Cupich: Synod Would Have Gained from Hearing from Lesbian and Gay Couples

October 17, 2015

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

In an unscheduled press conference at the Synod on Friday, Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich agreed that it would have been helpful for the meeting’s process to have lesbian and gay people, as well as those divorced and remarried, address the bishops.


Archbishop Blase Cupich

In a crowded room filled with reporters, Cupich, who was appointed archbishop of Chicago by Pope Francis, and also appointed to the synod by the pontiff, spoke candidly of the synod process in an upbeat and genial tone. When I had the chance, I asked him:

“Would it have been helpful to the bishops and synod participants to hear from gay and lesbian couples, divorced couples, people who disagree with the current teaching or whose consciences have told them something else?”

Cupich answered quickly and matter-0f-factly:

“Yes, it may have been.  I know that myself, when I did the consultation in my diocese, I did have those voices as part of my consultation, and put that in my report, and so maybe that’s the way they were represented.  But I do think that we could benefit from  the actual voices of people who feel marginalized rather than having them filtered through the voices of other representatives or the bishops.  There is something important about that, I have found personally.”

Cupich, who had mentioned that the Church should accompany divorced/remarried people in conscience formation, was asked by another reporter if he thought the same principle would apply to same-sex couples in the Church, an area that is a newly public phenomenon, given the advent of marriage equality.   Cupich’s answer was again simple and direct:

“Gay people are human beings, too.  They have a conscience, and my role as a pastor is to help them discern what the will of God is, by looking at the objective moral teaching of the Church, and yet, at the same time, helping them through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at that point.  It’s for everybody. We have to make sure that we don’t pigeonhole one group as though they’re not part of the human family–so that there’s a different set of rules for them.  That would be, I think, a big mistake. “

Another reporter asked about the rumors that the synod may revise moral language such as “indissolubility” and “disordered,” and Cupich replied:

“We have to speak to families the way families recognize themselves. Yes, it’s important to have various principles, general principles, categories, words from our tradition, and so on.  And, yet, if we really do want to engage people, they have to recognize that we know their life [through] the way that we speak.”

Speaking about the much debated topics of mercy for people and calling them to conversion, Cupich offered this analysis:

“We have to believe in the mercy of God and the grace of God to trigger conversion rather than having it the other way around, as though you’re only going to get mercy if you have the conversion. The economy of salvation doesn’t work that way. Christ receives people, and it’s because of that mercy that the conversion happens many, many times in the Scriptures.”

Cupich spoke about the need for the Church to start treating adult people as adults, guiding them along the way, but allowing them to develop their consciences.  The National Catholic Reporter provided his comments in this regard:

” ‘I try to help people along the way,’ said Cupich. ‘And people come to a decision in good conscience.’

” ‘Then our job with the church is to help them move forward and respect that,’ he said. ‘The conscience is inviolable. And we have to respect that when they make decisions and I’ve always done that.’ “

He went on to expand on this idea more fully:

” ‘We have the means by which we can help people come to important decisions about how they live their Christian life,’ said Cupich. ‘This is a moment that I think highlights the need for that kind of catechesis all the more.’

” Catechesis cannot be just about giving people the fixed doctrines … but also helping them, accompanying them by showing them the way, the path that the church has outlined in terms of making prudent decisions,’ he said.

“The Chicago archbishop also quoted a 2009 document from the International Theological Commission on the role of natural law, saying it is ‘a very important piece for this Synod.’

That document states: ‘In morality pure deduction by syllogism is not adequate. The more the moralist confronts concrete situations, the more he must have recourse to the wisdom of experience, an experience that integrates the contributions of the other sciences and is nourished by contact with men and women engaged in the action.’

” ‘We can’t just refer to doctrines as though they’re syllogisms that we deduce a conclusion to,’ said Cupich. ‘There has to be that integration of a person’s circumstances, case by case in their life.’ . . .

” ‘Syllogisms are important,’ he said. ‘General principles are important. But there’s a limitation on how that allows us the freedom to address real life situations that I believe is in concert with what the church teaches.’ “

Crux captured another part of the interview where Cupich spoke about the power of personal encounters:

“He said that it is important for Church leaders to listen to and engage with individual believers in order to understand their issues as they craft appropriate pastoral responses.

” ‘If we’re really going to accompany people, we have to first of all engage them,’ he said. ‘In Chicago, I visit regularly with people who feel marginalized, whether they’re the elderly, or the divorced and remarried, gay and lesbian individuals, also couples.’

” ‘I think we need to really get to know what their life is like if we’re going to accompany them,’ he continued.”

After 12 days of being at the synod, Cupich’s presentation was the most refreshing pastoral contribution I have heard yet.

While this synod may not produce our hoped-for outcomes,  I had a sense today that if Pope Francis continues to appoint bishops in the mold of Cupich, the next synod, or any future discussion of marriage and family, will certainly be very positive.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Synod Fathers on Gay Issues Couldn’t Be Any Further Apart Than They Already Are

October 12, 2015

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

As God rested on the Sabbath, so too do the synod participants.  As a result, there was no discussion on Sunday, and no press briefing.  This pause gives me a little time to report on some of the interviews that journalists have done with synod fathers.

Of course, my interest is in what the bishops in these interviews say about LGBT issues.  It is amazing how far apart some of them are.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, of Munich, was interviewed by German television last week, and The National Catholic Reporter offered highlights.  Of LGBT issues, Marx said:

Pope Francis had met with an opponent of same-sex marriage but had also embraced homosexual partners on his U.S. visit, which many Catholics found most confusing, his interviewer remarked. Views on same-sex partnerships and same-sex marriage differed greatly from country to country, Marx said.

” ‘We must make it clear that we do not only judge people according to their sexual orientation,’ said Marx. ‘If a same-sex couple are faithful, care for one another and intend to stay together for life God won’t say “All that doesn’t interest me, I’m only interested in your sexual orientation.” That is impossible and it is an issue we must discuss — but it won’t be a main subject at this synod. As I have pointed out, the main subject will be the importance of marriage and the family and how to protect them in today’s world.’ “

On the other side, Kenyan Cardinal John Njue, of Nairobi, spoke with Crux, and offered strong words of opposition to any development on LGBT issues that might happen at the synod:

” ‘It is there in the Bible,’ he says, referring to the Church’s teaching against homosexuality. ‘It is clear.’

” ‘I think there is not much option,’ Njue said. ‘There are facts, such as the fact that God created humanity as Adam and Eve. Whenever someone starts running away from their identity, whatever they do will certainly not be the right thing.’

Cardinal John Njue

” ‘If we come to the point of saying that can be changed, there is no logic behind it, with all due respect,’ he said. . . .

“Even while rejecting the idea of criminalizing homosexuality, Njue still insisted on the right of the Church to flag gay relationships as flawed.

” ‘Where there is a mistake, a way must be found to help people who have made the mistake to understand that they have done something wrong and need to turn around,’ he said. . . .

“Africa’s Catholic bishops have sometimes been accused of either ambivalence or silence with regard to such measures, but Njue rejected those charges.

” ‘It’s not a question of criminalizing or condemning, but we have every right to help the person understand that the way you are living is not how you’re supposed to be,’ Njue said.”

I cannot think of two more opposite opinions about gay and lesbian people and their relationships.  My growing sense, though, is that Marx may be right in that homosexuality will not be the major issue of this year’s synod.  My hunch–and it is only a hunch–is that the participants realize that there is little room for negotiation in this area because people’s positions are so strongly held.  If the difference of opinion is obvious to an outside observer like myself, I can only imagine that it is even more plainly obvious to those involved in the private synod discussions.

Marx’s first point, though, is also right:  though homosexuality may not be a major focus like it was last year, it certainly will be discussed.  Last week, an Italian Cardinal insisted that the discussion of gay and lesbian issues is relevant to the family synod agenda.  Crux reported:

Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli

“One of the hot button issues being discussed by bishops is how the Church ministers — or doesn’t — to gay and lesbian Catholics, a topic one cardinal defended.

“Italian Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo scoffed at the notion that synod delegates should stick only to finding ways to promote orthodox teaching about families.

“When asked by a reporter why bishops were discussing issues related to gays and lesbians, he said, ‘This is part and parcel of the family reality for many reasons.’ “

Wise words from Menichelli.  Though the discussion of families with LGBT members, both as parents and as children, will be a tough one, it is not one that the bishops can easily shirk if they want their synod report to have any relevance to the modern world.  And I’m not even suggesting here that doctrinal change be debated, since obviously that is a non-starter at this point.  But there are so many pastoral challenges that bishops can address related to LGBT people, and they are challenges for which bishops, priests, and other church leaders need guidance.

I outlined some of these challenges in an interview this week with Crux’s Michael O’Loughlin, and so I will simply provide some excerpts from that report to detail what I think the Church needs:

” ‘A change in language and a change in pastoral practice are needed because justice demands it,’ [Francis DeBernardo] says. ‘Justice and Christian charity demand it.’

‘ ‘We have people being excluded from Communion, being excluded from being godparents, being fired from jobs because they marry, being denied leadership roles in parish communities, being excluded at funerals of their relatives,’ he said. ‘Any positive step on issues like that would be wonderful.’

” ‘A success would be a statement of unconditional welcome to LGBT people. That’s needed right now [because] while there is welcome in some areas, there are so many places where officially they are not welcome,’ he said. ‘A statement of unconditional welcome is so needed, and if that’s all we get from the synod, that will still be a success.’

” ‘When I say unconditional, I don’t mean, “We welcome people who follow the teaching of the Church,” or ‘We welcome people but we don’t accept their lifestyle,” ‘ he said. . . .

“But he said the larger issue is ministering to the increasing number of Catholic families who accept their gay and lesbian relatives.

” ‘The Church is faced with a pastoral problem of not just reaching out to gay and lesbian people, but reaching out to people who support and love them,’ he said. ‘That’s particularly true with the younger generation. They are going to lose the entire younger generation if they keep having the harsh and divisive rhetoric of homophobia, regardless of their orientation.’ “

I couldn’t have said it better myself!  Wait a minute. . .    :)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Cardinal Schönborn Offers Model for Pastoral Outreach to Lesbian and Gay Couples

September 12, 2015

For several years now, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna has spoken acted very forthrightly in support of lesbian and gay couples.  In his latest interview with an Italian Catholic magazine, Schönborn continued his advocacy for greater recognition of same-gender couples, while at the same time tempering his recommendations by stating his adherence to the magisterium’s heterosexual norm for sexual expression. [For a list of Schönborn’s previous statements on lesbian and gay couples, see the end of this post.]

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn

In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica‘s editor, Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, Schönborn enunciated both one of his strongest statements of support for lesbian and gay couples, as well as one of his strongest statements of support for the hierarchy’s view of sexual ethics. The interview was conducted in Italian, but excerpts from it were included in a news article in the United Kingdom’s Catholic Herald:

“Cardinal Schönborn spoke in the interview about a gay friend of his who, after many temporary relationships, is now in a stable relationship. ‘It’s an improvement,’ he said. They share ‘a life, they share their joys and sufferings, they help one another. It must be recognised that this person took an important step for his own good and the good of others, even though it certainly is not a situation the Church can consider “regular.” ‘

“The Church’s negative ‘judgment about homosexual acts is necessary,’ he said, ‘but the Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room! It must accompany people.’ “

The cardinal gave a description of how he understands what it means to pastorally accompany gay and lesbian couples:

“Pastoral accompaniment ‘cannot transform an irregular situation into a regular one,’ he said, ‘but there do exist paths for healing, for learning,’ for moving gradually closer to a situation in compliance with Church teaching.

” ‘We are not at risk of diluting the clarity [of Church teaching] while walking with people because we are called to walk in the faith,’ he said.

Though his comments about gay and lesbian relationships are not the most positive that they can be, there is a hopeful message in the methodology that Schönborn lays out.  His pastoral methodology seems very close to ideas offered by Pope Francis:

” ‘We are all called to observe the situation, not gazing from above and beginning with abstract ideas, but with the gaze of pastors who scrutinise today’s reality in an evangelical spirit,’ the cardinal said . . .

“The approach the bishops are called to take, he said, ‘is not first of all a critical gaze that highlights every failure, but a benevolent gaze that sees how much good will and how much effort there is even in the midst of much suffering.’

“The next step, he said, is not to pretend that everything in all those situations is fine, but to help Catholics build on what is good, growing in holiness and faithfulness to God and to each other.”

Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I tend to think that if such an approach were actually practiced by bishops and other pastoral ministers, these church leaders would also be changed by the encounter they experience.  In giving up their harsh judgmental stance, bishops and pastoral ministers will be opening their hearts to seeing goodness and holiness, and I can’t help but think that this new vision will change their own hearts and minds.

How did Cardinal Schönborn develop such an open approach to these pastoral situations?  Perhaps the detail of his biography that he mentioned in the interview holds a clue:

“Cardinal Schönborn said that being a child of divorced parents – and of a father who remarried – he knows what it is to grow up in a ‘patchwork family.’ And despite it not conforming fully to the Church’s ideal, ‘I also experienced the radical goodness of the family’ with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who helped out.

In 1999,  Detroit’s Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a great advocate for LGBT Catholics, was asked a question at a talk he gave, “How can more bishops become like you?”  Gumbleton, whose eyes were opened about LGBT people because of having a gay brother, answered, “Tell the bishops to find the gay and lesbian members in their families.”

I strongly suspect that the reason Cardinal Schönborn has such an open view about what the church would call an “irregular” relationship is that he experienced these realities in his own family.  And he is courageous enough–and vulnerable enough–to face those facts, reflect on his experience, and share those thoughts publicly.  I’m not sure enough church leaders are willing to be so vulnerable.

If you can read Italian, you can read the entire interview with Cardinal Schönborn in La Civiltà Cattolica by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Previous posts about Cardinal Schönborn’s statements on lesbian and gay couples:

April 3, 2012: “Austrian Cardinal: Gay Man Can Stay on Parish Council”

April 12, 2013: “Two More Cardinals on the Record Endorsing Civil Unions

February 11, 2014: “Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders”


Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Missing LGBT Webpage Mystery Is Partially Solved, But Questions Remain

July 20, 2015

In the Bondings 2.0 post on July 19, 2015, we described a communion denial near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and in the course of the story, we provided a link to the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ webpage of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on LGBT issues and the Catholic Church.  We commented that it was one of the best resources on LGBT issues coming from a website of the institutional Church.

One of our readers, however, informed us that by the afternoon of July 19th, the FAQ webpage was no longer active.  Indeed, the entire webpage for the LGBT ministry that the archdiocese had set up was also taken down.

Bondings 2.0 was able to obtain a copy of the page’s text from the morning of July 19th, and it contained a wealth of information from authoritative Catholic sources on issues directly affecting LGBT ministry, presented in a pastorally sensitive way, which is why we had recommended it.  You can read the material by clicking here.

Today, the Archdiocese of New Orleans posted the following statement on their main website concerning why the LGBT webpage was deactivated:

“The website and Facebook page for the Pastoral Care of Persons with Same-Sex Orientation, also known as LGBT, have been deactivated. An unauthorized person was able to access the website and post information that contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church. We deeply regret that this has happened and are taking steps to secure the websites. Our mission is to represent accurately the teaching of the Bible and the Catholic Church and to provide ministry with integrity.

“We are very sorry that this misleading information has been posted and has caused confusion.”

The mystery of this story lies in what the definition of “unauthorized person” is.  Does this mean that someone hacked into the website?  Or does it mean that someone from the archdiocese had posted the information without getting clearance from higher sources?

It’s very sad that this information has been taken down because it actually explained the full teaching of the Catholic Church on lesbian and gay issues, including teaching on conscience, biblical interpretation, the evaluation of the sinfulness of sexual activity, civil rights, and the development of doctrine.

The archdiocese has said that it is unknown as to when the webpages will become active again.

It will be interesting to see which of the explanations that were on the site on the morning of July 19th will re-appear when the page comes up–particularly those sections which come from authoritative church documents and leaders.

For example, in answer to the question “What about conscience?” the webpage yesterday included the following quotations:

  • “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his [sic] conscience. If he were to deliberately act against it, he would condemn himself.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1790
  • “If a man [sic] is admonished by his own conscience—even an erroneous conscience, but one whose voice appears to him as unquestionable—he must always listen to it. What is not permissible is that he culpably indulge in error without trying to reach the truth.” John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994, p. 191
  • “Deep within a person’s conscience one discovers a law which one has not laid upon one’s self but which one must obey. Its voice, ever calling the person to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in that person’s heart at the right moment. . . . For one has in his or her heart a law inscribed by God. . . . One’s conscience is one’s most secret core and one’s sanctuary. There one is alone with God whose voice echoes in that person’s depths.” Gaudium et spes, par 16; also Catholic Catechism, #1776
  • “Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of Church authority, stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of Church authority.” Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI); from a commentary on “Gaudium et Spes” (“The Church in the Modern World”); Published in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II (Vorgrimler, Herbert – Ed, Burns and Oats, 1969), p. 134.

It will be a shame if this sound Catholic doctrine on conscience is not included in the new page.  It should be included in every discussion about LGBT issues.

On the topic of development of doctrine, the page contained opinions of some leading theologians and church figures, as well as this excerpt from the Code of Canon Law:

  • No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly defined as such. Code of Canon Law, 1983, Canon 749 §3.

In the section on the evaluation of sexual sins, a passage from an official document from the Bishops of England and Wales was cited:

  • Pastoral care does not consist simply in the rigid and automatic application of objective moral norms. It considers the individual in his (or her) actual situation, with all his (or her) strengths and weaknesses. The decision of conscience… can only be made after prudent consideration of the real situation as well as the moral norm… the pastoral counselling of homophile persons cannot ignore the objective morality of homosexual genital acts, but it is important to interpret them, to understand the pattern of life in which they take place, to appreciate the personal meaning which these acts have for different people…” Catholic Bishops of England and Wales Catholic Social Welfare Commission, An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People, 1979.

Too often, people think of Church teaching on LGBT issues as narrowly focused on sexual matters.  They also forget that teachings on conscience and evaluation of any act’s morality must also be considered in these discussions.  Let’s pray that the new webpage will keep these important topics as part of their explanation of the Catholic Church’s view on LGBT topics.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Now’s the Time to Reflect on “What Makes a Family?”

July 16, 2015

With marriage equality now legal across the United States, but yet with so many debates and controversies, particularly Catholic ones, still raging about the issue, it might be good to step back a second and reflect on the question “What makes a family?”

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, did exactly just that recently in a National Catholic Reporter essay with a title that is the very question  “What Makes A Family?”

Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane

Sister Jeannine reflects on this question by examining the lives of a Catholic lesbian couple that she encountered this year, Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane.  In one sense, the essay begins on the note of what does not make a family, exemplified by Kathleen’s marriage to an emotionally possessive man:

“Kathleen loved being a mother, but her husband wanted her entire attention and resented the time she spent with their children. Their relationship grew strained, and they became increasingly quarrelsome with each other. . . .”

After her husband left the family, without letting anyone know he was doing so, Kathleen met Honour, who became an emotional support to her and her three children after divorce.  They eventually come to recognize a new dimension in their lives:

“Throughout this time, Honour was her lifeblood. Kathleen felt joy whenever Honour was around and missed her when they were apart. After some time they both came to realize that their companionship had blossomed into something deeper.

“ ‘Our wonderful friendship evolved into the beautiful love we’ve now shared for over 30 years,’ Kathleen told me. Although neither Kathleen nor Honour had ever been in a lesbian relationship, they wanted to be committed to each other.”

Because of concern for how people would treat their children if the two women moved in together, they waited until the last went off to college to do so.  But when they did, their home became

“not an exclusive one; [it] was always open to others in need.”

They took in a teenage granddaughter who had been sexually abused and helped her recovery and adjustment to adult life.  They took in Kathleen’s mother for ten years when she had become unable to live on her own.

And at the heart of their relationship is their faith:

“ ‘I’ve always had a deep, visceral connection with my Catholic faith,’ Kathleen said. ‘I’m not sure that the church will ever change its views about lesbian and gay people, but I firmly believe my relationship with Honour is a blessing God bestowed on me. All the opposition we encountered from society and church teachings could never shatter my trust that our love is a gift from God.’ “

For Sister Jeannine,  reflecting on the life of Kathleen and Honour helped her understand what is at the essence of family:

“I think about [Kathleen’s] life with Honour and their time with Kathleen’s mother and granddaughter. For most of their years together, Kathleen and Honour had no marriage license and they had no biological children from their union. What they did have was the deepest kind of love I have encountered — the love of sacrifice for each other, for those they care about, and for those in need, the love of putting the other’s happiness and welfare first, the love of common spiritual values, the love of feeling uniquely blessed by God because of the other.”

There is a lot more to this lovely story, and so I recommend reading the entire essay, which can be found by clicking here.

I pray that our Catholic leaders will open their minds, hearts, eyes, and ears to receive stories like this one–especially as they prepare for the fall’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the Synod on Family in Rome.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Two Catholic Schools Approach Employees’ Same-Gender Marriages Very Differently

July 15, 2015

While Philadelphia becomes a new focal point in the continuing story of lesbian and gay employees in Catholic schools being fired for marrying, a Catholic university in New York City has shown that it is very possible for Catholic institutions to accept, and even celebrate, that a gay employee who recently tied the knot.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

The latest development in the case of Margie Winters, a married lesbian teacher fired from Waldron Mercy Academy in suburban Philadelphia, is that the local leader of the Catholic Church there, Archbishop Charles Chaput, has made a statement praising the school’s leaders for firing the teacher.

In a statement released Monday, and quoted on Philly.comChaput said:

“Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief. There’s nothing complicated or controversial in this. It’s a simple matter of honesty. I’m very grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and to the principal and board members of Waldron Mercy for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the Church. They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”

Yet, in New York City, another Catholic educational institution, Fordham University, was recently faced with a similar situation. The chair of the theology department, J. Patrick Hornbeck, recently married Patrick Berquist, in an Episcopal ceremony.  The marriage was announced in The New York Times, and several conservative Catholic bloggers jumped on this item, criticizing Fordham for not taking action against Hornbeck or making a statement about the wedding.

Patrick Berquist and J. Patrick Hornbeck

This week, Fordham did make a statement:

“While Catholic teachings do not support same-sex marriage, we wish Professor Hornbeck and his spouse a rich life filled with many blessings on the occasion of their wedding in the Episcopal Church. Professor Hornbeck is a member of the Fordham community, and like all University employees, students and alumni, is entitled to human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation. Finally, same-sex unions are now the law of the land, and Professor Hornbeck has the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

What a contrast to the statement made by Philadelphia’s archbishop or even the regional head of the Sisters of Mercy, who operate the school from which Margie Winters was fired.  NBC Philadelphia quoted from a statement by Sister Patricia Vetrano, president of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Mercy Sisters:

” ‘When a school is called to make a decision such as this, it challenges us as a faith community at the deepest levels. . . . The leadership of Waldron Mercy has acted in accord with the school’s fundamental Catholic identity.’

“Vetrano called the decision to let go of Winters ‘final, although very painful’ and said the Sisters respect that not everyone agrees with the firing.”

The Fordham statement, while clearly not sanctioning same-gender marriage, is gracious and life-affirming.  It is not based on laws and rules.  It is a statement that is confident of the institution’s Catholic identity.  It is one that affirms the people involved in the situation and doesn’t shame them.

The statements by Archbishop Chaput and Sister Vetrano are statements based on the logic that the Church’s teaching on marriage is fundamental to an institution’s identity–which it is not.  The teaching on marriage is not at the same level of teaching as the basic principles of faith such as the nature of God, salvation, the Incarnation, the Resurrection.

On the other hand, Fordham’s statement grounds itself in Catholic identity based on respecting  “human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation.”  It is one that recognizes that Hornbeck’s and Berquist’s marriage has a civil dimension to it that is separate from religious identity, that they have exercised “the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

While it is true that Fordham is a nationally recognized university and Waldron Mercy is a small, local elementary school, both institutions value their Catholic identity.  Fordham seems to have done it in a way that does not see that Catholic identity threatened by the changing world, whereas Waldron Mercy seems to think that their school’s Catholic identity is a fragile house of cards that can crumble easily.

In truth, Catholic identity is a big term that encompasses so many facets of an institution’s life.  Narrowing it to accordance with the Church’s teaching on marriage significantly demeans such an identity.  In trying to save their religious identity, the leaders of Waldron Mercy have actually significantly harmed it.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles: “Chaput says ‘nothing controversial’ about dismissal of lesbian teacher”

ABC News: “Archbishop: School That Fired Gay Teacher Showed ‘Character’ “


Should Catholics Opposed to Marriage Equality Use Civil Disobedience?

July 14, 2015

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, some government officials and religious leaders who oppose the decision have been calling for citizens and congregants to actively protest the advent of marriage equality.  Some are using the language of conscientious objection and civil disobedience.

Is it proper to use such descriptions?  Is preventing a marriage for a gay or lesbian couple justified by moral principles?  Should government officials who, because of religious principles, disagree with the Court’s decision on marriage, be allowed not to issue licenses or perform ceremonies?

Questions like these are going to be debated hotly in the coming months,  The Catholic community will not be exempt from such discussions either.  At least two Catholic bishops have already used such language in their reaction statements to the court’s decisions. Yet, a religious ethics scholar has also recently showed why the use of “conscientious objection” and “civil disobedience” are totally incorrect for the question of marriage equality.

Bishop Joseph Strickland

First, let’s look at what the two bishops have said.  Bishop Joseph Strickland, Diocese of Tyler, Texas, in a June 26th statement said the Court’s decision was

“unjust and immoral, and it is our duty to clearly and emphatically oppose it.”

Later in the statement, Strickland goes on to say:

“We know that unjust laws and other measures contrary to the moral order are not binding in conscience, thus we must now exercise our right to conscientious objection against this interpretation of our law. . . “

Bishop Thomas Tobin

The Providence Journal reported on Rhode Island’s Bishop Thomas Tobin, who, on July 1st, posted an encouraging statement on Facebook for a Texas court clerk who, at first, refused to issue marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples. (She has since relented.) Tobin’s statement said, in part:

“We need many more conscientious objectors – public officials, private businesses, advertisers, religious leaders, and family members, people of courage who will abide by their conscience, protect their religious rights, and not support or enable the furtherance of this moral aberration – so called, ‘same-sex marriage.’ “

David Gushee

But a Christian ethicist has recently refuted such dramatic calls to civil disobedience and conscientious objection in the face of marriage equality by noting that the response does not fit the situation.  Rev. Dr. David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, Georgia, penned an an essay for Religion News Service entitled “Why civil disobedience is irrelevant to gay marriage.”

Here’s the gist of Gushee’s analysis of civil disobedience:

Here’s a good definition: If a government mandates what religious people believe God forbids, or forbids what religious people believe God mandates, civil disobedience may be required. . . .

The federal government has not mandated that houses of worship or clergy perform gay marriages. Nor has it forbidden congregations or clergy from performing such nuptials. Government has permitted gay marriages — and thus the solemnization of these marriages by whoever is authorized to offer it.

Therefore, those who wish to perform gay weddings are free to do so, and those who do not wish to perform them are free to decline. There are no legitimate grounds for civil disobedience here.

Gushee also takes on the more particular case of government officials who oppose marriage equality on religious grounds:

“In my view, regardless of whether state officials like a particular law, they are required to submit to it in the performance of their duties — or should resign from office.

“Government clerks are not religious officials. Nor are they simply individual citizens who might find a government’s law to be a violation of conscience. They are on the state payroll. Refusal to adhere to or enforce the law on the part of a government official is dereliction of duty, not civil disobedience.”

And he doesn’t shy away from perhaps the thorniest church/state question regarding marriage equality:  will the government require religious institutions to adopt policies which treat all married couples–gay, lesbian, heterosexual–equally?  Gushee does not mince words in his answer:

“It seems very unlikely that government would simply mandate that religious organizations change such policies. It might, however, withdraw tax-exempt status, not from congregations, but from religious organizations.

“Or it might ban federal funds, such as government social-service contracts, research grants or student loans, from going to such organizations. This is not the same thing as simply banning such organizations from adhering to their preferred policies, but for many organizations it remains a nightmare scenario.”

There will be consequences for religious institutions if they do not honor the marriage laws, but they will not be anywhere near the imagined threat that some leaders are describing.  Instead, the consequences will be more practical.  Gushee writes:

“. . . [N]o organizational leader will be arrested or imprisoned if these organizations stick to their policies, and if government withdraws financial assistance (by no means a certainty).

“No organization will be raided and padlocked. No civil disobedience strategy will be relevant.

“Instead, such organizations essentially will be shut out from using government dollars, with predictably scary effects on their bottom lines and reputations.”

But losing government money is not their only option.  Gushee suggests other alternatives:

“They could change the relevant policies, perhaps under protest, while claiming no change in their values. They could do this because they decide that their organizational mission is too important to let it wither because of its LGBT policies.

“Or, of course, they could take this as an opportunity to dig deeper and actually reconsider their beliefs about LGBT people and their relationships, as some of us have already done.”

Civil disobedience and conscientious objection give a moral gravity to a religious person’s objections to marriage equality law.  But as strategies to oppose them, they are not practical or appropriate.

As I’ve argued before here on Bondings 2.0, people with religious objections to civil laws have several options to respond in religious ways.  Sacrificing something, like government grants, may be involved, and sacrifice is a treasured religious response. Peace activists have endured jail and other sacrifices for resisting war taxes.  Why aren’t religious opponents against marriage equality advocating such sacrifices instead of arguing for discrimination?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post

Bondings 2.0: Sacrificing Profits to Avoid Discrimination and Protect Religious Freedom




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