Cardinal Schönborn: “Amoris Laetitia” Evolves Catholic Doctrine on Family Life

July 8, 2016
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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, right, holding Amoris Laetitia when it was announced in April

A top cardinal who was closely connected to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, has again affirmed the exhortation’s authoritative status, and said it evolves understandings and expressions of Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a Dominican, made these remarks and others in an extensive interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro of the Vatican-reviewed Italian journal, La Civita Cattolica. Excerpts, available here, have been translated into English.

Amoris Laetitia is “the great text of moral theology” the church has awaited since Vatican II, America quoted Schönborn as saying. It is moving the church from ” ‘a defensive pastoral style in which evil becomes an obsession’ toward one that focuses on recognizing the value of encouraging what is good.” Asked about the exhortation’s authority and the exhortation’s relation to Catholic doctrine–in light of criticisms that it is a minor document, or even only the pope’s opinion, as Cardinal Raymond Burke claimed–Schönborn said:

“It is obvious that this is an act of the magisterium. . .I have no doubt that it must be said that this is a pontifical document of great quality, an authentic teaching of sacra doctrina, which leads us back to the contemporary relevance of the Word of God. . .

“In this sphere of human realities, the Holy Father has fundamentally renewed the discourse of the Church – certainly along the lines of Evangelii gaudium, but also of Gaudium et spes, which presents doctrinal principles and reflections on human beings today that are in a continuous evolution. There is a profound openness to accept reality.”

Schönborn said Pope Francis rejected doctrine which is “abstract pronouncements that are separated from the subject who lives,” saying the exhortation’s “bedrock” is understanding that families are not ideals but rather are journeying. He continued:

“The complexity of family situations, which goes far beyond what was customary in our Western societies even a few decades ago, has made it necessary to look in a more nuanced way at the complexity of these situations. To a greater degree than in the past, the objective situation of a person does not tell us everything about that person in relation to God and in relation to the Church. This evolution compels us urgently to rethink what we meant when we spoke of objective situations of sin. And this implicitly entails a homogeneous evolution in the understanding and in the expression of the doctrine.”

In short, Schönborn clarified, “There is no general norm that can cover all the particular cases.”

Other bishops have affirmed Amoris Laetitia‘s authority as they consider how it should be implemented. Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, Malta, called church ministers to exercise “cautious discernment and respect” when encountering people in irregular situations, reported the Independent. Naming LGBT Catholics in civil unions, Grech said:

“Our pastoral activity should be based on four actions – accepting, accompanying, discerning and integrating. The Pope tells us it is important that we help divorced people who are in a new relationship to feel part of the church, that they are not excommunicated or regarded as such, because they also form part of the ecclesiastical communion.”

Grech, whose record on LGBT issues is generally positive, encouraged church ministers not to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “torture chamber.” Instead, he said the church must engage people as people, not situations, and to “[be] mindful of the language you use.”

Yet despite Schönborn and others’ insistence that Amoris Laetitia represents a development of doctrine, especially in its respect for the complexities of family life today, not all bishops have treated it as such.

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on new guidelines from Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput establishing general norms in the archdiocese that ban LGBT people from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to Catholics in non-traditional families. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on these guidelines here.

Debates about Amoris Laetitia will certainly continue for months, if not years. What is important for LGBT Catholics and their advocates, however, is the growing admission by church leaders that doctrine can and has developed when it comes to family life. Opponents of same-gender sexual activity, relationships, and marriage equality frequently say church teaching is unchanging. But Cardinal Schönborn’s interview makes clear such a view is false, and that beyond the clear pastoral recommendations there are doctrinal implications, too. His voice possesses tremendous weight. He was the spokesperson at the April press conference that made Amoris Laetitia available to the public.  He appeared alongside a married Italian couple and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri, the Synod of Bishops’ secretary general.  In the 1990s,  Schönborn oversaw publication of the most recent edition of the Catechism.

The progressive changes sought by many Catholics on gender and sexuality issues were not accomplished in or by Amoris Laetitia. And Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines are evidence the document can and will be misinterpreted by church leaders who wish to suppress pastoral and doctrinal evolution. But there is tremendous hope in the reality that a growing number of church leaders are admitting change is possible, and even needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis on LGBT Issues Is Out of Sync with Amoris Laetitia’s Overall Message, Say Theologians

May 25, 2016
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Francis Clooney

Last week, Bondings 2.0 highlighted young theologians critical of the perceived dismissal of LGBT Catholics by Pope Francis in his latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.  These young scholars were also dismayed by liberal commentators who seem intent on preserving the narrative of progress for the pope’s administration. Today, we highlight theologians who have focused on the exhortation’s inconsistencies when it comes to LGBT issues.

