In Advent Lessons, Bishops Reflect on Waiting, Flesh, and Facts

Advent is frequently a time for bishops to release pastoral letters and other documents to offer their reflections. This year, two such documents reflect the style and substance of Pope Francis in his efforts for a more merciful and inclusive church.

wpid-listening-is-an-act-of-love_20130529115704168Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, released a pastoral letter entitled The Flesh and the Facts. In its first words, the letter cites both the Year of Mercy and Pope Francis, saying “we don’t now set mercy aside” simply because the Jubilee year has concluded. Coleridge wrote:

“In Genesis we’re told that God saw what he had made and found it very good (1:31). Christmas says that God saw what he had made and, seeing its goodness disfigured, decided to become part of his own creation to restore it to the glory he intended from the beginning. The God who takes flesh deals not in abstractions but in facts. Likewise the Church that worships the mystery of the Word-made-flesh needs to deal with facts. That’s where mercy starts.

“At times what we believe and teach can seem too abstract. That’s the sense I had listening to certain voices at last year’s Synod on marriage and the family in Rome. What I heard at times was logical, perhaps even beautiful in a way, but it didn’t put down roots in the soil of human experience, and it would have been incomprehensible to most people outside the Synod Hall.”

Coleridge, a participant in the Synod on the Family from where he made several LGBT-positive remarks, noted in his letter the challenges of communicating faith in today’s culture. He called Advent a “special time for listening” in which new ways of engagement could be found. Describing the church as a teacher, the archbishop said church leaders must “find new words or images, a new language” to help people understand their teachings. He continued:

“Part of this new engagement will be a reconsideration of Church structures and strategies, which can be based upon the facts of other times. They may have been brilliantly successful once upon a time when things were different. But they are not what’s required now in a situation where the facts have changed.”

Addressing marriage and family specifically, Coleridge said there was a divide between the hierarchy’s and society’s understandings of these concepts. But this is not grounds for the church to write off the world, an approach which is “not the Catholic way” because:

“We are a Church who, because we take the Incarnation seriously, take culture seriously and seek to engage it as creatively as we can. This means we have to be in touch with reality rather than inhabiting some abstract world which can produce what the Holy Father has called ‘dry and lifeless doctrine’ (Amoris Laetitia, 59) and ‘a cold, bureaucratic morality'(Amoris Laetitia, 312).

Being pastoral means getting “in touch with the facts of human experience,” Coleridge explained. According to the archbishop, this does not mean changing church teaching, but it also should not be a one-way mode of engagement by church leaders. Instead, he advocated a more holistic approach:

“It means that we, like God, abandon the world of abstraction to engage the real lives of real people . . .This will mean a new kind of listening to the truth of people’s experience. From a new listening will come a new language that people can understand because it’s in touch with their lives. That’s what it means to be a truly pastoral Church.”

On the other side of the world, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, whose call two years for the church to bless same-gender relationships was positively received by many Catholics, released a brief Advent letter,  reflecting on the words, “I have been waiting for you!” In one section, he wrote:

“We do not say [“I have been waiting for you!”] to each other when there is no friendship or love involved. It makes us recognise friends and loved ones: they wait for each other, they consider the other’s  presence, they become impatient or distrustful when the other does not show up, the absence of the other at an appointment hurts. When friendship or love cools, waiting for each other disappears. Appointments become more business-like. Waiting becomes less personal and less emotional. Do you want to know who your friends are or who loves you? This question is the test. Who would say to me now, ‘I have been waiting for you!’?”

What do I read in these letters which make them worthwhile for LGBT Catholics, their families, and advocates?

First, Archbishop Coleridge’s call for Advent as a “special time of listening” which can lead to shifts in Catholic leader’s language and church structures, is the favored mode of Pope Francis. This method is the dialogue for which Vatican II yearned, and it is the primary way forward on LGBT equality in the church. Listening in authentic encounters opens people to one another’s realities, and it can overcome the hardness of church leaders who speak abstractly, and therefore harshly at times, about sexual and gender diverse people. While Archbishop Coleridge has, for instance, condemned marriage equality in the past, what is more important is his firm understanding that the church must exhibit mercy and practice reconciliation.

Second, Bishop Bonny’s reflection on waiting–both how we wait for one another as human beings and how God waits for us–is applicable to issues of gender and sexuality in the church. Waiting signifies love and concern, the love that LGBT Catholics and their families have exhibited by waiting for church leaders to catch up on contemporary knowledge and be more faithful to the Gospel by being more inclusive. But waiting is not forever, and impatience and distrust can develop when someone does not show up or when their failure to be present causes hurt. How long can Catholic leaders expect their siblings in Christ to wait around for dialogue and for inclusion, especially when harm is actively done?

I close with words from Claretian Fr. John Molyneux, the editor-in-chief of U.S. Catholic, who in his own Advent reflection:

“What a way to begin Advent: announcing the truth that Jesus has come for all people.  James Joyce famously described the church as ‘Here Comes Everybody.’  And yet recent events have brought to light divisions within our country, our church, our families, and across the world.  Words like ‘nationalism’ and ‘tribalism’ are being bandied about.

“Perhaps this Advent we can reflect on what each of us is called to as a member of this catholic (small c) church.  Am I a Catholic who longs to be more catholic?  When I sing, ‘All Are Welcome!’ do I mean it?”

If you would like to read more spiritual reflections, I would point out Bondings 2.0’s reflection series on the Sunday Mass readings each week, which this year comes from LGBT theologians and pastoral workers studying at Boston College. You can find the reflections here.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 3, 2016

“There Is No Place for Homophobia,” Pope Francis Told Gay Former Student

Pope Francis explicitly rejected homophobia in his pastoral ministry, according to the pope’s former student and friend Yayo Grassi.

 

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Yayo Grassi

In impromptu remarks during New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award Ceremony on Sunday, Grassi, who made headlines in 2015 because of his personal meeting with Pope Francis in Washington, DC,  shared about his relationship with the pope and Francis’ approach to homosexuality, saying:

 

“I have known Pope Francis since he was my teacher, my professor in high school when I was seventeen years old. I know that he knew then that I was gay, and we have been friends ever since. I visited him in Rome and then we visited when he came to Washington. He met who was at the time my boyfriend both times, and he’s always asking about him.”

Grassi and his partner met with Francis in Washington, D.C. during the 2015 papal visit to the United States last fall. This private meeting was made public after it was alleged the pope had met with and blessed Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who had denied marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Grassi told reporters at the time he felt he needed to defend his friend, the pope, from unfair criticism.

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Fr. James Martin, SJ, and Yayo Grassi

Grassi also told attendees at the New Ways Ministry event (which honored Jesuit Fr. James Martin for promoting dialogue in the church on LGBT issues) about an exchange he had with the pope, when Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina:

“When the gay marriage law was being discussed in the Senate in Argentina, I read on the internet that then-Cardinal Bergoglio was very much against it and that he had said really painful and hateful things about the approval of the law. I was very surprised. I was very surprised more than anything else because knowing him, and knowing how much love there is in his heart, it was difficult for me to understand that he would do such a hateful thing. . .

“So I wrote him a quite extensive letter. I sent him an email telling him how much I admire him, how important he was in my life, and how much he did for me. How he had brought forward through his education the most open and progressive thought in my life. And then I went on saying, I will never be able to thank you, so you might think its a very strange way to thank you if I tell you I’m very disappointed by the way you treated the gay [marriage] law.”

Cardinal Bergoglio replied to Grassi’s letter in two days. He first asked forgiveness because of the hurt his former student felt and continued, as paraphrased by Grassi:

“Believe me I never said any of those things. The press picked up from two letters that I sent to the nuns asking them not to give any kind of opinion on this, and they were distorted and they were put as my words.”

Concluding his brief remarks, Grassi offered what he considered to be “the most beautiful thing. . .the most amazing thing” about Pope Francis, which came at the end of that reply letter:

“[Bergoglio in 2008] ends his letter, besides asking me to pray for him as he always does, saying, ‘Yayo, believe me, in my pastoral work, there is no place for homophobia.’ And that is the first time that I realized what an amazing person he was. He not only said, ‘Who am I to judge?’, there is something very important that he said later, he said ‘Who are we to judge?’. . .The we was the whole church, and the whole humankind.”

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Yayo Grassi offering his thoughts at the Bridge Building Award ceremony

Fr. Martin’s address was about bridge building, an invitation to a two-way bridge on which LGBT communities and the institutional church can dialogue. You can read a report on the address here. What Grassi’s experiences with Pope Francis reveal is a model for just how the institutional church can be changed by encounter and by friendship.

Equally important, however, is the necessity for church leaders to explicitly and unequivocally reject homophobia in the church and in society. It would be a wonderful step towards building bridges if the supreme pontiff in the church, Pope Francis, were to publicly declare what he told Grassi privately, that “in my pastoral work, there is no place for homophobia.”

Watch Yayo Grassi’s full remarks below or by clicking here.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 1, 2016

Catholic Church Had “No Choice” in Firing Gay Musician, Says Bishop

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 6, 2016

A Catholic bishop in Rhode Island said there had been “no choice” when firing a gay church worker, and that the decision to do so was in line with Pope Francis’ thought.  Meanwhile in New Jersey, the top administrator at a Catholic school which fired an LGBT employee has been reinstated.

Bishop Thomas Tobin
Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop says Church Had “No Choice” in Firing Gay Church Worker 

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence has defended the firing of gay church worker Michael Templeton. In a brief statement, reported by GoLocal Providence, Tobin said a church worker or volunteer who “deliberately and knowingly enters in a relationship or engages in activity that contradicts the core teachings of the Church, that individual leaves the Church no choice to respond.”

Tobin also defended the decision in the Templeton case on the Diocese of Providence’s website, saying church leaders who fire LGBT people “are indeed a lot like Pope Francis.” Tobin cited the pope’s criticisms of marriage equality, and attributed to Pope Francis the firing of gay Vatican theologian Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa and the rejection of France’s gay ambassador to the Holy See.

Finally, after celebrating a Mass for “Milestone Marriages” shortly after Templeton was fired, Bishop Tobin remarked to the Providence Journal:

“Well this is for people celebrating 25 years or more so we don’t have anybody like that [in same-gender marriages]. We’ll worry about that in 20 years. Not today.”

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Michael Templeton

Templeton, the former music director at the Church of St. Mary, was fired last month for being in a same-gender marriage. The Journal reported on the negative impact this incident has had on the community there, which had been known for its inclusive welcome:

“Many St. Mary’s parishioners, who arrived at the 10 a.m. Mass wearing rainbow buttons and shirts promoting marriage equality, hoped to hear an explanation from Father Francese. They held hands, and at times, wept — many, gay themselves, said they no longer felt comfortable in the one Catholic parish that has sheltered them.

” ‘This priest had the opportunity to explain himself, or at the very least, to be direct with us,’ said Leo Narducci. ‘But instead he ignored us and gave the same gibberish we hear from him every Sunday.’ “

Parishioners resisted the unjust firing at Mass when more than 30 people, following one choir member’s lead, began singing “All Are Welcome” during the recitation of the Nicene Creed.

Fr. Francesco Francese did not acknowledge the firing in his homily, and avoided parishioners and media alike after Mass. His actions in conjunction with the Diocese are causing many to question their place in the church, and some to walk away altogether:

“Glen Beattie, who came to St. Mary’s in 2008, waved goodbye to the altar Sunday as he headed out the door. ‘Bye church,’ he said, sadly. If Templeton isn’t welcome, Beattie, also a gay man, doesn’t feel safe, either. . .One woman, who has been attending church there for 40 years but did not want to give her name, said she’s thinking of leaving the religion altogether.

” ‘This isn’t right,’ she said with tears in her eyes. ‘This isn’t what being a Christian is.’ “

Principal in LGBT Dispute Reinstated at Paramus Catholic High School

In New Jersey, Principal Stephanie Macaluso has returned to Paramus Catholic High School. The preceding week, Macaluso and President James Vail were placed on leave by the Archdiocese of Newark, reported NJ.com.

Jim Goodness, the archdiocesan spokesperson, has refused to comment on why the administrators were placed on leave initially and why Macaluso but not Vail had been allowed to return. An email from Archdiocesan Schools Superintendent Margaret A. Dames urged parents to “disregard the recent public speculation and misleading media hype.”

There are speculations that the decisions about Macaluso and Vail are related to the firing of lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole, who announced a lawsuit against Paramus Catholic in August. The Record reported that some students suggested Vail and Macaluso had supported Drumgoole against the Archdiocese.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 60 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

Mexican Bishops Warn of “Gay Dictatorship;” Defend Reparative Therapy

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Members of the Mexican episcopate

Tensions over LGBT rights have been increasing in Mexico over the past two months, with Catholic bishops there taking a strong stand against marriage equality. The debate in that nation has elicited some strident rhetoric from both sides, with strong charges of persecution by their opponents from each side.  And, Catholic bishops have received the endorsement of a powerful Catholic voice in their anti-marriage equality campaign: Pope Francis.

The rhetoric of persecution has now enjoined the bishops in a battle about the much-disproven field of reparative therapy, which the bishops have endorsed.

Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred), a governmental agency, recently denounced reparative or “ex-gay” therapy, responding to an article in Catholic media titled “No one is born gay.”

The country’s bishops reacted negatively to Conapred’s denunciation, reported Pink News. Fr. Hugo Valdemar, a spokesperson for the bishops, said:

“There is persecution against the Church. . .It is something very serious, the state now determines the sexual behavior of citizens and forbids any attempt to return to normalcy.

“The state prohibits parents from helping their children to solve their sexual doubts and prohibits homosexuals from changing, but if they want to change their sex they fund that atrocity, it’s something diabolic.”

Valdemar said there would be a “gay dictatorship” soon under which people who disagree with LGBT rights would be imprisoned.

Debates over LGBT rights have intensified in recent weeks after President Enrique Peña Nieto said in May that he would push Congress to pass marriage equality, adoption rights for same-gender partners, non-discrimination protections, and allowances for people to self-identify their gender on official documents. Just ten of Mexico’s 31 states do not have bans on same-gender marriages in place. Peña Nieto’s federal effort seeks to override such bans, and implement LGBT protections universally.

However, LGBT advocates have challenged the president’s commitment, suggesting that his announcement in May might have caused more harm then good. After Peña Nieto’s party suffered losses in June elections, LGBT issues have been sidelined by parrty leaders. But his announcement did stir intense opposition from the Catholic hierarchy and other groups opposed to LGBT rights.

The anti-equality group National Front for the Family has organized dozens of rallies across Mexico, according to Animal Politico. Reports from ABC News said about 215,000 people turned out for anti-marriage equality rallies this past weekend, following up on earlier protests on September 10th. The National Front is primarily supported by the Catholic hierarchy in Mexico with key bishops offering their support in an August 12th letter.

Fr. Valdemar attempted to withdraw such direct support by the bishops later in August, saying moral support for the marches offered by church leaders was in favor of marriage and family, not opposed to any specific legislation or community of people. Church leaders have led marches or rallies in at least eleven states between the September 10th and September 24th demonstrations.

Following the September 10th rallies, TeleSur reported that Conapred released a statement implicitly critical of the bishops’ involvement, saying the denial of equal marriage rights is “an affront to [gay couples] dignity and their integrity.” The statement said further:

” ‘Encouraging discrimination against people because of their sexual and gender orientation or status, as well as trying to exclude families that do not replicate the traditional nuclear model, through expressions and speeches that may incite hatred and violence, as has happened in recent months, violates the human rights of all people.’ “

Pro-equality organizations have organized their own rallies, including one on September 11th which ended at the cathedral in Mexico City. There the National Pride Front of Mexico, an umbrella group for 70 LGBT organizations, launched a campaign calling for the removal of the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera. Spokesperson Patria Jimenez explained the Front was appealing to Pope Francis because, TeleSur reported:

” ‘We want to stop the speeches of violence. We respect freedom of expression and we have open arms. The Church says that it preaches love for your neighbor, but today we see that it promotes hatred.’ “

Rhetoric about marriage equality LGBT rights has been heated and hyperbolic from both sides. Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo of Cancun said he would “go to prison to defend the family” where he said “some charitable soul would go to visit me, especially in this year of mercy.”

On the other side, La Jornada reported a national strategy put forth by the group Equality Mexico to file discrimination complaints against the Catholic Church in multiple regions. For instance, LGBT coalition Red Positiva filed a discrimination complaint with Conapred against Bishop Elizondo. Crux reported:

“The complaint filed also claimed the bishop was opposing article 130 of the Mexican Constitution, which dictates that religious ministers can’t oppose the law nor call the faithful to do so in any public event or religious ceremony.”

Victor Aguirre Espinoza and Fernando Urias Samparo, the first same-gender couple to marry in the state of Mexicali, filed a complaint against the Catholic Church with the governor there. They claim church leaders have violated Article 8 of the Law of Religious Associations, which the plaintiffs allege means religious organizations cannot intervene in politics and must the respect human rights of all people, reported La Voz de La Frontera.

Elsewhere, two LGBT groups filed a complaint against the Archdiocese of Tijuana, specifically alleging that Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barrón had incited hate speech. Equality Mexico filed a complaint against the Archdiocese of Mexico City with the Ministry of the Interior. Complaints are expected in Chihuahua, Yucatán, Hidalgo, and Sinaloa as well.

Finally, Crux reported that Pope Francis offered support for Mexico’s bishops following the Angelus yesterday, saying

” ‘I join willingly the Bishops of Mexico in supporting the efforts of the Church and civil society in favor of the family and of life, which at this time require special pastoral and cultural attention worldwide.’ “

Francis has refrained from entering debates about legal protections for same-gender couples in many countries, including the United States and Italy. But he involved himself when LGBT issues were being debated in Slovakia and Slovenia. This bifurcated response is puzzling.

Mexico is the world’s second largest Catholic nation with nearly 100 million people, or more than 80% of the population, identifying as Catholic. But opinions are equally divided on marriage equality. 40% of Mexicans support equal rights, 40% oppose them, and 10% have no opinion per polling in early September, reported Vanguardia.

When considering what is happening in the country on LGBT rights, one must be keep in mind that Mexico has a troubled and violent history between the church and secular government, including anti-clerical laws in the early 20th century which led to many churches being closed and the oppression and even murder of priests. While laws have changed and tensions lessened, the legacy of these decades lingers. Furthermore, church ministers are targeted today as part of the country’s drug-related violence.

These realities may cause prelates to make extreme claims like the church is being persecuted or suggestions they would be jailed. But church leaders should be more responsible in their rhetorical actions, instead of using hyperbolic and inflammatory terms like “gay dictatorship.” Actual violence in the past and today makes it especially troubling that church leaders and LGBT advocates have both used such charged language in this debate. Where the church should be a unifying force for the promotion and expansion of human rights for all people, including LGBT communities, it is instead acting as a source of unnecessary pain and conflict.

De-escalation from both sides would be advisable, as it would likely allow dialogue to replace divisive tactics. Dialogue could produce laws which are respectful of every person’s dignity and the rights of religious institutions. Such laws would ultimately advance the common good, and that is the cause to which all sides should ultimately commit themselves.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Italy Is a Case Study for How the Church Can Build Up a Marriage Culture

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Deborah Piccini and Elena Vanni celebrating their civil union in Italy

Civil unions by same-gender couples have begun in Italy, implementing a law passed earlier this year against the Catholic hierarchy’s objections. But a new study suggests that church weddings, already in great decline, may disappear altogether in Italy in 15 years.  These two facts make Italy a case study for how the church can actually build up a healthy and positive culture around marriage.

It is not clear which couple was the first to be legally joined in Italy, but it is clear that couples have rushed to get their relationships legally recognized. Malay Mail reported one couple entered a union early in Milan because, after 28 years together, one partner was terminally ill. Gay Star News reported that Elena Vanni and Deborah Piccini were among the first couples, celebrating their union at the City Hall of Castel San Pietro near Bologna. Vanni said of their decision to be united under the law:

“‘Desires are the engine that leads us to be happy. . .Not that we were in a hurry, but at some point, our union [became] a discourse about justice.'”

Italy’s national conversation about same-gender relationships has been contentious, and much of the debate has been framed around the issue of justice. Both sides rallied hundreds of thousands to their cause, resulting in massive demonstrations in the lead-up to the law’s passage last May. Lay Catholics were split on the civil unions question, though Italians overall support expanding LGBT rights.  Italian church leaders substantively supported anti-equality efforts, though the Italian Episcopal Conference and some bishops practiced more distance than they had before Pope Francis’ election. For its part, the Holy See avoided the debate in Italy. Still, church leaders were overwhelmingly clear they did not support the law and the Conference’s president called the law’s passage “a loss for everyone.

Contrasting this rush by couples to enter civil unions is a report which suggested that Catholic sacramental weddings in Italy may end altogether by 2031. The study was done by CENSIS, the Center for Social Investment Studies, and analyzed marriage trends from the last two decades. Crux reported that the numbers of Italians entering into sacramental marriages were “in free fall” despite 95% of the nation’s residents still identifying as Catholic. Religious weddings fell by an average of 6,400 annually, and civil ceremonies are holding steady, but show little to no growth.

CENSIS director Massimiliano Valerii said the study indicates the “dissolution of this institution [of marriage],” which the Center attributed in part to legislative trends “including the fact that children born outside of marriage are now recognized as equally legitimate as those born to married couples, and also the civil recognition of de facto couples in addition to those who are married.” Civil unions for lesbian and gay couples are too new to have been factored into any calculations.

The phrasing, “culture of marriage” is used mostly by conservative opponents of marriage equality who claim that the expansion of LGBT rights undercuts the institution of marriage and family life. But Italy reveals that the culture of marriage is not defended, and certainly not strengthened, by denying LGBT people their human rights. If this were the case, marriage should be flourishing in Italy, the last Western European nation (aside from the Holy See) to grant rights to same-gender couples. It is not.

Whether or not sacramental marriages in the Catholic church will cease by 2031 is uncertain. Trends provide guidance, but do not predict the future. What is certain is that the debate over LGBT rights in Italy will continue. Civil unions are progress but are not equivalent to equal marriage rights. Adoption rights for same-gender partners were stripped from the civil unions law to ensure its passage. While employment non-discrimination protections exist, these protections do not extend to other areas like public accommodations. Between now and 2031,  Italian church leaders have an opportunity to shift their strategy on marriage equality, and, in the process, save the nation’s culture of marriage.

Until now, bishops’ engagement with marriage policy in many Western nations has almost exclusively existed of their public condemnations of marriage equality, divorce and remarriage, or contraception. They have failed to offer a compelling, positive, and hopeful vision of marriage and family life that the Catholic tradition possesses. The synodal process and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, attested to the institutional church’s deficiency in preaching and cultivating this vision.The generally conservative Italian episcopacy has been a prime example of this approach.

But if the bishops would listen to the LGBT people and their loved ones, who are actually defending marriage and family, they might actually build up the culture of marriage that they seek. Where the bishops have failed, lay people have led the way. It is no coincidence that marriage equality, and LGBT rights overall, frequently advance first in regions which are predominantly Catholic. The faithful, driven by a sense of justice for people who are marginalized, have championed equality under the law precisely to strengthen all couples and their families. Catholic loved ones of LGBT people, particularly parents, have passionately affirmed not only the goodness of same-gender relationships but demanded equal protections for them. These Catholics understand that all love is good before God, and it should be affirmed and protected by society because marriage and family are indeed essential goods for human flourishing.

As Italians keep addressing LGBT rights, the nation’s bishops should stop resisting LGBT rights as if equality’s progress is anti-marriage and anti-family. They have done tremendous damage to the institution of marriage by claiming some love is second class, and that some families should not be recognized as such. Bishops should instead listen to the many faithful Catholics in Italy and around the world whose advocacy for equality has done more to build up a culture of marriage.

Foremost among these leaders is the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, who has to some extent undertaken this positive reclamation of marriage and family.  Unfortunately, he has done so by promoting heterosexuality as the norm for these institutions. If he cannot affirm marriage equality, he could at least affirm publicly  the love and commitment which exists between same-gender couples and the legal protections their families deserve.   That would do wonders for the culture of marriage in Italy and around the world.

 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Bishops Criticize Vice President Joe Biden for Officiating Same-Gender Marriage

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Tweet from Vice President Biden of the wedding ceremony

Vice President Joe Biden has been criticized by U.S. bishops for officiating at a same-gender wedding last week.

On Friday afternoon, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  (USCCB) published a blog post about public officials who officiate at same-gender marriages. Written by three bishops, the post does not mention the Vice President by name but, given the post’s timing, he is most likely one of its targets.

The bishops who authored the post are Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB president; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. They wrote:

“When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”

The bishops said that faithful witness “will only grow more challenging in the years to come,” alluding to their claims that expanded LGBT rights threaten their religious liberty. They cited both Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia and the pontiff’s address to the U.S. Congress last fall to support their negative position on same-gender marriage. When it comes to marriage equality, it seems some U.S. bishops are willing to reverse their general silence about Francis to use the popular pontiff in their opposition to LGBT rights.

Conservative Catholics have criticized Biden as well, reported Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter. The Lepanto Institute, an ultra-conservative watchdog group, wrote letter to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. asking whether Biden has  excommunicated himself by his action.  Yet, Edward Peters, a conservative canonist, acknowledged that canon law does not provide for excommunication in such a case.  Peters did suggest, however, that he thought that there are grounds to deny Communion to the Vice President.  So far, Wuerl has not responded, at least publicly, to either charge.

Last Monday, Biden officiated his first wedding, conducted for White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie. The Vice President, who is Catholic, has a long record of supporting LGBT rights and is credited with pushing President Barack Obama to endorse marriage equality.

Marriage equality is an irreversible given in the United States now. Why do the bishops keep expending their energy and resources fighting this new reality which protects families and expands love? Their opposition to LGBT rights is well-known, as is their public feud with the Obama administration. It is unclear what impact the bishops had hoped for with this blog post–especially since it seems that they took a swipe at the Vice President without directly confronting him. These bishops need to read a little more of Pope Francis’ writings, and reflect a little more on his witness of living out a church that is “home for all.”

I would point them specifically to Amoris Laetitia’s line that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them. Like many Catholics who affirm LGBT people and their relationships, Biden seems to have properly formed his conscience and then acted upon it by choosing to officiate this wedding ceremony. And like so many other Catholics, he is witnessing to God’s expansive and ever-present love.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, Officiates Same-Gender Marriage

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 4.13.20 PMVice President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, officiated a same-gender marriage this week.  just as electoral politics, and Catholic engagement of them, heat up. Biden tweeted a picture of the ceremony, commenting:

“Proud to marry Brian and Joe at my house. Couldn’t be happier, two longtime White House staffers, two great guys.”

That photo has been retweeted over 38,000 times, including by Jill Biden who commented, “Love is love.”

The Washington Post reported that the couple, Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie, both work at the White House. Mosteller oversees Oval Office operations while Mahshie is a trip coordinator for First Lady Michelle Obama. The intimate ceremony at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., where the Vice President resides, was the first wedding at which Biden had ever officiated.

Vice President Biden has, however, been a longtime supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights. He endorsed equal marriage rights in 2012, suggesting then that the criteria for marriage should be, “Who do you love?” That comment is credited with helping speed up President Barack Obama’s “evolution” on the issue, so he could then offer his own endorsement. Biden has also advocated for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, challenged the international community to address LGBT human rights, and said transgender equality is “the civil rights issue of our time.

For his decades of public service as a faithful Catholic, this spring Biden was awarded the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal alongside former Speaker of the House John Boehner.  Yet, Biden has also taken heat from the Catholic hierarchy, on a number of occasions, for holding views inconsistent with magisterial teaching.

Looking to November, disputes about the actions of a vice president who is Catholic may not end. Indeed, they have already begun. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee. Kaine, a Catholic who has said his faith is “central to everything I do,” has a positive record on LGBT rights.

But his support for marriage equality, in addition to being pro-choice, led Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence to suggest “[Kaine’s] faith isn’t central to his public, political life,” according to the Providence Journal. Since his nomination, Kaine has received public criticism from Virginia’s bishops, as well as from a priest in Washington, D.C. who tweeted, “Do us both a favor. Don’t show up in my communion line.” Faithful America has launched a petition calling upon Catholic leaders to stop questioning Kaine’s faith.

Tobin’s and other bishops’ suggestion that Catholics who support LGBT rights are not fully Catholic is troublesome. Recent data from the Pew Forum revealed 42% of Catholics considered that the treatment of LGBT people is “very important” in the upcoming election, the highest of any Christian denomination and two points higher than the average for all voters. The bishops deny the reality that, like Joe Biden and Tim Kaine, many Catholics support LGBT rights because of, and not in spite of, their faith.

That denial causes unnecessary controversy for the church, and further harm to LGBT Catholics and their families. Thankfully, lay Catholics act daily for inclusion and justice. To Brian and Joe, and Joe Biden, Bondings 2.0 says congratulations!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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The Huffington Post, “Why Joe Biden’s Blessing of a Gay Wedding Matters