A Pastoral Approach to the Celibacy vs. Relationship Debate

In London’s Catholic Herald, Msgr. Keith Barltrop offers sound advice to pastoral ministers working with lesbian and gay people, particularly in the area of the celibacy vs. relationship debate.

Barltrop, who is Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ representative to the LGBT Catholics Westminster group which meets at the Farm Street Jesuit parish in the Mayfair section of London, is also a chaplain to the Courage group in that city.  He is thus in a unique position of participating in a parish-based ministry which welcomes all, and a one-on-one spiritual direction ministry which aims at helping lesbian and gay people lead chaste lives.

Msgr. Keith Barltrop

Barltrop begins by observing that lesbian and gay ministry is not different from other forms of ministry in the church:

“Pastoral care of homosexual people is essentially the same as all ministry: seeking to communicate the unconditional love of Christ and his Church, and to accompany people on their journey towards holiness. But in practice this particular ministry encounters powerful feelings of pain and anger which can cause difficulties.”

[Barltrop, who in the past has advocated that the Church accompany transgender people through their processes of transition, mostly limits the discussion in this article to lesbian and gay people.]

Yet, he does observe some important distinctions:

“LGBT people often feel hurt by the Church, either because of the way its teaching comes across, or through concrete experiences of rejection, or both. Those from non-Western cultures are sometimes even in danger of their lives, while some other Catholics seem threatened by the very existence of gay people and react angrily towards attempts to accommodate them within the Church.”

Barltrop also makes the important distinction that a wide variety of opinions and attitudes about personal sexual involvement exists among lesbian and gay Catholics.  Some seek intimate, committeed sexual relationships, some seek casual sexual involvement, others seek to lead chaste lives.    Despite these different perspectives, Barltrop finds a common thread:

“. . . [O]ne thing is common to virtually all LGBT Catholics today: they will not take the Church’s teaching on trust, but must learn from experience. Even those who hold a very traditional attitude have likely arrived at it through many experiences.

“This being so, ministers to gay Catholics need two main resources: a moral theology that can face the critical scrutiny of life experience; and a well-grounded spirituality of discernment. These can help LGBT Catholics look honestly at their behaviour, see where it is leading them and discover alternatives where indicated.”

Barltrop’s recommendation is a holistic moral theology that, like Pope Francis, emphasizes discernment over rules:

Fr. Servais Pinckaers, OP

“The moral theology I have found most helpful in this ministry is that of the Belgian Dominican Servais Pinckaers, who shows that from biblical times to St Thomas Aquinas, Catholic moral theology was essentially based on the search for true happiness, on earth and in heaven, and on the cultivation of virtues leading to it – a happiness deeper than mere pleasure, and consisting above all in communion with God and his holy people.

“A theology based on observing rules was a later distortion, and led by reaction in the 1960s to an equally unhelpful liberalism.

“In Pinckaers’ perspective, moral theology does not just define what one is allowed to do, or the minimum one must do, but joins hands with spirituality in promoting the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the uttermost. Ignatian discernment of spirits is the obvious spiritual partner for such a theology.”

I could quibble with some items in Barltrop’s argument, such as when he says that lesbian and gay people feel rejected by the church  “because of the way its teaching comes across.”  While that may be true for some,  I think there are two things amiss in that statement:  1) It’s not just the way the “teaching comes across,” but the substance of the teaching itself which causes feelings of rejection; 2) Many gay and lesbian people feel rejected because, well, they have been rejected directly by messages that they are not welcome.

But, generally, I find his argument, and especially his conclusion, to be very helpful.  Indeed, I think that many lesbian and gay Catholics have already gone through such a moral/spiritual process as they navigated and negotiated their seemingly conflicting identities of being Catholic and homosexual.  Unfortunately, many of these Catholics have had to go through that process without the support of pastoral ministers because for too long, too many pastoral ministers had subscribed to the distorted theology of observing rules.  Barltrop’s alternative is one of accompanying instead of dictating.