Jesuit Fr. Francis Clooney of Harvard Divinity School offered three points in America about Pope Francis’ treatment of same-gender marriages, concluding with an appeal for Pope Francis to rewrite”in his own hand, from his own heart”paragraph 251 which condemns same-gender marriages quite harshly.

Why does Clooney reach that conclusion? First, the priest noted the “rather formal, one might say cold tone” of paragraph 251 especially as it contrasts with paragraph 250’s rejection of anti-LGBT discrimination. Clooney observed that paragraph 251 extensively quotes the 2015 Synod report, which cited heavily a 2003 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that is itself based in the Catechism. The Jesuit priest wrote:

” ‘I think [Francis] would have spoken differently had he spoken in his own voice. . .If the pope had written about gay marriage in his own voice, I don’t think No. 251 would have been the result. If some men and women, struggling for love, stability and family, choose to enter a gay marriage, might this not be a similar, analogous ‘this agonizing and painful decision’ [to procure an abortion] that merits the pope’s compassion, rather than the cold assertion made in No. 251?”

Clooney cited his own experiences which challenge paragraph 251’s assertion that same-gender relationships are not “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan.”About witnessing same-gender marriages in his life, the priest wrote:

“No relation is perfect, I am sure, but in these marriages I most often observe: honest, open, mature love; commitment, often over many years; fidelity and loyalty to one another, for richer or poorer, in health and in sickness; Christian faith, lived out in a deep human relationship; and, in several cases, great devotion to raising children. I am edified by these relationships, these marriages. . .

“[I]t should be evident to anyone with their eyes open, that gay marriage is in many ways similar to marriage as is esteemed by the church, and that analogies abound, including those I have mentioned. It is hard to see how or why Pope Francis might think that gay marriage could be entirely dissimilar and equivocally unlike heterosexual marriage. It is hard to see why Pope Francis, even if quoting quotes from other documents, would be willing to say that the marriage of a gay couple is entirely outside God’s plan. Is there anything or anyone outside God’s mercy and compassion?”

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Daniel Maguire

In a commentary at Consortium News, theologian Daniel Maguire of Marquette University said the pope “should be embarrassed by the significant failings” of Amoris Laetitia.

Maguire denied the exhortation is “a retreat from rule-centered church teaching,” highlighting instead areas like marriage equality and contraception where Pope Francis’ respect for conscience becomes invalidated by his own words. The pope “waxes rhapsodic on the beauty and personal enrichment offered by marriage,” calling it ideal love, but Maguire also pointed out:

“And now the rub! This magnificent experience is reserved by God and the Catholic hierarchy only for heterosexuals. It’s beyond the reach of gays who love one another. The document should have been called The Joy of Heterosexual Love. . .

“Is it that all LGBT persons are too ‘selfish, calculating and petty?’ Are they so deficient in their humanity as to be incapable of this achievement of human love. Is the Pope suggesting in a new nasty way that all these persons are ‘queer’ and ‘deviant.’ Is that why heterosexuals have seven sacraments but gays only have six since marriage is beyond their reach? That is theologically queer. Do we see here the old brutal prejudice wrapped in the language of love, pastoral concern, and pity?”

This evaluation of LGBT people’s relationships is, in Maguire’s words, “cruel” and abandons the pope’s previous attitude of non-judgement. Divesting LGBT matters from broader appeals to conscience is a tremendous weakness of the pope’s document, Maguire noted, but the theologian remained hopeful, noting in his commentary’s conclusion:

“Catholicism has a splendid, but well hidden, theory of conscience. . .Some 30 years ago, I spoke to a Dignity group of Catholic gays. I explained Probabilism, reading from old Catholic moral theology books, and applied it to same sex unions. In the light of that, I said, ‘your loves are not only good they are holy and full of grace.’

“A number of them were in tears. They loved the Church and did not want their deep love of another to separate them from it.”

Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia has been praised for its compassionate style and reaffirmation of the primacy of conscience. He signaled a new welcome for marginalized Catholics who are divorced and remarried, or who use artificial contraception. But on LGBT matters, the exhortation seems conflicted, at best.  Clooney and Maguire clearly identify sources in experience and in tradition that will enable Catholics to develop LGBT Catholic thought in a manner that is actually consistent with Pope Francis’ calls for mercy and the respect of conscience. Pope Francis should pay attention to these critiques for the next time he writes on LGBT issues.

You can read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Amoris Laetitia and reactions to it by clicking hereYou can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Can LGBT Issues Be Included at San Diego’s Diocesan Synod?

May 22, 2016
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Bishop Robert McElroy

Following Pope Francis’ lead, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego has called a diocesan synod on marriage. We need to ask: can LGBT issues be included in this synod’s agenda?

Bishop McElroy announced the synod, planned for October 28-29, 2016, in “Embracing the Joy of Love,” his pastoral message responding to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Lay Catholics will be the majority of participants, with each of the diocese’s 100 parishes represented. Discussion groups which include local theologians will meet in the preceding months to further flesh out the agenda in advance

McElroy hopes the two-day synod will hopefully unfold into “a biannual, theme-driven event” to allow for spiritual renewal and lay input in diocesan governance, reported AmericaThe magazine noted this may be “the first such structured diocesan-wide response” to Amoris Laetitia in the world.

According to the National Catholic ReporterMcElroy outlined five challenges for the synod to address, hoping the synod will produce action points for each topic . He identified the following challenges: witnessing to a Catholic vision of marriage; forming a culture of invitation to unmarried couples; nurturing children; ministry to those persons who are divorced; bringing spiritual depth to family life in its various forms.

Though they have not been mentioned in the preparatory material so far, LGBT issues could easily be included in this agenda on marriage and family. For instance, when discussing the need to welcome unmarried couples, Bishop McElroy said the church “should not ignore the love, sacrifice and commitment which is reflected in so many of these relationships which differ from marriage” so as not to alienate people. For those couples who live together or who have entered civil marriages, the church’s pastoral outreach should be one “which reflects love more than judgment, which affirms the beautiful elements of love already present in the lives of such couples” even while upholding a heteronormative understanding of marriage.  Clearly, these areas include lesbian and gay couples, too.

Elsewhere in his message, Bishop McElroy exhorted priests to accompany people in the formation of their consciences rather than dictate decisions, stressed the problem of young adults’ rapid disengagement from the life of the church, and called for parishes to enhance their spiritual nourishment of families. Each of the areas McElroy addressed could easily include LGBT people and their families in the deliberations.

Appointed in 2015, Bishop McElroy represents an emerging generation of “Francis Bishops” whose pastoral sensitivity and emphasis on social justice set them apart from their predecessors. McElroy, who was a parish priest for fifteen years before assuming a position as auxiliary bishop, strongly approved of Pope Francis’ rebuke of U.S. bishops’ partisanship during the papal visit last fall. He called for the U.S. bishops’ document on political engagement to be scrapped last November because it was, in his estimation, “gravely hobbled” by its overemphasis on issues like marriage equality.

Even if LGBT issues do not come up, a synodal approach itself is noteworthy. Such an approach may advance LGBT equality even if such issues are not explicitly discussed. Bishop McElroy’s decision to convene a diocesan synod is quite significant wrote Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter:

“Synodality, as Pope Francis said at the last two synods on the family, is more than a different process, it is a different attitude. It requires listening as well as pontificating. It demands dialogue, not rote recitations of statements arrived at in advance of the kind that characterized synods before Francis. Synodality only works if those participating exhibit a certain humility about their own claims on the truth, a willingness to let the truth capture them rather than the other way round.”

For far too long, many church leaders have refused to listen to or dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. Their approach lacked humility, instead employing a harshness against those Catholics who disagreed with the hierarchy’s teachings on sexuality and gender.

Bishop McElroy is charting a divergent course, one exhibiting greater humility and compassion than many of his peers. Given his record and willingness to listen in the upcoming synod process, McElroy would likely welcome the inclusion of LGBT issues in this or another synod perhaps. Coupled with the Holy Spirit’s movements, a more synodal church could break down barriers to and build bridges for LGBT equality.

Catholics in San Diego are encouraged to write to the bishop and request meetings to share their stories and their convictions around LGBT issues. In the five months before San Diego’s synod convenes, there will be multiple opportunities in the discussion groups and other listening mechanisms to raise LGBT concerns. Local Catholics should ask themselves “What is God asking of our church now?” which is the question the bishop posed about discernment.  If they listen to the ways God speaks through people’s lives, they will surely find that LGBT pastoral care and inclusion are important concerns for the church in San Diego and that they should be addressed either in this synod or at another similar meeting in the very near future.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Some Hope But Not Much Joy for LGBT Catholics in Pope’s ‘Joy of Love’ Document

April 8, 2016

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry,                                               in response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life

While Pope Francis’ latest document, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), contains some hopeful passages, it does not inspire joy in LGBT Catholics and their supporters.  As far as sexual orientation and gender identity issues are concerned, the pope’s latest apostolic exhortation reiterates church formulas which show that the Vatican has yet to learn from the experiences and faith lives of so many LGBT Church members or their supporters.

Though the pope calls for church leaders and ministers to be less judgmental and to respect individuals’ consciences, he has not provided a new pastoral approach to LGBT issues or people.

On other family topics such as divorce and co-habitation, Amoris Laetitia, offers some hopeful advice—and if this advice were simply applied to LGBT issues, which would not be incompatible to do, this document would have been much more positive.  Pope Francis calls for non-judgmental pastoral care, assisting people in developing their consciences, encouraging diverse pastoral responses based on local culture, and calling church leaders to be more self-critical.  All these things, if applied to LGBT people and issues, could produce enormous positive change in the church.

Pope Francis

Instead of listening to more progressive voices at the synods who called for greater understanding and dialogue with the LGBT community, the pope simply repeated church condemnations of same-sex unions, adoption by lesbian and gay people, and the complexities of gender identity.

Most egregious is his repetition of the synod fathers’ false claim that international aid to developing nations is dependent upon openness to marriage equality.  No evidence exists for such a claim. Randy Berry, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI People categorically denied this claim last November during meetings with church officials at the Vatican to discuss the persecution of LGBT people globally.

Moreover, Pope Francis’ one statement discussing pastoral care to families with lesbian and gay members is included in a section entitled “Casting Light on Crises, Worries and Difficulties.”  Such a classification reveals an assumption that LGBT topics are simply problems to be surmounted, and it does not recognize the giftedness and grace that occur when a family accepts and loves its LGBT family members.

While Pope Francis repeats church teaching condemning discrimination and violence against LGBT people, the fact that there is no elaboration of this teaching concerning countries that are criminalizing sexual and gender minorities makes these words ineffective.

Many in the Catholic LGBT community had great, but realistic, hopes for this document.  While not expecting a blessing on marriage for lesbian and gay couples, many were anticipating that Pope Francis would offer an affirming message to LGBT people, and not the same ill-informed comments. Many were hoping for something more pastoral from this pope known for warm gestures and statements. Where is the Pope Francis who embraced his gay former student and husband during his U.S. visit?  Where is the Pope Francis who invited a transgender Spanish man for a personal meeting at the Vatican? That Pope Francis is hard to find in his latest text.

The two synods in 2014 and 2015, as well as the wide consultations among the laity which preceded them, served as the research for this new papal document.  Unfortunately, as far as LGBT issues are concerned, there is nothing in Amoris Laetitia that indicates the great call for new approaches to these issues that occurred during these discussions.

Perhaps there is hope in the suggestion made by some bishops at the 2015 synod that the Vatican hold an entirely separate synodal discussion on the issues of sexuality and gender.  While this document has a lot to offer on a variety of important family topics, it did not give adequate attention to LGBT family issues that deserve serious examination by church leaders.

Given the new general pastoral direction of this document, there is potential for further development in regard to LGBT issues.  Much more faithful witnessing of LGBT Catholics and their supporters, as well as continued steps toward dialogue with Church leaders, will further this goal.

In one of the more hopeful parts of the document, the conclusion of chapter 8, Pope Francis actually calls for the continuation of such a dialogue:

“I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church.”

Such dialogues can transform those in so-called “complicated situations,” but they can also transform the Church’s ministers and leaders.  This process is a proven method for the development of doctrine in the Catholic Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry


Trying to Interpret the Language of the Synod

October 13, 2015

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

One of the things that I am learning from covering the synod here in Rome is that there are a lot more questions and perspectives on family than I would have ever imagined existing.    Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, there are a lot more pastoral strategies possible to address this diversity, and some can have an impact on LGBT issues, even if they are not directly intended to do so.

At the press briefing today,  Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, reported on the interventions and reports made by synod English speakers on Saturday afternoon.  Part of the challenge of getting information from the synod discussions is that any materials comes through one of of several language reporters, who summarize what was said, though without identifying who said it.  While not an ideal situations, it must be said that of the four language reporters (Italian, English, French, Spanish/Portugese), Father Rosica is always the most thorough and detailed in his reports, providing what I consider the best information.

The downside is that since we don’t receive the full texts of comments or even who said them, we are left to wonder if the remarks are intended to address a particular issue, leaving us to speculate.

Rosica reported today on an interesting pastoral observation and strategy presented by one of the synod fathers.  The unnamed speaker pointed out that there seems to be a “nothing or all” mentality in the synod, meaning that either the bishops should change nothing about the church’s approach to certain issues or it has to change everything about that approach.

The speaker indicated that neither is a real option, and suggested that the bishops look at a “great scope of pastoral possibility and creativity” available as responses to certain pastoral situations.

Of course, my ears perked up at this suggestion, immediately thinking that there are many creative pastoral possibilities that bishops can institute in regard to LGBT issues.

My speculation that the speaker may have been referring to LGBT issues was confirmed as more was said about this idea.  The speaker suggested that the pastoral approach of proclaiming a Church truth in public,while privately and pastorally bending and being merciful to individuals no longer holds.  He also added another insight: the difference between sin and sinner doesn’t work any more for sexuality.  As I understood this last part, you can’t separate “sinner”  from “sin,”  loving one, while rejecting the other.  Or , to say i another way: you can’t condemn sexual behavior without also condemning the person, or perhaps,  stated more positively, you can’t accept a person, without accepting their sexuality.

Whether or not the speaker was addressing LGBT issues is impossible to say for certain, however, even if he wasn’t, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to see how these concepts are naturally applicable to such issues.

Fr. Rosica also mentioned a number of other ideas presented that seem applicable to LGBT issues, regardless if they were intended as such:

  • For God,no human being is a stranger.
  • The sexual act and human sexuality represent only one part of family and marriage
  • The Church must be  an accompanying mother who reaches out to all

The biggest surprise for me was hearing that a bishop described the need for the Church to recognize that in the contemporary world there are new “family structures,” such as  single parent families, mixed faith families, families separated by migration, families which include caring for grandparents, families where grandparents are the primary caretakers, and–here’s the surprising part–families of same sex couples.  Rosica reported the bishop’s thoughts:

“Many families are simply left out of our pastoral strategies and we have to develop pastoral strategies for the many different situations that families find themselves in today.

“We have to reach out to those that do not fit our traditional categories. New families can no longer remain alienated from the church and the church cannot remain absent from these new situations.”

The diversity of perspectives here has made me realize that there may be a variety of approaches to more positive pastoral care for families with LGBT members.  Pope Francis has said that God is a “God of surprises.”  Perhaps a positive response on LGBT issues from this synod may surprise us all in the creative way it is formulated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


A Synod Discussion Asks the Question: What Is Mercy?

October 11, 2015

This post is the sixth in Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

St. Peter’s Basilica dome and colonnade on a rainy Rome day.

Not every day here at the synod is an exciting day.  Yesterday was a gloomy, rainy day in Rome, and a kind of lethargy hung over the regularly busy city.  The same kind of malaise seemed to permeate the daily press briefing, with little information being put forth that was of interest to Catholics concerned with LGBT issues.

At the press briefings, Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi gives an overview of what has transpired since the day before.  Today his report was followed by reports from four different sub-spokespersons who reported on what bishops in different language groups said.  Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is the English sub-spokesperson, and he related a long list of different comments from bishops, though, as is the standard practice, the bishops who stated these various comments are not identified.

Mercy, particularly for those who do not follow church teaching, was a major theme of today’s comments from the bishops, Rosica noted.  Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter captured the main highlights of Rosica’s reporting on mercy:

“Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica, who assists the press office with English-language media, said one Synod prelate had said: ‘Mercy cannot be encountered unless it is measured against an eternal law.’

” ‘One must seek truth in order to experience mercy,’ Rosica quoted that prelate. ‘And the church must seek truth when confronting the theme of marriage. Means giving people a challenge; it is not covering reality with giftwrap.’

“Another Synod prelate, Rosica related, had said: ‘Unless we acknowledge openly people’s situations, we will not be able to address those situations clearly.’

” ‘Mercy towards sinners is not a form of weakness, nor an abandonment of church teaching,’ Rosica quoted that prelate.”

” ‘We have to learn how to speak the truth in love in many situations, because in many situations people are completely powerless over what has befallen them,’ he said. ‘And our communities of faith have to be communities that welcome people.’ “

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Cardinal BaseliosCleemisThottunkal

Also speaking at the press briefing was Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, who is the Archbishop of Trivandrum, in southern India, and the president of the bishops conference of India as well as the head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.  He explained his own view about mercy:

“When we speak of god’s mercy, we also talk about an openness to be converted by God’s mercy.  Persons must be well motivated. The Gospel demands this as a condition.  [We say] “The Kingdom of God is at hand, be converted.”  Jesus said “I forgive you, but sin no more.”

Taken all together these comments show that there is a debate about how mercy is to be understood going on in the synod.  Is mercy something that recognizes reality, accepts that people are sometimes powerless to their situations, and welcomes unconditionally or is it something that “demands” conversion as part of the process?

As far as LGBT issues are concerned, this is a critical point.  Will LGBT people be welcome in the Church only if they agree to follow the church’s teaching–which in many cases would be a violation of their consciences–or will they be welcome as they are with their “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community” that last year’s mid-term synod report described?

Today’s press briefing focused on bishops’ comments on the second part of the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document of the meeting. The second part is entitled “The Discernment of the Family Vocation,” and it focuses on more spiritual, rather than sociological or cultural, aspects of family.  So, we were told that a great many of the bishops’ interventions covered topics such as the importance of family prayer, the family as a place where suffering is shared and comforted, the family as a school for teaching about love and concern for others, the spirituality of the family, the mission of the family to help other families, and the family as the place where the life of faith is lived out every day, the family’s concern with raising children and protecting the elderly, and the vocation of the family.

What struck me as I listened to all these descriptors of the family is that they are all describe families I have met that have LGBT members either as sons and daughters or as the heads of the household. In describing the vocation of family, the bishops are describing the characteristics of ALL families, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity of their members.  I hope that they recognize that even in their own thinking, the issue of procreation and the concept of gender complementarity are not the fullness, or even the lion’s share, of family life.   If they would recognize this truth, I think they would be more disposed to welcome LGBT families into the Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Now’s the Time to Reflect on “What Makes a Family?”

July 16, 2015

With marriage equality now legal across the United States, but yet with so many debates and controversies, particularly Catholic ones, still raging about the issue, it might be good to step back a second and reflect on the question “What makes a family?”

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, did exactly just that recently in a National Catholic Reporter essay with a title that is the very question  “What Makes A Family?”

Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane

Sister Jeannine reflects on this question by examining the lives of a Catholic lesbian couple that she encountered this year, Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane.  In one sense, the essay begins on the note of what does not make a family, exemplified by Kathleen’s marriage to an emotionally possessive man:

“Kathleen loved being a mother, but her husband wanted her entire attention and resented the time she spent with their children. Their relationship grew strained, and they became increasingly quarrelsome with each other. . . .”

After her husband left the family, without letting anyone know he was doing so, Kathleen met Honour, who became an emotional support to her and her three children after divorce.  They eventually come to recognize a new dimension in their lives:

“Throughout this time, Honour was her lifeblood. Kathleen felt joy whenever Honour was around and missed her when they were apart. After some time they both came to realize that their companionship had blossomed into something deeper.

“ ‘Our wonderful friendship evolved into the beautiful love we’ve now shared for over 30 years,’ Kathleen told me. Although neither Kathleen nor Honour had ever been in a lesbian relationship, they wanted to be committed to each other.”

Because of concern for how people would treat their children if the two women moved in together, they waited until the last went off to college to do so.  But when they did, their home became

“not an exclusive one; [it] was always open to others in need.”

They took in a teenage granddaughter who had been sexually abused and helped her recovery and adjustment to adult life.  They took in Kathleen’s mother for ten years when she had become unable to live on her own.

And at the heart of their relationship is their faith:

“ ‘I’ve always had a deep, visceral connection with my Catholic faith,’ Kathleen said. ‘I’m not sure that the church will ever change its views about lesbian and gay people, but I firmly believe my relationship with Honour is a blessing God bestowed on me. All the opposition we encountered from society and church teachings could never shatter my trust that our love is a gift from God.’ “

For Sister Jeannine,  reflecting on the life of Kathleen and Honour helped her understand what is at the essence of family:

“I think about [Kathleen’s] life with Honour and their time with Kathleen’s mother and granddaughter. For most of their years together, Kathleen and Honour had no marriage license and they had no biological children from their union. What they did have was the deepest kind of love I have encountered — the love of sacrifice for each other, for those they care about, and for those in need, the love of putting the other’s happiness and welfare first, the love of common spiritual values, the love of feeling uniquely blessed by God because of the other.”

There is a lot more to this lovely story, and so I recommend reading the entire essay, which can be found by clicking here.

I pray that our Catholic leaders will open their minds, hearts, eyes, and ears to receive stories like this one–especially as they prepare for the fall’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the Synod on Family in Rome.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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