Cardinal Schönborn: “Amoris Laetitia” Evolves Catholic Doctrine on Family Life

July 8, 2016
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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, right, holding Amoris Laetitia when it was announced in April

A top cardinal who was closely connected to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, has again affirmed the exhortation’s authoritative status, and said it evolves understandings and expressions of Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a Dominican, made these remarks and others in an extensive interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro of the Vatican-reviewed Italian journal, La Civita Cattolica. Excerpts, available here, have been translated into English.

Amoris Laetitia is “the great text of moral theology” the church has awaited since Vatican II, America quoted Schönborn as saying. It is moving the church from ” ‘a defensive pastoral style in which evil becomes an obsession’ toward one that focuses on recognizing the value of encouraging what is good.” Asked about the exhortation’s authority and the exhortation’s relation to Catholic doctrine–in light of criticisms that it is a minor document, or even only the pope’s opinion, as Cardinal Raymond Burke claimed–Schönborn said:

“It is obvious that this is an act of the magisterium. . .I have no doubt that it must be said that this is a pontifical document of great quality, an authentic teaching of sacra doctrina, which leads us back to the contemporary relevance of the Word of God. . .

“In this sphere of human realities, the Holy Father has fundamentally renewed the discourse of the Church – certainly along the lines of Evangelii gaudium, but also of Gaudium et spes, which presents doctrinal principles and reflections on human beings today that are in a continuous evolution. There is a profound openness to accept reality.”

Schönborn said Pope Francis rejected doctrine which is “abstract pronouncements that are separated from the subject who lives,” saying the exhortation’s “bedrock” is understanding that families are not ideals but rather are journeying. He continued:

“The complexity of family situations, which goes far beyond what was customary in our Western societies even a few decades ago, has made it necessary to look in a more nuanced way at the complexity of these situations. To a greater degree than in the past, the objective situation of a person does not tell us everything about that person in relation to God and in relation to the Church. This evolution compels us urgently to rethink what we meant when we spoke of objective situations of sin. And this implicitly entails a homogeneous evolution in the understanding and in the expression of the doctrine.”

In short, Schönborn clarified, “There is no general norm that can cover all the particular cases.”

Other bishops have affirmed Amoris Laetitia‘s authority as they consider how it should be implemented. Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, Malta, called church ministers to exercise “cautious discernment and respect” when encountering people in irregular situations, reported the Independent. Naming LGBT Catholics in civil unions, Grech said:

“Our pastoral activity should be based on four actions – accepting, accompanying, discerning and integrating. The Pope tells us it is important that we help divorced people who are in a new relationship to feel part of the church, that they are not excommunicated or regarded as such, because they also form part of the ecclesiastical communion.”

Grech, whose record on LGBT issues is generally positive, encouraged church ministers not to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “torture chamber.” Instead, he said the church must engage people as people, not situations, and to “[be] mindful of the language you use.”

Yet despite Schönborn and others’ insistence that Amoris Laetitia represents a development of doctrine, especially in its respect for the complexities of family life today, not all bishops have treated it as such.

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on new guidelines from Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput establishing general norms in the archdiocese that ban LGBT people from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to Catholics in non-traditional families. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on these guidelines here.

Debates about Amoris Laetitia will certainly continue for months, if not years. What is important for LGBT Catholics and their advocates, however, is the growing admission by church leaders that doctrine can and has developed when it comes to family life. Opponents of same-gender sexual activity, relationships, and marriage equality frequently say church teaching is unchanging. But Cardinal Schönborn’s interview makes clear such a view is false, and that beyond the clear pastoral recommendations there are doctrinal implications, too. His voice possesses tremendous weight. He was the spokesperson at the April press conference that made Amoris Laetitia available to the public.  He appeared alongside a married Italian couple and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri, the Synod of Bishops’ secretary general.  In the 1990s,  Schönborn oversaw publication of the most recent edition of the Catechism.

The progressive changes sought by many Catholics on gender and sexuality issues were not accomplished in or by Amoris Laetitia. And Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines are evidence the document can and will be misinterpreted by church leaders who wish to suppress pastoral and doctrinal evolution. But there is tremendous hope in the reality that a growing number of church leaders are admitting change is possible, and even needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Accepts Resignation of Dominican Cardinal Infamous for Anti-Gay Remarks

July 6, 2016
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Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez

The Vatican has accepted the resignation of a cardinal in the Dominican Republic whose anti-gay record has sparked repeated controversies on the island nation and beyond.

