Lay Catholics in Italy Split on Civil Unions Question

January 31, 2016
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Outside the Pantheon in Rome, equality supporters, including Catholics, call for civil unions to be legalized.

YesterdayBondings 2.0 explored how Pope Francis and the Italian hierarchy have engaged that nation’s present debate about civil unions for same-sex couples. One theologian’s analysis was that, for Pope Francis, this was an issue best left to the laity. Today’s post explores just how the laity have been involved and what their involvements could mean.

Italian Catholics on both sides of the civil unions question have participated in major demonstrations. Nearly a million LGBT supporters rallied on January 23 in public squares across Italy, bringing clocks with them to call on legislators to “wake up” about the necessity of recognizing same-gender partners in law. Rome’s Gay Center spokesperson Fabrizio Marrazzo said the 100+ demonstrations signal Italy’s “crisis point. . .about civil rights,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Among those experiencing this crisis is Andrea Rubera, a married gay Catholic in Rome, whose story, told in The New York Times ,reveals the urgent necessity of legal protections. Rubera married his partner, Dario De Gregorio, in Canada, and they became parents to three children. The Times article explained:

“But when they returned to their native Italy, a transformation occurred. Mr. Rubera suddenly became a single man, and his legally recognized husband in Canada became his single male roommate in Italy. Italian law also divided custody of their children.”

Of this, Rubera commented:

” ‘There are major injustices coming from this, all toward the kids. . .We are dreaming to be recognized as we are — as a family.’ “

Despite this reality, support for civil unions is declining, if the polls are accurate. Latest numbers have support below 50% whereas it peaked at 67% or higher last May, a decline tied to a clause supporting stepchild adoption for same-gender couples, according to some pundits. Attempting to assuage critics, the civil unions bill was watered down, reported Crux, when sponsors added “language clearly distinguishing the relationships from marriage” and other amendments.

Yesterday, groups and individuals against civil unions took part in “Family Day” protests, which received support from some church leaders, including Italian Episcopal Conference President, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. According to Crux’s John Allen, lay support for conservative church leaders is one reason that the Catholic Church “still has significant social capital and packs a political punch” in Italy. He wrote:

“That doesn’t mean the Italian Church wins all the time; famously, it lost referenda in 1974 over divorce and in 1981 over abortion, and prevailed in 2005 over stem cell research only by persuading Italians not to vote in order to invalidate the ballot.

“Yet Mass-going Catholics remain a sizable chunk of the national population and are well represented in both major political parties, and their sentiments have to be at least considered.”

Yet, simply citing that Catholics are politically involved is not sufficient evidence that LGBT rights will fail. It may actually be evidence for the contrary, as Out Magazine noted:

“At one time, the power of the conservative Roman Catholic Church seemed an almost insurmountable obstacle to the progress of LGBT rights. In 2003, Belgium became the first Catholic-majority country to adopt marriage equality, soon to be followed by Canada, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, France, and, most recently—and in a popular referendum—Ireland, revealing a trend that shatters such a pessimistic illusion. In fact, countries with a Catholic majority make up nearly half of those with marriage equality, and Catholics are overwhelmingly inclined to support same-sex marriages, or at least civil unions. So long as the false narrative of mainstream Catholicism’s lack of acceptance prevailed, LGBT progress for Italy looked bleak. Now, the country of 60 million looks poised to legalize same-sex civil unions. “

Ireland’s referendum and the marriage victories in many historically Catholic countries and states, aided in most cases by lay Catholics’ fervent efforts for equality, are true. But this is Italy, where the church’s political hold remains stronger due to the Vatican’s influence. With lay Catholics active both for and against civil unions, with Pope Francis advancing a more nuanced response, and with Italy’s bishops not united in strong opposition, it seems unclear just what influence Italian Catholics will have on Tuesday’s expected vote.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are Civil Unions Coming to Italy? Pope Francis & Bishops Hope Not

January 30, 2016
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Pope Francis

Italy’s Parliament began debating civil unions for same-gender couples this week. Whatever the outcome of a vote expected next Tuesday, Catholics have and will continue to play an essential role in the debate. In a two-part story (today and tomorrow), Bondings 2.0 will highlight Catholics’ varying responses to the potential for same-sex unions being recognized next door to the Vatican.

First, and inevitably, there is speculation about how Pope Francis will engage civil unions in Italy. In a speech to the Roman Rota last week, the pope rejected any legal recognition of same-gender relationships, using his strongest language to date. How to interpret his remarks remains disputed and some have suggested, according to The Washington Post, that his comments had nothing at all to do with Italy’s current debate. Theologian Massimo Faggioli, writing in Commonweal, commented that the pope’s address was notably different from his predecessors who would explicitly comment on Italian politics and reference “non-negotiable values.”

In The Washington Post story, Anthony Faiola compared Francis’ approach to Benedict XVI’s response to a civil unions proposal in 2007:

“As Italy now undertakes its most serious effort yet to legalize civil unions, the more nuanced response of the Vatican in its own back yard is turning the bill into a test case for whether Francis’s inclusive tone can translate to change on the ground.

” ‘My impression is that the pope is determined not to be confrontational and fight this law,’ said Massimo Franco, a Vatican watcher and columnist for Italy’s Corriere della Sera.”

Faggioli also sees a distinct difference, noting that Pope Francis was “not directly endorsing the upcoming Family Day [protests],” not appealing to Italian politicians or Catholics directly on the matter, and emphasizing repeatedly that the matter is “in the hands of the Catholic laity.”

Faggioli also identified a split in Italy’s Church between “Pope Francis Catholics” and “those who favor a more muscular response.” In Faggioli’s analysis, Francis’ foremost aim here is “protecting the authority of the pope from any attempt to manipulate it” by Italy’s bishops. He wrote:

“Italian bishops are divided, and the once-powerful lay movements are divided between progressives afraid to go on the record in favor of legislation on same-sex unions or same-sex marriage, and those who continue to use the rhetoric of the culture war and plan to descend on Rome for the rally. The paradox is that the only Catholics who are responding to Francis’s call for the engagement of the laity in public issues are those who use the bellicose language that Francis makes a point of eschewing. Catholics who welcome Francis’s style and ecclesiology are now less organized and less motivated to stake out visible positions in the church and in politics.”

Less nuanced, but still changing, is the response from Italy’s bishops who “have largely sided with the opposition” and helped rally anti-LGBT support. The Post noted, however, that the Italian Episcopal Conference “is not directly sponsoring” a planned protest against civil unions this weekend.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the Conference’s general secretary, told Corriere della Sera that society must acknowledge somehow the “growing presence of unions of a different kind” becaue “the state has a duty to give answers to everyone, respecting the common good first.” The newspaper also noted another important fact:

“The Italian news media took note when Francis abruptly canceled a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the president of the Italian bishops conference, after he publicly backed the Family Day protest.”

What impact is all this having on the civil unions debate? Gabrielle Piazzoni of ARCIGAY, an Italian LGBT equality organization, said Pope Francis has had “a meaningful influence” because:

” ‘It’s clear to everyone that the Holy See does not intend to openly support the call to arms coming from other Catholics in Italy.”

If civil unions are approved, Italy will be the last nation in Western Europe (minus Vatican City) to extend legal rights to same-gender couples. The nation faces increasing European pressure to recognize same-gender couples. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy violated LGB human rights by not doing so. Some LGBT advocates say civil unions are a compromise, but admit marriage equality remains unrealistic in a country where ecclesial politics are intimately tied to civil politics.

Though the Parliament’s house will likely pass the bill, it is unknown whether there will be enough support in the Senate, particularly if a clause allowing adoption of children biologically tied to one partner is included.

Tomorrow’s post will look more closely at Italian Catholics have been involved in the civil unions debate.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Archbishop Cupich: Respect Lesbian and Gay People’s Consciences

December 15, 2015
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Archbishop Blase Cupich

Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago again defended the primacy of conscience regarding lesbian and gay people in an interview in which he also spoke against those who seek to deny Communion to certain Catholics.

Cupich was interviewed by Alan Kreshesky of ABC 7, and he touched on October’s Synod on the Family. Asked about the pastoral care of same-gender couples, the archbishop replied:

“When people who are in good conscience, working with a spiritual director, come to a decision that they need to follow that conscience. That’s the teaching of the church. So in the case of people receiving Communion in situations that are irregular, that also applies.

“The question then was, ‘Does that apply to gay people?’ My answer was, ‘They’re human beings, too.’ They have a conscience. They have to follow their conscience. They have to be able to have a formed conscience, understand the teaching of the church, and work with a spiritual director and come to those decisions. And we have to respect that.”

These remarks build upon his work at the Synod, during which he told Bondings 2.0 that the proceedings would have benefited from listening to lesbian and gay couples. In the past year, he also said that the church must seek “new avenues and creativity when it comes to accompanying families,” and he endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender couples in 2014.

Questioned specifically about denying Communion to lesbian and gay people, Cupich responded:

“I think that when people come for Communion, it’s not up to any minister who’s distributing the Eucharist to make a decision about a person’s worthiness or lack of worthiness. That’s on the conscience of those individuals [receiving communion].”

Cupich’s approach is opposite to the one taken recently by Newark’s Archbishop John Myers, directed his priests not to give communion to lesbian and gay couples who have legally married. Cupich is increasingly critical of this nation’s bishops in general, on display most recently during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting.

Archbishop Cupich’s words are certainly strong ones in support of LGBT Catholics and their families, but his defense of conscience is undercut by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s harsh ecclesial reality. Two church workers, Sandor Demkovich and Colin Collette, have lost their jobs for making conscience decisions to themselves to a same-gender partner in legal marriages. The Archdiocese denies discrimination in these cases, and Cupich himself has remained quiet.

Advocating respect for Catholics’ conscience, particularly when the faithful dissent from the bishops’ teachings, is greatly needed in our church. That message is far more powerful when advocates live according to the values about which they advocate.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Ireland Ends “Year of Equality” with LGBT Church Worker Protections

December 7, 2015

LGBT teachers hold the newly approved Section 37 amendment

Ireland’s lawmakers ended the country’s “Year of Equality” by passing a bill that will ban discrimination by religious institutions against LGBT employees. Gay Star News explained this latest development:

“The bill amends Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which allows schools and hospitals to ‘takes action’ to prevent employees from ‘undermining the religious ethos of the institution.’ “

Passed by the Irish Parliament, the bill will be signed into law soon by President Michael Higgins. Its passage is especially significant because the Catholic Church administers nearly 93% of Ireland’s schools and just 1% are not denominationally affiliated.

Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) welcomed the Section 37 amendment, saying it was “delighted” by the law’s passage. Director of Education Policy Sandra Irwin-Gowran stated:

” ‘To date Section 37.1 has served to create a chilling effect for many LGBT employees. . .The existing provisions posed a threat of discrimination which has served to silence thousands of teachers in our schools.’ “

She added the law would allow LGBT people “to be themselves, get married and have a family without a threat to their job if they work in a religious run institution.” LGBT church workers are too often fired or forced to resign for their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or support for civil equality. More than 50 such incidents internationally have been made public since 2008. You can find New Ways Ministry’s listing along with other employment-related information by clicking here.

Irish citizens can celebrate 2015 as an historic year for LGBT equality in their nation. Most notably, voters approved marriage equality through a constitutional referendum in May. This was followed by inclusive nondiscrimination protections, the ability for citizens to self-identify their gender identity on government records, Health Minister Leo Varadkar’s coming out as the first openly gay cabinet member, and now employment protections for LGBT church workers. Irwin-Gowran suggested this latest law will have “wider implications” because, according to the blog Take Part:

” ‘It provides a critical springboard for the cultural change necessary in our schools; change that ensures that all people, whether they’re working or learning, can do so in an environment that is welcoming and affirming of who they are.’ “

Besides civil equality, Catholic Ireland’s hallmark year has profoundly affected the church too. Priests and nuns spoke out for the referendum and some came out as gay themselves. Early on, national prelates set a less hostile tone for the marriage debate with Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin even calling anti-equality activists “obnoxious” at one point. He joined other leaders in the Irish church in condemning Vatican officials who said the vote was “defeat for humanity” and the Irish were “worse than pagans.”

After the marriage law was voted in, Archbishop Martin called it a “reality check.” Bishop Willie Walsh said marriage equality would “increase the sum of human happiness.” It even led German Cardinal Walter Kasper to suggest same-gender marriage should be the “central issue” for the Synod on the Family which took place in October.

It is worth repeating an oft-spoken refrain: Catholics in Ireland have helped advance LGBT equality not in spite of their faith, but because of it.

While observers seem to agree the marriage referendum signaled a new freedom present in Irish Catholicism, it does not mean faith is dying. Could these advancements actually signify the opposite? Former Irish Republic president and canon lawyer, Mary McAleese, eloquently explained her personal support last month. Her support for civil rights is “founded emphatically in the Gospel,” and she described current church teachings on homosexuality as “wrong.”

Importantly, Ireland’s advances this year are but a beginning and there remains much work to do in transforming culture and renewing church for 2016. The seeds of justice, however, have rooted and are even bearing fruit. From here, there is no turning back.

Want to celebrate Ireland’s “Year of Equality” in an up-close and personal way? Consider “Ireland: Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells,” an LGBT-friendly pilgrimage with Sr. Jeannine Gramick in April of 2016. You can find more information here.  Sign up soon to save money!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Priest Says Same-Sex Marriage Improves Society, As Catholic Nations Commence Weddings

October 28, 2015

Fr. Peter Daly

A Maryland Catholic priest said the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling which legalized marriage equality nationwide in June “may, in fact, make things better, not only for LGBT couples, but also for our society.”

Fr. Peter Daly wrote these words in the National Catholic Reporter, where he also endorsed civil marriage equality and suggested separating civil and sacramental marriages. He asked whether same-gender couples “really need the protections offered by civil marriage,” answering in the affirmative though admitting he has not always believed so.

On this point, Daly called the documentary Bridegroom a “mind changer.” Daly says all relationships “could only hope for a gentle, respectful, joyful, loving relationship like the one” the couple featured possesses. One partner died in a tragic accident, while the other was denied benefits and even access to the funeral, leading Fr. Daly to conclude:

“The movie is heart breaking. We can see the injustice of the situation and the need for a legal structure to protect people. If same-sex marriage could encourage relationships like Tom and Shane’s, it would be an unalloyed good for everyone in society, including our church. . .

“The whole society benefits from more stable and committed relationships. Everyone benefits when people have clearer legal rights and responsibilities. Same-sex marriage does not erode the meaning of sacramental marriage. In fact, it is a tip of the hat in respect for it because it seeks a parallel institution.”

[The film is available for viewing on YouTube.]

Fr. Daly’s column reveals a deep compassion for LGBT people, though he acknowledges that the Supreme Court decision may bring some bumps in the road.  He would have preferred that marriage equality had been enacted by legislative or electoral means.  He acknowledges that religious liberty questions may arise, but is confident that they can be resolved for the good of all.  He criticizes the idea that court clerks who disagree with the same-sex marriages should be allowed to withhold marriage licenses for lesbian and gay couples.

Fr. Daly also offered practical contributions to the Catholic Church’s emerging response to marriage equality. Calling a Catholic priest’s dual roles as minister and magistrate when signing marriage licenses “odd,” he wonders if “priests should stop signing state-issued marriage licenses.” He wrote further:

“On the practical level, how will parishes respond to same-sex marriage? . . .Pope Francis gave us example during his visit to the United States. He met with a gay couple. He warmly welcomed them to the Nunciature. He treated them with affection and respect.”

Daly noted that his parish would not be able to perform weddings for lesbian and gay couples or celebrate anniversaries, but he listed what he insists they will be doing:

“As long as I am pastor here we will welcome and register everyone who shares our Catholic faith, including same-sex couples. After all, we register divorced and remarried people. We will educate their children in our religious education programs, and we welcome them as sponsors at baptism and confirmation. We open our ministries to them. We will allow them to teach religious education so long as they are respectful of the church teaching. (That we require of everyone.) We will encourage them to participate fully in the life of the church, including the Eucharist. We will treat everyone with respect and dignity. We will allow them the right of their own conscience.”

Towards the end, Fr. Daly speculated about the church will “adjust its language and teaching” on homosexuality and said Catholics would be “embarrassed” by what has been said and done to LGBT people, including the use of the term “intrinsically disordered.”

While the embarrassment may be a true feeling, historically Catholic nations have refused to wait before advancing LGBT rights. News broke last week that Irish legislators approved the laws needed for marriage equality to be implemented and weddings may begin within two weeks, reported The Irish Examiner

In Chile, among Latin America’s most conservative nations, civil unions have begun according to The Guardian. Though short of full marriage rights, LGBT activists are hailing this as a victory in a country where there is only 25% popular support for marriage equality and divorce was legalized in 2004.

Marriage equality in Slovenia is threatened, however, after that nation’s Constitutional Court approved a popular referendum seeking to withdraw legislation passed last March guaranteeing equal marriage rights. The Catholic Church has backed the anti-equality referendum, reported NDTV.

All proving, once again, that Catholics do support marriage equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Jesuit Priest in Chile Endorses Marriage Equality

June 30, 2014

Father Felipe Berrios

A Jesuit priest in Chile has come out supporting marriage equality as that nation’s president seeks further rights for LGBT people.

Fr. Felipe Berrios, a noted author and columnist, made the remarks in an interview with Emol.com after returning from four years of work in Burundi and Congo. The priest’s endorsement comes as Chilean political leaders seek to legalize same-gender marriages under President Michelle Bachelet. Gay Star News reports Berrios said:

” ‘What’s the matter with gay marriage?…Homosexuals are God’s children…He created homosexuals and lesbians, and God is proud of who they are.Why not let them get married? Enough already…The problem is in us, in our misunderstanding of them.’

