to the transforming power of new life, consider wearing some white strips of cloth on your lapel when you go to church this Easter. You’re sure to spark transformative conversations with your friends and neighbors, and you’ll send a visible sign of support to gay priests, bishops, and all LGBT church personnel.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 12, 2017
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, Barbara Marian will co-lead a focus session on “LGBT Parish Ministry.” At the same meeting, Warren Hall will lead a focus session on “Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life.” For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Throughout Lent, Bondings 2.0 has featured reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members: Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. This series closes today with the reflection below. The liturgical readings for Easter Sunday are Acts 10:34a, 37-43; 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9.
In pre-Vatican II days, I was a child in a Catholic grade school in Philadelphia. Every year toward the end of Lent, on the day before the Easter recess, the sisters would usher their classes down to the school’s big auditorium. There in the dark, cavernous room a feature length, silent movie about the passion of Christ would be projected onto a giant screen. I can still remember the black and white images of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, before Caiphas and Annas, being scourged and crowned with thorns, carrying and being nailed to the cross. This was a much more gruesome and shocking movie than even Mel Gibson could imagine.
I cried and cried each year that I saw the movie. My idea of Easter was suffering and death. In those days, the Easter Vigil was a quiet Saturday morning liturgy that not many people attended. Easter Sunday Mass seemed also subdued. The Resurrection appeared as an afterthought. No wonder that I felt Christmas was the happiest day of the liturgical year.
In the very early Church, there were no crosses to signify Christianity. The fish was the Christian symbol and the fish, not the cross, was the icon that St. Augustine used. Historians claim that only six crosses, without a corpus, have been unearthed that date back to the time of Augustine.
I thank God for Vatican II, the renewal of the liturgy, and theological developments—all of which my parched and Jansenistic spirituality drank in. I now understand that Christ’s passion, death, and Resurrection are all one fabric in the Paschal mystery.
The Resurrection is God’s response to the cruel and immoral deeds of those who wanted to do away with Jesus, stop his healings, and silence his voice for a more just world. Jesus’ Resurrection means that life will be victorious over death, goodness will triumph over evil, peace and joy will replace pain and suffering. Jesus did indeed suffer and die for us—in order to show us how to live.
Jesus never promised that he would put a stop to sickness or tragedy or pain—ours or any one else’s. Jesus did promise that he could take those circumstances and mysteriously draw life out of them. His goodness is stronger than any wickedness or evil. Jesus is that good.
To follow the crucified Christ until the Resurrection means that we try to stop grumbling, criticizing, and finding fault so much. It means that we cease lamenting the injustices in the world and in the church, but start trying to correct them. It means that we stop feeling so sorry for ourselves. It means that we will seek to give our time, our energy, our struggles, our very existence for the sake of love. We will know injury, exhaustion, and sorrow, but hope in Christ’s Resurrection will sustain us because Christ’s goodness is stronger than any wickedness or evil. Jesus is that good.
Bondings 2.0 has been covering the story of Nicholas Coppola, a gay Catholic volunteer lay minister at a parish on Long Island, N.Y., who was dismissed from his parish ministries because an anonymous letter-writer alerted the pastor that Coppola married his long-time partner. We reported on the announcement of his dismissal, we reported on his collection of over 18,000 signatures on a petition for his re-instatement, and we reported on the bizarre response he received from his bishop to that petition.
Today we feature a Bondings 2.0 exclusive interview with Mr. Coppola on what the experience of his dismissal has been like, as well as how he has responded to the amazing outpouring of support he has received from Catholics all over the country. The interview gives a personal insight into this faith-filled man.
Coppola has also initiated another petition, this one to New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, asking the prelate to break bread with Coppola and his family. You can sign that petition here.
The Interview: Nicholas Coppola
How did you come to your decision to publicly announce that the pastor had dismissed you from parish ministries?
It was a very difficult decision. At first, I thought I could meet with Bishop Murphy and have a dialogue about my removal. I was hopeful that if Bishop Murphy took the time to get to know me and David, it might soften his heart and realize that gay married couples are the same as any other loving couple. After two meetings with Auxiliary Bishop Brennan, his response was that “his hands are tied.” Then, after hearing Cardinal Dolan’s comments on Easter Sunday about the Catholic Church needing to do a better job with expressing their welcome to gay and lesbian people, I knew my story needed to be told.
Have you had any interaction with the pastor since your story made news?
I see Fr. Nicholas Lombardi on a regular basis as I have in the past. This is due to the fact that my attendance at Mass has not changed and St. Anthony’s parishioners continue to welcome and support us.
Are you still a parishioner at the parish? How are other parishioners reacting to your dismissal?
I will remain a parishioner as long as I have the support of other parishioners, and they have been incredibly supportive. Even as things in the public arena have quieted down, the parishioners are still asking for answers to their questions. They have written letters and have made phone calls to both the Pastor and Bishop William Murphy. I believe this has actually brought the St. Anthony’s Community closer together.
Did you ever think of leaving Catholicism because of being dismissed?
No. The Catholic Church is my foundation, how I was raised by my parents.
What has sustained you spiritually as you have been going through this ordeal?
I described it to a group of people the other day as becoming “spiritually independent.” I don’t rely on the brick and mortar of the church to maintain my relationship with God. I am so thankful to the Jesuits for the blessing of learning Ignatian spirituality: “Find God in all things.” I did the Jesuit spiritual exercises several years ago, and it was an incredible experience.
If you had an opportunity to meet with Bishop Murphy and/or Cardinal Dolan, what would you tell them?
I would start by telling them our story. They need to know who we are and who our families are. I will not be telling them anything that they don’t already know: that there are many gay and lesbian people and their families who are a vibrant part of the Catholic Church. I would want them to know how much we love our Church.
You collected 18,000 signatures on a petition to be re-instated. I imagine the overwhelming support that you have received has strengthened you. Can you tell us a little bit about what that experience has felt like?
The experience of support is not realized until after it happened. Reading some of the comments people wrote about what my story meant to them, hearing people’s stories of struggle and joy was all amazing. They asked me to continue on in my search for justice.
We have seen a number of stories recently of gay and lesbian church workers and volunteers being dismissed from their jobs and ministries. What advice do you have for LGBT people working in the church?
It is our Church. Nobody can remove you from your faith. Share your story.
What have you learned from this experience?
God’s Love for all is real and unconditional.
What are your hopes for the future?
My hopes are that gay and lesbian people, married or not, are loved, accepted, and respected in the church. We are past needing the support from people in the pews. We have it. We now need it from the hierarchy. My short term hope is to have a meeting with Cardinal Dolan to help him welcome lesbian gay people in the church.
This is the story of one of the strangest moves that I’ve ever heard of coming from a bishop. A little over a week ago, we reported that Nicholas Coppola, a gay man who had been dismissed from his volunteer ministries at a Catholic parish on Long Island because he married his partner, delivered a petition with over 18,000 signatures to Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre diocese, asking to be re-instated.
This week, we’ve learned that Bishop Murphy has returned the petition and signatures, with a cover letter which simply stated: “From your faithful Roman Catholic bishop.” A copy of the letter can be viewed here.
GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) reported this development on their blog this week. They quote Coppola’s reaction to this latest development:
“I really don’t understand what sort of message Bishop Murphy is trying to send. Is he no longer listening to the voices of the faithful? I have more questions than anything now.”
The strangeness of the note baffles the mind. Is the bishop being vindictive? Pretentious? Humorous? Sarcastic? The move is certainly unprofessional, and clearly not pastoral. The message it sends is an authoritarian one, not one of responding to human needs or concerns.
The Washington Post notes that the diocese confirmed that the letter did indeed come from the bishop:
“Sean Dolan, a spokesperson for Murphy, on Thursday confirmed that the bishop had sent the 300 sheets of paper with the signatures back to Coppola.
“In a statement, Dolan said the petition and the way its delivery was staged for the media ‘was designed to misinform the press and the intended recipient,’ and was ‘only designed to promote the organizations behind this spectacle.’
“ ‘All legitimate correspondence sent to the Office of the Bishop either by email or regular U.S. Mail is responded to,’ Dolan said in a statement. ‘Online petitions of this nature lack legitimacy (and) are not considered correspondence and therefore do not warrant a response.’ “
On-line petitions are a new form of media and expression, but they are now ubiquitous, and certainly a legitimate form of communication. The diocese disregards such communications at its peril, and will continue to be out of touch with the real world.
GLAAD points out an interesting church law fact about the diocese’ response:
“According to canon law, the bishops must respond to letters that have been delivered. Later the same day that Nicholas delivered the petitions, the diocese issued a media statement reaffirming Nicholas’ ouster. It is unclear if returning the petition is the official response, per canon law.”
U.S. Catholic magazine has opined on the serious pastoral error that Murphy has made:
“Whether or not Coppola should have been removed from ministry, and whether Catholics who enter into a civil union or same-sex marriage with their partner should be allowed to participate in the life of a parish, are questions that will surely get a lot of arguments on both sides. But the fact that many Catholics were upset with the way Coppola was treated isn’t something that should just be ignored–a good bishop should at least engage with his flock and, if not to debate the decisions he’s made, should at the very least be open to explaining his reasoning in a pastoral manner. If nothing else, the bishop should see it as a teachable moment rather than something to turn away from and refuse to acknowledge.”
Coppola has a second petition campaign going in which he asks New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan to have a meal with his family. On Easter Sunday, Dolan stated on a television talk show that the church needs to do better outreach to gay and lesbian people. You can sign the petition here.
GLAAD’s Ross Murray, director of news and faith initiatives, stressed the importance of this second petition:
“Nicholas Coppola is a faithful Catholic who loves his church, and he is now being treated like a threat by his own bishop. Now more than ever, it is vital that Cardinal Dolan break bread with Nicholas to hear how he is being treated by the church that he loves so much.”
New Ways Ministry urges you to sign this petition.
Responses to Cardinal Dolan’s Easter Sunday comments keep pouring in. If nothing else, it shows how his comments struck nerves, both positively and negatively. It shows how much affirmative words from the hierarchy are needed, and it shows how important it is that the hierarchy go beyond just words to send a positive message to LGBT people.
“. . . getting weary of bishops and cardinals who tell me how much they love my gay and lesbian friends and I, while at the same time willfully misunderstanding us, refusing to talk to us and devaluing our relationships.”
Her analysis continues by pointing out several actions that Dolan has taken recently that emphatically do not show love for LGBT people:
Refusing to respond to a letter and petition written by Joseph Amodeo, a former member of the junior board of Catholic Charities of the New York archdiocese, pleading with Dolan to meet with LGBT homeless youth, many of whom were thrown out of their homes by religious parents. Amodeo later resigned from the board, without public reaction from Dolan.
After reviewing similar actions and statements by San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Pope Francis (when he was archbishop in Argentina), Manson provides an eloquent depiction of what true love is, which seems to echo St. Paul’s famous description in 1 Corinithians 13:
“While it may be true that Dolan, Cordileone and even the new pope are seeking a more pastoral approach to gays and lesbians, I really wish that they would stop calling it love.
“Love does not ignore letters pleading for dialogue and reconciliation.
“Love does not turn away spiritually hungry people from God’s Eucharistic table.
“Love does not use spiritually violent rhetoric against a marginalized community’s fight for justice.
“When we love another person, we genuinely desire to know her or him. When we love, we long to listen to the beloved and to learn his or her story. To love in this way, we must be authentically present to the beloved. This kind of love is risky because it demands vulnerability on the parts of both the lover and the beloved.
“If members of the hierarchy took the risk of truly listening to gay and lesbian couples, they might find, as the majority of U.S. Catholics have, that many of these couples equally embody the faithfulness, devotion, sacrifice and fruitfulness that characterize the best heterosexual relationships.
“They might open themselves up to the possibility that God is speaking new truths through the voices and lives of gay and lesbian couples and transgender persons. They might see that not only are same-sex couples entitled to equal rights and protection, they have as much potential to honor the institution of marriage as opposite-sex couples.”
Equally Blessed‘s Marianne Duddy-Burke and Mary Ellen Lopata, in an on-line New York Times op-ed, offer some suggetions to Cardinal Dolan to how he could back up his words of welcome with real actions. Among the items they suggest for the bishops are:
Dropping opposition to immigration reform that would allow partners in same-sex couples to enter the U.S. legally
Adopting anti-bullying programs in Catholic schools
Changing to more pastoral tone and content when referring to LGBT people
Dissociate the U.S. hierarchy from the National Organization for Marriage
Abandon opposition to allowing lesbian and gay couples to adopting children.
They conclude their list with:
“Perhaps most important, the bishops should stop hiding from us. There is no reason the bishops, priests and deacons of every diocese in the United States cannot hold regular meetings with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics and their families to allow them to speak honestly about their experiences within the church. The result might not always be agreement, but at least it could be a spirit of respect and openness.
“We suspect that some of these recommendations will be received more warmly than others. But having them received at all would be progress for which we might one day have Cardinal Dolan to thank.”
In a similar vein, Ross Murray of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) in an online Washington Post op-ed, suggests three ways for Cardinal Dolan to back up his Easter Sunday message:
“1.Cardinal Dolan needs to stop talking about LGBT people and spend more time listening to them.”
“2.If Cardinal Dolan cannot talk about LGBT people without uttering words of condemnation, he should simply stop talking about LGBT people in general.”
“3.Cardinal Dolan could turn his stated love into tangible action that would help real LGBT people in their day-to-day lives.”
Murrayelaborates on each of these three points in his essay, and he concludes with:
“God’s love is felt, not simply stated. When Cardinal Dolan makes such blatant attacks on LGBT people, it makes his ‘I love you and God loves you’ in front of the media ring hollow. Such expressions of love need to be backed up with tangible action. Do something that demonstrates that church leaders view LGBT people as more than a threat or a curse.
“Cardinal Dolan can keep saying that he loves us and God does too, but until he turns away from the camera to actually listen to the stories of our lives, these words will have no meaning.”
Clearly, Cardinal Dolan has his work cut out for him. The challenge to him is the challenge that all Christians face: to make the Gospel incarnate in the world. With all of the commentary and suggestions and support offered to him to do something tangible, Cardinal Dolan should have an easier time deciding what to do next. The ball is in his court.
This week began with Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s statement of pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people, and the commentary and analysis of his remarks still hasn’t stopped. I imagine that the cardinal did not realize that his comment would cause such a discussion, but it is good for the church that this conversation is taking place.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), wrote a Huffington Post essay in which she expressed surprise that people were stunned by Dolan’s positive gesture. Walsh explained that the Catholic Church has always welcomed gay and lesbian people:
“To reiterate Cardinal Dolan’s point: Gays are welcome in the church. So are divorced people. Heck, even in the rare instances that people are excommunicated, they’re still expected at Sunday Mass. Although some sects ban you from the property for violating their rules, the Catholic Church still wants you in the pew.”
But Sister Walsh’s comments illustrate the problem.Many people know that the Catholic Church officially welcomes everyone, yet a good number of people, especially gay and lesbian people, have not experienced that welcome. One of the ways that welcome has been muted is by harsh rhetoric from Catholic hierarchical leaders, like Cardinal Dolan and the USCCB. Is Sister Walsh aware that people have heard many negative messages from the bishops? Is she aware that her final sentence in the quotation above is not a welcoming one?
David Gibson, an author on Catholic topics who writes for Religion News Service, points out more specific examples of how the bishops have not communicated a welcome:
“Other church leaders used especially harsh language to describe gays and lesbians, and some barred children from attending Catholic schools because their parents are gay. Many also equated support for civil marriage for gays with support for abortion, an action that is grounds for automatic excommunication.”
Gibson points to two reasons why Cardinal Dolan may have made his message when he did: 1) a change in leadership style toward a more pastoral approach, exemplified by Pope Francis; 2) the shift occurring in public opinion towards greater acceptance of marriage equality.
Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, and the leader of last summer’s popular “Nuns on the Bus” tour, also looks at the example of Pope Francis as a sign of hope for a shift in leadership and rhetoric from other church hierarchs. In aWashington Post “On Faith” essay, she wrote:
“My deepest hope is that he [Pope Francis] will lead our church in embracing all people who feel they have been marginalized or cast out because of stridency and cruelty they have encountered in our church. Too often we have been a hurtful structure rather than a caring community. Members of LGBT communities have been particularly harmed, and that is wrong.
“The Gospels are filled with examples of Jesus teaching us to reach out to and welcome those who have been marginalized by others. Jesus reached out to the lepers, healed the Roman occupier’s son, asked the Samaritan woman for help, and prevented the woman taken in adultery from being stoned by judgmental men. Pope Francis seems to understand this better than many, and we now have examples of people like Cardinal Dolan making some progress in following Christ’s example.”
Sister Campbell points to Cardinal Dolan’s words in his Easter homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as yet another sign of expectant change. Dolan said:
Michael O’Loughlin, who blogs on “Church and State” issues for BustedHalo.com, a website for young adult Catholics, agrees with Gibson that the change in style may be due to the shift in public opinion on marriage equality, particularly among young people:
Recognizing perhaps that the Church is losing its young members on the issue of same-sex marriage, and perhaps understanding that the battle may be lost entirely, some leaders are beginning to soften their tone. Remember, there’s two parts to the teaching in the catechism: homosexual acts are immoral, we’re told, but all gay people must be treated with respect and dignity. Perhaps the Church is beginning a campaign to emphasize the latter after so many years of touting the former?
O’Loughlin also seems to agree with New Ways Ministry’s suggestion in its initial statement on Cardinal Dolan’s comments that dialogue with LGBT Catholics is the important next step New York’s archbishop:
“As Pope Francis continues to demonstrate so powerfully, symbolism matters. So imagine the powerful image of a senior Catholic prelate sitting down to share a meal with a gay couple and engaging in friendly dialogue about how the Church might make their family feel more welcome in parish life. There’d be no implicit approval of same-sex marriage or conversation about moral theology. Instead, just a pastor and two faithful Catholics exploring ways to live out radical hospitality. Though it seems obvious at first glance, engaging gay and lesbian Catholics in dialogue about their experiences would be a radical shift in how the Church approaches these issues.”
Indeed, DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics and allies, has called upon Dolan to dialogue with its members and leadership. In an open letter to Cardinal Dolan this week, Dignity’s leadership stated:
“We sincerely hope and pray that your recent comments mark the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between the Bishops and LGBT Catholics, as well as the majority of U.S. Catholics who have shown themselves to be increasingly supportive of LGBT people. To that end, we feel it is important to set a definite date to resume a dialogue that has been suspended for far too long. We suggest a meeting before Pentecost, or at the earliest possible date, in either New York City or Washington, D.C. If you would let us know your availability, we will make every effort to arrange our schedules to accommodate yours.”
Finally, just a quick note about reactions to New Ways Ministry’s characterization of Cardinal Dolan’s comments as “an Easter miracle.” Earlier this week, John Corvino, a philosophy professor at Wayne State University, and author of several works on LGBT issues, took exception to this characterization by stating in a Huffington Post essay:
“I give the man credit for taking a more positive and welcoming tone, and sincerely hope that his fellow Christians take note. At the same time, it’s a sign of how low the bar is set when comments like Dolan’s inspire such interest and excitement. For example, Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of the gay Catholic group New Ways Ministry, called Dolan’s remarks ‘nothing short of an Easter miracle.’ ”
“Really? Rising from the dead is an Easter miracle. Marshmallow Peeps are an Easter miracle. (You can put them in your pantry for a decade, and they won’t decay. It’s true.) But a Christian leader saying ‘Hey, maybe we shouldn’t attack gay people’? That’s just common decency, not to mention good strategy — especially in a world where a majority of American Catholics support equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.”
I mention this statement because several blog readers argued along similar lines in the “Comments” section of the original post on Easter Sunday. Was Dolan sincere? Were his comments too little, too late? Does Dolan’s continued opposition to marriage equality cancel out his outreach?
I appreciate where all of these people are coming from, yet I still see Dolan’s statement as a hopeful sign. For one, it is a major shift that he has said anything positive to lesbian and gay people, whatever his motivation. This is new. Will it be the beginning of a new era of openness? Time will tell. But whatever happens, it will be very difficult for Dolan and other bishops not to make positive statements in the future.
Secondly, the quotation about “Easter miracle” was taken out of context and isolated as a single statement, thus allowing it to be interpreted in a variety of ways. Here’s what the original statement said:
“This is the first time that the cardinal has made such a positive statement about God’s love for lesbian and gay people. Such a statement is a refreshing change from the usual harsh rhetoric that the church hierarchy uses when discussing LGBT issues. It is a significant sign of welcome and outreach. Cardinal Dolan’s statement is nothing short of an Easter miracle.
“Cardinal Dolan now has to back up these words with actions. Later in the interview he said that church leaders ‘gotta listen to people,’ referring to lesbian and gay persons. If Dolan meant what he said, he should open a dialogue with lesbian and gay people, especially Catholics, to learn more about their pain and struggle , but also about their joy and faith. New Ways Ministry stands ready to help Dolan identify people with whom he can begin to dialogue.”
An Easter miracle? Yes, but it has to be backed up by actions. Are Dolan’s words “baby steps,” as Corvino characterizes them? I don’t think so. I think they signal a shift, which even if it is only “window dressing” could have a major impact on how Catholicism approaches LGBT issues. If bishops begin speaking positively, even if only as a style change, it can affect the way that many traditional Catholics speak and think about these issues. And when thought changes, eventually policy changes, too.
Easter Sunday morning turned out to be an opportunity for senior Catholic clerics to hit the airwaves with messages about LGBT issues. Not a surprise, given the fact that the Supreme Court heard two cases this past week about marriage equality.
Yesterday, we reported on New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan message of pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay Catholics. We urged him to open a dialogue with lesbian and gay people as the way to follow through with his suggestion that church leaders need to listen better to those who feel alienated from the church. Cardinal Dolan also took the opportunity to defend the hierarchy’s view that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples.
Washington, DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl also made a television appearance yesterday in which he discussed welcoming lesbian and gay people, but his outreach was a little more restrained. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Wuerl was asked if the Catholic church should welcome gay and lesbian couples who are legally married. His answer, according to the news website Rawstory, was:
“. . . we do that same thing with people who are married, divorced and remarried. We say, you know, you’re still part of the family, but we can’t recognize that second marriage. It’s never been a great problem. It’s painful for all of us to have to realize that making our way through life is difficult and that we can’t always be as perfect as we like to be.”
Cardinal Wuerl should check with remarried people to see if, in fact, they feel as welcomed by the church as he thinks they should be.
Wuerl also used his television appearance to make a quasi-religious liberty argument, saying that those who, like himself, oppose marriage equality need to be tolerated better by society:
“The only thing I worry about is someone saying to me, ‘You, because you believe that sex is intended for marriage and because you believe that marriage is indissoluble and because you believe that marriage is between a man and a woman that somehow you don’t belong here, that somehow this is bigotry or this is hate speech.’ That’s what I worry about. There has to be room enough in a society as large, as free as pluralistic as America to make space for all of us.”
Wuerl’s predecessor as Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick appeared on Bloomberg’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt, and defended the idea of civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. The Christian Science Monitor reports:
“Cardinal McCarrick said he has ‘no problem’ with civil unions for gay couples that confer the same rights as marriage.”
“I certainly would prefer that to what I could call ‘a marriage,’ in quotes,” Cardinal McCarrick said.
McCarrick joins a growing chorus of bishops, including Pope Francis who have endorsed civil unions as an alternative to marriage–a compromise that was unthinkable only a few years ago.
McCarrick also acknowledged that society faces more challenging tests to heterosexual marriage than marriage equality:
“ ‘Same-sex marriage is not at this point prevalent in our society, and probably won’t be’ because gays are a minority, McCarrick told Bloomberg. Children whose parents divorce or are born out of wedlock, he said, ‘find themselves out on a limb,’ which ‘is a serious problem in our society.’ ”