World Deserves More Than Rumors About the French Ambassador to the Vatican

April 26, 2015

Two weeks ago, on April 12th, we published a post with the headline “Did the Vatican Reject France’s Openly Gay Ambassador?” which noted that the Vatican has yet to credential a new French ambassador who is openly gay. Speculation abounded around the topic, but with neither the Vatican nor the French government would make a statement about why Laurent Stefanini has yet to be approved by the Holy See.

Pope Francis

Two weeks later, we still don’t know the definitive answer, although this week there has been plenty of unconfirmed reports that Pope Francis met Stefanini and told him that he was not approved.  The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported:

” ‘There was a meeting between the Pope and Mr Stefanini,’ government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a regular briefing, confirming a report by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine but dismissing the newspaper’s assertion that his candidacy had been finally rejected during the April 18 meeting.

” ‘Nothing has changed: France has proposed a candidate and for the time being we are waiting for the Vatican’s reply after the usual discussions and review of his candidacy.’ “

The reason for Stefanini not being approved might not have anything with him, though, and may have to do with the Vatican’s displeasure with the French government for having legalized marriage equality two years ago. The Daily Mail article stated:

“Earlier this month the French Catholic daily La Croix cited an unnamed source as saying the Vatican considered it a ‘provocation’ that France’s Socialist government, which in 2013 legalised gay marriages, had proposed a homosexual for the post.”

Laurent Stefanini

Based on French news reports, The Guardian newspaper reported that the pope indeed did inform the ambassador-nominee that no approval was forthcoming:

“In a meeting over the weekend, the pontiff allegedly cited his displeasure with a controversial 2013 gay marriage law in France as part of his reason for the decision, according to the report in satirical title Le Canard Enchâiné.

“Pope Francis also allegedly said he did not appreciate the manner in which France had tried to put pressure on the Vatican by nominating a man – 55-year-old Laurent Stéfanini – who French officials knew would be controversial given the church’s views on homosexuality. The Vatican declined to comment to the Guardian about the veracity of the report or whether a meeting took place.”

Yet a Religion News Service story reported only a part of the French newspaper’s account was true:

“ “There was a meeting between the Pope and Mr Stefanini,’ government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a regular briefing, confirming a report by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine but dismissing the newspaper’s assertion that his candidacy had been finally rejected during the April 18 meeting.”

Still, a separate Religion News Service  story offered a different view of the meeting:

“Another French media report said that the unusual meeting between Stefanini and Francis — a pope rarely gets directly involved in the appointment of an ambassador — was friendly and lasted 40 minutes, and ended with the two men praying together.”

The same story also offered the following details about the nominee:

“55-year-old Stefanini is described as brilliant and a devout Roman Catholic who secured support for his candidacy from Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris. He is also a known quantity at the Vatican, having served as a top official at the French embassy to the Holy See a decade ago.”

The upshot of all these reports ends up being that it is impossible to decide which details of this story are true. Unless the Vatican and/or the French government (and Stefanini) offer more accurate and detailed information, the world cannot be sure of the truth of any of these and other reports.

The Vatican, though, has a lot more to lose than the French government about why no action has occurred.  Pope Francis’ reputation as being progressive on LGBT issues is very much at stake.  Regardless of the repercussions, though, the Vatican has a responsibility to make a statement to clarify this situation.   If they don’t then their continued silence will no doubt be interpreted as confirmation of the rumors that their unwillingness to confirm Stefanini is motivated by gay issues. Stefanini, the French government, and the rest of us deserve better from the leadership of the Catholic Church.  At the very least, we deserve to know the Vatican’s truth about the rumors that have circulated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Is Pope Francis Shaping a More Positive Catholic Discourse on LGBT Issues?

June 18, 2013

Pope Francis’ views on marriage equality made headlines this past weekend, giving a clearer view of his position on this matter, and also a little insight on how he may be shaping a more positive Catholic discourse about LGBT issues for the future.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis

During Francis’ visit with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the Vatican,   the two spoke about many issues including ecumenical relations and global poverty, but it was their conversation about marriage equality which captured most  headlines.   Archbishop Welby has spoken out against the marriage equality bill in the United Kingdom which is still being considered by legislators there.

London’s Daily Mail noted that their views on marriage was a point of agreement that two shared:

“The meeting of minds on the controversial issue is a rare moment of agreement between the two churches amid strained relations.

“The Pope praised the Archbishop for ‘recalling the value of marriage’.

“He said: ‘ Particularly important is our witness to the reference to God and the promotion of Christian values in a world that seems at times to call into question some of the foundations of society, such as respect for the sacredness of human life or the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage, a value that you yourself have had occasion to recall recently.’”

London’s Telegraph also highlighted another important point of commonality:

Archbishop Welby said afterwards: ‘Our experience in the UK with [Roman Catholic] Archbishop Vincent [Nichols] and in our conversation today with the Pope is that we are absolutely at one on issues and equally we are at one in our condemnation of homophobic behaviour.’ ”

GayStarNews.com, not noted for praising the pope, had a favorable assessment of Francis’ statement to Archbishop Welby:

“Pope Francis has surprised in gay marriage talks by proving he is a more diplomatic figure than his predecessors.

“The leader of the Catholic Church deftly avoided speaking against gay rights while speaking to the head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. . . .

“Most importantly, Francis did not say marriage should be based on a union between a man and a woman, which is how Benedict XVI and John Paul II repeatedly defined marriage.

“Vatican officials have said the talks were a diplomatic attempt to make his point without saying, for example, gay people were a ‘defection of human nature’.

“It is believed Francis has not made any headline-making statements on homosexuality and same-sex marriage due to the divisive, violent nature of the debates in France, which has seen widespread protests. “

Pope Francis also addressed French legislators at a Vatican meeting, and some of his comments have been interpreted as referring to France’s new marriage equality law.   OnTopMag.com reported:

“Speaking to members of the French Senate and Assembly at the Vatican, Francis told lawmakers that their ‘duty … involves proposing, amending and abolishing legislation.’

“ ‘However, it is also necessary to instill something extra in them, I would say a spirit, a soul, that does not limit itself to reflecting the modalities and ideas of the moment, but which also confers upon them the indispensable quality that elevates and dignifies the human person,’ Francis said, according to a transcript provided by Vatican Radio.”

Reuters also viewed these remarks as referring to France’s marriage equality law:

“Pope Francis urged a delegation of French lawmakers on Saturday to avoid following only ‘fashions and ideas of the moment,’ when legislating, in an apparent reference to the country’s legalisation of gay marriage last month.”

Gay commentator Michelangelo Signorile sees Pope Francis views on marriage equality as significantly different than his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.   In a Huffington Post  essay entitled “Is Pope Francis Waving a White Flag on Gay Marriage?, Signorile compares these recent statements of Francis with Benedict’s involvement on the issue:

“Let’s put all of this in some perspective. In the time since Francis became pope, France became the largest predominantly Catholic country to pass marriage equality, right in the Vatican’s backyard. In the U.S., three states, including Rhode Island, which has the highest percentage of Catholics in the country, passed marriage equality. Predominantly Catholic Mexico continues to move forward on the issue in the courts, and Brazil’s National Council of Justice green-lighted gay marriage in that country, which would become the largest country in South America and the largest predominantly Catholic country in the world to allow gay marriage. Another Latin American country near the Argentine pope’s old stomping grounds, Uruguay, passed marriage equality in recent months, as did New Zealand.

“And Pope Francis had nothing publicly to say about any of it. Zero. Zilch. Nada. He was busy washing the feet of the poor and tweeting about how selflessness is a virtue. Go figure.

“Back when Spain passed marriage equality in 2005, Pope Benedict whirled himself into a frenzy, railing against it regularly. He told Catholic officials there that any support of the law would cost them their jobs and told secular public servants who are Catholic to flout the law and refuse to marry gays. He traveled to Spain and railed some more, oblivious toprotests of his trip. From then on, he regularly attacked gay marriage, even calling it a ‘threat to the future of humanity.’ “

Signorile’s conclusion on Francis:

“. . . having harshly railed against gay marriage back when he was in Argentina, only to lose that battle, he may be seeing that the handwriting is on the wall and that he’s got better things to do with his time.”

My own assessment of these statements is that Pope Francis realizes that the heavy-handed approach of his predecessor was causing too much pastoral damage to the church.  Time after time, Benedict’s statements caused more and more Catholics to be alienated from the institution.  Pope Francis’ approach, though not as positive as I would hope it to be, is a giant step forward for Catholic discourse about LGBT issues.  His more moderate and pastoral example will surely influence bishops around the world.  And when more bishops end their strident rhetoric against LGBT issues, we will see a reduction in homophobic attitudes and actions among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


NEWS NOTES: May 31, 2013

May 31, 2013

News NotesHere are some items that you may find of interest:

1) Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, of Dominica, a Carribean island nation, has called for the decriminalization of homosexuality there, and issued a call to end all forms of violence to gay and lesbian people, reports Gay Star News.  While supporting decriminalization, the bishop also stated that homosexual activity  can lead to “adultery, fornication, orgies, calumny, deep-seated hatred” saying it can lead to “spiritual death.”

2) The heavily Catholic nation of Croatia witnessed its first same-sex marriage demonstration recently, with hundreds of people marching in the capital city of Zagreb, reports France24.com. The demonstration comes a week after a Catholic Church-backed group reported they had 500,000 signatures on a petition to have a referendum designed to outlaw same-sex marriage.

