Irish Arguments About Marriage Equality Go From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

March 3, 2015

Marriage equality demonstrators in Dublin, Ireland.

For those of us in countries where the marriage equality debate has been ongoing for several years, it may seem that we have already heard the most outrageous comments opposing such measures.  And, sadly, those comments often come from Catholic officials.   We may have also thought we have heard some of the most insightful pro-marriage arguments, but it seems there are still more to be made.

The debate in Ireland over marriage equality, which is to be put to a national referendum on May 19th,  has recently fostered a bishop’s comment which bewilders logic.  At the same time, a Catholic lay spokesperson has argued eloquently in favor of the measure.

Bishop Kevin Doran of the Diocese of Elphin recently offered that gay and lesbian people are already allowed to legally marry–just not each other.  In a talk at a parish, Doran went through a list of rhetorical questions about lesbian/gay people and marriage, ending with:

“Can people of homosexual orientation marry?

“This is quite interesting, because most people would probably say that they cannot legally do so. But, of course there is no legal obstacle to a person of homosexual orientation getting married, just as a heterosexual person can.

“To that extent the question of marriage equality simply doesn’t arise. (Whether it is good or just or wise for a homosexual person to enter marriage is another question.)”

Doran’s point is a silly one, which reflects poorly on him, and does not substantially add to the discussion.  The sad part of his statements is that their silliness overshadows a number of positive things that he said leading up to those remarks.  Discussing Catholic approaches to lesbian and gay people, he said:

“A. Can we recognise the fundamental goodness of people who are of homosexual orientation? Yes.

“B. Do we believe that they are loved by God? Yes.

“C. And that they are equal in dignity to every other person? Yes.

“D. Can they be actively involved in the life of the Church? Yes.

“E. Can friendships between people of the same sex be good, even if they are sexually attracted to one another? Yes, of course.

“While marriage is the ‘primary and most unique friendship’, there are many other kinds of friendship which are blessed by God. Friendship is an aspect of love, and love is the path to holiness.

“This of course applies equally to those who are homosexual in orientation as it does to those who are heterosexual.

“F. Can people of homosexual orientation receive the Eucharist? Yes, on exactly the same basis as heterosexual people, who are likewise called to the virtue of chastity.

“G. Can we engage with them in pastoral care for the family? Yes, of course.”

While the Irish bishops oppose marriage equality,  other Irish church leaders and the Irish Catholic lay people are very much in support of it.  The Irish Times reported on a recent statement from a coalition of religious organizations, including two Catholic lay groups, We Are Church Ireland and Gay Catholic Voice Ireland.  One leader was quoted in the story:

“Brendan Butler, of We Are Church Ireland, said the Catholic Church’s opposition to marriage equality was the view of ‘the hierarchical church. We are representing a huge squad of ordinary Catholics. We have people in our group who are gay people as well as mothers and grandmothers of gay people. They are appalled at the attitude of the church.’ “

Butler recently penned an op-ed for The Irish Times in support of marriage equality, and he argued:

“Jesus of Nazareth challenged the skewed values and injustices of the religious and political elites of his day and their exploitation and marginalisation of their people.

“We as followers of Jesus must also challenge the injustices of our Church and society.

“This Kingdom of God is not confined to the Church but to the creation of a more just society in which all people are valued as equals.

“This is a vision which We are Church Ireland proclaims. We wish and work for a society where a person’s sexual orientation is not a cause of discrimination or prejudice.

“When it comes to marriage, Christians do not have the ownership of the institution and should invite gay, lesbian and transgender people to share in the joys of marriage if they so wish.

“As a result of a yes vote in the referendum we will have a more just and inclusive society befitting the dignity of all people.”

PinkNews.co.uk recently reported that polls show strong support for marriage equality among the Irish population:

It recently emerged that one in five voters are still undecided about how they will vote in the referendum in May. The poll found that while 62 percent were in favour with 16 percent opposed, 22 percent of voters are still unsure/didn’t know how they would vote on the issue.

In such a heavily and traditionally Catholic nation, the results of this referendum will be significant for Catholic politics.  Una Mullaly, writing in The Guardiannoted:

“To get this far is nothing short of a phenomenal achievement. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993; the Civil Partnership Act passed in 2010. The dedication of LGBT rights groups has changed hearts and minds. And now, Ireland is staging a referendum that enjoys support from all major political parties and the majority of the public, something unimaginable just a decade ago. . . .

The world will be watching Ireland in the lead-up to May’s referendum. If the Irish electorate seizes this opportunity, it won’t just be a local victory, it could be the watershed moment the global movement for marriage equality has been waiting for.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


New Ways Ministry’s LGBT Catholic Pilgrims Get VIP Seats at Papal Audience

February 19, 2015
NWM Rome 2015

New Ways Ministry pilgrims pose in St. Peter’s Square following the papal audience with Pope Francis.

In what is surely the most official welcome from Church officials that New Ways Ministry has received in its 38-year history, a pilgrimage group of 48 LGBT Catholics and supporters led by our co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, received VIP seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

Sister Jeannine had written to Pope Francis in December 2014, asking him to meet personally with the group when they visited Rome as part of their ten-day pilgrimage to Florence, Assisi, and the Eternal City.

Two weeks before departure on February 12th, she received a letter from Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, letting her know that he had reserved tickets for the group for the Ash Wednesday audience.  She assumed that these were the general seating tickets. On the night of February 17th, when the group picked up the tickets at St. Peter’s, they learned that they were VIP seating.

When the group arrived at St. Peter’s Square in the morning, we were guided by papal ushers to the level of the Square where the pope sits.  All were astonished!    While we were not able to shake the pope’s hand personally, it is very significant that the Vatican responded so positively to an LGBT group by giving us such a prominent place at the audience.
When the pope passed by our group, we all sang “All Are Welcome,” a popular hymn which calls for an inclusive church.  We also called out several times that “We are LGBT Catholics!”
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Ash Wednesday audience.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Ash Wednesday audience.

Although Sister Jeannine Gramick has led two other pilgrimages to Rome under the two previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, their presence was ignored at the papal audiences.

A Religion News Service story in The Washington Post noted that it was not just Vatican recognition that was significant, but that several other Church leaders helped the process along the way:

“. . . Archbishop Georg Ganswein, head of the papal household and the top aide to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, responded to New Ways’ request for a papal meet-and-greet by reserving tickets for the group at Francis’ weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. It’s not a private meeting — which is tough for anyone to get — but it’s not nothing.

“The pope’s ambassador to Washington forwarded a similar request to Rome. Even San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone — point man for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ battle against gay marriage — had written a letter to the Vatican on their behalf.

“Last December, Cordileone had a constructive meeting with Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of New Ways and a longtime advocate for LGBT inclusion in the church. But they were still surprised by the archbishop’s willingness to write a letter for them.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter's Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter’s Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.

Gibson also noted that a British cardinal has given similar prestigious recognition to an LGBT Catholic pilgrimage which is also in Rome this week:

” . . . British Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster sent a warm blessing to a group of LGBT Catholics from London who are joining up with New Ways in Rome. ‘Be assured of my prayers for each and every one of you,’ Nichols wrote. ‘Have a wonderful pilgrimage. God bless you all.’ “

Reuters story published on Huffington Post captured the response of New Ways Ministry’s leaders just after they left the papal audience:

” ‘What this says is that there is movement in our Church, movement to welcome people from the outside closer to the inside,’ Gramick said in St. Peter’s Square. . . . “DeBernardo said Catholic gay and lesbian couples and other non-traditional families should be invited to the meeting, known as a synod, to speak to the bishops about their faith and their sexuality.”

An Associated Press video also reported their reactions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhM3UMRl830 Several of the LGBT pilgrims were visibly moved by the welcome they received and by the experience of seeing the pope in person.  Several noted that they felt this was one more step in the progress–albeit, slow–that LGBT Catholics have been making in the Church for several decades.  All agreed that this day will never be forgotten.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Associated Press: “Gay Catholics Get Vatican Welcome, but No Papal Shout-Out”

New York Daily News:  “American gay Catholic group welcomed to Vatican”


Parishioners Support Swiss Priest Asked to Resign for Blessing Lesbian Couple

February 13, 2015

Although a Swiss bishop has asked a Catholic pastor to resign from his parish, after learning that the priest had blessed a lesbian couple, the parishioners of the community are supporting the cleric.

Reverend Wendelin Bucheli

According to Gay Star News:

“Wendelin Bucheli, a priest in the municipality of Bürglen in the west of Switzerland, gave his blessings to a lesbian couple in October 2014 after discussing it with other members of the clergy.

Bucheli gave careful consideration to the action, and decided that blessing a couple was the right thing to do:

” ‘There was no considerable difference between this blessing and a wedding ceremony,’ the priest told Swiss newspaper Urner Wochenblatt, speaking about the occasion last October.

“Bucheli said he carefully considered his options before discussing the matter with a Jesuit priest.

“His main question was: ‘Can I give this blessing in the name of God and would it be his will?’, to which, so Bucheli, the answer was yes.

” ‘These days people give blessings to animals, cars and even weapons,’ he said, ‘why shouldn’t you give your blessing to a couple deciding to walk through life with God by their side?’ “

Not surprisingly, the local bishop did not approve of the action:

“Vitus Huonder, bishop of the diocese of Chur where Bucheli currently works, did not agree with the priest’s actions.

“He spoke to the priest and the bishop of Bucheli’s home diocese of Lausanne, Huonder said they want the pro-gay religious leader gone by summer at the latest and returned to his former pasture.

“Huonder’s spokesman Guiseppe Gracia told the Urner Wochenblatt: ‘His actions created attention, even across state borders, and angered many believers.’

“He claimed Bucheli’s actions could have ‘clouded the church’s teachings on marriage and family.’ “

But parishioners have come to the priest’s defense, organizing a petition, which, in a few days, has garnered over 3,000 signatures.  TheLocal.ch reported on the community’s response:

“ ‘We stand behind priest Bucheli,’ Peter Vorwerk, vice-president of the parish council is quoted as saying.

“Christianity is based on charity so it is difficult to understand why the church should deny someone the blessing of God, he said.”

Fr. Bucheli has declared his intention not to resign:

“Bucheli defended his blessing of the lesbians and said he would not submit his resignation.

“He said it was his jobs as a ‘shepherd’ to address the weak, the injured and the marginalized, he said in an interview with the Nueue Urner Zeitung published on Wednesday.

“In a joint press release issued by the priest and the parish council, Bucheli reiterated that he wanted to stay in the village.

“ ‘I feel comfortable in Bürglen,’ he said.

“ ‘My work is not finished and I see no reason to leave the community at this time.’ “

Reverend Richard Estrada

In a somewhat related story, a Claretian priest in California, has resigned from the priesthood because he can no longer accept official Catholic teaching on LGBT and women’s issues.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Father Richard Estrada, a longtime immigrants’ rights advocate, has moved to the Episcopal Church, and said he could no longer tolerate the Roman Catholic practices regarding these minorities:

“For decades, Estrada saw the pain of gay and lesbian parishioners who were ashamed of their sexuality, and of women who he felt were treated as second-class citizens. He saw the Catholic Church evolving on those issues, but the changes felt too slow.

” ‘I saw a lot of people who were struggling,’ he said. ‘I just felt like I don’t fit anymore. Maybe I’ve grown, or shrunk or whatever, but I just don’t fit. And I haven’t fit. So let’s be honest.’ “

As we continue to pray for change in the Roman Catholic Church on LGBT issues, let’s remember especially our priests who speak out and act for equality and justice.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


NEWS NOTES: February 12, 2015

February 12, 2015

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

1. In the heavily Catholic nation of Poland, voters in the city of Slupsk have elected the country’s first openly gay mayor, reports Rappler.com.  Robert Biedron won 57% of the vote in a run-off election.

2. After a four-year legislative debate, Chile has passed a law creating domestic partnerships that will include same-gender couples, reports The New York Times.  The Catholic hierarchy has had a heavy influence on Chilean politics.

3. The city of Rome, Italy, has created a registry for civil unions, including same-gender couples, reports PinkNews.com.  A follow-up story on the news website said that a Catholic official called the move “an ideological bluff. ”

4.The Catholic identity of St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas, was the focus of a recent article in the campus newspaper.  The following paragraphs were used to illustrate:

“Unlike the idea that many might have, even as they attend St. Edward’s, Catholicism does not reject anyone based on sexuality.

“St. Edward’s in particular makes this clear. In fact, St. Edward’s makes sure to keep and make their LGBTQ community feel welcomed.

“Dr. Alexandra Lynn Barron, a professor of the Freshman Studies program and previous advisor for the PRIDE Club on campus was concerned about the possibility of misunderstanding between students and the school on the subject of the university’s acceptance of LGBTQ students.

“ ‘Campus Ministry is a big supporter of PRIDE and our LGBTQ students. They’ve planned events with us including a vigil for queer youths around the country lost to suicide and they attend PRIDE events regularly,’ Barron said. ‘It’s true that sometimes the Catholic Church’s teachings can be challenging for some of us around queer issues, but on our campus we find ways to work together.’ “

5.  In a New York Times op-ed essay entitled,  “Can the Church Return to the Faithful?” transgender advocate Jennifer Finney Boylan laments the fact that almost all of her 25 Catholic adult cousins have left the church because of the institution’s all-too-often unwelcoming stance.

