Papal Canonizations, Part 3: More Questions than Answers

Pope Francis canonized Popes John XXII and John Paul II yesterday, formally acknowledging them as saints. In the weeks leading to yesterday’s six minute ceremony, questions have been furiously debated online, in print, and in person about what these canonizations mean for the Church today, how Pope Francis is viewing this event, and, most contentiously of all, whether one or both popes are indeed worthy of sainthood.

On Saturday, Bondings 2.0 covered the positive impact John XXIII had in calling for Vatican II and setting the conditions for greater openness in the Church, which you can read here. On Sunday, we covered the tremendous harm done to LGBT people and their loved ones under John Paul II’s 27-year papacy, which you can read about here. Today, we highlight some of the commentaries swirling around and, while not directly addressing LGBT topics, these articles are raising questions which impact our common efforts for a more inclusive, just church today.

Joshua McElwee’s reporting from Rome for the National Catholic Reporter notes that Pope Francis “wrapped up” the last 56 years of church history through the canonizations, but that “the implications of the saintings…are not so clear.” McElwee writes further:

“While the Vatican has sought this week to tie the popes together by their work shepherding the church through the 20th century — framing them as two bookends of church modernization and reform — Catholics in many parts of the world see John as the man who started that reform, but John Paul as the one who harnessed or even rolled parts of it back…

“Now that [Pope Francis] has sainted the man who opened the council and the man who over 27 years most shaped its reforms, how will he continue to direct its influence over the church?

“That answer may come most clearly during October’s meeting of bishops, which is expected to discuss a number of sometimes controversial subjects — including the question of communion for divorced and remarried persons.

“In other words, while Francis was able to wrap together 56 years in just six minutes Sunday it will likely be many years before we know the full impact of the council — and of the man now leading its continuing reforms.”

Also at NCR, Isabella Moyer wonders what Pope Francis actually thinks of these canonizations, and Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese states his belief that canonizing popes is a “dumb idea,” which makes those saints already in heaven have a good laugh. He writes further:

“I fear that the people pushing hardest for the canonization of a pope want him made a saint so he can be presented as the ideal pope that future popes should imitate. It is more about church politics than sanctity.

“Making a pope a saint is a way of strengthening his legacy, making it more difficult for future popes to change policies that he put in place. ‘How can you dare to change what St. Whoever established?’ …

Thirty years from now, another pope will preside over another double canonization, that for Blessed Benedict XVI and Blessed Francis I (yes, there will be a Francis II). I will not be around to be a party pooper, but if I am in heaven, I promise to organize a party for all these popes who, I am sure, will get a good laugh out of it.”

Fr. Reese is not the only person questioning the canonizations. US Catholic posted an article which called this process a “rush to sainthood,” and Emily Reimer-Barry of the the blog Catholic Moral Theology explores whether the canonization of saints is still relevant.

Finally, John Gehring of Faith in Public Life and Kim Daniels, formerly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, penned a piece together about these canonizations being a moment to bridge divides in the Church. They write:

“When Pope Francis canonizes Popes John Paul II and John XXIII on Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica, he will do more than honor the lives of towering figures that brought unique gifts to the Catholic church and the world. He will also send a powerful message of unity. By simultaneously declaring as saints these two men so often deployed as symbols for competing Catholic camps, Pope Francis is reminding us that the Gospel leaves no room for ideology…

“As the world watches the Catholic church with new eyes, we must strive for something better than internecine battles and gotcha rhetoric. Pope Francis is challenging us to build “a church of encounter” that goes to the margins where people are hurting and broken. A divided church will not meet that transcendent mission.”

