Cardinal: Focus on Church’s Failure to Defend Gay Rights, Not Marriage Equality

In contrast to many Catholic leaders, a ranking German cardinal has said the church should be more concerned with the way lesbian and gay people are discriminated against than with marriage equality.

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Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who heads the German Bishops’ Conference, made his remarks in an interview with Augsburger Allgemeine , a major Bavarian newspaper.

Marx rejected conservative church voices who have claimed that marriage equality will have dire social consequences in Germany after legislators approved lit earlier this month. While upholding the Magisterium’s heteronormative teaching on marriage, Marx chided critics, according to La Croix:

“‘[It is worth recalling] that the Church has not exactly been a trailblazer as far as the rights of homosexuals are concerned. We must express our regret that we did nothing to oppose homosexuals from being prosecuted. The law (which made homosexuality a crime) was not rescinded until 1994 (in Germany) and we, as a Church, did not concern ourselves with it.'”

Marx, who is a close advisor of Pope Francis, also commented on the key distinction between church and state, as it relates to lawmaking:

“‘The Christian position is one thing. It’s another thing to ask if I can make all the Christian moral concepts (state) laws. . .Whoever fails to understand that the one does not automatically lead to the other, has not understood the essence of modern society.'”

Pressed on this question by the interviewer, Marx reiterated his point that the church does not “simply want to mold our opinions into laws.”  Marx explained:

““We live in an open society in which there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and non-believers. In a secular society, the state must make laws that are valid for everyone.”

The interviewer also asked whether the passage of marriage equality proved the church had lost its influence in the public realm. Marx replied:

“‘Surely Christian influence doesn’t show itself only in laws, but in the everyday values that are lived in society. It is not merely a case of our influence but of those concerns, the Gospels oblige us as Christians to carry out. . .We don’t only lobby for the Church!'”

Marx did express support for a legal appeal before the nation’s Supreme Court, but interestingly his welcome of the appeal was so that it would “be good for legal peace in Germany.” This statement could imply that he would accept whatever the Court’s ruling might be.

The German bishops’ overall response to the legalization of marriage equality has been quite nuanced, and in such a way that it is a sign of positive change in the church. In his statement on the issue, Archbishop Heiner Koch disapproved of marriage equality while recognizing a need to protect same-gender couples who exhibit “mutual responsibility and care” in their relationships.

As for Cardinal Marx, his record on LGBT issues has been somewhat ambivalent but is increasingly positive. Last year, Marx said history had treated gay people badly, such that “as church and as society we have to say sorry.” During the Synod on the Family, he was one of the leading voices for greater welcome and pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people. He has also called for a re-thinking of sexual ethics around homosexuality which takes into account the reality of people’s lives and relationships.

At the same time, including in these most recent comments, Marx has continued to advance heterosexual couples as having a “special relationship, and firmly rejected the idea that same-gender relationships could be blessed in the church.

Nonetheless, it is very good news that a church leader as high-ranking as Cardinal Marx would publicly voice what so many Catholics have lived by for years: the church’s primary treatment of LGBT issues should come not from sexual ethics, but from social justice.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 18, 2017

German Bishops Offer Nuanced Response to New Marriage Equality Law

Germany’s bishops have said they are “deeply saddened” by the legalization of equal marriage and adoption rights for same-gender couples in their country, but their response is more nuanced than what is being reported.

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Brandenburg Gate lit up for Pride

Early last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she was dropping her opposition to marriage equality. Legislators passed the law Friday, including several who are members of the lay-run Central Committee of German Catholics.

After the law’s passage, Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin released a statement in his role as chair of the German Bishops Conference’s Commission on Marriage and Family. Koch said, in part:

“I regret the fact that the legislature has given up the essential content of the marriage concept in order to make it fit for same-sex partnerships. At the same time, I regret the fact that today’s decision gives up a differentiated perception of different forms of partnership in order to stress the value of same-sex partnerships. Differentiation, however, is not discrimination. A valuation of same-sex cohabitation can also be expressed by another institutional arrangement. It does not have to appear in the opening up of the legal institute of marriage for same-sex partnerships. The fathers of the constitutional law (Grundgesetz) have given marriage such a prominent place in our constitution, because they wanted to protect and strengthen those who as a mother and father want to give their children their lives. If, above all, the protection of relationships and the assumption of shared responsibility as a justification for the opening of the marriage are brought forward, this means a substantial re-balancing of the content and a dilution of the classic marriage concept.”