6.  A traditionalist Catholic missionary community has bought one of Paris’ well-known gay bars, and they plan to convert it to a church facility, reports London’s Independent newspaper.  The Texas Bar, in the heavily gay Toulon district, will serve as a facility for the nearby parish, Eglise Saint Francois de Paule.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Pope’s Influence Fails to Move Slovaks to Oppose Marriage & Adoption Equality

February 9, 2015

Even with the endorsement of Pope Francis, a referendum to ban same-gender marriage and adoption by lesbian and gay couple in the heavily Catholic European nation of Slovakia failed due to extremely low voter turnout.

Billboard in Slovakia supporting ban on marriage and adoption equality.

At least 50% of the electorate would have had to participate in the referendum, but only 21.4% showed up at the polls,  according to Associated Press news story on LGBTQNation.com

The Catholic bishops in Slovakia supported the referendum’s goals, and last week at the Vatican, Pope Francis encouraged a group of Slovakian pilgrims “to continue their efforts in defense of the family, the vital cell of society.”  This statement was his most direct involvement in a national marriage equality debate.   In addition to the questions about marriage and adoption, the referendum also contained a question about allowing parents to remove their children from sex education classes in schools.

Because the referendum was dependent on a 50% turnout for it to be valid, those who opposed the anti-LGBT measures encouraged voters to refrain from voting.  That strategy seems to have worked. Deutsche Welle reported on the results:

“Ahead of Saturday’s vote, liberals gay rights activists and various media outlets had called on the nation’s electorate to boycott the referendum – a simple tactic which proved to be a success.

” ‘The result shows that a campaign full of prejudice … failed to mobilize people, which is very good news for Slovakia,’ activist Lucia Plavakova told Reuters news agency.”

Those who did turn out to vote overwhelmingly endorsed the ban on marriage equality (95%), adoption (92%), and allowing opting out of sex education (90%).   Slovakia already has a ban on same-gender marriage, civil unions, and adoption.  The referendum was meant to strengthen the bans legally.

One LGBT activist was hopeful following the vote, according to the Associated Press story:

“Romana Schlesinger, a LGBT activist said, she hoped the government will now work to make it possible for same-sex couples to live in registered partnership ‘because all our partnerships, our families are living without legal recognition or protection.’ “

More than 80% of Slovaks are Christian, and of these, most are Catholic.  Billboards (see photo above) picturing the pope giving a thumbs-up sign, with slogans supporting the referendum, appeared across the nation, but they seem to have been ineffective.  LGBTQNation.com offered the following explanatory caption for the photo above:

“A billboard depicting Pope Francis with his thumb up located at Klokocina district in Nitra, Slovakia, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, invites voters to the Slovak national referendum on the protection of the traditional family scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7. The Billboard slogans read (in clock-wise direction from left upper corner: ‘Come to referendum 7.2.2015,’  ‘Vote 3xYES’ and  ‘ “Slovakia fights brave today for the protection of the traditional family” (as a quotation) – Pope Francis, Jan. 22, 2015, in Rome.’ “

Yet, the pope’s role seemed to have little influence on the way that they voted. Despite his charismatic popularity among Catholics worldwide, it seems that Pope Francis’ political message against marriage equality is not as powerful as the power of people who want to respect human dignity, rights, and equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


What to Make of Cardinal Marx’s Ambivalence Toward Gay & Lesbian Couples?

February 8, 2015

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Readers of this blog may become tired over the next year of hearing about Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx.  Yet, it seems that whenever he opens his mouth he has something positive to say in regard to gay and lesbian issues (he has not, to my knowledge, spoken about bisexual or transgender topics).  He is one of Pope Francis’ nine close cardinal advisors, and at last year’s synod, he was one of the leading voices for greater welcome and pastoral outreach for gay and lesbian people and couples.  And already this year, he gave a lecture at Stanford University, California, and during the question period, he addressed gay and lesbian topics positively.

Luke Hansen, SJ, who reported on the Stanford lecture for America magazine, sat down with Cardinal Marx for a one-on-one interview, which the magazine published this week. Again, the prelate had very positive things to say about gay and lesbian people, but he also revealed his limitations on the issue of marriage.  What to make of this ambivalence, which seems to be something common among even the most progressive church leaders today?