Like every bishop, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of Santo Domingo submitted his letter of resignation on his 75th birthday five years ago. Pope Francis has just accepted it and named his successor. Catholics and LGBT advocates alike have made repeated calls for the cardinal to retire since he began his high-profile anti gay remarks in 2013.

López has attacked LGBT communities, and specifically gay U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, on multiple occasions. He used an anti-gay slur to refer to the ambassador in 2013 and said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  Last December the cardinal said that Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.”

López’s visibility has diminished since late 2015, referenced in Dominican media as “the cardinal’s lone silence.” His resignation now comes a day after Santo Domingo Pride celebrations concluded, and many LGBT advocates expressed relief. Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigos told the Washington Blade“I feel a great piece of mind.”

López will be succeeded by Archbishop-elect Francisco Ozoria Acosta of San Pedro de Macorís. Austin Ivereigh of Crux noted that, with this move, Pope Francis has appointed a “low-profile pastor from a small diocese” into the symbolically powerful position of Primate of the Americas.

Archbishop-elect Francisco Ozoria Acosta

Ozoria is not well known, even in the Dominican Republic. He acknowledged this fact to the media, saying “I’m sure this has been a surprise to you all. . .most surprised of all was me.” But he is above all a pastor, reported Ivereigh. He studied and then taught pastoral theology before becoming a parish priest and, later, a pastorally-oriented bishop. Ozoria identified himself as a “passionate follower of the Second Vatican Council, above all of the ecclesiology of communion” and invoked the Council’s affirmation of the universal call to holiness to stress how all baptized Catholics should participate in the life of the church. Leslie Torres, director of Televida, a Catholic television channel in the Dominican Republic, offered this description:

” ‘He’s a pastor who’s approachable, humble and straightforward, with a great capacity for listening and dialogue. . .[he is] able to look at his people with a big heart.’ “

LGBT advocate and politician Deivis Ventura also praised Ozoria. He called the archbishop-elect “a man who is known for his moderation and prudence in the management of religious and social issues,” reported the Washington Blade. Ozoria reflects the mixed-race identities of most Dominicans, and has controversially championed migrants’ rights. Ventura was certain the archbishop-elect “will show a distinct vision of the church.”

This shift in pastoral priorities is significant in at least three ways for LGBT Catholics in the Dominican Republic and abroad.

First, in accepting his resignation, the Vatican did not acknowledge the harm that Cardinal López has caused. There is no evidence this move is linked to his anti-LGBT behavior, a notable omission given its pattern and severity.  It is especially disappointing given Pope Francis’ expressed desire for the church to apologize to lesbian, bisexual, and gay people it has harmed.

Second, Pope Francis’ appointment of Archbishop-elect Ozoria emphasizes the pope’s commitment to church leaders who are foremost pastors serving God’s people, with love through dialogue. That Ozoria has a reputation for listening and dialogue, and was even welcomed by a prominent LGBT advocate are hopeful signs.  We hope this is another sign that the pope is intent on replacing hard-line conservatives with pastoral listeners.

Third, López’s resignation and Ozoria’s succession are positive steps, but they do not eliminate a Dominican hierarchy whose alienation of LGBT people, and specifically Ambassador Brewster, has been deeply problematic. Bishop Victor Masalles, an auxiliary of Santo Domingo, recently led protests against the Organization of American States’ meeting for its alleged promotion of “ideological colonization.” He said previously that Ambassador Brewster was “abusing power,” sentiments echoed in the Dominican Episcopal Conference’s letter against the diplomat. A Catholic school in the capital posted three signs just before Holy Week this year announcing it had banned Brewster and his husband from campus.

These incidents reveal the deep wound that López’s lengthy tenure has afflicted on LGBT people and on the Dominican church. Thankfully, he has been removed from leadership, even though it could have been done sooner. Archbishop-elect Ozoria should begin a reconciliation process after being installed in September. He might start by listening to Pope Francis’ recommendation and offer an apology to those people the church under Cardinal López had hurt.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Fired Lesbian Teacher Wins Discrimination Case Against Catholic School in Italy

June 28, 2016
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Students at L’Istituto Sacro Cuore

A Catholic school in Italy has been found guilty of discrimination for firing a teacher based on speculation about her sexual orientation.

