Bishop’s Letter of Apology Is a Model for Catholic Reconciliation

February 13, 2016
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Bishop Mitchell Rozanski

In a pastoral letter released Ash Wednesday, a Catholic bishop apologized to those hurt and alienated by the Catholic Church, including lesbian and gay people.

Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, addressed his Lenten message to those outside the church, as well as the diocese’s Catholics. Writing about the Jubilee Year of Mercy now underway, the bishop said he should “first apologize and ask your forgiveness” before asking anything of the letter’s audience. Among those to whom Rozanski apologized are:

“[Those] who have distanced themselves because they feel unwelcomed. The reasons here can vary, but key among them are race and cultural differences, a sense of gender inequality as well as sexual orientation.”

The bishop admitted that many Catholics hurt “from the pain caused by our past failings as a diocese, as well as the grievous actions of some who ministered in our Church.” Rozanski apologized, too, to victims of clergy sexual abuse, the first formal apology from the diocese, and those whose parishes were closed during recent consolidations.

Bishop Rozanski’s apology to lesbian and gay people is progress, particularly when one considers that he harshly criticized marriage equality in August 2014. As a newly appointed bishop in Massachusetts, which legalized equal marriage a decade before, Rozanski told a reporter that marriage equality contributed to society’s disintegration like crime and substance abuse.

So how do we evaluate Bishop Rozanski’s apology?

Admission that intense and painful marginalization have been experienced by LGBT Catholics, their families, and many others in the church, is a first step too many Catholic leaders cannot or will not make. In that sense, this is firm progress upon which bridges can be built and reconciliation can occur.

But in another sense, this apology is only a first step. Will Bishop Rozanski now encourage LGBT parish ministries? Will churches host educational workshops on gender identity issues? Will the bishop meet with LGBT Catholics and hear their stories?  Will he still work against equality for LGBT people in the civil arena as he has done in the past? If the letter is not backed by concrete actions which restore right relationships and pursue reconciliation, the apology will become ring hollow.

There is a third angle, however, and it is what I find most notable about this letter. Michael O’Loughlin of Crux explained:

“The letter’s tone was dictated by a questionnaire the Diocese issued last fall, which drew over 3,000 responses from both current parishioners and people outside the Church, Rozanski said. Many responses evinced concerns about the Church, but also a desire to reconnect with the Catholic faith, according to Rozanski. . .

“The survey also included comments from LGBT Catholics who are committed to their faith but feel alienated by the Church’s long-running battle against extending legal recognition for same-sex marriage. . .The church’s position has not changed, Rozanski said, but he included welcoming language in the pastoral letter in the hopes of winning back those Catholics.”

Rozanski admitted there is “much truth to these honest reflections” submitted to the survey, quoting several at length in his letter, including this from one respondent:

” ‘The gay community feels that they aren’t welcome. They don’t want to espouse another religion; therefore, they don’t attend church at all. Hopefully, a special outreach could be done to them.’ “

Refreshingly, Rozanski also acknowledged that many efforts for the New Evangelization are not substantive renewals but stylistic gimmicks. When marginalized Catholics return, they find nothing really changed and given this, the bishop concluded:

“Understandably this is a daunting task, but one we must challenge ourselves to undertake. We must make our parish communities places where people want to worship, meet Jesus, and form community. We must put the love of God foremost in all our efforts. We must walk beyond our parish boundaries, without fear, to demonstrate the faith we celebrate in liturgy takes form in the reality of the world around us.”

This effort of reaching out really is challenging if done correctly. Dialogue demands all parties be vulnerable, that they be open to receiving criticism and acting upon that criticism. Catholic officials and even local communities are frequently unwilling to do this.

But the model employed in this letter’s formation — of soliciting honest input from local Catholics, including those who are alienated or no longer practicing and then responding to it — is a way forward. It is very much in keeping with Pope Francis’ pastoral style. It is a model that every bishop should replicate in their dioceses: listening, discerning, apologizing, responding.

Lent is the perfect time to repent and turn away from sin, like the sins of exclusion and prejudice. May these forty days lead more bishops to act like Bishop Rozanski — and may there be more letters like his come next Ash Wednesday–and before then, too–as fruits of this Year of Mercy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Alum Fighting Discrimination Exemplifies the Best of Catholic Education

February 6, 2016

200px-blanchetlogoA Catholic high school in Seattle refused to publish an alumna’s same-gender wedding announcement in its magazine, citing archdiocesan prohibitions. But a fellow alum is standing in solidarity against this discriminatory decision and exemplifying the very best of Catholic education.

Bishop Blanchet High School told 1997 alumna Jessie Gifford that “the archdiocese does not permit this type of information to be published in our Catholic school magazine.” Gifford, who was a student leader and homecoming queen in high school, married her wife recently and had submitted an announcement to the alumni magazine.

Criticism of the school administrators’ decision is being led by James Nau, a 1997 graduate who knows the rejected alumna and was homecoming king to Gifford’s queen. Nau posted an open letter to the Archdiocese of Seattle on Facebook. He said that despite his disagreement with church leaders’ opposition to marriage equality, he had a different request:

“I would invite you to consider that a marriage is first and foremost a celebration of love, and while the debates within Christian communities around the question of gay marriage indicate something short of scriptural clarity on the matter, there is another matter upon which scripture is absolutely clear: the value of love. . .

“This policy which prohibits the public acknowledgement of Jessie’s marriage stands behind a faith that you no doubt believe is right, but it does so at the cost of what is greater: love. When there is an opportunity to rejoice in love that exists among the members of your community, you have chosen instead to shut them out, and on this issue Pope Francis has warned, ‘a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission”. . .

“While the Church might persist in its opposition to gay marriage, it would do well not to forgot to rejoice in love where it can be found, especially within its own communities and from a woman who it has been justified in honoring in the past.”

Nau, who is Catholic, wrote about being brought up in the church and said that his education in Seattle’s Catholic schools “made me into the person who writes this letter.” His solidarity with Gifford comes, in part, from an affirmation of the Pauline statement that “if one part is honored, every part rejoices in it.”

Additionally, Nau has been in correspondence with Bishop Blanchet’s President, Antonio DeSapio, who defended the rejection of Gifford’s wedding announcement, despite thanking Nau for being involved in the discussion. Nau raised objections about an inconsistent application of church teaching in the alumni announcement, asking for instances where opposite-gender couples must prove they are not previously divorced. This discrimination has been harmful, as Nau wrote in another Facebook post reporting on the correspondence:

“Personally, I have found this experience to be very alienating, and I can only speculate as to how it must feel for my friend Jessie. . .As a teacher, I keep thinking about what this policy says to your current students, and I hope that you consider what this incident teaches the students in the Archdiocese who might be gay or questioning their sexual identity as well as what it says to their friends, families, and teachers who love and support them. What does it teach students whose parents are gay?”

As he concluded, Nau noted the irony that this experience of exclusion and marginalization has actually rallied the alumni community together and been a cause for former peers to become reacquainted.

Jessie Gifford’s wedding is not the first to be shunned by a Catholic school because it celebrates a same-gender marriage. At least three similar incidents have happened at Marian High School in Omaha, Notre Dame Prep in Baltimore, and Sacred Heart Academy in Amherst, New York. Notre Dame Prep eventually reversed its decision after pressure from alumnae, vowed religious in the sponsoring congregation, and other Catholics. Hopefully, officials at Bishop Blanchet will recognize their bad decision and reverse it.

Either way, those who believe in Catholic education can celebrate James Nau and other former students who stand in solidarity with those marginalized and rejected in our church. Rooting themselves in Catholic teaching, they intelligently and eloquently articulate why discrimination is wrong and how it can be redressed. In brief, they commit to live the Gospels with integrity and that, over all else, is why Catholic education exists.

As National Catholic Schools Week concludes today, there is much work to be done on raising LGBT standards but it is reassuring to know so many alumni learned about true justice and seek it wholeheartedly.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Seattle PI: Catholic high school: Archdiocese ‘does not permit’ same-sex wedding announcement


“The Lost Flock” Film Profiles LGBT Ministry in Baltimore

February 4, 2016

The good work done by the LEAD Ministry of St. Matthew’s Church in Baltimore has been profiled before on this blog, but a new video series gives even greater insight into the ways this ministry serves the people of God. Filmmaker Eric Kruszewski produced “The Lost Flock,” the seven-part series on LEAD, which stands for LGBT Education and Affirming Diversity.  He told Out Magazine:

“I was raised Catholic, but have not practiced my faith in years. And before this project, I had never heard of Saint Matthew Catholic Church. . . It was clear that there was something special within this congregation.”

Though not an LGBT Catholic himself, Kruszewski hoped the documentary could “accurately capture their thoughts, feelings and experiences” and advance the discussion about acceptance of sexual and gender diversity in the church.

The series covers diverse perspectives when it comes to LGBT identities in the church. One part documents the baptism of a same-gender couple’s daughter, with one of the dads saying that St. Matthew’s is a place which honors their relationship and which supported them during the adoption process.

In another, a lesbian woman named Gigi describes first being disowned by her adoptive parents but then coming to see God through her partner, Ashley, and through the church community which quickly welcomed her.

In a third part, Henry, who comes from Kenya where homosexuality is criminalized, explains why he participates with the LEAD Ministry. He says the LGBT communities need support like anyone else, and further:

” ‘I always ask myself: What would I do if one of my daughters or one of my sons came out? Do LGBT people need to be accepted? To be heard? Yes. We have got to find a way to give them everything they need.’ . . .Gay or straight. We are together.”

But “The Lost Flock” is not simply positive stories. It also explores the harsher realities of LGBT Catholics’ experiences. In a segment about Rachel and Vania Christian dos Passo, the film highlights that their marriage cannot be recognized in the church and for this reason, Vania explains:

“We made a serious decision to leave the church. We want to have a family where our children don’t feel pointed out because we are gay. . .W still go to LEAD because its family for us. But unfortunately we have to live this exile until one day, maybe in another lifetime, gay people will be equally recognized in the church.”

Then there is Carolyn’s story, the Catholic mother of two gay children, Renee and David. Though there were no difficulties with Renee’s coming out, her husband was unable to accept David’s sexual orientation and kicked their son out of their home. Carolyn now says she wants the same opportunities for my gay and straight children in the Catholic Church.” She says further that it was this idea that “was the foundation for LEAD” and expresses her own growth since joining LEAD as a Catholic led by her conscience.

Those profiled have helped foster the safe and affirming space that is LEAD.  Supporting the ministry is Fr. Joe Muth, the pastor, who, in his own video segment explains why, as a Catholic priest, he supports this LGBT work, saying:

“I don’t think the institutional church realizes how hurtful they are to homosexual people when they come across so harshly on that issue. The institutional church says, in a sense, you can be a part only so far.”

Muth acknowledges that LEAD struggles with being an LGBT support and outreach group, while at the same time worrying about being closed down by higher church officials. Despite that threat, these Catholics have managed to build up a more and more affirming community. They host parish events and have even participated in Baltimore’s Pride celebrations the last few years. As Bondings 2.0 has written previously, LEAD is a model for the Catholic Church when it comes to LGBT pastoral care.

To learn more and view all seven videos that compose “The Lost Flock,” click here. To read Bondings 2.0‘s previous coverage of the LEAD Ministry, click here.

To learn more about some of the hundreds of parishes across the U.S. which offer a welcome to LGBT people, click here.

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog that highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Lesbian Women Tell Their Stories of Faith by “Living True”

January 21, 2016

Living True: Lesbian Women Share Stories of Faith is a collection of the faith journeys of 21 lesbian women who identify as Catholic.  The collection, gathered between 2008 and 2011, was edited by Sister Margaret O’Gorman, a Franciscan Sister of Mercy and minister to LGBT persons, and Anne Peper Perkins, a married lesbian Catholic woman and retired university professor.

Living True is a book of stories.  In O’Gorman’s words, these are

“[n]ot just coming-out stories, although there are a number of them included in the following pages, but stories about spirituality: how lesbian and bisexual women find faith and live it: how God guides our lives; how we find our identity; and how much we contribute as couple, family, neighbors, and members of our parishes.  It is about what makes our lives, our faith, and our spirituality flourish.  It is about how we nourish our spirituality and how our faith community helps us on our journey.”

In January 2008, O’Gorman gathered a group of lesbian and bisexual women for monthly meetings.  Perkins was in the original group.  The women all had some association, current or not, with Roman Catholicism.  The initial group numbered about 20 women, ranging in age from 30s to 60s.  Some women had been Catholic nuns; some were in committed relationships, with or without children (and grandchildren); a few had been in heterosexual marriages previously.  A number had been or were currently connected to the same parish in St. Louis.

O’Gorman, along with facilitator Sharon Orlet, led a process by which the women shared and wrote their stories. As Perkins’ described the process:

“Marge and Sharon asked us to begin writing our stories and suggested that we bring our first drafts to the group for encouragement and helpful criticism.  We were given a number of questions to use as a starting point, questions like, ‘How is my spirituality flourishing?’ and ‘Who helps me on my journey?’  There was a good deal of laughter – and some tears – and an increasing sense of closeness in the group.”

About half of the essays in the book come from this group, which met for approximately a year.  The remaining essays came from women who did not participate in the group process.

The idea for the book developed out of O’Gorman’s desire to give voice to the lived experiences of lesbian women.  O’Gorman had participated in a New Ways Ministry (NWM) “Next Steps” workshop in 2008, at which the participants were challenged to develop a mission, goals and objectives for their LGBT ministry.  After Living True was published, O’Gorman reported back to NWM that the book is the final product of her mission and goals developed at that workshop.

The faith stories in Living True are organized into sections reflecting five emotional states: “Awakening,” “Healing,” “Trusting,” “Appreciating,” and “Celebrating.” Each section is identified by an image of a female couple and an apt quotation.  The sections are framed by O’Gorman’s “Recollections” and “Reflections,” which provide “both the general atmosphere of [the] meetings and the emotional and spiritual content of the stories themselves.”

The book opens with an introduction by O’Gorman and Perkins. Marie Lynette Adalpa offered prayer beseeching the Good Shepherd to send “shepherds here on earth who, like you, know us, feed us, care for us, and invite us to your table.”  In an Afterword, O’Gorman reflects on the women who initially responded to the project but “who could not, would not, or did not write.”  The book concludes with an Appendix of suggestions about how the reader can support lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.

One person you will meet in this collection is Dorothy, whose foundational experience of God’s presence when she was a young nun sustained her through her decision not to take final vows, her gradual awareness that she is a lesbian, and the painful rejection by her own father.  Through her experiences, Dorothy came to believe deeply that she is loved by God and belongs to God.  She concluded her essay:

“In this gift of Life, I continually circle back to the beginnings, the promise that no matter what, God is and will be with me, with us all.  Jesus told Nicodemus that the Spirit is like the wind – one has no idea where it comes from or where it is going, but one feels it nonetheless.  Surely, my life is a work-in-progress carried by the Spirit’s breeze.  Surely, the power and intimacy of a thirty-three-year loving relationship continues to reveal the sweetness and mercy of God to me.  Surely, tears and joys will continue to be a gifted part of my life, your life.  For certain, I have begun to experience the blessing of a sort of freedom that feels like pure grace.  Always, a sense of gratitude continues to spread throughout each day.  No doubt we belong – our whole Earth family – to a God beyond all names or imagination.  How I hope that you, the reader, profoundly experience this beautiful mystery.”

Dorothy’s story and the other stories in Living True are meant to be read reflectively.  They can be spiritual nourishment for the reader willing to enter into them.  Lesbian readers will find common ground with these women and their experiences.  Non-lesbian readers, too, will be enriched by the Christian witness revealed in these stories.  I heartily recommend Living True to all our readers.  You can order a copy through amazon.com by clicking here.

–Cynthia Nordone, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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.

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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”

 


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