Archdiocese Denies Same-Gender Catholic Couple the ‘Freedom to Bury’

May 20, 2016
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Michael De Leon, front left, and Greg Bourke, back right, with their two children outside the U.S. Supreme Court

A Catholic cemetery refused a same-gender couple’s headstone design because officials say its symbols conflict with Catholic teaching.

Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, a married couple, had purchased a joint burial plot at St. Michael Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Last October, they also submitted a headstone design after consulting an Archdiocese of Louisville employee, reported The Courier-Journal.

The design includes the U.S. Supreme Court building, signifying Bourke’s and De Leon’s roles as plaintiffs in the historic Obergefell v. Hodges decision which legalized marriage equality in the U.S..  It also includes interlocked wedding rings. The couple thought nothing of their burial plans after this because, Bourke explained, they considered the matter innocuous “like picking out countertops.”

On March 30 the couple received an unexpected letter from the executive director of Catholic Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Javier Fajardo saying that their design had been reviewed by the “proper Church authority.” The letter said the  Archdiocese “cannot approve the depiction of the Supreme Court building and the use of wedding rings” because they allegedly conflict with church teaching. The letter did make clear the couple could retain the remaining design and affirmed their ability to be buried together under a shared headstone.

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Proposed headstone design

Speaking at a press conference this week, Bourke said the couple believe they have been “dealt with unfairly” because their design is quite modest in comparison to existing headstone engravings. Commenting on an engraving featuring the spires of Churchill Downs, Bourke said according to The Huffington Post:

” ‘In my mind, it’s outrageous that the church would think it’s OK to have an icon on a memorial of this palace for gambling, and yet they would find an image of the Supreme Court — which is an icon of American democracy — is somehow inconsistent with church teachings.’ “

Bourke suggested the Archdiocese’s action was “deliberate retaliation against my family,” inconsistent with Pope Francis’ desires for the church, and asked: “Is that what Jesus would do?”

Catholics for Fairness, which campaigns for LGBT equality in Kentucky from a faith perspectie, joined Bourke and De Leon at the press conference. Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s LGBT civil rights organization, who also attended, said the couple “might have a more receptive audience with the Vatican than with the Archdiocese.” He said further, as reported by 89.3 WFPL:

“They’re simply looking for the same dignity that everyone else has in death; to have their final wishes honored and the Catholic Church, specifically the Archdiocese of Louisville and Archbishop Kurtz, are denying them that yet again. . .They’ve faced repeated indignities here in the Archdiocese, and it’s really time [the Archdiocese] listened up and stopped.”

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera of the Human Rights Campaign called headstones “sacred and personal statements about our lives, faith, accomplishments” and continued:

“There is so much room in Pope Francis’ call for mercy and acceptance and in a diverse Catholic community that values its LGBTQ brothers and sisters grace and generosity – instead of the narrow and hurtful decision by the Archdiocese. These two good men of faith deserve better.”

Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, chosen as the 2015 Persons of the Year by the National Catholic Reporter, deserve much better. Beyond seeking marriage rights, the couple remain involved in both LGBT advocacy and in the life of their parish of 28 years. Earlier this year, Bourke and De Leon helped organize the fifth annual Pilgrimage of Mercy which called upon Catholics to support LGBT non-discrimination protections.

As a result of their past efforts, their burial plans are not the couple’s first conflict with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and the Louisville archdiocese. In 2012, Bourke was forced to resign as a Boy Scout leader because of his sexual identity, and even after the Boy Scouts of America reversed their ban on LGBT leaders, Archbishop Kurtz barred Bourke from the Scouts permanently.

Archbishop Kurtz told the National Catholic Reporter that Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia would affect “every aspect of church ministry.” This incident is a prime opportunity to re-imagine what this ministry of burying the dead, a corporal work of mercy, means for the church today. Will church ministers afford LGBT people equal burial plans? Will church officials respect LGBT people’s consciences and the relationships to which they may have committed themselves in life? Will the violence of Communion denials at a parent’s or partner’s funeral be replaced with enhanced grief care that is intentionally inclusive for families with LGBT members?

 These broader questions should be considered by theologians, by pastoral ministers, and by the entire faithful so we can shift Catholic grief care and burial practices to be more just and inclusive. But in the meantime, a first step could be taken if the Archdiocese of Louisville would simply reverse its discriminatory decision and give Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon the freedom to bury.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


LGBT Irish-Americans Finally Fully Welcomed to NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade

March 16, 2016
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Members of the Lavender & Green Alliance at last Sunday’s St. Pat’s For All Parade

 

When the St. Patrick’s Day Parade kicks off in New York City tomorrow, it will finally be an inclusive celebration of Irish heritage with all LGBT marchers fully welcomed for the first time.

The Lavender & Green Alliance has been invited to march by parade organizers, reported the Washington Blade. The Alliance, which since 2000 has hosted an alternative event in Queens called the St. Pat’s For All Parade, was celebrating the welcome, said founder and chair Brendan Fay. He told the Blade the parade will be “a great day for hospitality and inclusion,” adding:

” ‘History will be made for the first time on March 17. . .I think it’s conveying a message about equality and what I call cultural hospitality. There’s an overall feeling of excitement and just really great and joyful expectation. . .I’ve really come to appreciate how important cultural gatherings and parades are in our lives and communities.’ “

Inviting the Lavender & Green Alliance hopefully ends decades of controversy between LGBT advocates who sought to march openly and conservative Catholic opponents, but attaining such inclusion was not certain and did not come easily. Last year’s welcome of OUT@NBC Universal, the parade’s first openly LGBT contingent, was criticized by many because few marchers were of Irish descent. Comments last June by parade chair John Dunleavy raised the possibility that LGBT groups might be excluded yet another year. Thankfully, parade organizers have welcomed LGBT Irish-Americans under their own banner, about which Emmaia Gelman of the group Irish Queers commented to The Villager:

” ‘The demand to end the exclusion from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has always been for Irish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender marchers to participate in the parade behind their own banner. . .We’re really pleased that’s going to happen. It’s been a long 25 years. . .It’s really a great thing that it’s over.”

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Brendan Fay, left, being interviewed

Fay of the Lavender & Green Alliance, who is Catholic, said the “persistent determination” of the Irish community, and not just LGBT people, helped make this welcome possible. So too did financial pressures from sponsors like Guinness and boycotts by local politicians. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is ending his two-year boycott of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, telling a crowd last Sunday:

” ‘The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a New York City tradition but for years, Irish LGBT New Yorkers could not show their pride. . .Finally they can celebrate their heritage by marching in a parade that now represents progress and equality.’ “

Some advocates, however, do not want the history surrounding this parade too quickly displaced in the name of progress. John Francis Mulligan of Irish Queers wrote in the Washington Blade:

“But this lockstep ‘moving forward’ is like reconciliation without the truth part. It erases history. It erases the power of people to create change collectively. It diminishes the history of the courage and grit of people that push back, stand up and speak out. Even when it has affected us by losing our families, safety, housing, jobs and friendships. The history of the anti-gay NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade is important. This bigotry was a coagulation of very powerful forces: the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the Police Department, the mayor’s office, the courts and the religious right. . .

“Some of the many Irish values I cherish are to be contrary, to stand up for what is right, and to not be afraid when everyone else is walking down the road to stop and walk the other way. . .It may have taken us 25 years of struggle to walk up Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day but we prevailed. Let’s celebrate, give fair dues, remember the history and continue the work.”

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Members of the Lavender & Green Alliance in an earlier, undated photo

Danny Dromm, a gay Irish member of the New York City Council, recalled the struggle, too, reported the Irish Times. During remarks earlier this week at the Irish Consulate, he said:

 

“‘ For all the people who were arrested and who protested, and to my own family who wrote letters against what I am doing here today, today is a day of reconciliation and healing for us all.’ “

Tomorrow’s festivities in New York City are certainly worth celebrating, just as those who made this day possible are remembered. The parade’s inclusion reflects the deep shifts in society and in cultures which have happened around gender and sexuality that are worth celebrating, too. Boston saw a similar victory during last year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and New York City’s St. Pat’s For All Parade is set to continue in Queens in addition to this main parade–all positive developments towards full LGBT equality.

On a final note, the parade’s inclusion of LGBT marchers also more accurately ties it to Ireland. Dignity/New York’s spokesperson, Jeff Stone, explained to the Blade how inclusive St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the U.S. rightly relate to the equality victories made in Ireland:

“Eventually the older, more conservative members who were against [LGBT marchers] either left or died or whatever and I understand that Barbara Jones, the consul general of Ireland in New York, tried to urge the committee to let them march. That’s also in line with what’s happening in Ireland, especially now with the pro-same-sex marriage vote. The people of that country have clearly spoken.”

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day through this parade has been a high-point for Irish Americans, and indeed New Yorkers of all backgrounds, since the late 18th-century. The parade is celebrating its 255th year tomorrow. As Bondings 2.0 previously noted, these celebrations will be even better now that LGBT people are welcomed in the spirit of Catholicism’s long tradition of social justice — and perhaps most pertinent here–the Irish charism of unbounded and warm hospitality.

To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the controversies surrounding St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Partners of LGBT Church Workers in Michigan May Receive Healthcare Benefits

March 14, 2016

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Catholic Church officials in Michigan may extend healthcare benefits to people living with church employees, including  same-gender  partners, through a new policy announced last week,, according to the Detroit Free Press:

“In a letter sent this week to pastors and employees of the Catholic Church in Michigan, the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) said it is modifying its health care coverage to include legally domiciled adults (LDA), meaning those who are above 18, have lived with the employee for at least six months and are financially interdependent with the employee.”

An MCC official clarified that the benefit would be granted without consideration of the recipient adult’s gender or relationship to the church worker. The Free Press reported:

“The Michigan Catholic Conference indicated that it will not investigate the sexual activities or behaviors of those applying for the new LDA coverage to find out whether  someone is in a same-sex relationship.”

This change in policy allows the church’s healthcare offerings in the state “to be both legally compliant and consistent with Church teaching,” according to the notification letter. Other options towards compliance would have involved reducing health coverage for church workers. MCC Communications Director Dave Maluchnik added that even though the bishops’ teaching on marriage remains the same, the new policy is a reflection of changing circumstances because “This is the world in which we now live.”

Allowing LGBT church workers’ partners and families to receive health insurance is being applauded by LGBT advocates, but not without hesitation. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told the Free Press:

” ‘This is a good step forward. . .It’s not ideal. . .I wish the Catholic Church would recognize they could do this by explicitly supporting same-sex couples.’ “

DeBernardo also had a historical reminder that the Archdiocese of San Francisco adopted a similar benefit for legally domiciled adults back in 1997 “after the city threatened to stop its contracts with them for social services over not including gay partners in their employee health care coverage.”

Equality Michigan’s director Stephanie White told the Detroit News this was progress, whether or not Michigan church officials concede that it is or not:

” ‘It’s really good news. . .It shows how important federal action is in saying discrimination is wrong and that people should be treated fairly. It’s a win-win.’ “

At the very least, this proposal is  an improved response to the question of church workers in same-gender partnerships–and, increasingly, marriages–more than 60 of whom have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


For LGBT Rights, Is Pope Francis a Partisan or Not?

February 25, 2016
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Pope Francis

Should the pope be political and/or partisan or not? Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico raised these questions after he challenged whether Donald Trump could be considered Christian. The question also bears on LGBT issues, particularly in Italy where legislators are debating the legalization of civil unions.

Pope Francis gave an in-flight interview returning from Mexico, as he regularly does when apostolic journeys conclude. When asked about the civil unions issue in Italy by Il Sole 24’s Carlo Marroni, the pope responded:

“First of all, I don’t know how things stand in the thinking of the Italian parliament. The Pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics. At the first meeting I had with the (Italian) bishops in May 2013, one of the three things I said was: with the Italian government you’re on your own. Because the pope is for everybody and he can’t insert himself in the specific internal politics of a country. This is not the role of the pope, right? And what I think is what the Church thinks and has said so often – because this is not the first country to have this experience, there are so many – I think what the Church has always said about this.”

From this answer, one would believe the pope refrains from partisan engagement over specific policy questions, and this would include legal recognition of same-gender couples in Italy. But Francis’ record is not so clear. Here are a few relevant facts to consider.

First, in Italy, he has refrained from explicitly condemning civil unions or using the church’s influence to lean on Catholic politicians. This approach directly refutes some Italian bishops’ highly partisan campaigning and is notably different from his predecessors, said theologian Massimo Faggioli. But speaking to the Roman Rota in January, Pope Francis offered his strongest criticism yet of marriage equality saying “there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union.” This was seen by some observers as a comment on Italy’s civil union debate.

Second, Pope Francis has commented on the “specific internal politics of a country” at least twice before when it comes to LGBT rights. In Slovenia in December 2015, during the week of a national referendum which eventually banned marriage equality and adoption rights by same-gender couples, Pope Francis encouraged all Slovenians, especially those in public life, “to preserve the family” .  A similar moment happened in February 2015 when the pontiff exhorted pilgrims from Slovakia to “continue their efforts in defense of the family,”  just days before an unsuccessful referendum in that nation against equal marriage and adoption rights.

Third, Pope Francis often speaks through gestures, actions, or the statements of his surrogates. For instance, this week, in the midst of the Italian civil unions debate, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said it was “essential” that Italian law differentiate between civil unions for same-gender couples and marriage for heterosexual couples.

It helps to remember, too, that Pope Francis is a solitary person shepherding 1.3 billion people, and that his voice can be used and misused, making it hard to know at times what comes from Francis and what comes from contrary parties.

Fourth, and finally, when called upon to be a voice for marginalized LGBT people, Pope Francis has remained silent. Advocates pleaded with him to speak against laws criminalizing homosexuality during his apostolic voyage to Kenya, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic last fall. Advocates have asked him to intervene in the Dominican Republic, where a cardinal has repeatedly used anti-gay slurs against U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. Last week, this blog commented that the case of Cameroon bishops calling for “zero tolerance” of homosexuality was a perfect case for papal intervention.

From my perspective, these facts suggest, despite the pope’s latest claim, the lack of a consistent position for Pope Francis when it comes to partisan involvement in a given nation’s politics. Pope Francis is, rightly I believe, a politically engaged pontiff and affirmed that to be human is to be political. But he has been partisan where it may be imprudent and even inappropriate for him to be so engaged. The damage U.S. bishops have done to the church in their country. because of their hyper-partisan agenda in recent years, is a cautionary tale. I speculate on two possibilities for why Pope Francis lacks a consistent position.

More negatively, it could be that he claims distance when convenient, and becoming more involved when similarly convenient. He chooses whether to speak about LGBT issues depending on whether he will obtain a positive reception from the audience. Could it be that Pope Francis changes not just the style, but the substance of his messaging depending on who is listening? That would be troubling.

More positively, maybe the humble Pope Francis is learning “on the job” as he navigates unprecedented reforms in a church that is now truly global and truly hurting. His inconsistencies arise because he admits to not having the answers and to shifting course when a better way forward appears apparent. Francis’ actions could reveal a leader who is willing to listen to others’ voices and to encounter those from different perspectives. That would be refreshing.

What do you think? Should the pope be involved in partisan national politics? If so, when? Should the pope be political, raising up issues without endorsing specific policy positions? Should the pope be neither? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Italian Prime Minister Rebukes Cardinal Over Civil Unions Involvement

February 24, 2016
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Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

Italy’s prime minister rebuked a Catholic cardinal for his involvement in the nation’s debate over civil unions, and suggested his government would call a confidence vote to advance the stalled bill.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi criticized Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco’s interference after the cardinal, who heads the Italian Episcopal Conference, said the Italian Senate should employ a secret ballot when voting on the civil unions bill. Renzi told state radio RAI:

” ‘Parliament decides whether or not to allow secret votes … not the head of the bishops’ conference. . .What is there to fear from two people who love each other? Why not give these rights to two people who love each other? The majority of the country is clearly in favor of it.’ “

Despite Bagnasco’s claim that a secret ballot would allow legislators a conscience vote, Business Insider reported that a secret ballot “could sabotage the legislation” if legislators vote against their party’s platform.

Prime Minister Renzi is correct that 70% of Italians endorse legal protections for those in same-gender partnerships, but the civil unions bill has been stalled due to disputes over adoption rights. Only 24% of Italians support allowing same-gender partners to adopt each other’s biological children, and even in Renzi’s own center-left Democratic Party there is resistance to legalize adoptions.

Renzi dropped the adoption provision from the civil unions bill. LGBT advocates criticized this action, saying it guts the bill and leaves children unprotected. They are expected to demonstrate in Rome today.

Renzi, who is Catholic, said he would call a confidence vote to jumpstart the bill in the Senate, where opposition legislators have drowned it in amendments. The confidence vote is risky because, if lost, Renzi and his party would face elections after only two years in office. But the prime minister is clear that LGBT rights are an essential part of his reform platform and the “debating game being played in the Senate” must end, reported The Telegraph. Addressing his party, Renzi reiterated:

” ‘The issue of civil rights is the biggest challenge currently for us. . .we have two alternatives. . .My proposal. . .is for governing parties to try to reach an accord and put forward an amendment on which I believe we must be ready to call a confidence vote.’ “

Matteo Renzi is a high-profile lay Catholic advancing LGBT justice in Italy, but as Bondings 2.0 noted a few weeks ago, unlike Catholics in other European nations like Ireland, the laity in Italy are split on the matter of civil unions.  Nearly 300,000 Italians rallied in Rome earlier this month during the church-supported Family Day protests.

Italy remains the only Western European nation to not grant legal protections to same-gender partners, a status criticized formally by both the Italian courts and the European Court of Human Rights. To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of LGBT rights in Italy, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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


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