A labor court fined L’Istituto Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart Institute) in Trent 25,000 euros, reported Religion News Service (RNS), payable to the former teacher. The Institute must pay an additional 1,500 euros to both a labor union and civil rights association. Alexander Schuster, the anonymous teacher’s lawyer, celebrated the ruling as protecting church workers’ rights to privacy, saying:

” ‘The use of contraceptives, choices such as cohabitation, divorce, abortion, are among the most intimate decisions a person can make and must not concern an employer.’ “

The teacher, for whom reports used the pseudonym “Silvia,” claimed that, in a meeting with Sister Eugenia Libratore, the school’s headmistress and mother superior of the religious order which runs the Institute, Silvia was asked about her relationship with a woman with whom she lives. The headmistress said she had heard rumors about Silvia being a lesbian woman, and sought to clarify the teacher’s relationship in the interests of ‘protecting the school environment.’

Under scrutiny, Silvia refused to answer any questions in that meeting and rejected Libratore’s suggestion that the headmistress could “turn a blind eye if [Silvia] was willing to ‘solve the problem.'”

Silvia later came out as a lesbian women who is in a partnership after her teaching contract was not renewed by the school. Thoughs Silvia was a veteran teacher whose job performance was deemed “adequate and professional,” Libratore defended the firing on the grounds that Catholic identity “must be defended at all costs.” At the time, Silvia described her firing as “medieval.”

The labor court ruled that assuming a church worker’s sexual orientation in an  employment evaluation is discrimination. RNS noted:

“Going further, the court argued it was a case of collective discrimination, because the incident would have a damaging effect on anyone potentially interested in working at the school.”

Italy made employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation illegal in 2003. When Silvia was fired in 2014, the Italian government’s Education Minister Stefania Giannini became involved in the case. Some 20 senators supported Silvia.

Victories in cases of discrimination against LGBT church workers and their allies are rare. Of the more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since 2007, only a handful have won legal cases, had church institutions reverse their decision, or had church institutions defend LGBT employees.

Silvia’s win in Italy is a positive step, especially in a country where the Catholic hierarchy still heavily influences politics. This year, despite ecclesiastical opposition, Italian legislators advanced LGBT rights by passing a civil unions law. More firings could be on the horizon as more couples enter legal partnerships and marriage.  Church leaders could end this firing scourge by prioritizing the gifts and contribution that these church workers bring, and by respecting the privacy of their lives outside the workplace.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Vigil for Orlando Victims Displaces Gay-Negative Lecture at Catholic School

June 22, 2016
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Bishop Peter Ingham and Emma Rodrigues

A Catholic school in Australia replaced a lecture against marriage equality with a candlelight vigil for victims of the mass shooting in Orlando which targeted an LGBT nightclub. The vigil is but one of many ways by which Catholics have shown their support for the victims and their families, and solidarity with LGBT communities.

Parents at St. Therese School in Wollongong, New South Wales, protested the scheduling of a lecture against marriage equality  by the Australian Family Association (AFA), reported the Illawara Mercury. AFA had used harsh language against same-gender relationships in its promotional materials for the event. Parents described the school’s use of its parent email list to promote the lecture as “extremely bigoted” and “totally inappropriate.” Against the school community’s calls for the event to be cancelled, Bishop Peter Ingham had defended the lecture and the hierarchy’s teaching on marriage.

After the Orlando incident, however, the lecture was replaced by a candlelight vigil for victims organized by Emma Rodrigues, an LGBTQI advocate.  Perhaps the surprise of the event was when Bishop Ingham showed up and stood side-by-side with Rodrigues. Tim Smyth of Acceptance, a Catholic LGBT group in Sydney, noted:

“While the vigil displaced a planned talk at the school that evening by a group opposed to marriage equality (and those with a more cynical bent might question the sequence of events), postponing the talk to make way for a vigil to remember the Orlando nightclub massacre victims and agreeing to the photo, is a step forward, albeit small.”

Smyth informed Bondings 2.0 of another positive Catholic LGBT development in Australia at the Installation Mass for Bishop Vincent Long, OFM, of Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney. Smyth reported that Long’s homily included “the first public statement by an Australian Bishop calling for spaces in our church for gay and lesbian Catholics.” Smyth continued:

“Bishop Long, a refugee from Vietnam, noted that the Catholic Church has ‘not lived up to that fundamental ethos of justice, mercy and care who have been hurt by our own actions and inactions’. Bishop Long went on to refer to Pope Francis’ call for a Church ‘where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel’. Bishop Long then stated that ‘there can be no future for the living Church without there being space for those who have been hurt, damaged or alienated, be they abuse victims, survivors, divorcees, gays, lesbians or disaffected members. I am committed to make the Church in Parramatta the house for all peoples, a Church where therein less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity’.”
In the U.S., more bishops have acknowledged the shooting as targeting LGBT people, though some used language such as “same sex attraction” and “lifestyle” to allude to the LGBT dimension of the tragedy. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, reflected more extensively and sympathetically on Orlando in his column for diocesan newspaper, The Evangelistwhere he wrote:
“But whatever — or whoever — possessed this man last Sunday morning to enter the Orlando nightclub Pulse, described by its owner as ‘a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community,’ Mateen’s objective seemed clear enough: to put a violent end to defenseless members of a class of human beings simply because they existed and he did not want them to live. . .
“At this time, we must state unequivocally that our respect for the dignity of all human beings includes those who themselves identify or are associated in the judgment of others as members of the LGBTQ community, a class whose vulnerability to acts of terrorism was graphically and shockingly exposed at the massacre in Orlando.”

Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport said, “There can be no place in our midst for hatred and bigotry against our brothers and sisters who experience same sex attraction or for anyone who is marginalized by the larger society.”

Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine said a massacre should not be necessary to “recognize our shared humanity, regardless of our lifestyle or paradigm of marriage and human sexuality, and that Catholics must attended to all people including the “gays and lesbians in our families.”

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500+ marchers in Seattle honoring Orlando victims (Photo: St. James Cathedral)

Faith communities and religious congregations have shown their solidarity not only with the victims in Orlando but with LGBT communities suffering in its aftermath.

More than 500 Seattle residents walked through that city’s LGBT neighborhood from the Episcopal cathedral to the Catholic one to honor those people killed, and to call for stronger gun control laws. Fr. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Catholic Cathedral, said there was “no better way” to express solidarity and call the community to prayer “in a very dark and painful moment” than this walk, reported the National Catholic Reporter.

In Washington, D.C., Dignity/Washington organized an interfaith vigil that drew hundreds to the city’s Dupont Circle.

In Indiana, the Sisters of Providence hosted a prayer service at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Terre Haute, to express solidarity with the victims and their families.

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Vigilers gathered in Dupont Circle

A statement from Franciscan provincials in the U.S., reported by the National Catholic Reporter, said the order stands “shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBT brothers and sisters as they grieve and try to make sense of this tragedy. To them we say clearly: We stand with you.”

Fr. Pat Browne of Holy Apostles Parish in London reflected on the hate-fueled violence which struck down not only 49 people in Orlando last week, but resulted in the murder of British MP Jo Cox. Browne, who is a chaplain to the Houses of Parliament, wrote:

“As followers of Christ it is the mission of all Catholics and Christians to ensure that everyone, regardless of their colour, their creed, their sexual orientation is VISIBLE and VALUABLE. If you want to argue with that and say No, there is an exception…he didn’t mean….then you have got it wrong. Which group have you got a problem with? Gays? Migrants? Beggars on the street? There is no-one Christ omits from the warm embrace of his love. If YOU want to, then best be honest. Leave the Church. YOU ARE NOT OF CHRIST.”

Noting the Scottish church’s continued silence after Orlando, Kevin McKenna wrote in The Guardian:

“I remain hopeful that the Catholic church in Scotland will join with Scotland’s main political parties and the majority of its citizens to express sorrow at what happened in a gay Orlando nightclub last weekend. The victims were children of God and loved by [God] and so are those in the LGBT community who today feel a little more fearful and vulnerable as a result. The church to which I belong must now also reach out to them.”

Despite these positive responses from around the world, problematic responses are beginning to increase. Conservative Catholic outlets have published pieces that suggest church leaders should not be in solidarity with LGBT people or that claim anti-LGBT Christians are being attacked after Orlando. Melinda Selmys responded critically to such notions at her blog, Catholic Authenticity:

“Erasing the fact that the attack on the Pulse was likely motivated, at least in part, by religious homophobia is cowardly. As evidence arises to suggest that the killings may have been sparked by internalized homophobia, the Church really needs to be all the more forceful in communicating that homophobic hatred and violence are unacceptable. . .

“Instead, we have virtual silence from the hierarchy. We are left to grieve alone, unacknowledged by our spiritual fathers. And we have articles, like this one, that use one of the greatest tragedies ever to strike our community as an opportunity to argue that that community is illegitimate, that it must never be accepted, acknowledged, named.”

 

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 explored the religious roots involved in the mass shooting in Orlando that targeted an LGBT nightclub. This reality means faith traditions have a responsibility to respond strongly when violence strikes. Catholic faithful and pastors, by their words and acts, are showing that the church is the people of God, and that God’s people stand in solidarity with LGBT people, especially in their time of need.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Westboro Baptist Church Targets Catholic University; More LGBT Campus News

June 7, 2016
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Students gathered at Loyola University Maryland

Graduation ceremonies concluded and degrees conferred, it is time for the final “Campus Chronicles” of this spring semester.

Below are several of many LGBT-related happenings in Catholic higher education. These testify, once again, to the good work that ensures campuses are safer and more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ students and staff, and also serve as a model for the rest of our church.

Westboro Baptist Church Pickets Jesuit Campus

Protests by the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) led to unity at Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore, where community members rallied in support of LGBTQ members.  WBC is a Topeka, Kansas-based church, founded by Rev. Fred Phelps, whose members travel across the nation with vile messages on their signs to protest LGBTQ equality.

Only three WBC members were actually present at the April protest, reported the Baltimore Post-Examiner. They were met by many more counter-protesters, including alumni, and at least one hundred current students. University officials barred WBC from campus, with University spokesperson Nick Alexopulos saying the school celebrated diversity and would “remain united. . .as One Loyola.”

WBC had targeted Loyola Maryland in part because of its two LGBT student organizations, reported The Baltimore Sun. Student Kelly Mueller defended these organizations in advance of the protests, writing in The Odyssey:

“When you attacked the Jesuits, the Theology Club, Spectrum, and OUT Loyola, you attacked our entire community, and we will not stand for it. . .If you come to campus, I hope you can see past your bigotry and recognize the true spirit of God’s love present on our campus.”

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Sign used for WBC counter-protests

Spectrum, LGBT and Allies group,  said on Facebook that the counter-protest meant “the message of love prevailed.” WBC’s protests coincided with the University’s Sexual and Gender Diversity Awareness Week, which reports on social media said was quite successful. WBC had also planned to picket Archbishop Curley High School and Catholic High School of Baltimore, too, but there are no reports that they actually showed up at either school.

Other Notable Happenings

The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA will begin offering gender-neutral housing options next year to accommodate trans* students and those students seeking a more affirming LGBTQ living environment.

Marquette University, Milwaukee, announced the new LGBT+ Alumni Council which will expand development outreach to LGBT alumni and raise scholarship funds designated for LGBT students at the University.

Saint Francis University in Loretto, PA hosted its first LGBTQ Awareness Week in March, reported student newspaper The Troubador. Aimed at fostering a respect for everyone consistent with the school’s Franciscan mission, the week’s programming featured panel discussions, a film screening, and faculty lectures.

USA Today’s recent article exploring college athletics and Title IX religious exemptions positively featured the inclusive policies of two Catholic colleges: the University of Notre Dame and Fordham University. While a number of Catholic institutions have sought to exempt themselves from LGBT protections on religious grounds, this article reveals the positive steps which other Catholic schools have taken to protect all students in advance of new regulations.

Know more good news happening for LGBT inclusion in Catholic higher education? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below or send a tip to info@newwaysministry.org.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Church Must Change “Deficient Mindset” on Homosexuality, Says German Jesuit

June 5, 2016
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Fr. Klaus Mertes

Appealing to lesbian and gay Catholics to remain in the church, a German priest said the church must change its “deficient mindset” on homosexuality and must defend human rights.

Jesuit Fr. Klaus Mertes was interviewed by the German newspaper Taz [Editor’s note: Translations based upon Google Translate and the National Catholic Reporter article linked below]. Asked why lesbian and gay Catholics should remain in the church, especially after Pope Francis’ disappointing exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the priest replied:

” ‘I know many Catholic gays and lesbians who refuse to be ostracized and who remain in the church despite what they have had to and are having to suffer. . .This helps me to see that the church has a great deal to offer. Every Catholic who leaves the church at the same time loses contact with their spiritual home in the church community, with their weekly encounter with the Gospel, the Eucharist and the Sacraments. That is a big loss.”

Mertes was clear, however, that he respected people who choose to leave the church. He also noted the many Catholic parents he has met seek greater solidarity from the church for their LGBT children.

Mertes condemned present church teachings on homosexuality, saying the “deficient mindset” about them must be reformed. Noting that sexual morality is indivisible from reproduction in present church teaching, he said the church should instead consider sexual morality in view of charity and relationship, rather than “a concept of nature which views the sexual act in isolation.”

Speaking about the struggle for human rights, the priest criticized the hierarchy’s inaction on defending LGBT people from discrimination and violence. With its global influence, the church should be ensuring their basic rights are protected, including the ability to be openly gay without being ostracized. Mertes said vocally opposing the death penalty for homosexuality would “at least be a beginning” from church leaders, adding:

” ‘I am appalled that the church is so silent on this issue. It saddens me to see that in some African countries where homosexuals can be imprisoned or even put to death for holding hands in public, the church does not demand that homosexuals at least be given the most elementary human rights.’ “

Mertes called upon Catholics to work actively for such LGBT reforms in church teaching and practice, stating:

” ‘All of us [Catholics] — homosexuals and heterosexuals — must join together to get the church to give up its deficient mindset on homosexuality. . .The Catholic Church is a world church. In Europe it took us 200 years to get as far as we are at present on this issue. Africa and Southeast Asia are still miles from where we are, but the struggle to achieve for gay rights the world over is worth staying in the church for. . .

” ‘[Ireland’s passage of marriage equality by referendum in 2015 is an] example of how, after decades of struggle from inside a predominantly Catholic culture takes place an opening for the rights of gay people. That’s how it goes. Processes must come from within, because only then they are sustainable.’ “

Fr. Mertes is known as a church whistleblower in Germany, having published letters in 2011 from students who survived teachers’ abuse at a Jesuit school in the country. His latest interview, while not whistleblowing, retells a truth about the church and LGBT issues that many people already know but that must keep being proclaimed as loudly and boldly as possible.

   *     *     *     *     *     *     *

For those who are interested in the topic of why LGBT Catholics stay in the Church, tune into Call To Action’s webinar entitledHome Is Where the Heart Is: Being LGBTQI & Home in the Catholic Church,” led by Owen Borda, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Keuka College, New York.   The webinar takes place Wednesday, June 22, 7:00 pm.  You can register by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Article:

National Catholic Reporter, “Whistleblower: Catholics must work together to change church’s mindset on homosexuality


Untying the Knots and “Nots” of Natural Law Theory

May 30, 2016

One of the most frequent questions I get asked from Catholic advocates of LGBT equality is how to counter natural law arguments which condemn lesbian and gay relationships.  For many people, natural law, with its basis in philosophy, can be a daunting area of knowledge to engage or refute.  People tend to shrink from it more because it seems impenetrable than because they don’t want to acknowledge what its negative messages about LGBT issues.  And the way it has been applied by Church leaders it seems to be not just a jumble of knots, but of “nots,” as well.

U.S. Catholic ran an essay “The Church might be approaching natural law in the wrong way,” by Patrick McCormick, a professor of Christian ethics at Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington, which not only does a good job of explaining natural law theory, but interprets it in a way that can be used to affirm lesbian and gay relationships. This essay appeared in the magazine in October 2014, at the time we were busy covering the news of the first synod, so it eluded our attention, then.  It recently appeared on our desktops, and, even though it was not published recently, we felt it was too good of a resource not to pass along to our readers.

McCormick recognizes that huge numbers of Catholics around the globe are largely ignoring church teaching based in law, particularly with those teachings that concern gender and sexuality.  He traces the problem to Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae encyclical in 1968, which re-affirmed the church’s teaching banning artificial contraception.  Paul, in writing the encylical, relied on natural law theory to persuade people, but it did not succeed.  McCormick writes:

“Unlike doctrinal teachings that we accept on faith, moral teachings should be supported by clear and transparent arguments with evidence capable of persuading people of good will. You should not just order Catholics to believe that contraception is always wrong. You need to persuade them, using reason to show the rightness of church teaching. So the pope relied on so-called natural law arguments to defend the church’s ban on contraception.

“Overwhelmingly, however, Catholic theologians, pastors, and laity were not convinced by the natural law arguments in Humanae Vitae. In the nearly half-century that followed, a growing number of Catholics around the world have found church teachings on sexuality, gender, and reproductive technologies unpersuasive and unreasonable.”

But our social relationships often get overlooked when church leaders discuss natural law, who use it simply as a primer for biology.  As sexuality deals with a great deal more than biology, this application is inadequate.  McCormick calls for a new understanding of natural law:

“According to natural law, we must act in accord with our nature as humans when making moral judgments. And since humans are by nature rational, free, social, and equal creatures made in the image and likeness of God, this means that we must always use our reason to solve moral problems. It also means that we must always and everywhere preserve and protect the sanctity, liberty, and equality of all people, and treat them as ends in themselves and never as mere means. It furthermore means that we must recognize and honor the social ties that bind us to others and defend the social networks and communities that allow persons to flourish.

“Natural law obliges us to use reason when solving moral problems and to treat all other humans with respect and dignity. The duty to be reasonable obligates us to look long and hard for the truth, examining all the evidence, listening to all the experts, attending to everyone’s experience, and acknowledging our own mistakes and biases. This is extremely hard and humbling work, which must be done in conversation with others, and which is never finished. Meanwhile, the duty to respect others obliges us to practice justice, to defend a wide range of human rights and liberties, and to honor our obligations to persons and communities everywhere.”

Looking at sexuality through an interpretation of natural law that only examines biological data ignores the many other facets of human personhood we experience.  McCormick critiques the biologically-based interpretation:

“The problem with this kind of natural law reasoning, which tends to show up in church teachings on sexuality, is that it overlooks the big picture of our human nature. It confuses the nature of people with the function of their organs. When individuals or couples are trying to figure out what God is expecting of them in their bedroom or marriage, it is simply not enough to know how our organs are supposed to work. We have to pay attention to the bigger picture of our lives and families, and to the circumstances, contexts, and consequences of our actions, not just the function of our sexual faculties. “

One of the biggest problems associated with the way Church leaders have applied natural law is that it is often employed with the threat that no dissent or discussion can be allowed.  For McCormick, this is most un-natural:

“Our nature as humans obliges us to use our God-given reason to sort out moral problems in the area of sexuality, and to use this reason in ways that respect the dignity of all people and communities. We need to work together to understand the meanings and purposes of human sexuality and the answers to our moral questions in this area. As noted, natural law demands that we examine all the evidence. That means paying attention to everyone’s experiences, listening to differing and opposing opinions, self-critically examining our own biases, and entering into dialogue with others.”

And, in McCormick’s view, a true use of natural law would also include the humility to re-evaluate our own opinions:

“More than anything else, natural law obliges us to be reasonable. It calls us to treat others as reasonable persons by presenting them with clear and persuasive arguments. The same natural law morally binds us to use reason to critically examine our own arguments and to listen to the criticisms and objections of those who disagree with us. It requires us to revisit and rethink our positions in light of new and broader experience and evidence. Natural law compels us to recognize the dignity, equality, and freedom of others.”

If you would like to read McCormick’s essay in its entirety, which I would recommend, you can do so by clicking here.  You’ll be treated to an understandable explanation of natural law and be supplied with some useful ways to counter-argue natural law ideas when they are tossed your way.   And let’s not forget that though McCormick wrote in 2014, since then Pope Francis has expressed a similar view of natural law to the theologian’s ideas. In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis has encouraged pastors and leaders to avoid a narrow understanding of natural law, and to embrace a more holistic approach.  In paragraph 305, the pope wrote:

 . . . a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, ‘sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult case and wounded􀀃 familie”. Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that ‘natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions’. Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin –which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.􀀃 Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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