What do these canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II mean for you? How do they impact the bridge building done by LGBT advocates worldwide to foster understanding about sexual orientation and gender identity? What impact will canonizing a pope who opened the doors to LGBT people indirectly and a pope who tried hard to close them mean for Pope Francis today? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Ways Ministry Statement on the Election of Pope Francis

Pope Francis greeting St. Peter’s Square crowds upon his election

The following is the statement of New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo on the election of Pope Francis:

New Ways Ministry greets Pope Francis, and we send him our prayers and best wishes as he takes on the awesome role as Chief Shepherd and Pastor of the Roman Catholic Church.

As he begins his papacy, we request that Pope Francis make one of his top priorities the re-evaluation of the Catholic hierarchy’s approach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues.  As a cardinal in Argentina, the new pope spoke strongly against marriage equality and against the right for gay and lesbian people to adopt children.  We hope that in his new office, he will have the wisdom to hear all sides of these complex issues and that he will inject pastoral messages into his statements.

Over the past several decades, under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, our church has suffered because of the aggressively negative approach to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity that the hierarchy has taken.  As a result of these condemnatory and hurtful messages, thousands upon thousands of people—both LGBT and heterosexual–have left the Catholic Church.   Some have looked to other churches for a pastoral welcome, and some have given up on faith altogether.

Pope Francis has the opportunity to repair much of this hurt and alienation by offering sincere pastoral outreach to LGBT people and their families.  A welcoming gesture from the new pope in the first month of his papacy can go a long way to express God’s love for all humanity.  Without such a gesture, the church will continue to lose members, as well as credibility.

Pope Francis will need to go further than gestures, too. In the past few decades, Catholics in the United States and all over the globe have become increasingly welcoming of LGBT people.  Catholics have gone to ballot boxes to ensure that LGBT people do not suffer from discrimination and violence, and that they receive equal benefits in society, including civil marriage.  During that time, Catholic theologians, using modern research and evidence, have called for the Catholic Church to update its teachings and approach to sexuality, including sexual orientation, same-sex relationships, and gender identity.  The Catholic Church is ready for the full acceptance of LGBT people in the church community.  The only obstacle to recognition of the full dignity of LGBT people is the intransigence of the hierarchy.  Through example and directive, the new pope can move the church toward full acceptance.

Pope Francis has many items on his agenda, but we hope that he will place the updating of Catholic teaching on LGBT issues at the top of his list.  The Catholic Church is hurting because of the many people it has lost due to the homophobia and prejudice of its officials.  We need the new pope to be a healer and reconciler, and a true shepherd of all souls.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Hopes for the New (Gay?) Pope

As the Conclave to elect a new pope approaches, intensifying public speculation about the papabile is met with increasing silence from the cardinal electors themselves. The world will soon closely observe a chimney for white smoke, and while no one predicts a papacy that wildly diverges from that of Benedict XVI, many LGBT individuals and advocates in the Church remain hopeful.

Perhaps most hopeful is Don Andrea Gallo, a Catholic priest and LGBT rights advocate, who points to theresignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brienfor sexual misconduct with fellow priests and rumors from Andrew Sullivan that the former Pope Benedict XVI himself is gay, as evidence that homosexuality in the clergy is a pressing issue. Pink News reports that Gallo told Italian media:

“A homosexual pope would be a magnificent thing. The essence of the Gospel is that we are all God’s sons and daughters and we are all equal as God’s children…The homosexual priest must be free to express his identity and his sexuality…”

Others write more prgamatically of expectations for a pastoral pope, who, even if he does not change the teaching of the hierarchy, can most definitely change the tone and emphasis. The Los Angeles Times profiled notable Catholic voices about their desires for the coming papacy. Fr. Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, writes of a papacy ruled by love:

“We need a pope to oversee not simply a modernization of the church but its total transformation…We need a pope to usher in a new era of inclusion, the end of a sinful clericalism, and a strong sense of duty to those on society’s margins. The 1 billion faithful long for a leader who is fearless and driven, not by terror but by love.”

Margaret Susan Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University, considers a humble and listening pope as what is needed:

“I dream of a pope who listens and appreciates that he still has a lot to learn, who trusts in the primacy of conscience and appreciates that the Holy Spirit empowers the whole body of believers, not just himself. I hope for someone who is collegial and consultative, not just with cardinals and clerics but with people in the pews (female and male) and with those outside the church.”

Faith in Public Life director John Gehring writes:

“Imagine a pope who held monthly dialogues with lay Catholics and overworked pastors who live out Gospel values from the barrios of East Los Angeles to rural villages in Kenya. Instead of silencing theologians and nuns, a pope could make it known that discussion and debate are signs of a vibrant faith…Gay and lesbian Catholics who love their church but often feel marginalized should be made to feel more welcome. Finally, a new pope might…take a cue from the simplicity of Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi. Neither had a princely residence or even a Popemobile, but their spirit and humility sparked a revolution that still lives today.”

The narrative of a Catholic hierarchy opposed to full LGBT equality and inclusion needs no illumination, and many wonder how Catholics hope for improvement given recent history under popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. A former Catholic priest from Brooklyn, John Lazar, identifies the source of any hope that a new papacy would progress on LGBT issues. In a piece in the Washington Blade, he writes:

“Yet for Catholics, there is a belief that the Holy Spirit can break through all of the Vatican politics and the sinful components from which even the leadership is not immune. Many yearn for the likes of a Pope John XXIII, who surprised the world by opening the windows of the church by convening the Second Vatican Council. Many of the teaching documents from that Council formed great pastoral leaders, like Chicago’s late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who promoted the “seamless garment” model of moral behavior promoting the total good of the individual and Brooklyn’s Bishop Francis Mugavero, whose letter on sexuality was a breath of fresh air for gay Catholics. The Holy Spirit’s work is cut out…

“The hope expressed by many LGBT Catholics, for the new leader that will be chosen by the College of Cardinals, may not have the best odds in their favor this time around. But Catholics do know that the Holy Spirit can pull some surprises, and perhaps, this Papal Conclave may result in just a few.”

As the Cardinals are sealed into the Sistine Chapel to deliberate and vote, LGBT Catholics and advocates must join with the them and Catholics worldwide in praying, “Come, holy Spirit!”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Politician’s Rise Reveals Changing Polish Church

Anna Grodzka, speaking in the Polish parliament

In a sign of the Catholic hierarchy’s waning influence over Polish politics, the nation’s first transgender legislator nearly assumed a top government office earlier this month.

Anna Grodzka was elected in 2011 to parliament from a conservative district in Krakow. Her election stirred anti-transgender opposition from fellow legislators. Several refused to acknowledge Grodzka’s gender identity while other members publicly disparaged her, and citizens have vandalized her offices.

Opposition has failed to stop Grodzka’s assent in Palikot’s Movement, Poland’s third-largest and progressive political party of which she is a member. The party’s leadership recently nominated Grodzka for deputy speaker of parliament, considered the second most powerful position in government. ABC News reports on the outcome:

“She lost that chance [for deputy speaker] on Friday when lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to keep the incumbent [Wanda Nowicka] in the job…

“Grodzka, who has expressed admiration for Nowicka’s work, was among those who voted to keep Nowicka in place. After the vote, she said she was not upset by the outcome.

“’I don’t regret it — believe me,’ she said.”

Grodzka’s election from a district in Krakow, where former Pope John Paul II was once archbishop, and her rise in national politics illustrate a further shift from the Catholic Church’s once-powerful control of the direction of government.

Her party, Palikot’s Movement, is raising its profile with an agenda of LGBT rights and resistance to traditional church influences. ABC News notes the significance this transgender member of parliament has had:

“Even so, the 58-year-old has already had a huge impact on the political scene, becoming perhaps the most prominent symbol of liberal change in a country that has traditionally been deeply conservative and overwhelmingly Roman Catholic…

“The social transformation has been visible in other areas too…But it is particularly notable for the new attention given to the rights of sexual minorities, an issue suppressed in communist times and after the fall of communism in 1989, as many Poles looked to the powerful Catholic church for guidance through the economic and social turmoil.”

LGBT progress in Poland is a reality, but Grodzka and others quickly point to the failure to pass a measure that would extend legal recognition to unmarried couples of any orientation as evidence that Polish bishops continue to bear weight and the nation is not equivalent to liberal Western nations yet. For now, Grodzka focuses on serving her constituents:

“’I am above all trying to be a normal politician, like any other person, but maybe even better. I am really trying so that people who observe me will know that transgender people are no worse in any way than any others.’”

We congratulate Ms. Grodzka  for her courage and fortitude and for her shining example!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

A New Saint for Those Who Long for Reforming the Catholic Church


Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini

For those who work and hope for a Catholic Church that is more welcoming and inclusive of LGBT people, and more in line with the spirit of Vatican II, there’s a new saint in heaven to intercede.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Montini,  former archbishop of Milan and once talked of as a possible successor to John Paul II, has died at the age of 85.  In his final interview, published a day after his death on August 31st,  he declared that the church is 200 years behind the times.

CNN’s Religion Blog  reports the cardinal’s quote:

” ‘The Church has remained 200 years behind the times. Why has it not been shaken up?” Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said in an interview published in Saturday’s Corriere dell Sera newspaper. ‘Are we scared? Fear instead of courage? However, faith is the fundamental to the church.’ “

The New York Times reported Martini’s further explanation of this quote from the same interview:

“ ‘Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up; our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,’ Cardinal Martini said in the interview published in Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“ ‘The church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops,’  he said in the interview. ‘The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.’ ”

Cardinal Martini made headlines earlier this year when in a separate interview, he called for a change in the church’s opposition to civil unions.  In May, Bondings 2.0 reported his statement from a book-length interview with the cardinal, entitled Credere e  Cognoscere (Faith and Understanding): 

“I do not agree with the positions of those in the Church who takes issue with civil unions.” blog carried English translations of the interview.  Though Cardinal Martini defended traditional marriage in the interview, he saw the need for allowing for civil unions:

“. . . if the State grants some benefits to homosexuals, I would not be too concerned. The Catholic Church, for its part, promotes partnerships that are beneficial for the continuation of the human species and its stability, and yet it is not right to express any discrimination for other types of unions.”

In the same interview, he praised the possibility of recognizing same-sex relationships as good:

” . . . I am ready to admit that in some cases good faith, lived experiences, acquired habits, the unconscious and probably even a certain innate inclination can push one to choose for oneself a form of living with a partner of the same sex. In today’s world such behaviour cannot therefore be ostracised or demonized. I am also ready to admit the value of a loyal and lasting friendship between two persons of the same sex. Friendship has always been held in high honour in the ancient world, perhaps more so than today, although it was largely understood as part of that surpassing of the purely physical realm that I mentioned above, to be a union of minds and hearts.”

He also made allowance for the use of condoms as a way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS:

“One must do everything to fight AIDS, as I have argued on many occasions and as we wrote in our previous dialogue in 2006. Certainly the use of condoms can constitute in certain situations a lesser evil. Then there is the particular situation of spouses, one of whom is infected with AIDS. One is obliged to protect the other partner who likewise should be able to protect himself or herself. But the question rather is, should it be the case that religious authorities promote such a means of defence, almost holding that other morally sustainable means, including abstinence, be sidelined, while risking the promotion of an irresponsible attitude? The principle of lesser evil is one thing, applicable in all cases provided for by ethical doctrine, another thing altogether the matter of who is to express such things publicly.

“I believe that prudence and consideration of different situations will permit everyone to contribute effectively to the fight against AIDS without fostering, in this way, irresponsible behaviour.”

Let’s pray that Cardinal Martini intercede for the church, and that Catholics will be renewed to reform the church in the way that Cardinal Martini saw as the only possible alternative:  love.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry