Catholic bishops in Malawi joined other religious leaders last month in a protest march against LGBT rights, an issue on which the nation’s Catholic officials have already opined quite negatively.
The Citizens’ March for Life and Family was actually a series of smaller marches throughout the country, reported The Tablet. In addition to protesting homosexuality, these marches, which involved some 60 denominations and more than 50 Christian organizations, also included protests against expanded abortion rights.
Organizers said the Citizens’ March for Life and Family urged Malawians to oppose legalizing homosexuality, an act they referred to as “a direct attack” on family life. Catholics played a leading role in the March, which was sponsored in part by the (Catholic) Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) and chaired by Martin Chiphwanya, the National Secretary for the Catholic Commission for Justice, reported Nyasa Times.
Catholic church leaders were also active locally. According to MalayMail Online, Fr. Francis Tambala told marchers in the major city of Blantyre, “We say no to gay and lesbian unions. (Lawmakers) must vote no to homosexuality as history will judge us harshly if we don’t stand against abortion and same-sex marriages.”
LGBT advocates have pushed back against the church-backed protests, questioning why religious leaders were focused on condemning LGBT people when real issues needed attention. Gift Trapence, an advocate who leads the Centre for Development of People, said such protests shifted the focus of “suffering Malawians away from real issues of power blackouts, crumbled economy and corruption.”
It is also noteworthy, too, that following the protests in December, a senior member of the Malawi Law Commission chided religious leaders behind the March, reported the Maravi Post. Mike Chinoko, the deputy chief law reform officer for the Commission, said, “What the men or women of God should know is that there is a big difference between the church and the state.”
Actions by Catholic officials come about nine months after Malawi’s bishops called for the government to begin enforcing the nation’s ban on homosexuality. In its pastoral letter for the Year of Mercy, “Mercy of God as a Path to Hope,” the ECM called for the government to begin enforcing the nation’s law against homosexuality and stop bowing down “to pressure from donor community, international bodies and local human rights campaigners.”
The bishops’ lengthy support for LGBT criminalization is well-documented and has been strongly condemned by LGBT advocates. Last year, Malawi’s bishops also made false claims about alleged foreign aid pressure during U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People Randy Berry’s visit to their nation. Berry categorically refuted their claims. Individual bishops from this African country have made other troubling remarks about homosexuality, too.
Malawi’s bishops have significant influence in the country, despite Catholics composing just 20% of the population. Catholic leaders played a key role in the country’s 1992 transition to democracy and have been described by some as the conscience of their nation. In a nation where LGBT people remain illegal and marginalized, the bishops should be using their moral authority to foster greater respect and equality for all persons.
Be sure to vote for the Best and Worst Catholic LGBT News of 2016. You can vote by clicking here. Voting closes at 5:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time on Thursday, December 29th.
A bedrock principle in Catholic morality is the primacy of conscience, a teaching recovered by Vatican II and now being further advanced by Pope Francis. But disputes about what conscience means and how it should be applied have intensified after the release of the pope’s apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, this past April.
Theologians Michael G. Lawler and Todd A. Salzman offered their reflection on conscience in the National Catholic Reporter. They called the pope’s thoughts on conscience “one of the most important teachings in the apostolic exhortation.” In one paragraph they sketched the main question on conscience in Catholic thought:
“Stated succinctly, is conscience subjective and internal and truth objective and external, whereby the subjective and internal conscience must obey and conform to the objective and external truth? Or does conscience include both the objective and subjective realms, whereby conscience discerns and interprets its understanding of objective truth and exercises that understanding in the subjective judgment of conscience?”
Salzman and Lawler stated the question even more simply, citing theologian Fr. Joseph Fuchs: “Does a truth exist ‘in itself’ or ‘in myself’?” Their analysis is far longer than can be described here, but for anyone inclined to read more, which I highly recommend, you can find it here.
What I will highlight here is their commentary on Pope Francis and his teaching on conscience not only in Amoris Laetitia, but in his earlier exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Salzman and Lawler said the pope’s “model of conscience. . .provides a faithful and merciful guide for couples who are in irregular situations and empowers them to follow their inviolable conscience on this important issue.”
Pope Francis, they noted, has said “realities are more important than ideas,” and that ideas cannot be separated from reality but rather the two must be dialectically related.This approach contrasts sharply with some bishops’ interpretation and implementation of Amoris Laetitia. The theologians identified specifically the restrictive pastoral guidelines of Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, which, among other sanctions, bar people in same-gender relationships from parish and liturgical ministries.
Salzman and Lawler proceeded by pointing out the “vast disconnect” between the ideas informing the Magisterium’s teaching on sexual ethics and the realities of Catholics’ lives whereby:
“[T]he majority of educated Catholics judge these norms are detached from reality, and Catholics are following their consciences to make practical judgments on these and other moral matters.”
Instead of division, Pope Francis seeks a harmony between ideas and reality. Conscience, the pope says, must be listened to in making up one’s mind about how to act on moral issues and then it must be followed. To not act in accordance with one’s conscience is “a sin.” Without affirming relativism, the pope is offering an “affirmation of objective truth that recognizes plural and partial truths that must be discerned by conscience informed by, among other sources, external, objective norms.”
The theologians cite Pope Francis himself to define the limitations of Amoris Laetitia and affirm the necessary role of conscience to complete its reception. They wrote:
“There is an ‘immense variety of concrete situations’ and situations can be so vastly different that his document, the pope confesses, cannot ‘provide a new set of rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases’ (Amoris Laetitia, 300). The only moral solution to any and every situation is a path of careful discernment accompanied by a priest and a final judgment of personal conscience that commands us to do this or not to do that (Amoris Laetitia, 300-305). Only such an informed conscience can make a moral judgment about the details of any and every particular situation.”
Another theologian, David Cloutier, responded to Salzman and Lawler in a piece for Commonweal. He objected to certain points in their article, and made a larger point that he believes continuing battles about conscience and church authority d0 not help the church, nor do such battles “address the real substance of the particular issues of Amoris Laetitia or the larger challenges of Catholic morality.”
While I question much of Cloutier’s argument, which seeks to restrict understandings of conscience in moral theology, he made an interesting point about setting conscience within the context of community:
“I personally would like to read Pope Francis’s teaching in the eighth chapter of Amoris Laetitia as about a Church that practices Vatican II’s universal call to holiness, even in very difficult and conflicted situations. . .The pope rightly is pushing for a community that is serious and deep in its encounter with Christ and His call to the Kingdom [sic], but does not confuse that ‘holiness’ with a kind of individual athleticism and perfection. . .It is not about jurisdictional arguments. To the contrary, the universal call to holiness is supposed to liberate us from a legalistic account of the morality of the Catholic laity that hinged on applying and authorizing various rules and exceptions. It does so not by ignoring or pretending away difficulties under the guise of personal autonomy, but by pushing us more deeply into ecclesial community so that we can face them together, honestly.”
I think the challenge of Amoris Laetitia’s reception and the larger question of conscience is not Cloutier’s zero-sum structure where conscience recedes while practice of the virtues in community grows. Rather, it is a question of more fully and comprehensively receiving Vatican II, whose teachings include conscience, the universal call to holiness, and many other connected issues for Christian living. This process of reception today means rethinking existing paradigms, even postconciliar ones, and envisioning new possibilities. This process and its fruits are “both/and” realities.
If Cloutier is correct, then what Pope Francis is affirming in his vision of a more inclusive ecclesial community whose members are mature Christians. This kind of church is already being lived into by LGBT Catholics and other people who have been excluded. Precisely because they have been excluded and condemned, such Catholics have had no choice but to form their consciences and live according to them. this process has often been lived out by others in communities at the church’s peripheries, too. Where the institutional church under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI looked backwards, advocating regressive ideas about conscience and authority, marginalized Catholics took Vatican II’s teachings to heart and looked forward.
Pope Francis is, if nothing else, very much a priest formed by the Council. His exhortations, along with his other teachings and daily witness, very much incarnate the Christian life Vatican II imagined for the entire faithful. Like all of us, Francis is imperfect and he shows a particular deficit in his knowledge of gender and sexuality. But unlike his predecessors, he is humble enough to admit he is imperfect; his teaching often poses questions rather than providing answers.
This coming week, I will offer a more thorough analysis of Pope Francis’ engagement with LGBT issues in 2016, and I would invite readers’ own thoughts then. For now, I express this hope for the church in 2017: May the faithful, especially institutional leaders and ministers, be concerned more about questions than answers, respect for conscience than blind obedience, and unity in diversity than purity through division.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 27, 2016
A new Vatican document on the priesthood, approved by Pope Francis, has reaffirmed a ban on gay men entering the seminary or being ordained. New Ways Ministry has responded with a call to the pope to retract this document.
The document from the Congregation for Clergy, titled “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” includes language from a 2005 document on priestly formation that addressed persons with homosexual tendencies. This latest document quoted the 2005 text directly, including these words:
“The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’. Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.”
The 2016 document goes on to warn of the “negative consequences” of ordaining gay men, and said men who can “clearly overcome” homosexual tendencies for three years could be admitted. Troubling, too, are paragraphs which say a seminarian is “obliged to reveal to his formators. . .doubts or difficulties he should have in this regard,” formators who in turn “have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding in ordination.” To remain closeted would be “gravely dishonest.”
This latest document affirming the 2005 ban was approved by Pope Francis, reported Michael O’Loughlin of America. Its treatment of gay men who wish to become priests is perhaps oddly placed between “a section about seminarians suffering from mental illness and seminarians who are considered threats to children”–further revealing the authors’ negative bias. The 2005 document had come in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and was recognized by many as part of efforts to blame the crisis on gay priests.
What this reaffirmation means exactly is unclear, given the disparate ways the 2005 document had been implemented. O’Loughlin wrote about these responses, offered by bishops and religious superiors at whose discretion seminarians are accepted:
“In some instances, those in charge of entrance to seminaries and religious orders as well as those in charge priestly formation have interpreted it to mean that gay men are prohibited from entering Catholic seminaries.
“In others, men who have made homosexuality their primary identity, or have been outspoken in supporting what the Vatican calls the ‘so-called gay culture,’ are barred.
“But a third interpretation has been that men who identify as gay can enter so long as they do not act on their desires, and maintain their vows of chastity or promises of celibacy. (Though there are rare exceptions, such as married priests from other faith traditions who become Catholic, priests are required to practice celibacy.)”
While the effects may be unclear, questions are already being raised about why Pope Francis, who in 2013 said of a gay priest his famous line “Who am I to judge?”, would approve this new document. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented in a statement:
“Had the document not been approved by Pope Francis, it could easily be dismissed as the work of over-zealous Vatican officials. But the pope’s approval of this text is a great disappointment to many people—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual supporters—who held out greater hopes for this pontiff who had done so much to open church discussion on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
DeBernardo suggested Francis could withdraw the document and seek to heal the damage already cause, or at a minimum explain where he stands. That would be a start, but not an end.
I know and have worked with many gay and bisexual men in the priesthood and in Catholic ministry. They are some of the most faithful and dutiful ministers in our church. With the many gifts they have offered to us, we must now be in solidarity with them. We must let gay priests know they are welcomed and appreciated by us despite the Vatican’s ill-informed policies.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 8, 2016
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.
Carmelita 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.
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–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 26, 2016
A new report powerfully revealed the scope and intensity of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination that exist in the world. The realities of suffering and abuse necessitate renewed solidarity from Catholics, including human rights advocacy by the Vatican.
Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the U.N. report shows “pervasive violent abuse, harassment and discrimination” across the globe. The Guardian reported:
“The report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council circulated on Monday cites the murder of transsexual women in Uruguay and of black lesbian women in South Africa, and the killing of a gay man in Chile by neo-Nazis who carved swastikas into his body. In February 2015, it said, photos appeared to show several men, allegedly accused of homosexual acts, being pushed off a building to their deaths in Syria by militants of the so-called Islamic State extremist group.
“Brazil reported 310 documented murders in 2012 ‘in which homophobia or transphobia was a motive’, it said. The trans murder monitoring project, which collects reports of homicides of transgender people, lists 1,612 murders in 62 countries between 2008 and 2014. And the inter-American commission on human rights reported 594 hate-related killings of LGBT people in the 25 countries of the Organisation of American States between January 2013 and March 2014, it said.”
Non-lethal violence and other forms of discrimination were cited elsewhere, including the United States where hate crimes based on sexual orientation rank second among crimes against protected classes. More than 75 nations criminalize LGBT people and/or their relationships, including some where being convicted of same-gender sexual activity is punishable by death.
Catholic teaching clearly rejects discrimination–and, even more so, violence–against LGBT people, a point affirmed in a recent statement from the Network of Reform Movements. More than 40 Catholics from ten countries released that statement condemning all forms of violence and discrimination against LGBT people which said, per the Network’s press release:
“We, the representative of an international network of priest groups and reform organizations assembled in Chicago 2016, affirm that the dignity of the human person is clearly expressed in the Gospels and the social justice teachings of our Church. It is this dignity that should be the foundation of a truly Catholic response to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and their families.
“We, therefore, commit ourselves to stand against violence in all its forms-physical, emotional, spiritual and temporal—toward LGBT people. We encourage the Church’s leaders and individual members to make the same commitment.”
The mid-October meeting in Chicago was sponsored by FutureChurch, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, and Voice of the Faithful. Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA participated in the meeting. Representatives of lay and clergy organizations came from Argentina, Ireland, Slovakia, and elsewhere. The meeting’s purposes was for different reform organizations to come together for honest conversation about experiences and objectives, and see where collaboration might be possible or prudent, reported the National Catholic Reporter.
Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery of the Association of Catholic Priests, an Irish reform group, credited Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, who suggested the resolution, as the central figure in the statement’s publication. He wrote on his blog:
“[Jeannine] was, as is her style, gently but persistently pushing the topic of LGBT people in the Church, and a resolution was drawn up calling for the Church to respect the dignity of every person, no matter what their sexual orientation, and in that way setting an example that might help reduce the violence and discrimination which is still prevalent in many parts of the world.”
“We are pleased that the entire group felt it could support LGBT peoples with the . . . statement.”
Elsewhere, Jesuit Fr. James Martin condemned discrimination and violence in his recent lecture at New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award ceremony:
“Church leaders also need to stand for their L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters when they are persecuted. In many parts of the world, L.G.B.T. persons are liable, again in the words of the catechism, to appalling incidents of ‘unjust discrimination’—to prejudice, to violence and even to murder. In some countries, you can be jailed for being gay or having same-sex relations and murdered for being a gay leader. In those countries the institutional church has a moral duty to stand up for their brothers and sisters, publicly. Remember, the catechism says ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ must be avoided. Helping someone, standing up for someone when they are being beaten, is part of compassion. It is part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Catholics have previously asked Pope Francis to condemn the criminalization of homosexuality through #PopeSpeakOut, but he has refrained from doing so, even during his apostolic voyage to three African nations with troubled LGBT human rights records. This silence was deemed a “missed opportunity” by LGBT advocates in Uganda. Elsewhere in the world, bishops have refused to defend LGBT people’s human rights. Bishops in Malawi even advocated re-criminalizing homosexuality in their pastoral letter for the Year of Mercy.
Even if Pope Francis cannot or will not offer positive words in defense of LGBT people, the Vatican could use its diplomatic efforts to ensure the human rights of these communities are defended and advanced. There are many, many issues between silence and marriage equality where common ground could be found.
Vatican diplomats have been central in efforts for justice and reconciliation in the world, such as facilitating development projects and aiding peace negotiations in the Great Lakes Region of Africa or in Colombia. The Holy See is influential as a Permanent Observer at the United Nations. The Vatican has no defensible reason not to expand its defense of human rights and promotion of the common good to LGBT people. And there are millions, indeed tens of millions of good reasons, why the Vatican should act–because every LGBT person’s life that is under attack is a good reason. Every person is a good reason. The United Nations’ new report is a poignant reminder of just how much the Catholic Church can and should be doing for LGBT human rights.
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which took the lives of 2,996 people. Catholics remember in a special way the life of victim No. 1, Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM.
Judge, frequently referred to as the “Saint of 9/11,” was not only a chaplain for the New York Fire Department and a beloved (and busy) pastoral minister.He was a gay priest. This last identity is sometimes ignored or even left out intentionally when he is remembered, but it should not be.
As we pray for the victims of 9/11, for those persons who inflicted such pain, and for peace in our world today, we would do well to consider Judge in his fullness, for the lessons he taught and the witness he provides for our church even now. Focusing on his death could obscure his life, as a 2011 feature article in New York Magazinecautioned:
“As it happens, the unembellished story of Mychal Judge’s death is just as moving — and an even more telling tribute to the chaplain, as well as to the men he served.”
Part of his busy life included ministry to LGBT people who were on the margins of the church and of society in the 1980s and 1990s. The same article quoted above explained:
“Back in the early eighties, Judge was one of the first members of the clergy to minister to young gay men with AIDS, doing their funeral Masses and consoling their partners and family members. He opened the doors of St. Francis of Assisi Church when Dignity, a gay Catholic organization, needed a home for its AIDS ministry, and he later ran an AIDS program at St. Francis. [In 1999], he marched in the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade, which his friend Brendan Fay, a gay activist, organized in Queens.”
Fay said that in Judge “there was a core of sadness or vulnerability in him” that made him a good minister because he “was very in touch with human vulnerability.” The priest had an apartness from it all, though, which helped him minister, too, said Fay:
” ‘He recognized the tension between the worlds he lived in. . .He’d be honored by these members of the far right, and yet at the same time he felt he had to constrain himself. There was a certain sadness about that.’ “
Judge never came out publicly, especially to the firefighters at Engine 1-Ladder 24, near his residence. But he came out selectively to many people, including gay advocates, New York City officials, and the Catholics to whom he ministered. Franciscan Fr. Brian Carroll told New York Magazine:
” ‘Mike taught me how to come out as a young man. . .And how to see sexuality as an important part of who I am. He took away the shame. For some people, sexuality is a part of their shame. Or homelessness is a part of their shame. Or addiction is a part of their shame. Mychal helped people embrace all the shame parts of themselves and turn them into something good.’ “
Judge still struggled with the church, even while he himself was quite peaceful about his sexuality, writing once from the Marian shrine at Lourdes that he felt as if he was in a “different kind of church.” Many of his brother Franciscans were surprised when it became public after his death that Judge was a gay man.
But Judge’s sexual orientation, for him, was an integrated part of his being and even a gift. An autobiography of the priest, written by Michael Ford, quotes Judge as saying, “Look at who we are as gay people at this moment in history, being a gift for the church, being agents of change in both church and society.”
Popular devotion to the “Saint of 9/11” is growing, as a fast-growing website about the priest’s legacy attests. There are documentaries and biographies, including Brendan Fay’s film, “Remembering Mychal,” which was shown at World Youth Day in Poland this past July and has been screened at parishes, too. His burial site in New Jersey has become a place of pilgrimage for many people. The cause for Judge’s formal canonization is gaining steam,reportedThe Record, but it also has little backing from the Archdiocese of New York or the Franciscan community.
Today’s Gospel, part of the same readings proclaimed the Sunday after September 11th, 2001, includes the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son. They are readings about going out to the margins to find people, and about rushing out to welcome those who have come home. This Gospel seems particularly fitting for Fr. Mychal Judge, a gay man who, in his priestly ministry, rushed to the margins and welcomed home the many people he served in so many ways. Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM, concluded the homily at Judge’s funeral with the following words (you can listen to the audio version at NPR by clicking here):
“And so, this morning we come to bury Myke Judge’s body, but not his spirit. We come to bury his voice, but not his message. We come to bury his hands, but not his good works. We come to bury his heart, but not his love. Never his love.”
Fr. Mychal Judge was, and is, a gift for Catholics. Gay men in the priesthood still have to deal with structural homophobia, and disputes about priests who have come out as gay are not infrequent. Judge’s life reveals how wrong it is to reject or repress gay priests. His life is a witness to the broader truth that there are many gay priests who lead holy lives of humble service. That is why, in remembering him and learning the lessons he teaches, we must never forget that his sexual orientation was a fertile source for his ministry and his love. We must always honor the fullness of Fr. Mychal Judge’s person–the full person that God created him to be.
A Spanish priest is facing disciplinary sanctions after blessing a same-gender couple the day before their civil marriage.
Fr. José García held a “blessing of love” for Carmen and Lucia at Saint Bartholemew Church in Onda, Spain. The July 30th ceremony was attended by their family and friends. García explained the women sought to “celebrate the love they have for God and the love which exists between them,” according to the blog Dos Manzanas. The couple was married in a civil ceremony the next day.
This blessing became public in late August when a conservative Spanish new outlet posted about it, eliciting a response from the Diocese of Segorbe-Castellón. Acknowledging first that lesbian and gay people should not be discriminated against, the diocese’s statement quoted Pope Francis in saying “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family [Amoris Laetitia, no. 251].”
According to the statement. Fr. García was then visited by both the diocese’s Vicar General and Bishop Casmiro López Llorent who demanded an explanation from the priest. The diocese said Fr. García admitted to the bishop the “grave error” of his actions, saying they were motivated by “an erroneous application of mercy” that “did not distinguish the welcome and pastoral accompaniment of persons” from what may seem like approval of same-gender marriage.
The statement reported that the priest apologized to people who considered the blessing scandalous, and he promised not to act similarly in the future. But recanting is seemingly not enough for Bishop López, reported Euro Weekly. The diocese has opened a canonical investigation against Fr. García to see whether formal sanctions should be applied for blessing the love between two people.
Critics of the diocese’s actions have noted the differing speeds with which this case and clerical sexual abuse allegations have been dealt with. Loottis, a Spanish LGBT blog, wrote:
“What is amazing is the speed with which the diocese of Segorbe-Castellón has reacted to this case and in contrast to other scandals which starred members of the Church as happened with the scandal of ‘The Romanones’ in Granada in which several priests were accused of abusing minors for years and the Spanish hierarchy hurried from the first moment to preserve the innocence of the priests involved.”
Loottis noted, too, that Bishop López has made LGBT-negative remarks in the past. In 2013, he said marriage equality had led to a “significant increase in children with severe personality disturbances” and that families led by lesbian and gay people created environments that “frequently ends in violence.”
It is quite sad that the diocese has punished Fr. García so severely, and that more sanctions may be coming. Media reports have been limited to the diocese’s account as the priest has either largely chosen to keep quiet or been silenced. But the limited statements he has made, explaining this incident as a blessing that celebrates love of God and between two people speaks volumes.
If the church blesses animals, ships, church vestments, eggs, and so much more, why are ministers barred from blessing the holy love that exists between two people? The hierarchy’s opposition to same-gender marriages is well known. But blessing love and supporting couples is precisely the type of pastoral accompaniment to which Pope Francis has called the church, even if such relationships do not conform to the heteronormative standards of the Magisterium. There is no love which is wrong, and there is no love outside God’s embrace.
The good news is that God clearly blesses the love between Carmen and Lucia, and their desire to have that love blessed in the church acknowledges their reciprocal love for God. Priests should not be punished for recognizing these realities, and being good pastoral ministers to LGBT people who have been marginalized. The only “grave error” in this incident will be if the canonical investigation now underway were to imperil Fr. García’s priesthood because he was simply a good priest.