Here are some articles,which follow up on previous Bondings 2.0 posts, that you may find of interest:
In May, we presented the news that the Bishops of England and Wales had published a set of guidelines to eliminate bullying of LGBT youth in Catholic schools. The National Catholic Reporter recently published New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo’s analysis of the document. In it he compares the British bishops’ remedy for bullying with the near absence of any discussion of bullying by the U.S. bishops.
In June, we reported on the Diocese of Jefferson City’s new guidelines on admitting students from non-traditional families to its Catholic schools. In a news article, The National Catholic Reporter explores the controversy that these guidelines provoked, having pleased neither conservatives nor progressives in the Church. New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo calls the guidelines “a double-edged sword.”
Last month, Newark, New Jersey’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin welcomed a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics to the archdiocese’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart–a gesture that is being hailed as a major step forward in the pastoral care of LGBT people here in the U.S. — one participant going so far as calling it “a miracle.”
For example, one New York gay Catholic leader described what the action meant to him personally:
” ‘It felt like a miracle,’ Ed Poliandro, a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Manhattan and a clinical social worker. ‘It was a miracle to have church leaders say, ‘You are welcome; you belong.’ And I felt, after a lifetime of struggle, that we are home.’ “
Similarly, a New Jersey gay deacon spoke of the power of this symbolic gesture:
” ‘He brought [Pope] Francis to us,’ said Thomas M. Smith, 66, a deacon who serves the deaf community at the Newark cathedral. ‘I’ve been waiting 25 years for this. I’m a deacon in the church and I’ve had to be careful. And afraid.’
“He teared up, remembering how his parents had died thinking he would go to hell if he found someone to love. ‘This is amazing to me,’ he said.”
New Ways Ministry’s director also commented on the significance of this event:
” ‘It’s the beginning of a dialogue,” said Francis DeBernardo, the executive director New Ways Ministry, a group that ministers to and is an advocate for gay Catholics. ‘The church leadership, for the past 40 years, has just been so silent, and unwilling to dialogue, and unwilling to pray with L.G.B.T. Catholics that, even though this isn’t the ultimate step, it’s a first step,’ he said of Cardinal Tobin’s welcome.”
The Times story also noted the very personal and scriptural way in which Cardinal Tobin welcomed the LGBT pilgrims:
” ‘I am Joseph, your brother,’ Cardinal Tobin told the group, which included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics from around New York and the five dioceses in New Jersey. ‘I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.’
“The welcoming of a group of openly gay people to Mass by a leader of Cardinal Tobin’s standing in the Roman Catholic Church in this country would have been unthinkable even five years ago. But Cardinal Tobin, whom Pope Francis appointed to Newark last year, is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members. They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same.”
While in the Cathedral, the pilgrims participated at a Mass celebrated by Fr. Francis Gargani, CSsR, who was one of the organizers of the pilgrimage. Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Cruz, the cathedral’s rector, was also on the altar at the Mass and added his welcome to the pilgrims.
DeBernardo noted that this event was in line with a changing attitude toward LGBT people in the U.S. Catholic church, offering the following examples:
“The diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., for example, last month said it would permit transgender students in its Catholic schools. In October, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego held a diocesan synod on the family that called for improved ministry toward gay and lesbian Catholics. At a New Ways Ministry national conference in April, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., said he admired and respected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who remained steadfast to the church even though the church had not always been as welcoming.”
[Editor’s note: More on the Jefferson City diocesan policy in a post later this week.]
Perhaps the most significant detail about the event is the following observation made by the Times reporter:
“But Cardinal Tobin’s welcome to Mass on May 21 has been the most significant of such recent gestures, because of the symbolism of a cardinal welcoming a group of gay Catholics, some of whom were married to same-sex spouses, to participate in the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the center of a cathedral, no questions asked.”
Fr. James Martin, SJ, whose new book, “Building a Bridge,” about Catholic LGBT issues is being positively received, and Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics, were also quoted in the Times story.
Cardinal Tobin’s action was a simple one, yet a very profound one. It is definitely one that can be replicated by bishops across the U.S. If bishops would first open their hearts and minds to LGBT people, they will find it much easier to open their cathedral doors to them, as Cardinal Tobin has done.
Last month’s “Pilgrimage of Mercy,” sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association of Notre Dame and St. Mary College, was a plea for extending mutual mercy between the LGBT community and the institutional Catholic Church.
The march, which began in New York City’s Central Park, paused for a prayer rally at Columbus Circle, and concluded by participating in the Sunday liturgy at St. Paul the Apostle parish, attracted about 50 participants. Greg Bourke, a gay Notre Dame alumnus who organized the event, explained to The Observerthe intention of the program:
” ‘What we wanted to show with this pilgrimage is that being merciful and forgiving is an interactive process,’ Bourke said. ‘We extended our forgiveness and mercy to the Catholic Church, and we ask for those same things in return.’
“Bourke said the rally was meant to be ‘an expression of faithful LGBTQ Catholics.’
” ‘There are many of us, and Pope Francis has started to push that door open for us,’ he said, referring to the statements the pope has made on LGBTQ issues.”
“We are both seeking mercy from our church, and in return we offer mercy and forgiveness to all those in our Church who have not been so gracious to us in the past,” said Bourke.
The idea of LGBT people and the institutional church showing mutual respect to one another was the theme of Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s talk when he accepted New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award last Sunday. You can read his talk by clicking here.
Bourke also recalled Notre Dame’s legendary president, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, as an inspiration for the event:
” ‘By supporting the civil rights movement among conservative circles, he [Hesburgh]was ahead of the curve in many ways,’ Bourke said. ‘Now, he is respected and admired for that courage.’
“Bourke said a main theme in the day’s speeches was the need for mutual reconciliation.
” ‘We all need to give a little and work better at understanding each other,’ he said. ‘We need to find that area we can agree on.’ . . .
” ‘We need someone willing to take a controversial stand, someone within Catholic leadership and the Catholic community,’ Bourke said. ‘Notre Dame could do that.’ “
The event was modeled on a similar Pilgrimage of Mercy in Louisville, Kentucky, held earlier this year.
At the New York event, legendary television talk show host Phil Donahue was one of the speakers at the prayer rally. Other speakers included: Jack Bergen, of the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College; Chris Hartman of Catholics for Fairness; Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry executive director; Fr. Warren Hall, an openly priest from the Newark archdiocese who was recently because of his support for LGBT issues; Dave Swinarski, a St. Paul’s parishioner and a leader of their OUT at St.Paul’s LGBT ministry; and Holly Cargill-Cramer and Rosemary Grebin Palms of Fortunate Families.
Legendary television talk show host Phil Donahue was one of the speakers at the prayer rally. Other speakers included: Jack Bergen, of the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College; Chris Hartman of Catholics for Fairness; Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry executive director; Fr. Warren Hall, an openly priest from the Newark archdiocese who was recently because of his support for LGBT issues; Dave Swinarski, a St. Paul’s parishioner and a leader of their OUT at St.Paul’s LGBT ministry; and Holly Cargill-Cramer and Rosemary Grebin Palms of Fortunate Families.
At the rally, DeBernardo called for greater conversation between bishops and LGBT people:
“This morning, all of us gathered here renew our call to our church, and especially to our church’s leaders, the U.S. bishops, to reject homophobic and transphobic words and deeds of the past, and instead to reach out in a spirit of mercy to LGBT Catholics who are an important but often under-recognized blessing to our Church. And we ask LGBT Catholics to show mercy to church leaders for past harm, to offer forgiveness and reconciliation to them, just as Jesus offered forgiveness and reconciliation to Peter who denied him three times.
“In this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we ask the bishops to remember the words of Pope Francis, spoken in a homily soon after his election in 2013, when he said that from Jesus ‘we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation.’ This year of mercy is a time to begin the conversation. It’s a time for both the church’s bishops and LGBT Catholics to sit down together in humble and honest dialogue. May the Spirit of God open minds, hearts, ears, and mouths so that this dialogue can take place with understanding and charity.”
The recent, terrible trend of Church employees being fired because of LGBT issues raises many questions about justice, equality, and human rights in the Catholic community. AnAssociated Press reporter also identified another important tension that this trend highlights. Michelle Smith noted that this trend also shows “the confusion that permeates some U.S. Roman Catholic parishes over Pope Francis’ words on homosexuality.”
Many of Bondings 2.0’s readers have often wondered in their comments why Pope Francis, who seems concerned with pastoral outreach to LGBT people, has not become involved in the too many examples of church workers being fired because of a pastor’s or bishop’s disapproval of LGBT issues. Reporter Smith examined this questionusing the recent case of Michael Templeton, a Providence, Rhode Island, parish music director who was fired for marrying his male partner.
Smith notes that in this case:
“Francis is being cited by both the music director, Michael Templeton, and by Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin, known for taking a hard line on church teaching about marriage and abortion. Tobin has criticized Francis, writing after the pope’s summit on the family two years ago that ‘Francis is fond of “creating a mess.” Mission accomplished.’ “
The pope’s positive statements on LGBT people have been mixed with traditional orthodox defenses of heterosexual marriage, thus making the positive statements “a Rorschach test open to interpretation,” observes Smith. The reporter summed up this problem with a quote from a theological expert:
” ‘Pope Francis has not said, “Here’s what you should do in a parish where you have a music director who has married his partner of the same sex,” said the Rev. James T. Bretzke, a professor of moral theology at Boston College. ‘Pope Francis is articulating general principles: forgiveness and mercy and not harsh judgment. But how you handle a particular case like this, he has been very reluctant to weigh in on it.’
“That means a gay Catholic’s fate depends on his diocese or individual pastor.”
As Bondings 2.0 reported previously, Bishop Tobin had released a statement citing Pope Francis’ statements and actions to defend the firing of Templeton. (Yet, not all of Tobin’s supposed precedents are relevant. For instance, the bishop said Francis fired Msgr. Kryzstof Charamsa of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for coming out as gay and acknowledging he was in a relationship. Yet, more likely is that the prefect of the CDF fired Charamsa, and, in any case, the examples are not parallel since Charamsa was ordained.)
Smith offered a few recent examples that show the mixed messages that Francis has been giving:
“Francis underscored his emphasis on mercy over defending orthodoxy with his first U.S. picks for cardinals, announced Sunday, choosing bishops who have taken a more welcoming approach to gays and others who have felt alienated from the church.
“Asked this month about how he would minister to transgender Catholics, Francis responded: ‘When someone who has this condition comes before Jesus, Jesus would surely never say, “Go away because you’re gay.” ‘
“At the same time, he recently supported Mexican bishops working against a push to legalize same-sex marriage.”
The mixed messages may be indicative of how far–or not–Francis wants to go. Smith cited Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry:
“Before Francis, ‘people were afraid to even say the words gay or lesbian,’ DeBernardo said. ‘I do think he’s taken an important step that could lead to further steps. I’m not certain, I don’t think he will make a change in church doctrine, but I think he is laying the groundwork for future changes.’ “
Pope Francis may not opine directly about a specific church worker firing or even the trend of firings now being experienced, but a close reading of his writings clarifies how he might respond. In Evangelii Gaudium, the pope warned against pastoral workers who exhibit a “spiritual worldliness,” manifest in one form as the “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism” of church officials who act as if they are superior to others. Francis commented:
“A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.”
Where a church worker is fired for their gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, or political beliefs, church leaders have harmfully analyzed and classified that person strictly according to their gender and sexuality. Right-wing Catholics have expended themselves inspecting and verifying, and then publicly outing and shaming too many LGBT people in the church.
For those who think Pope Francis has made a mess of the Church, like Bishop Tobin has expressed, they would do well to ponder the words of Cardinal-elect Kevin Farrell who recently said, “If you find Pope Francis ‘confusing’ – you have not read or do not understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In Evangelii Gaudium and elsewhere, Francis condemns church ministers whose foremost attitude is not mercy. Foremost for the pope is to see every person as beloved by God, and he consistently attacks each and every effort which reduces the mystery of the human person to something less than a child of God.
Like all of us, Francis is human and he is clearly grappling to understand sexuality and gender, confined as he may be by his own limitations and contexts. His outreach to LGBT people is as notable as it is imperfect, but on this point we can be clear: one can find no support for discriminating against LGBT church workers in the pastoral witness of Pope Francis.
The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to enable marriage equality to be enacted throughout the nation.
New Ways Ministry rejoices with millions of U.S. Catholics that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in favor of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples! On this historic day, we pray in thanksgiving that justice and mercy have prevailed and that the prayers and efforts of so many have combined to move our nation one step closer to fairness and equality for all.
With this Supreme Court victory, Catholics recommit themselves to working to make sure that all LGBT people are treated equally in both church and society. While we are delighted with this victory, there is still much work to be done to ensure those goals.
Catholics have been at the forefront of working for equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples. The overwhelming majority of U.S. Catholics have consistently been in favor of marriage equality, and have put their support into action in legislative, judicial, and electoral campaigns.
Their Catholic faith has inspired them to make sure that their lesbian and gay family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers receive equal treatment by society. The Supreme Court’s decision embodies the Catholic values of human dignity, respect for differences, and the strengthening of families.
While the U.S. Catholic bishops have consistently opposed marriage equality measures on all fronts, Catholic people in the pews have had a different perspective from their leaders. The lived faith of Catholic people has taught them that love, commitment, and sacrifice are the essential building blocks of marriage and family. Their daily experiences interacting with lesbian and gay couples and their families has taught them that these relationships are identical to heterosexual marriages in terms of the essential qualities needed to build a future together, establish a family, and contribute to social stability and growth.
The U.S. bishops now need to reconcile themselves to the new social reality of marriage equality, as it is poised to spread to all 50 states. They can do so by entering into a dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics to learn more about the reality of their lives and how their faith inspires their relationships. The bishops should declare a moratorium on firing lesbian and gay church employees who have married legally. These firings have been a scandalous trend with effects that are harmful not only to the people involved, but to the life of the Church.
Today begins a time for Catholic supporters and Catholic opponents of marriage equality to reconcile with one another and work to build up their local faith communities so that together they can work for a world Pope Francis envisions: one of justice and mercy.
In what is surely the most official welcome from Church officials that New Ways Ministry has received in its 38-year history, a pilgrimage group of 48 LGBT Catholics and supporters led by our co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, received VIP seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015.
Sister Jeannine had written to Pope Francis in December 2014, asking him to meet personally with the group when they visited Rome as part of their ten-day pilgrimage to Florence, Assisi, and the Eternal City.
Two weeks before departure on February 12th, she received a letter from Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, letting her know that he had reserved tickets for the group for the Ash Wednesday audience. She assumed that these were the general seating tickets. On the night of February 17th, when the group picked up the tickets at St. Peter’s, they learned that they were VIP seating.
When the group arrived at St. Peter’s Square in the morning, we were guided by papal ushers to the level of the Square where the pope sits. All were astonished! While we were not able to shake the pope’s hand personally, it is very significant that the Vatican responded so positively to an LGBT group by giving us such a prominent place at the audience.
When the pope passed by our group, we all sang “All Are Welcome,” a popular hymn which calls for an inclusive church. We also called out several times that “We are LGBT Catholics!”
Although Sister Jeannine Gramick has led two other pilgrimages to Rome under the two previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, their presence was ignored at the papal audiences.
A Religion News Service story in The Washington Postnoted that it was not just Vatican recognition that was significant, but that several other Church leaders helped the process along the way:
“. . . Archbishop Georg Ganswein, head of the papal household and the top aide to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, responded to New Ways’ request for a papal meet-and-greet by reserving tickets for the group at Francis’ weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. It’s not a private meeting — which is tough for anyone to get — but it’s not nothing.
“The pope’s ambassador to Washington forwarded a similar request to Rome. Even San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone — point man for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ battle against gay marriage — had written a letter to the Vatican on their behalf.
“Last December, Cordileone had a constructive meeting with Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of New Ways and a longtime advocate for LGBT inclusion in the church. But they were still surprised by the archbishop’s willingness to write a letter for them.”
Gibson also noted that a British cardinal has given similar prestigious recognition to an LGBT Catholic pilgrimage which is also in Rome this week:
” . . . British Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster sent a warm blessing to a group of LGBT Catholics from London who are joining up with New Ways in Rome. ‘Be assured of my prayers for each and every one of you,’ Nichols wrote. ‘Have a wonderful pilgrimage. God bless you all.’ “
A Reuters story published on Huffington Post captured the response of New Ways Ministry’s leaders just after they left the papal audience:
” ‘What this says is that there is movement in our Church, movement to welcome people from the outside closer to the inside,’ Gramick said in St. Peter’s Square. . . . “DeBernardo said Catholic gay and lesbian couples and other non-traditional families should be invited to the meeting, known as a synod, to speak to the bishops about their faith and their sexuality.”
An Associated Press video also reported their reactions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhM3UMRl830 Several of the LGBT pilgrims were visibly moved by the welcome they received and by the experience of seeing the pope in person. Several noted that they felt this was one more step in the progress–albeit, slow–that LGBT Catholics have been making in the Church for several decades. All agreed that this day will never be forgotten.
The upcoming synod on marriage and family to take place at the Vatican in 2015 was in the news this week because the discussion document was released, and bishops around the world were once again asked to consult with the laity about matters pertaining to the synod’s topic.
But this week there was also a looking back towards the October 2014 synod. At his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about the recent meeting and said that the meeting did not include a “clash of factions,” as media reports indicated. Religion News Service provided excerpts from the pope’s comments on the past synod:
“ ‘Some of you have asked me if the synod fathers fought,’ Francis said. ‘I don’t know if they “fought,” but they spoke forcefully. This is freedom. This is just the kind of freedom that there is in the church.’
“In a bid to set the record straight, the pope acknowledged the extensive media coverage of the global gathering in October and likened it to ‘sports or political coverage.’
“ ‘They often spoke of two teams, pro and con, conservatives and liberals,’ the pope told thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.
“ ‘There was no clash between factions … but a dialogue between the bishops, which came after a long process of preparation and now continues, for the good of the family, the church and society. It’s a process.’ ”
Jesuit commentator Father Thomas Reese had a different interpretation of the meeting. He stated that differences of opinion clearly existed among the synod participants, making this synod very different from those in recent memory. Reese said:
“Rather than advising the pope, these earlier synods often simply quoted the pope to himself. They were a way of bishops showing their loyalty. Francis gave the bishops freedom to speak.”
Indeed, in the document that was released this week, that landmark meeting in October was described as a pastoral “turning point” for the Church, the Associated Pressnoted.
Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA criticized this week’s document because of using the term “homosexual tendencies,” and because of lack of focus on families headed by gay and lesbian couples. In addition to each group’s statements, an Advocate.com article contained additional comments from the leaders of these two organizations.
Ryan Denson, writing at AddictingInfo.com, has a different point of view, though, about the document and the upcoming synod. He sees the identification of a “turning point” as significant, and that the Catholic Church may be on the road to becoming more open to LGBT people and those who are divorced and remarried. Denson wrote:
“Baby steps are turning into leaps as Pope Francis and the Vatican urge the world’s bishops to be guided, not just by doctrine, but by the Pope’s compassionate message which includes a ‘turning point’ inspired by meetings at the Vatican. The new message seeks to provide better pastoral care for gays and divorcees across the globe . . . .
“[I]n other words, the Vatican is asking the bishops and other clergy members to act like Jesus, who loves and respects all, and not act like arrogant, judgmental religious zealots. Instead of focusing on outdated dogma, Pope Francis is truly teaching the Gospels, and with the ousting of several prominent homophobic priests, the Vatican is starting to realize that he means business.
“The bottom line is this: the Pope is currently facing vocal opposition from those who view the church as an exclusive club where the unsaved and unworthy are not welcomed. He wants to change this. And he has made it very obvious that he does.”
ThinkProgress.com also looked on a more positive side to the survey released. They quoted several progressive Catholic leaders, who have a more optimistic view of the synod, the questionnaire, and the process. Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry was one of those more optimistic voices:
“ ‘Language about tendencies is problematic,’ Shine, who oversees young adult ministries for New Ways, told ThinkProgress in an email. ‘That said, I think the intentions of reaching out to and providing pastorally for LGBT people and their families is what is really guiding this process … Pope Francis has encouraged genuine dialogue during this whole synodal process.’ ”
Other Catholic leaders said likewise:
“ ‘Regardless of the wording, the survey itself is a step in the right direction towards providing better pastoral care of LGBT people, as is the Vatican asking for wider inputs from ‘all levels’ for the 2015 synod on the family,’ Stephen Seufert, state director of the progressive Catholic group Keystone Catholics, told ThinkProgress. ‘Both the survey and the Vatican document released yesterday relating to the 2015 synod are indications of a church that wants to focus less on rigid, uncompromising doctrine and more on providing greater pastoral care.’
“James Salt, executive director of the left-leaning advocacy group Catholics United, echoed Seufert.
“ ‘The fact that they are explicitly asking this question is a sign of progress,’ he said. ‘Rather than retreating to a position of doctrine, they are reflecting the changing world that we live in.’ ”
Clearly, marriage and family are high on Pope Francis’ agenda. This week, he announced that he will be speaking on these topics in a series of talks at his weekly general audiences at the Vatican. Bondings 2.0 will keep an eye on important messages, especially those relating to LGBT people.
So, what do you think? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming 2015 synod? What did you think of the document that was released this week? Are you surprised to hear Pope Francis say that the 2014 synod was not a contentious discussion? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.