3) Eve Tushet, a Catholic lesbian woman committed to following the Church’s teaching on celibacy, has written an essay in The Atlantic as to why she remains Catholic, why she supports celibacy, and the problems that she has with the way Catholic leaders deal with homosexuality.

4) Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Conference wrote a lengthy letter to the editor of The Chicago Tribune complaining that the current marriage equality bill in that state does not offer enough religious protections.

5) Amazon.com has removed the book, Priesthood in Crisis, by Fr. Matthew Despard, a Scottish priest, which makes a number of claims about how gay clergy have bullied others in the priesthood, and also about how church leaders have covered up homosexual cliques among priests.  The UK’s The Daily Record reports that Amazon. com said the book did not meet its guidelines which prohibits ” pornography, offensive material, stolen goods and items that infringe upon a person’s privacy.”

6) Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau became the first same-gender couple to marry under France’s new marriage equality law, reports BBC.co.uk.   The wedding comes after a week that saw a major protest against the new law, which was opposed by the Catholic hierarchy in this heavily Catholic nation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: May 23, 2013

May 23, 2013

NewsHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) Tonight, two Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees are proposing to banish gay-straight alliances from Catholic schools in the city, reports The Globe and MailCatholic schools are funded by the Ontario provincial government, which last year required all schools to institute gay-straight alliances if a student makes a request.

2) An ultra-traditionalist French Catholic professor committed suicide by shooting himself in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral after writing a blog post in which he lamented France’s new marriage equality law, according to The Independent.

3) The Czech Republic’s President Milos Zeman has refused to approve the appointment of a Catholic gay man to a professorship at the nation’s Charles University, Prague, reports Agence France PresseZeman explained that he refused to approve Martin C. Putna’s appointment because Putna marched at a gay-rights rally with a sign which contained an anti-gay slur.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


NEWS NOTES: May 9, 2013

May 9, 2013

News NotesHere are some items that may be of interest to you:

1) Ireland’s Constitutional Convention, which proposes changes to the nation’s constitution, voted 79% in favor of enacting marriage equality in the heavily Catholic country, reports The Christian Science Monitor.  The next step is a national referendum, which may take up to two years to be held.

2) In the Central American nation of Belize, Caleb Orozco is challenging the country’s anti-sodomy laws in court this week, while those defending the laws are being supported by Catholic, Anglican, and Evangelical leaders, reports the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper.

3) In Northern Ireland, an extremely unlikely alliance between Catholic and Protestant groups has developed to oppose a marriage equality bill there.  LezGetReal.com notes:

“The Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists sided with the Roman Catholic Church to block a marriage equality bill pushed by Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and the Green Party.

“The UUP and DUP have been strong opponents of Catholicism for quite some time.”

4) Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned after acknowledging inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, has been told by the Vatican not to reside in Scotland, reports Glasgow’s Herald newspaper.  The Vatican’s directive came after Catholics in that country appealed to the Vatican, noting that the Cardinal’s presence would continue to cause church division.

5) Thierry Speitel, the mayor of the French town Sigolsheim, who happens to be both gay and Catholic, was sent a death threat recently, in the form of bullets being sent to him in the mail along with a note containing homophobic comments. TheLocal.fr in Paris reports:

“The threat comes after Speitel gave a recent interview to the local newspaper Derniers Nouvelles d’Alsace in which he talked about the probability he would marry his partner and the prospect of them adopting children.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Marriage Equality Continues Spreading in the U.S. and France

April 25, 2013

As legislature after legislature pass marriage equality laws, in the United States and abroad, legal recognition of same-gender couples increasingly becomes an aside in the news rather than headlines. These victories bear the fruits of decades of LGBT equality advocacy and bitter disputes about the relationship between religious doctrine and secular governance, and continually marriage equality is won in jurisdictions with large Catholic demographics. Bondings 2.0 provides a run down of this week’s news.

Rhode Island

The most densely Catholic state in America has passed marriage equality, with only procedural steps left until the bill becomes law. Rhode Island will become the 10th state in the US (plus the District of Columbia), and the final one in New England, to extend marriage rights. ABC News reports that Catholic legislators were central to the bill’s passage, admitting their personal struggles with same-gender marriage but ultimately voting in favor:

“Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, said she lost sleep over her vote but decided, despite opposition from the Catholic Church, to vote ‘on the side of love.’

“‘I’m a practicing Catholic. I’m proud to be a Catholic,’ she said, adding that it was the personal stories of gays, lesbians and their families in her district who convinced her. ‘I struggled with this for days, for weeks. It’s certainly not an easy vote.'”

Rhode Island had been a hold out in an otherwise LGBT-supportive region, and it is clear that the power of personal narratives from same-gender couples and their families is continuing to shape legislative struggles. Marriage licenses could be issued as early as August 1st.

France

After months of heated, and even violent, demonstrations about marriage, the National Assembly legalized recognition for same-gender couples last Tuesday and France became the 14th nation globally to have marriage equality. Opposition leaders promised a judicial appeal to the nation’s Constitutional Council, according to a report on The Atlantic  website that also credits this issue with reinvigorating a waning conservative movement in France.

Conservative Catholic lay movements backed anti-equality efforts since mid-2012, largely focused on their claims that adopted children’s health is harmed when placed with LGBT parents. The Catholic bishops’ comments seem confused, as an earlier document affirmed same-gender relationships while recent comments seem to warn about violence that will erupt if LGBT rights progress.  Think Progress reports that, even amid the wonderful news that France passed marriage laws, a troubling backlash may result:

“The advancement of same-sex marriage and adoption in France has been very contentious, with opponents promising retaliatory violence for the law’s passage. Indeed, violent hate crimes against gay French citizens have increased in recent weeks…death threats were sent to lawmakers because of their intention to support marriage equality. In the lead up to today’s vote, the hashtag #IlFautTuerLesHomosexuels, or “Homosexuals must be killed,” has been trending on Twitter.”

The French Catholic bishops should now focus on  the potential for violence in France. They need to defend each person’s life and dignity, especially those of LGBT persons.

Delaware

Delaware progressed closer to marriage equality after the state House passed a bill in a 23 to 18 vote, sending the bill to the Senate. CBS Philly reports that if the Senate passes the bill, Delaware’s governor has promised to sign it and marriage licenses could commence as early as July 1, 2013. Delaware previously allowed civil unions for same-gender couples, and these previously granted licenses would automatically be converted to marriages with the passage of the bill.

Nevada

After the emotional appeals of many, including a gay Catholic state senator reported on yesterday in Bondings 2.0, the Nevada Senate took first steps towards legalizing marriage equality by repealing legislation that defined marriage heteronormatively and replacing it with a bill to open marriage regardless of gender. USA Today reports that if the state Assembly passes it, and then both legislatures again in 2015 the final step would be a referendum in 2016.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Minisry


Catholic Leaders Should Oppose Violence, not Marriage Equality, in France

April 20, 2013

Though debates about marriage equality here in the United States can become quite heated at times, in France the discussion of this topic has inspired warnings about violence, threats of violence, and violence itself.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois

The latest episode in this regard has been the Archbishop Of Paris’ warning that if marriage equality becomes law,  society may erupt with violent protests.  According to a Reuters news report:

“Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois told a meeting of French bishops the planned marriage reform, which the government has speeded up amid mounting pressure from opponents, was a sign that society had lost its capacity to integrate different views. . . .

” ‘This is the way a violent society develops,’ he told the spring meeting of the French bishops’ conference. ‘Society has lost its capacity of integration and especially its ability to blend differences in a common project.’ “

Unfortunately, the cardinal’s argument contains something of a paradox.  While he complains about marriage equality causing a loss of integration and the blending of differences, he fails to realize that by not providing marriage for gay and lesbian couples, the nation already severely hampers integration and blending of differences.

On the secular side, a leader of the anti-marriage equality movement also warned of violence this week.  LGBTQNation reports that Frigide Barjot, a French comic who is a leader in the movement against marriage equality commented on the French Senate’s passage of the bill and the decision to now move the debate to the National Assembly:

“This is a disgrace. The French people don’t want this law, and what do they do? They speed up its passage. (French President Francois) Hollande wants blood, and he will get it. We live in a dictatorship. The President of the Republic has guillotined us.”

Such rhetoric only incites the already violent motivations of some protesters.  PinkNews.co.uk reports:

“On Wednesday thousands of protesters swarmed in Paris to voice their opposition to the bill, with some attacking cars and public property, and lashing out at police and journalists, reports France24.

“11 people from the protest were detained for questioning, while 24 pro-equal marriage counter-protesters were arrested, according to police.

During the night four men were detained after they attacked a gay bar in Lille, injuring the manager and causing property damage.

Similarly, LGBTQNation.com reports:

“Earlier in the week, gay rights activists pointed to last weekend’s attack on a gay couple in Paris as evidence of their claim that homophobic acts have tripled nationwide over opposition to the marriage equality law.

“Wilfred De Bruijn was beaten unconscious near his home early Sunday in central Paris, sustaining five fractures in his head and face, abrasions and a lost tooth.”

Catholic leaders in France would do better to forthrightly condemn such acts of violence, instead of simply warning that violence may be an outcome.  Warning about violence seems designed to inspire fear about the marriage equality bill, which the French bishops oppose.  But warning about possible future violence is a weak response if there is no condemnation of the violence which is already occurring during this debate.  Catholic leaders should be peacemakers, not fear-mongers.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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