Conservative Catholics will probably not like Barltrop’s proposal because it doesn’t provide an answer that can be applied in all situations.  While I am not familiar with Pinckaers’ writing, it seems that by focusing on the goal–happiness through “the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the utmost”–he puts the discussion of morality in a different context, one that mirrors more the ministry of Jesus, who addressed people’s individual needs and situations rather than focusing on whatever the current interpretations of the Law were.

To read the entire text of Baltrop’s commentary, click here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 11, 2017

 

 

QUOTE TO NOTE: London Cardinal ‘Rejoices’ in LGBT Acceptance, While Still ‘Obstinate’ on Marriage

London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols has been one of the global church’s strongest advocates of pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  At the same time, he has opposed marriage equality though, unlike U.S. bishops, he seems comfortable in making social and ecclesial accommodations for lesbian and gay couples.

The Catholic Herald recently reported on remarks Nichols made at a public lecture.  His remarks show the two sides of his approach to matters of gay sexuality.  The news story stated:

“Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, has said the Church will continue to be ‘obstinate’ about gay marriage and other questions of sexual morality.

“Answering questions after a talk at St Ethelburga’s Centre, London, Cardinal Nichols was asked about the Church’s response to homophobia. The cardinal said that society had become more empathetic and compassionate towards gay people, and that he ‘rejoiced’ in the change.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“However, he went on to say that Catholics ‘still stand for’ a definition of marriage as ‘between a man and a woman’ which is open to new life.

“Cardinal Nichols went on: ‘There has never been a time when Christian sexual morality has been totally accepted in any society.’ But, he said, Christians would ‘persist’ in being ‘awkward’ on such matters.”

No doubt some will criticize Nichols’ opposition to marriage equality and his upholding of traditional church teaching on sexuality.  Nichols is no stranger to criticism, though. For years, conservative Catholics in England have been criticizing the pastoral outreach he began to London’s LGBT community, some of these critics even bringing their complaints to the Vatican. Nichols, however, stood firm, and the pastoral outreach program, LGBT Catholics Westminster, is alive, well, and thriving today.

While Nichols may be correct that Christian sexual morality has never been totally accepted in any society, that doesn’t mean that Christian sexual ethics hasn’t changed as new scientific information and social understandings and customs have evolved.   The fact that ethical principles have changed over the centuries is the best argument that they can change in the future.

Still, Nichols serves as a model to other prelates that their opposition to same-gender marriage does not mean that they cannot welcome LGBT people into the church community.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 15, 2017

 

London’s Catholic LGBT Ministry Rallies Around Ugandan Exile

In what is a strong display of Catholic advocacy for the human rights of gay people, the members of LGBT Catholics Westminster have rallied around a gay Ugandan who worships with them to prevent him from being deported to his native land where homosexuality is criminalized.

LGBT Catholics Westminster embers at London Pride.

London’s Tablet reported that the man “faces a very high risk of being killed if he is forced to return to the place of his birth.”  LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official diocesan pastoral ministry in London, approved by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Westminster Diocese.

The Tablet provided background about the man at the center of this situation:

“Godfrey Kawalya, a gay Ugandan refugee, LGBT campaigner and a member of LGBT Catholics Westminster, has been living in Britain since 2002. In Uganda, where same sex acts are illegal and punishable by life imprisonment, he says he was expelled from secondary school, sacked from his job and rejected by his family for being gay. He was also an active member of the political opposition to the current president, Yoweri Museveni.

“After he fled from Kampala to rebel-held territories in Northern Uganda, Kawalya said he was attacked and robbed, and a friend who sheltered him was killed. He escaped to Kenya with the help of some nuns and eventually made his way to England.

“In August 2015 the Home Office refused his claim for asylum on the grounds that they did not believe he was gay and because he didn’t disclose his sexuality when he first arrived. ‘I was fearful, it wasn’t easy. I don’t know why they don’t believe me’, Mr Kawalya told The Tablet.

“Several appeals have failed and Mr Kawalya has one final chance to appeal by supplying new evidence to support his case by 17 May.”

LGBT Catholics Westminster has organized a petition for UK citizens to sign, asking the British government to grant Kawalya asylum.  Several Catholic leaders have already signed the petition, including  Vincent Manning, chair of Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support, Ged Clapson, Jesuit Communications Officer in Britain, and Fr. Tony Nye, a pastor at Farm Street Jesuit Church in Mayfair, London, which hosts the LGBT Catholics Westminster organization.

Martin Pendergast, a leader in the LGBT Catholics group said of Kawalya’s case that “even if he were not (gay), the law takes the view that refugees who are in danger of death or persecution because they are perceived to be gay in their home country must be granted asylum.”

For more information about LGBT Catholics Westminster or to learn how to sign the petition if you are a UK citizen, visit www.lgbtcatholicswestminster.org or email lgbtcatholicswesminster@gmail.com.

When people speak about appropriate Catholic pastoral ministry for LGBT people, I can think of no better example than this story of Catholics using church teaching condemning discrimination against LGBT people to help save a person’s life.

In less than two weeks, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 19, 2017

 

London Cardinal Celebrates Mass with LGBT Catholics

LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official archdiocesan ministry for gender and sexual minorities in London, England.  Their ministry has flourished for over a decade, and recently they experienced a big step forward from their diocese.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, joined LGBT Catholics and their families for Mass last Sunday, at the Jesuit church of the Immaculate Conception, where the group meets on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month.  Cardinal Nichols has been a strong supporter of the group, even when faced with harsh criticism from local detractors.  This was the first time that he joined the group for Eucharistic liturgy.

The church was packed with congregants and the cardinal thanked the parish and the LGBT group for journeying together in this pastoral outreach.

He used the occasion to sermonize on the idea that God has no favorites and that mercy must be foremost in Catholics’ minds and hearts.  A summary of the homily provided by LGBT Catholics Westminster:

Affirming that in God’s mercy and love, all are acceptable and accepted, the Cardinal warned against those who would set God’s mercy and Commandments against each other. It is this understanding of mercy which is informing so much of Pope Francis’ ministry, and also the Synods’ processes. The Commandments  are not simply regulations imposed from on high, but indications of how God’s mercy can be received and embraced as we journey in the transformation to which we are called. The Cardinal emphasised that it is in the Eucharist that we become what we see: the Body of Christ.

You can read the text of the cardinal’s sermon by clicking here.

LGBT Catholics Westminster welcomed Cardinal Nichols, offering new musical pieces, including Live every day in my love, based on the day’s Gospel reading, and a new version of Psalm 97.

Nichols’ occurred near the anniversary of the group’s 1999 founding after “the homophobic-motivated bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub” in London’s Soho neighborhood, reports The Tablet. Nichols previously supported the Soho Masses, though asked them to integrate into the Jesuit-run Farm Street Church in 2013 as part of the Archdiocese of Westminster’s LGBT pastoral plan.

When the group moved to the new location, Cardinal Nichols paid a pastoral visit to welcome them to the parish.

Nichols was named to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis, in his first set of cardinal appointments at the beginning of 2014.

At the end of last year’s extraordinary synod, he told the press that he did not vote for the paragraphs addressing lesbian and gay topics because he felt that the important words of “welcome,” “respect,” and “value” were missing from them.

In the United States in the 1990’s, I recall two bishops presiding at Masses for the LGBT communities in their dioceses:  Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, NY, and Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Virginia.  Both events attracted overflowing crowds.

Why aren’t more U.S. bishops following these examples?  A little kindness can go a long way.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

U.K. Catholic LGBT Leaders Meet With Cardinal Turkson While on Pilgrimage

As we mentioned before, when New Ways Ministry was on pilgrimage in Italy last month, another group of LGBT Catholics were also there.  The second group was from the United Kingdom, hailing from London’s Farm Street Jesuit Church (Immaculate Conception parish), where the Diocese of Westminster houses their official outreach ministry to LGBT people, known as “LGBT Catholics Westminster.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson
Cardinal Peter Turkson

Two of the members of this U.K. group also had the opportunity to meet with Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and his, Fr. Michael Czerny S.J., Secretary of the same Council.  The British representatives asked for the meeting on behalf of the Catholic members of the European Forum of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Christian Groups.  A press statement summarized the meeting:

“The discussion on 21 February 2015 included an exchange of views about the global impact of criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Cardinal Turkson reaffirmed his opposition to the criminalisation of homosexuals for who they are, while also urging that neither people nor states be penalized for not embracing such behaviour.

“The Lineamenta for the 2015 Synod on Marriage and Family, with particular reference to its paragraphs (55 & 56) dealing with same-sex relationships, also came up, with the hope that the pastoral needs of LGBT Catholics, their parents and families, including those of children in same-sex families, would meet with informed discussion during next October’s Ordinary Synod of Bishops.”

New Ways Ministry pilgrims with LGBT Catholic pilgrim group from UK
New Ways Ministry pilgrims with LGBT Catholic pilgrim group from UK

The U.K. pilgrims met with New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims for Eucharistic liturgies at St. Albert’s International Carmelite Center and Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) Basilica.

The U.K group also held Evening Prayer in Rome’s ancient San Bartolomeo Church, now dedicated to the memory of modern martyrs. The moving liturgy remembered the lives of victims of homophobic and transphobic violence, as well as those who had given their lives in witness to LGBT concerns.

While attending the papal audience on Ash Wednesday, the U.K. pilgrimage group was the first of the English language groups announced

LGBT Catholics Westminster  Pilgrims in St. Peter's Square
LGBT Catholics Westminster Pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square

at the event, identified as a pilgrimage group from Immaculate Conception parish, London.

They also celebrated Mass at San Alfonso Church, the titular church of Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who heads London’s Diocese of Westminster.  Nichols also sent the pilgrims off with a special prayer and blessing:

You are at the threshold of Lent. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. What an excellent time to be on pilgrimage in Rome! You are at the thresholds of the Apostles. What an excellent place to be on pilgrimage at the beginning of Lent.
May Saints Peter and Paul, and indeed all the Apostles, be your constant teachers, guides and companions throughout your stay in Rome – and when you return. Their heroic witness to the life, death and resurrection of the Lord is an inspiring example for us all. May their prayers again turn your gaze to the merciful face of Jesus, who calls out to you in unfailing love. He will give you grace to be his faithful missionary disciples. May you bring others into the family of the Church, founded on the Apostles, teaching us how to follow the pathways of faithfulness to Jesus in all the different aspects of our lives.
In this way may your lives be a true witness to all who are striving to find God’s love. Only Jesus can truly bring us the joy and fulfilment for which we all yearn. Let us be close to him. Be assured of my prayers for each and every one of you.Please pray for me at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, and at all the holy places you visit.
Have a wonderful pilgrimage. God bless you all. 
+ Cardinal Vincent Nichols.”
The U.K. and U.S. pilgrimages also met for an evening of discussion and interchange with members of Nuova Proposta, a Christian LGBT organization in Rome.  They shared ideas and models of LGBT pastoral ministry with one another.
I can speak for New Ways Ministry when I say that the encounter and collaboration with the U.K. pilgrims made our journey to Rome so much the richer.  Meeting with Nuova Proposta, the Roman group, and Kairos, an LGBT Christian group in Florence, also provided us with deeper understanding of the joys and challenges that our peers encounter in Italy.
New Ways Ministry is also very happy and excited that the meeting with Cardinal Turkson occurred.   May the conversation with this Vatican official bear fruit in terms of greater justice for LGBT people around the world!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry