The Wolf and the Lamb: Coming Out and the Promises of Advent

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College.  The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8,12-13, 17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

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John Winslow

Today’s reflection is from John Winslow, a former Jesuit Volunteer and current M. Div. student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

In Advent, we do not only reflect on the coming of Christ in the Incarnation as a historical moment but also as a contemporary reality. We reflect on how Christ is being made manifest to us and for us in the present moment.

We hear today, in a passage from the prophet Isaiah, that the “wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,” that “the leopard shall lie down the kid;” and that “the calf and young lion shall browse together.” We hear the message that a relationship paradigm based on a never-ending cycle of violence and exploitation will end. Christ’s coming undoes one of nature’s most fundamental relationships: that of predator and prey. In Christ, the life of one will no longer depend upon the death of another. In Christ, all of creation “shall be glorious.”

As LGBTQ Catholics, the relationship between the wolf and the lamb is one we know intimately. Growing up, the only feeling I associated with my sexuality was fear: overwhelming, mind-numbing, constant fear. It was closer to me than my bones. It was woven into every word I spoke, like a second language I never knew I was learning but woke up speaking fluently one day.

As LGBTQ Catholics, we often feel pulled in at least two different directions. We do not fit neatly into any of the boxes or categories that contemporary society has created for us. To those who support our God-given LGBTQ identities, our Catholicism is often seen as backward and inexorably tied to cultural conservatism. Meanwhile, our LGBTQ identities are often demeaned and demonized by our faith communities – sometimes the very faith communities that raised us.

And the struggle is not simply instigated by groups external to ourselves. For many of us, the struggle is also a constant, exhausting war of self-attrition: sometimes feeling at peace with ourselves as queer, and sometimes feeling at peace with ourselves as Catholic, but rarely feeling completely at peace with both.

For many people – especially those in the LGBTQ community – the idea that a Roman Catholic priest would somehow be anything other than condemning of my sexuality, much less actually compassionate and helpful, is baffling. Most people laugh when I tell them that the best coming out advice I ever received was from a priest. To be fair, I, too, never imagined I would say, “I came out to my family on Holy Thursday via email because a priest told me to.”

And yet, it is true. I would never have come out without the ongoing love, support, and counsel of many Catholics – women religious, seminarians, lay people, and, yes, priests. The night before Holy Thursday of my junior year of college, I stayed up reading through the journal I had been keeping on and off since age fourteen. I read through accounts of family vacations, and memories of adventures during my semester abroad. I read through my list of firsts: my first kiss with a boy, my first time telling someone I was gay, my first sexual experience. I read through the manic biblical scribblings, the raging prayers and questions. I touched fingers to the tear stains on the poem I wrote about my first crush.

I thought about how desperately I longed for peace–a peace the world seemed incapable of giving.

Of things that would surprise me, receiving “peace” was not at the top of the list. Quite frankly, it’s not something that I ever thought I would find – certainly not after coming out.

And yet, reading through my life, with that priest’s advice on coming out dancing through the back of my head, I realized that coming out was not about doing anything. Rather, coming out was like the wolf and the lamb embracing one another in love, letting something seemingly impossible simply happen the way it was always meant to. And when I did come out, it was the most profound experience of peace that I had ever known.

This Advent is an opportunity for us to remember that Christ’s peace is not just one that will come at the Parousia, the Second Coming. No, Christ’s peace is offered to us daily, a peace that can give us rest. Regardless of the condemnations of the Magisterium, or the sudden emboldening of homophobia and transphobia spreading across the United States after the election, or the vitriol of our families, we are in fact loved in all that we are. When we embrace ourselves in all of our integrity, we find Christ embracing us, too. And it is this embrace that will give us peace.

–John Winslow, December 4, 2016

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

Priest Bans Gay Man from Singing at Grandmother’s Funeral

When Connor Hakes’ grandmother died, he wanted to honor her with a song at the funeral. But because he is a gay man, the parish priest denied Hakes’ request to sing, adding more pain to an already painful time.

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Connor Hakes

Hakes’ family are longtime parishioners at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Decatur, Indiana. Generations of the family, including his grandmother, were part of the community there, and Hakes had even sung at the church before, reported WANE.

But Fr. Bob Lengerich, pastor, banned Hakes from singing at the parish until the “present situation” was resolved, though he did not, in the letter explain what the “present situation” is.  One of the issues mentioned in the letter that would ban people from liturgical roles was “openly participating in unchaste same-sex relationships.”

Father Lengerich made his thoughts known in a letter to the grieving grandson. The letter also said that scandal is caused by someone “openly advocating” for same-gender relationships. He claimed there were “several LGTB parishioners who have openly declared their intentions to embrace a homosexual lifestyle” and therefore do no receive communion at Mass, nor serve in any parish liturgical ministries.

The priest told Hakes that he could sing to honor his grandmother “as long as it is outside of the Mass and outside of the Church,” even suggesting the post-burial luncheon as a possible moment. He concluded the letter saying the parish did want Hakes present and did “want to enter into a real dialogue and conversation.”

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Fr. Bob Lengerich

Hakes claimed that Fr. Lengerich based his claims about the gay man’s sexual life on a picture posted to Facebook several years ago of Hakes celebrating Pride. The grandson told WANE that Lengerich “had judged me and really formed an opinion about me without ever communicating with me. . .All of a sudden I felt very ostracized” from the parish that had always welcomed him.

The family has filed complaints with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which is now involved to seek healing after the divisive incident. Hakes said he prays that Lengerich’s heart will soften to allow the priest to become “a better leader for the Catholic Church.” Hakes is also very clear about where his grandparents would stand on the matter and what Christian discipleship entails, reported PinkNews:

“Both my Grandma and Grandpa would be disgusted by their parish. Their compassion and empathy was abundant, no matter who you were. They saw beyond race, religion, sexuality, and social class. They loved everyone. That is what [it] means to be a Christian. That is what it means to be Catholic.”

Whatever his intention, Fr. Lengerich’s offer of dialogue and conversation falls flat when framed wihin the context of the priest denying Hakes the opportunity to honor his deceased loved one. Why didn’t he enter into dialogue and conversation before making a decision? It  is particularly disturbing that Lengerich somehow dug up a years-old photo of Hakes, and then seems to have inferred from it that Hakes was in a same-gender relationship. Certainly, there are more productive uses for Lengerich’s time and energy as a priest.

Once again, a priest who should be a source of consolation and unity has added to a grieving family’s pain and divided a parish community. Denying LGBT people the ability to participate in mourning rituals or denying them Communion at a funeral Mass are not infrequent events sadly. If church ministers cannot even be merciful and welcoming in these most painful moments, how can the church expect LGBT people and their families to show up at any other moment?

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 30, 2016

 

 

Vatican Nuncio and Mexican Cardinal Strike a Different Note on LGBT Issues

Throughout the past autumn, Bondings 2.0 has been reporting on the same-sex marriage debate in the heavily Catholic nation of Mexico.  As we reported,  Mexican bishops, supported by Pope Francis,  led the opposition to the campaign for making marriage equality, which already exists in several Mexican states, a reality throughout the entire nation.

Earlier this month, the proposal for marriage equality was defeated with a vote of 18-9 by the Commission on Constitutional Matters in the lower house of the Mexican legislature. Yet, despite the loss, the experience may be a positive turning point for the Mexican Catholic hierarchy in terms of taking steps, however small, towards respect for LGBT people.

Archbishop Franco Coppola

Key to this change is the Vatican’s nuncio to Mexico, Archbishop Franco Coppola, appointed in July 2016 by Pope Francis .  In response to the marriage equality proposal,  Coppola called for a more civil discussion of this, and other controversial topics.  The Catholic Herald  reported:

“Amid the activism, comments on same-sex marriage from the new apostolic nuncio to Mexico appear to suggest the Vatican would prefer a less confrontational approach.

” ‘Mexicans, rather than confronting each other, making proclamations or marching, have to sit down at the table and talk to each other,’ Archbishop Franco Coppola told reporters.

” ‘When we are speaking of the constitution, it has to become something that all Mexicans, or at least a great majority of Mexicans, can share.’ “

The Pilot reported that some observers see the archbishop’s comments as a Vatican decision to soften anti-gay rhetoric:

“Some media, such as the Spanish newspaper El Pais, interpreted the remarks as the Vatican ‘de-authorizing the anti-gay marches.’ “

Earlier in the marriage equality debate, Coppola also spoke words of reconciliation and outreach to gay and lesbian people.  The Yucatan Times reported:

“. . . [T]he apostolic nuncio, Franco Coppola, said it is necessary to recognize gay rights as any other citizens’ rights.

” ‘The doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of the Church, but we have to adapt it so we can offer answers to men and women of different times,’ the new representative of the Vatican in Mexico told reporters.”

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera

Coppola is not the only Catholic leader in Mexico who has softened his rhetoric.  Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico City and Primate of Mexico, recently apologized for negative comments he made about the sexual acts of some gay men, and he invited “people attracted to the same sex” to meet with priests, acknowledging that church ministers need education.

The PanAm Post reported:

“In the past, Cardinal Carrera maintained that he would not apologize for his rhetoric toward the LGBT community even if it was considered offensive by some people, but something seems to have changed in him, as he recently came out on behalf of the Archdiocese of Mexico and asked for forgiveness if at any moment they had used ‘inadequate expressions’ to refer to the gay community, saying ‘you should know that it was never my intention to offend anyone.’  “

The cardinal also stated:

” ‘You have asked me about people attracted to the same sex coming to the vicarage to discuss the subject, and I not only see it as an agreeable idea, but as a necessary one,’ he said. ‘Priests shouldn’t be expected to know all that there is to know; many times, they must also be taught about a topic.’ “

The statements made by Coppola and Rivera Carrera are good first steps.  Perhaps the extremism of the Mexican debate on marriage equality made them realize that the hierarchy’s rhetoric was too heated and pastorally harmful.  Perhaps the example of Pope Francis has awakened them.  At a minimum, let’s hope that Rivera Carrera learned his lesson not to be so focused on particular sexual acts, as if they defined the totality of a person or a relationship.

These small steps of openness need to be built upon, and the next time Mexico looks at a marriage equality proposal, perhaps the nation’s bishops will conduct themselves more civilly. If they don’t these recent statements will sound like a noisy gong and clanging bell.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 29, 2016

Related article:

PinkNews.co.uk: “Catholic Church in Mexico apologises after saying ‘man’s anus is not designed to receive’ “

La Salle Brothers in Philippines Start LGBT Group; Other International News

While much attention has been given to LGBT rights in the U.S following the election and the U.S. bishops’ meeting, there are several developments internationally to report. Today’s post includes four updates with links to news reports if you would like to read further.

Catholic School in Philippines Starts LGBT Group

A La Salle Brothers school in the Philippines approved BHIVE, an LGBT-oriented group at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, reported the Manila Standard. It is the first school in the Brothers system in that country to take such a step.

csb-facadeCarmelita Lazatin, the College’s Vice Chancellor for Lasallian Mission and Student Life explained that diversity “has always been one of its richest resources for learning and innovation,” and that BHIVE would help “explore the reach of the words ‘inclusive’ and ‘education.'”

John Carlo Lazo, a BHIVE leader, said this approval comes after a five-year process, but now hopes to open “new opportunities for conversation,” as well as providing a safe space for LGBT students.  The school is located on several campuses in Manila.

Fiji Archbishop Calls for Respect of LGBT People

Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva in Fiji affirmed the need to respect communities marginalized for their sexual or gender identity, reported The Fiji Times. Chong cited Pope Francis for addressing LGBTI people himself, saying “everyone is the same” and should therefore be respected.

In 2015, Chong, while commenting on pornography, said that the church must provide a”proper positive education on human sexuality,” which teaches that “sexuality is for the purpose of relationships, the physical side of our sexuality is secondary to the emotional relationship.” Chong said further:

” ‘Each person has to develop to be a mature sexual person, whether it’s through masculine or feminine and even homosexuals, they have their own sexual orientation which is a gift from God and through their sexual orientation, they relate to people.’ “

Zambian Bishops Impede HIV/AIDS Prevention

LGBT advocates in Zambia criticized both the nation’s prison system and Catholic officials for the promotion of abstinence as a solution to the higher than average rates of HIV infection found among prisoners, reported AllAfrica.  Catholic officials stated that the distribution of condoms as a prevention measure would be considered as promoting homosexual activity.

Fr. Paul Samasumo, speaking for the Zambia Episcopal Conference, said the church supported  a policy of using only abstinence education as a prevention method, and the prisons have done so.

Prevention efforts have also been hampered due to the criminalization of homosexuality, a holdover from British colonial rule. Being convicted of same-sex activity carries a punishment of up to 14 years in prison.

English Bishop Cautions Against ‘Ideology of Gender’ in Schools

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, England wrote a letter to Catholic educators on how to handle gender identity questions in schools, framed by him as “the ideology of gender which underlies transgenderism.” He urged schools not to be “swayed or fall victim to the errors of our times.”  It appears that his own understanding of trans realities and questions of gender seems limited.

For all the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog using the provided “Follow” box in the upper right hand corner of this page. Contact info@newwaysministry.org with questions and news tips.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 26, 2016

 

 

Are Synods Actually Helpful for LGBT Catholics and Their Families?

Following the Vatican’s 2015 Synod on the Family, a handful of dioceses worldwide have convoked their own local synods to discuss issues in and plans for their local church. These gatherings have been heralded for advancing episcopal collegiality and participation of the laity, parts of Pope Francis’ vision for the church.

But while that may be so, the Synod on the Family was described as a “disappointment” by some LGBT advocates and local synods’ treatment of sexuality has been mixed. It is therefore a live question in the church whether these synods are actually helping LGBT Catholics and their families.

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Participants conversing at Detroit’s synod.

The Archdiocese of Detroit held its “Synod ’16: Unleash the Gospel” last weekend, part of its evangelization efforts in which thousands of Catholics have participated through some 240 Parish Dialogue Gatherings and nights of prayer.

More than 11,000 responses were distilled into 46 propositions for the consideration of the synod’s 400 delegates, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Top priorities included lifelong faith formation, building parishes marked by loving encounters, empowering Catholics to live active faith lives, and, according to diocesan newspaper The Michigan Catholic:

“Build a framework for mutual accountability between pastors, parishes, schools and the Central Services. To build a foundation for this, heal wounded relationships, build trust and practice transparency. . .

“Build cultural competency among individuals, parishes and archdiocesan leadership to acknowledge and break down barriers that divide us — including race, ethnicity, sex and socioeconomic status.”

The Archdiocese has faced financial and organizational difficulties in recent years, including a declining Catholic population, difficulties in many ways tied to Detroit’s citywide troubles. But the synod also acknowledged the splits within the church community. Auxiliary Bishop Michael Byrnes, who oversaw synod preparations, told NCR:

“‘I’m really, really grateful to build within our parishes a capacity to welcome the other. . .I mean we were naming things of ethnicity, of race, gender and sexual orientation. . .It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re dealing with. And now this is going to take a while to grow but that was named in the last session and got a lot of support. . .

“‘[Archbishop Allen Vigneron has] a huge vision, this isn’t just about becoming more pious, this is really about taking action for social, neighborhood transformation. . .We can’t just stop at “Jesus save me, so that I can go to heaven.” It has to be “Jesus, save me, so that I can help heal the world.”‘”

Themes of healing and reconciliation where divisions exist in the church and with the surrounding community were prominent at the gathering. While LGBT issues were not specifically mentioned in news reports, it would be surprising if these topics were not raised at Saturday morning’s session on the family.

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Archbishop Vigneron at Mass during the Synod

But what is perhaps most remarkable are the statements from Archbishop Vigneron, a conservative bishop with an anti-LGBT record that includes remarks which compared breaking up a same-gender relationship to the Exodus liberation, seeking to deny Communion to Catholics who support marriage equality, and banning a Fortunate Families event  from church property.

Vigneron told the National Catholic Reporter the synod sought “a radical overhaul of the Church in Detroit” to “transform the very culture of our Archdiocese — how we work, how we pray, how we minister, everything — so that in everything we do, we are more effective witnesses to the Gospel.” Citing the writings of Pope Francis as the inspiration, the archbishop said he would be “listening and contributing and being part of this whole process.” Afterward, he commented to The Michigan Catholic:

“‘We talked a lot about hospitality and about how we need to be welcoming to them, but also about reconciliation. . .There are people who are hurt, and we need to work together to heal those hurts.'”

These statements from Vigneron have a strikingly different tone from his previous statements and, while they do not address LGBT issues specifically, they seem to hint at a new understanding on his part of the ways the church has excluded and even hurt Catholics.

Archbishop Vigneron should now take the next step of sitting down with LGBT Catholics and the Catholic parents of LGBT children to hear their stories and be open to the ways the Spirit speaks through them to him and to the Archdiocese. Doing this before he releases a pastoral statement on the synod, expected Pentecost 2017, could greatly improve what will likely become a guiding document in Detroit. Including sexual orientation and gender identity in the synod’s commitment to accountability and cultural competency on the part of church ministers is one way he could be tremendously helpful.

So while issues of gender and sexuality were not explicitly addressed or reported in Detroit last weekend, unlike the diocesan synod in San Diego under Bishop Robert McElroy where LGBT topics came up organically, they will likely be affected by the synod.

Just how that happens, however, is unclear. Could the synod’s findings reinvigorate attention to a heteronormative and nuclear understanding of family or will other family arrangements including same-gender relationships be pastorally accompanied?

And the larger question remains: are these synods helping LGBT people and their families, indifferent about them, or even pastorally damaging?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 25, 2016

 

 

Top Vatican Official for Family Life Rebukes U.S. Bishops

Pope Francis’ top official for marriage and family issues criticized his U.S. colleagues this week for their failure to engage the pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia during their meeting. His criticism comes as larger questions are raised anew about the ongoing divide between bishops in the U.S. and the pope, and what the bishops’ direction will be these next few years.

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Archbishop Kevin Farrell

Archbishop Kevin Farrell, the cardinal-designate tasked with leading the Vatican’s new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, made his remarks during the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) this week.

Farrell directly rebuked Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other bishops who have released pastoral guidelines on the exhortation, without broader consultation, telling Catholic News Service:

“I think that it would have been wiser to wait for the gathering of the conference of bishops where all the bishops of the United States or all the bishops of a country would sit down and discuss these things. . .[to ensure] an approach that would not cause as much division among bishops and dioceses, and misunderstandings.”

Farrell said that even though bishops must respond to their local contexts, “they need to be open to listening to the Holy Spirit and open to what the bishops of the world” discussed during the Synod on the Family. Asked specifically about Chaput’s restrictive guidelines, which, among other sanctions, ban gay and lesbian people in relationships from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to some Catholics, Farrell said:

” ‘I don’t share the view of what Archbishop Chaput did, no. . .I think there are all kinds of different circumstances and situations that we have to look at — each case as it is presented to us.

” ‘I think that is what our Holy Father is speaking about, is when we talk about accompanying, it is not a decision that is made irrespective of the couple.’ “

Farrell said the church cannot be “closing the doors before we even listen to the circumstances and the people,” but must rather say the church will work and walk with couples outside a heteronormative framework “to bring them into full communion.”

There was almost no other mention of Amoris Laetitia during the USCCB meeting which concluded yesterday, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Incoming Conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, confirmed in a press conference that no national conversation or Conference initiative was planned for implementing the exhortation’s vision. He assured reporters that conversations and local programs were, however, happening.

An ad hoc committee headed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia compiled a four-and-a-half page report on such diocesan-level responses, in which he includes, as a resource, his own highly-criticized guidelines.  The report will receive no formal attention during the meeting, said Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, a member of the Communications Committee.

At a recent speech delivered at the University of Notre Dame, Chaput presented a vision of the church which is very much at odds with Pope Francis’ more expansive vision. He told attendees they should “never be afraid of a smaller, lighter church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness,” reported the National Catholic Reporter. Chaput continued:

” ‘Losing people who are members of the church in name only is an imaginary loss. . .It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight.’ “

Chaput targeted Democratic politicians for, in part, their support of LGBT rights, suggesting that Vice President Joe Biden and others were “cowards” promoting “silent apostasy.” He praised now President-elect Donald Trump’s “gift for twisting the knife in America’s leadership elite and their spirit of entitlement, embodied in the person of Hillary Clinton.” Chaput also subtly attacked Islam, the accompaniment model for ministry preferred by Pope Francis, and even just being inclusive which he said was “not just lying but an act of betrayal and violence” if church teaching is not first upheld firmly.

Pope Francis himself provided a message to the USCCB meeting via video message which emphasized his more expansive vision for the church. Though ostensibly about the Fifth National Hispanic Pastoral Encuentro beginning January 2017, the pope’s words are applicable broadly for the Conference’s work if only the bishops would hear them. The pope said, in part:

“Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges.  The Church in America, as elsewhere, is called to “go out” from its comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion. Communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope.”

Observers of the USCCB have noted for several years how distant mostU.S. bishops are from the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, championing opposition to abortion and LGBT rights above a more consistent ethic of life and the pastoral accompaniment of Catholics. Michael Sean Winters commented in the National Catholic Reporter about the Conference’s failed religious liberty campaign:

“In his update to the body on the work of the ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, Archbishop William Lori said they were making a difference. Are they? The centerpiece of their campaign, the ‘Fortnight for Freedom,’ garners little attention. In the popular press, religious liberty is now usually accompanied by scare quotes. In the popular mind, the cause of religious liberty is linked to discrimination against gays and lesbians, and not without reason. If that will be the faultline for religious freedom litigation in the years ahead, I shudder at the prospects for religious freedom.”

It is less clear what message the election of Cardinal DiNardo as USCCB president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as vice president sends about this divide between Rome and Baltimore. As Bondings 2.0 noted yesterday, they are more moderate choices from the given slate of candidates but they are certainly not positive voices for LGBT people.

But DiNardo told Crux that the election of a bishop who oversees a largely immigrant diocese and a bishop who is Hispanic, might be sending a message that the U.S. church stands with immigrant communities under a Trump administration. If this is true, we can hope it suggests a shift in the Conference away from its fixation on stopping LGBT rights to a much-needed focus on defending vulnerable populations who are far less safe than they were November 7.

Finally, activists have shown they will not stop pushing the USCCB on gender and sexuality issues. Earlier this week, DignityUSA members held a vigil outside the Conference to remember victims of the Orlando massacre this past June and call on bishops to use proper language for LGBT people. Elsewhere, former Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois raised a banner during the opening Mass, calling on the bishops to stop persecuting gay people. Bridget Mary Meehan described the action on her personal blog, writing:

roy-bourgeois-at-usccb
Rev. Roy Bourgeois protests U.S. bishops treatment of gays, and he is joined by Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a Roman Catholic Woman Priest, who supported women’s ordination.

“[Roy’s face] looked angelic. He felt led by the Spirit, he said, to proclaim the message on his banner to the leaders of the US Church: ‘Bishops, Stop Persecuting Gays.’ He said he had to pull himself and the banner away from a security guard before making his way to the altar. There he bowed down and kissed it before holding up the banner to the bishops and turning it to the people of God. Then, he said, two priests tried to pull the banner away from him and he felt like they attacked him. He was surprised because they were priests. He had expected them to just allow him to walk out.”

From the Vatican (via Farrell) and the pews, it seems bishops in the U.S. are being asked to be more faithful to their office as shepherds and less eager to be politicians whose actions are corrosive to both ecclesial unity and people’s wellbeing.

Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will explore further responses which Catholic bishops have offered to Amoris Laetitia beyond the United States.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 17, 2016