When asked what he has learned from committed gay relationships that might influence sexual ethics, Marx answered:

“When speaking about sexual ethics, perhaps we must not begin with sleeping together, but with love, fidelity and the search for a life-long relationship. I am astonished that most of our young people, including Catholic homosexuals who are practicing, want a relationship that lasts forever. The doctrine of the church is not so strange for people. It is true. We must begin with the main points of the doctrine, to see the dream: the dream is to have a person say, a man and woman say, ‘You and you, forever. You and you, forever.’ And we as church say, ‘Yes, that’s absolutely O.K. Your vision is right!’ So we find the way. Then perhaps there is failure. They find the person, and it is not a great success. But life-long fidelity is right and good.

“The church says that a gay relationship is not on the same level as a relationship between a man and a woman. That is clear. But when they are faithful, when they are engaged for the poor, when they are working, it is not possible to say, “Everything you do, because you are a homosexual, is negative.” That must be said, and I have heard no objection. It is not possible to see a person from only one point of view, without seeing the whole situation of a person. That is very important for sexual ethics.

“The same goes for people who are together but marry later, or when they are faithful together but only in a civil marriage. It is not possible to say that the relationship was all negative if the couple is faithful together, and they are waiting, or planning their life, and after 10 years they find the way to come to the sacrament. When possible, we must help the couple to find fulfillment in the sacrament of marriage. We discussed this question at the synod, and many synod fathers share this opinion. I was not alone in this opinion.”

Looking at sexuality broadly in terms of situation, context, and quality of relationship is something that Catholic LGBT advocates and many theologians have been saying for decades now.  It is refreshing to hear a cardinal of the Church echo such sentiments.

But in the next question, which asked Cardinal Marx if he agreed with Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny’s recent statement that the church should find ways to bless the relationships of gay and lesbian couples, he stated a belief in the normativity of heterosexual marriage:

“I said in the synod that Paul VI had a great vision in “Humanae Vitae.” The relationship between a man and a woman is very important. The sexual relationship in a faithful relationship is founded on the connection of procreation, giving love, sexuality and openness to life. Paul VI believed that this connection would be destroyed. He was right; see all the questions of reproductive medicine and so on. We cannot exclude this great model of sexuality, and say, ‘We have diversity,’ or ‘Everybody has the right to….’ The great meaning of sexuality is the relationship between a man and a woman and the openness to give life. I have also previously mentioned the question of accompanying people, to see what people are doing in their lives and in their personal situation.”

It seems that Marx is not yet willing to be bold in support of institutionally recognizing same-gender relationships as equivalent to marriage.  In one sense, his statements are as confusing as Pope Francis’ remarks have been.  On one hand, they something positive, and then on the other hand, they defend traditional marriage. This ambivalence is curious.  Are they afraid that if they support marriage equality strongly that they will be discredited by the majority of bishops who do not hold their opinions?  Or are they truly as ambivalent as they sound, not yet ready to accept marriage.

Both Marx and Francis have spoken of “accompaniment,” and I think that is a good thing.  Some critics think that this accompaniment only means that church ministers will accompany gay and lesbian people on a faith journey that is ultimately leading to the acceptance of celibacy.   No doubt, some ministers will see it that way.

I think, however, that we need to be aware that any sort of pastoral accompaniment means that the minister may be changed as much, or even more so, than those ministered to.  Haven’t you found this in your own experience?  That when you think you are “giving” something to someone in need, you find that you often end up “receiving” much more than you were able to give?

I tend to see calls to accompaniment not as devious ways to get people to change their attitudes, but as ways of dialoguing, which leaves both parties open and vulnerable to change. Accompaniment has been terribly absent from most parishes’ approach to LGBT people.  Shunning and shaming have too often been the official response.   Accompaniment, while not the ideal, does seem to be the next step that is needed in the process of the institutional leaders of the church getting to know and appreciate what so many of us have already seen for so long:  that LGBT people, and their relationships, are wholesome, healthy, and holy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


While Oakland Diocese Relaxes Teacher Contract, San Francisco Tightens Theirs

February 5, 2015

Two dioceses on either side of the San Francisco Bay have taken different approaches to morality clauses in their contracts for Catholic school teachers.  The difference highlights the fact that a detailed, micro-managed approach to employees’ lives is not necessary for a Catholic institution.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco released the “Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church,” one of the most detailed and restrictive of the recent spate of “morality clause” documents which some U.S. dioceses have introduced over the past year.

Bishop Michael Barber

Just the day before, on the other side of the Bay, the Diocese of Oakland released a letter from Bishop Michael Barber to teachers, explaining the new contract revisions of  morality clause language that had been introduced last year.   and at least one principal said that the revisions are more relaxed than last year’s original.