Koch said that a conversation about “the strengthening and promotion of the diverse communities of responsibility” was necessary, adding:

“As a church, we have respect for those same-sex partnerships in which mutual responsibility and care are taken over for many years.”

In light of marriage equality’s passage, Koch said the bishops would need to “present [their understanding of marriage] invitingly in public” and promote sacramental marriage as a separate entity.

Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg echoed this sentiment, according to PinkNews, saying, “I regret that our understanding of marriage and the state’s understanding are moving yet further apart.”

Before the vote, reported The Tablet, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, president of the German Bishops Conference, called the snap vote “absolutely inappropriate” and said marriage must remain defined as it is in the German constitution.

These statements need to be read in a very important context. German bishops have been some of the most supportive voices in the church for LGBT people. Indeed, both Archbishop Koch and Cardinal Marx attended Catholic Day festivities in Germany last year as LGBT groups were welcomed to participate for the first time.

At the Synod on the Family, Koch said the German contingent sought to advance the conversation on homosexuality as much as possible despite resistance from other regions. The German-speaking group of bishops at the synod stated that the church should apologize to people it has harmed, including lesbian and gay people. Cardinal Marx has also said the church should apologize.

But when lay Catholics in Germany called for the church to bless same-gender partnerships outside of marriage, bishops including Marx rebuked them sharply. Marx himself has both affirmed the love found in such partnerships, and also spoken strongly against understanding them as equal to marriage. Meanwhile, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck said such couples should be blessed.

The bishops’ response to Germany’s new marriage law is equally nuanced, yet it should be seen as a positive change in the church. It would be too far at this point to expect they would affirm marriage equality, but their statements reveal three noteworthy advances.

First, they recognize the need to legally protect same-gender couples even if they desire differentiated means of doing so. Second, Koch’s statement acknowledges the lasting “mutual responsibility and care” found in such relationships. Third, they admit the difference between civil and sacramental marriage. Going forward, Koch is clear that the bishops’ role is not to fight the new law, but to invitingly propose their understanding of marriage and hope it attracts people.

I await the day when bishops, recognizing the goodness and love which mark same-gender relationships, celebrate with their fellow Catholics when marriage equality laws are passed. Until then, I hope more bishops will look to Germany and try for less caustic, more nuanced responses.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 5, 2017

San Jose Bishop Counters Paprocki’s Decree Against Married Lesbian/Gay Couples

A California bishop has written a letter instructing clergy and religious in the diocese to be compassionate and inclusive when it comes to pastoral care. a direct repudiation of last month’s alienating directives from an Illinois bishop.

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Bishop Patrick McGrath

Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose sent the letter on June 29, 2017. While it doesn’t specifically mention Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree that bars people in same-gender marriages from participation in certain forms of pastoral care, sacramental life, and leadership, from the language of the text, it seems this recent development was on McGrath’s mind . According to the blog Proper Nomenclature, McGrath wrote:

“Recent news reports of policies and practices related to members of the LGBT community in other dioceses can be confusing.

“I take this opportunity to assure you that the pastoral response in the Diocese of San Jose remains just that: compassionate and pastoral. We will not refuse sacraments or Christian Burial to anyone who requests them in good faith.

“Finally, let us remember and be guided by the words of Pope Francis: ‘The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.'”

Paprocki’s decree drew strong reactions from Catholics, especially his instruction that pastoral ministers deny funerals to Catholics in same-gender marriages. You can read a report on his decree here, along with reactions here and here.   While other bishops (notably Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput and Newark’s former Archbishop John Myers) barred married gay and lesbian people from communion and liturgical roles, only Paprocki went so far as to forbid funerals for them.

This letter is not Bishop McGrath’s first step to be more welcoming of LGBT people. Last year, after the massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, he was among the handful of bishops who explicitly mentioned the victims’ sexual and/or gender identities in a statement.

The Diocese of San Jose also hosts the Catholic LGBT Ministry Council, which sponsors monthly “All Are Welcome” Masses at parishes and provides pastoral ministers with welcoming resources.

Criticism of Paprocki has continued from other quarters. A MoveOn.org petition asking Paprocki to reconsider his decree is gaining signatures, and Jim Ketchum wrote in The Times Herald of Michigan:

“Does this mean the church now can bury only saints? Should there be any doubt, it sounds as if you should get your requests for forgiveness in well before your last breath. . .Nobody dies sinless.”

Thankfully, Bishop McGrath has recognized that every person is welcome to pastoral care. His instruction to welcome everyone to the sacraments who “requests them in good faith” echoes Jesus’ invitation in the Gospel, and it mirrors a more merciful tone in the church sought by Pope Francis.

But beyond that, his letter is significant because, even if indirectly, he is publicly challenging a fellow bishop. This development is a sign of health in a church where there is too often silence from bishops when their peers act inappropriately. More U.S. bishops should follow McGrath’s example by issuing guidelines of welcome and inclusion.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 2, 2017

 

Bishop Stowe Applauds Interfaith Pride Celebration; Parish and Celebrity Also Mark Pride

As Pride month concludes today, Bondings 2.0 brings you three stories about how a Catholic bishop, a Catholic parish, and a Catholic entertainment celebrity chose to mark the annual occasion.

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Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv. at New Ways Mnistry’s Symposium in April

Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv. of Lexington, Kentucky, sent a letter to attendees of the city’s first Pride Interfaith Service. The letter was posted on Facebook by the Catholic Committee of Appalachia for whom he is the episcopal liaison. In the letter Stowe wrote:

“It is a commendable outreach to people in the community who too often have suffered discrimination from people of faith. It is good to know that in the midst of the festivities, members of the LGBT community are taking time for prayer and reflection and coming together in celebration of a bond of faith. May a great outpouring of praise and thanksgiving rise to the Creator along with our prayers for relief for all who are suffering in any way.

‘Though our religious traditions and backgrounds vary, they all teach the virtues of loving respect expressed in compassion. May that spirit become ever stronger in our Lexington community. May your gifts truly be celebrated in a spirit of thanksgiving. And may we all grow in our ability to join hands and hearts to resist hatred and intolerance in any form.”

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Lexington Catholics at the city’s Pride Festival

Catholics in Lexington joined Bishop Stowe’s outreach by hosting a table at the city’s Pride Festival earlier this month.

In April, Bishop Stowe offered scriptural reflections at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” The National Catholic Reporter interviewed him about the event:

“Stowe said he is humbled by those who have pursued ‘a life of faith in a church that has not always welcomed or valued’ them or their worth. . .both the presence and persistence of LGBT Catholics inspired him.

“They’ve shown ‘a valuable expression of mercy’ in calling the church ‘to be more inclusive and more Christ-like despite being given so many reasons to walk away,’ he said.”

Stowe also offered LGBT-inclusive reflections at the Conference of Major Superiors of Men’s 2016 conference.

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Baltimore remembers Orlando with prayer

In Baltimore, the LEAD Ministry at St. Matthew’s parish and other Catholics joined with interfaith groups to both acknowledge the first anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub massacre.  The faith groups then also marched in the city’s Pride Parade.

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Catholics join interfaith marchers in Baltimore

In New York City, comedian Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 10.45.12 AM.pngJim Gaffigan and his family posted about Pride on social media. Gaffigan, who is quite public about his Catholic faith, tweeted, “I’m so proud of my gay kids. Happy #pridenyc”.

Gaffigan entertained Pope Francis and throngs of Catholics at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last year.

How did you celebrate Pride? Leave a note in the “Comments” section below, or share a picture of your celebrations with us on New Ways Ministry’s Facebook page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 30, 2017

Bishop Paprocki’s Decree Was Released on Orlando Massacre Anniversary

Catholics have continued to express their strong responses to Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree barring people in same-gender marriages from participation in church activities, including being denied funerals. To read further about the decree, click here. For more reactions, click here.

Bishop Paprocki (1)Deb Word of Fortunate Families wrote an open letter to Paprocki, and noted that the decree was released on June 12, the one year anniversary of the massacre at an Orlando LGBT nightclub in which 49 people were murdered. Word wrote:

“I thought your decree was heartless and an assault on our families, our children, our church community. That was until I realized the date of the [decree]. You chose to remember the dead with a communication that says they were not worthy of BURIAL. I have never seen such hate and I am filled with grief and frankly nauseous that any human could do this. . .Please sir, resign. Or put down the pen. But please stop hurting my kids!”

To read an open letter to Paprocki from Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, click here.

On Vox.com, Brian Flanagan, a theologian at Marymount University, Virginia, believes Bishop Paprocki is “entirely qualified” to deem married gay Catholics as “manifest sinners,” according to canon law definitions.  Vox’s report continued:

“At the same time, [Flanagan] points out, other canon laws suggest that Paprocki’s narrow interpretation is itself problematic: He notes that, generally speaking, when there’s room for interpretation, the governing principle of canon law is that a law should be interpreted ‘to the benefit of the baptized Catholic.'”

Flanagan also questioned whether Paprocki’s actions were prudent, saying “he’s essentially failed” in preventing scandal:

“[T]his decree’s mean-spiritedness deeply undermines respect for Catholic bishops and their teaching authority. Coming just after Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy, denying funerals to the departed and their grieving families seems jarringly unmerciful, and un-nuanced in its blanket application to married gay people as compared to other Catholics who fall short of perfection. . .the denial of a funeral to a married gay person is more scandalous to most Catholics than that funeral’s occurrence.”

Martin Pendergast, a member of London’s Farm Street Church LGBT Community, told Independent Catholic News:

“A number of [U.S.] bishops are locked into the realm of ideas rather than really responding to the reality of peoples’ lives which Pope Francis keeps urging ALL of us to do. . .LGBT Catholics, parents and families are not the stumbling blocks here, rather it is ideological bishops such as Bishop Paprocki who are the real cause for scandal.”

Dr Gemma Simmonds, C.J., a theologian at Heythrop College in England, added, “I hope that we can all work to build a scandalously merciful church rather than setting ourselves up as harsh judges of those whose judgement lies in God’s hands alone.”

Michael Sean Winters, writing in the National Catholic Reportersaid Paprocki “should be sacked.” Winters says that Paprocki’s action “warrants the extreme sanction of removal from office proposed in the motu proprio, Come una madre amorevole.” He continued:

“If I were a bishop, and I think we can all agree it is a good thing I am not, but if I were, I would issue a decree that Tom Paprocki can’t be buried in my diocese. As it is, I suspect 95 percent of the bishops in this country were horrified by what Paprocki did, and the other five percent, while not horrified, would not follow his lead.”

Finally, Steve Jones submitted a letter to The State Journal-Register opposing the decree despite Jones’ own reservations about marriage equality. He wrote:

“Maybe Bishop Paprocki should open his eyes and see what his flock has been seeing for years. Such as Catholic grade schools closing because of lack of students, Masses not full, and the younger generations not involved in the church, largely in part to the gross mishandling of the priest abuse scandal. Don’t believe me, go to a Catholic Mass and count the number of attendees who might fall between the ages of 16 and 36. . .Now is the time for the Catholic Church to unite and grow, not divide and continue its downward spiral.”

Jones concluded by referencing Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” statement, adding, “the God I pray to at night loves people for who they are, not who I want them to be.”

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him. 

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

For continuing updates on Bishop Paprocki’s decree and more Catholic LGBT news, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 using the box in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 29, 2017

NEWS NOTES: Church Official Calls Non-Discrimination Laws a “Sword” Against Equality Opponents; Other News Updates

Here are some items that may be of interest:

News Notes1. Non-discrimination laws aimed at protecting LGBT people are “used as a sword by LGBT activists to go after those who disagree with their ideological beliefs on human sexuality,” according to the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s Executive Director, Tom Venzor. Writing in the Southern Nebraska Register, Venzor criticized state bill LB173 that would have made sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes.

2. Dignity/Chicago recently celebrated its 45th anniversary, reported the Windy City Times. Members gathered for Mass and a celebration where DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke spoke, and the group honored Lambda Legal. Ramon Rodriguez, Dignity/Chicago’s board president, told attendees, “Our work is far from done. . .we are only as good as how we tackle the current and future needs of our community.”

3. High school student Riley Collins created a radio essay on “My Catholic mom and her two queer sons,” which addressed the tensions in his family between his Filipino mother’s grappling with having two gays sons and the sons’ distanced relationship from the Catholic Church.

4. A film about a Venezuelan transgender activist and legislator was reportedly barred from two church-affiliated colleges: the Catholic University Andrés Bello and the Catholic University Santa Rosa. Producers of the film “Tamara” claimed the schools told them they could not host a screening because it was “transsexual propaganda.” The colleges denied these allegations, reported ArtsFreedom.

5. A Roman Catholic farmer in Michigan alleged that he was barred from a farmers’ market because he does not support marriage equality. Steve Tennes of Country Mill Farms is now suing the city of East Lansing, which operates the market. The city’s mayor, Mark Meadows, said the ban is because Tennes refused to host a same-gender wedding at his facility, and the city does not contract with vendors who discriminate.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 25, 2017

Latest Firing Reveals Church Worker Disputes are Really About Homophobia

Yet another church worker claims to have been fired because of sexual orientation in a case which lays bare the homophobia behind such firings.

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Joshua Gonnerman

Joshua Gonnerman said he was fired from a Catholic institution because he is a gay man, reported Melinda Selmys on her blog, Catholic Authenticity

While Gonnerman has not released the details of his firing, Selmys has offered worthwhile commentary on how these firings are not about sexual behavior, but sexual orientation.

Selmys explained the Gonnerman is publicly celibate because he has decided to adhere to the magisterium’s teaching on same-gender sexual acts. He has also “been publicly involved in helping others to find life-giving ways of living that teaching out.” His support ministry was featured in an article in The Washington Post a few years ago. Selmys wrote:

“I wish I could say that this is the first time that one of my friends has lost work at a Catholic or Christian organization because of their sexual orientation, but it’s not. No amount of public fidelity to the traditional teaching on marriage, nor even the use of terminology like ‘same-sex attracted’ instead of ‘gay,’ has been sufficient to prevent discrimination within conservative Christian institutions. . .In almost all of these cases, they were told directly that their homosexuality was the cause of concern.

“This is why it makes my blood boil when people claim that there is no homophobic discrimination in Christian circles — that Christians discriminate between sinful and unsinful behaviours, not people. I know a lot more queer/SSA Christians than most folks do, and the rate at which I see blatant discrimination against my friends is high enough that nobody will ever be able to convince me that this is a rare or freakish occurrence: the work of occasional, isolated individuals rather than a symptom of systemic prejudice.”

In Selmys’ analysis,these firings are not about an ethical double-standard where heterosexual church workers are not policed in the same way that lesbian and gay people are.  They are not about lesbian and gay people whose consciences lead them to dissent from the magisterium’s prohibition on same-gender sexual acts. They are really about communicating a non-welcome to LGBTQ Christians.  In Selmys’ words:  “that we are seen as dangerous outsiders even if we choose obedience to the teaching of the Church.”

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Melinda Selmys

In another post on the Catholic Authenticity blog, Selmys further engaged homophobia in the church. She acknowledged that there are numerous church workers who use contraception, yet they are never challenged “because everybody knows that if the Church suddenly fired everyone who uses contraception we would face a Catholic [church worker crisis].” Heterosexual Catholics are not expected to be perfect in their adherence to Catholic teachings about sexuality, and yet:

“[W]hen it comes to homosexuality, suddenly that’s no longer okay. If you’re gay you can expect to subjected to an inquisition by random internet trolls. . .You may be called upon at any time to publicly endorse the most harshly worded phrases from random Vatican documents concerning your sexuality. You might be literally asked to sign a document confirming your acceptance of the Church’s teaching before you can rent space in the parish hall.

“If you’re gay, the usual ways that Catholics deal with sexual desire are no longer sufficient: you must be constantly on guard against every vestige of homosexuality, and your sole purpose in life must be the crucifixion of same-sex Eros. Anything less and you’re a heretic who is probably being paid by George Soros to advance the gay agenda.”

More than 60 church workers have lost their jobs in publicly known LGBT-related disputes since 2008. You can find a listing, along with other information about employment issues, by clicking here.

Joshua Gonnerman’s firing underlines a point LGBT advocates have made before: that these firings are not about same-gender relationships or support for marriage equality, but are fundamentally about homophobia in the church and its effects. That even queer Catholics who are supportive of church teaching are beginning to speak out against these injustices is a major step forward.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 26, 2017