” ‘I want to be clear: Gays and lesbians are children of God and are called to holiness as we all are. They are not second-class citizens or have different kinds of sin and they will help us to broaden our concept of sexuality.’ “

Fr. Berrios’ open and vocal endorsement of civil marriage equality adds to the growing number of Catholic bishops and clergy who are speaking out in support of same-gender couples. New Ways Ministry has compiled a listing of these Church leaders–mostly bishops, archbishops, and cardinals–and prominent Catholics who have made positive remarks about same-gender couples, civil unions, and marriage equality since 2011. You can access the listing by clicking here.  Each entry contains links to Bondings 2.0 posts and news coverage.

With the Vatican’s working paper for this fall’s Synod of Bishops on marriage and family disappointing many LGBT advocates, and baptisms seemingly loom as the next ‘battleground’ for LGBT issues in the Church, let us hope more Catholic leaders will have Fr. Berrios’ courage to speak out publicly and without equivocation for LGBT people and their families.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Brazilian Bishops Endorse Legal Equality, Promise to Accompany LGBT Community

May 24, 2014

Dom Leonardo Steiner

Brazil is the world’s largest Catholic nation, containing an estimated 123 million Catholics which is about one-tenth of the global Church overall. When its Church leaders speak, their words can have a profound impact on the life of their local Church  and increasingly in the age of Pope Francis, abroad as well.

This week, a top Brazilian bishop endorsed legal rights for same-gender couples and cited the pope in so doing. His words follow-up on the Archdiocese of  São Paulo’s positive statement to that city’s Pride Parade participants in early May that promised the Church’s solidarity to Brazil’s LGBT community who face daily violence. 

Dom (Bishop) Leonardo Steiner is general secretary of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) and an auxiliary bishop of Brasilia, the capital city. He was recently interviewed by GLOBO where he made the gay-positive comments, which Bondings 2.0 makes available via a translation from Iglesia Descalza.

While Steiner endorsed civil unions, saying same-gender couples “need a legal protection in society,” his focus in the interview was on how the Church can support lesbian and gay people. Referencing Pope Francis, Steiner tells the interviewer:

” ‘You could say that the Pope is echoing what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about gay people: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” It’s understood that accepting them with respect, compassion and sensitivity means walking and being with the homosexual person and helping them understand, deepen and guide their condition as a son or daughter of God’ …

” ‘Acceptance and walking with them are necessary to reflect on what fits or doesn’t fit the reality experienced by homosexual people and what, in fact, is rightfully theirs, for their own good and that of society.’ “

Finally, when asked about the possibility of change in the Church, the bishop said:

” ‘The Church isn’t the same through the ages. It seeks answers for the present time, using the Gospel as the illuminating force of its action…The Church is always seeking to read the signs of the times, to see what must or must not change. The truths of faith don’t change.’ “

Dom Steiner’s remarks echo tue positive statement made by the Archdiocese of São Paulo’s Justice and Peace Committee in April, released in anticipation of the city’s 18th Pride Parade, which took place on May 4th.  The statement positioned the Catholic Church as an advocate for LGBT rights. Bondings 2.0 obtained a rough translation, in which the Committee writes:

“We can not remain silent in the face of the reality experienced by this population that is the target of prejudice and victim of systematic violation of their fundamental rights, such as health, education, work , housing, culture, among others…[LGBT people] face unbearable daily verbal and physical violence, culminating in murders that are true hate crimes…

“[P]eople of good will, and in particular all Christians, reflect on this deeply unfair reality of LGBT people and to actively engage in their overcoming it, guided by the supreme principle of human dignity.”

The statement quotes the opening of Gaudium et spes, a Vatican II document, linking “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of LGBT people with those of the Church. Strengthening this connection, the Committee’s director, Geraldo Magela Tardelli, told Estadao:

” ‘The committee has a mission, according to D. Paulo Evaristo Ars [the cardinal archbishop emeritus of Sao Paulo]: ‘we have to give voice to those who have no voice.’ Right now, what we are finding is that there is an increase of violence against homosexuals, so we can not overlook this violation of human rights…

” ‘We are engaged in upholding human rights and do not agree with violence, regardless of the color and the sexual orientation of people.’ “

These statements of solidarity, and the further endorsement of legal rights, are important in Brazil where more than 300 LGBT people are murdered annually in hate crimes. Let us hope such positive words from Catholic bishops, and more so their commitment to be among those who are marginalized for their sexual orientation or gender identity, will spread throughout Brazil and beyond its borders.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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