San Francisco’s statement outlines a number of theological concepts that must be affirmed and believed by the school, including the nature of God, the efficacy of the Sacraments, redemption, and the nature of the male-only priesthood.   Additionally, the statement requires affirmation and belief in a number of moral issues including:  opposition to contraception; condemnation of homosexual acts, masturbation, pornography; upholding heterosexual marriage as the only legal option; condemnation of artificial reproductive technology and cloning.

Students in the archdiocese have responded by setting up two Twitter hashtags, #teachacceptance and #trustSFteachers, and an online petition.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

In a letter to teachers, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said:

“At the outset, I wish to state clearly and emphatically that the intention underlying this document is not to target for dismissal from our schools any teachers, singly or collectively, nor does it introduce anything essentially new into the contract or the faculty handbook.”

The archdiocese also released a Q & A list related to the new material in the handbook.

Though the statement is framed as a manifesto of beliefs of the school institution, not of the individuals employed at it, the document also states:

“As effective professionals in a Catholic School setting, we all – administrators, faculty and staff – are required and expected to avoid fostering confusion among the faithful and any dilution of the schools’ primary Catholic mission. Therefore, administrators, faculty and staff of any faith or of no faith, are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny these truths. To that end, further, we all must refrain from public support of any cause or issue that is explicitly or implicitly contrary to that which the Catholic Church holds to be true, both those truths known from revelation and those from the natural law. Those of us who consider themselves to be Catholics but who are not in a state of full assent to the teachings of the Church, moreover, must refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves “Catholic” but support or advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the Church.”

On the other hand, Oakland revised its 2014 statement which originally said:

“In both the employee’s personal and professional life, the employee is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the school or to the Diocese of Oakland.”

The new version states that teachers should:

“demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and refrain from taking a public position contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

While the change here might be subtle, Catholic educators in Oakland expressed satisfaction with the new language, noting that it removed worries that the diocese would be investigating employees’ private lives.

An article on SFGate.com attempted to parse out the distinction:

“What if a teacher is part of an openly married, gay couple — is that a public position? What if a teacher marches in a pro-choice rally? Would a teacher who lives with a partner out of wedlock be fired?

“ ‘No to all of those,’ said Pam Shay, principal of Bishop O’Dowd High School, where parents demonstrated in support of teachers after The Chronicle reported on the details of the contract language change.”

“ ‘Now, if they were wearing their O’Dowd sweatshirt and marching in a (pro-choice) demonstration or posting a picture of them smoking a joint while wearing their school sweatshirt, that might be a different story,’ Shay said.”

The detailed approach that the San Francisco Archdiocese has instituted shows both a remarkable lack of trust in their employees and an incredibly restricted view of Catholicism.  Do they think that the professionals that were hired need to be policed so minutely?  Do they believe that the richness of the Catholic faith, identity, and tradition all boils down to this handful of dogmas and a list of sexual ethics issues? There is nothing in this list about conscience or respecting human dignity.  There is nothing in this list about a wide variety of personal and social sins that are other than ones connected with sexuality.

Perhaps the reason, however, is legal.  The Archdiocese may be listing these items because they want to be able to fire people legally, and not be vulnerable to suit afterwards.  While legal issues are important, pastoral ones are, too.    Though Archbishop Cordileone has said that he did not approve this language to target teachers for dismissal, one has to wonder why else it would have been written in such precise detail.  The future will tell if this language will be used to fire people or not.

Legalistic micro-managing will end up doing intense damage to Catholic schools as an institution in the archdiocese.  If competent professionals in these schools feel threatened by the restrictive language, they will likely seek employment elsewhere.  Parents who want their children to receive a quality education which emphasizes moral responsibility will avoid sending their children to schools that do no better than to cherry-pick morality. Catholic schools will become insular enclaves with no ability to communicate with the outside world.

Catholic schools will need to learn a better way to establish Catholic identity than just figuring out infractions by which to judge teachers’ fitness to educate students.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

National Catholic Reporter: New faculty handbooks in San Francisco to include statement developed by archbishop

SanFranciscoCBSLocal.com: “Gay Sex, Adultery, Masturbation, Porn Are ‘Gravely Evil': SF Archbishop Clarifies Sexual Morality For School Staffs”

East Bay Express: “San Francisco Archbishop’s New Proposed Teacher Contract Calls Gays “Gravely Evil”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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