A new Vatican document on the priesthood, approved by Pope Francis, has reaffirmed a ban on gay men entering the seminary or being ordained. New Ways Ministry has responded with a call to the pope to retract this document.
The document from the Congregation for Clergy, titled “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” includes language from a 2005 document on priestly formation that addressed persons with homosexual tendencies. This latest document quoted the 2005 text directly, including these words:
“The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’. Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.”
The 2016 document goes on to warn of the “negative consequences” of ordaining gay men, and said men who can “clearly overcome” homosexual tendencies for three years could be admitted. Troubling, too, are paragraphs which say a seminarian is “obliged to reveal to his formators. . .doubts or difficulties he should have in this regard,” formators who in turn “have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding in ordination.” To remain closeted would be “gravely dishonest.”
This latest document affirming the 2005 ban was approved by Pope Francis, reported Michael O’Loughlin of America. Its treatment of gay men who wish to become priests is perhaps oddly placed between “a section about seminarians suffering from mental illness and seminarians who are considered threats to children”–further revealing the authors’ negative bias. The 2005 document had come in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and was recognized by many as part of efforts to blame the crisis on gay priests.
What this reaffirmation means exactly is unclear, given the disparate ways the 2005 document had been implemented. O’Loughlin wrote about these responses, offered by bishops and religious superiors at whose discretion seminarians are accepted:
“In some instances, those in charge of entrance to seminaries and religious orders as well as those in charge priestly formation have interpreted it to mean that gay men are prohibited from entering Catholic seminaries.
“In others, men who have made homosexuality their primary identity, or have been outspoken in supporting what the Vatican calls the ‘so-called gay culture,’ are barred.
“But a third interpretation has been that men who identify as gay can enter so long as they do not act on their desires, and maintain their vows of chastity or promises of celibacy. (Though there are rare exceptions, such as married priests from other faith traditions who become Catholic, priests are required to practice celibacy.)”
While the effects may be unclear, questions are already being raised about why Pope Francis, who in 2013 said of a gay priest his famous line “Who am I to judge?”, would approve this new document. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented in a statement:
“Had the document not been approved by Pope Francis, it could easily be dismissed as the work of over-zealous Vatican officials. But the pope’s approval of this text is a great disappointment to many people—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual supporters—who held out greater hopes for this pontiff who had done so much to open church discussion on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
DeBernardo suggested Francis could withdraw the document and seek to heal the damage already cause, or at a minimum explain where he stands. That would be a start, but not an end.
I know and have worked with many gay and bisexual men in the priesthood and in Catholic ministry. They are some of the most faithful and dutiful ministers in our church. With the many gifts they have offered to us, we must now be in solidarity with them. We must let gay priests know they are welcomed and appreciated by us despite the Vatican’s ill-informed policies.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 8, 2016
The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, in response to the news that Pope Francis has approved a document entitled “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation” from the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, which reaffirms Pope Benedict XVI’s 2005 ban on gay men from entering the Catholic priesthood.
Pope Francis has a lot of explaining to do by approving the newest Vatican instruction that reaffirms a 2005 ban on gay men becoming priests. Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” statement in 2013 was made in response to a question about gay men in the priesthood, and that response indicated very plainly that he did not have a problem with a gay priest’s sexual orientation, as long as “he searches for the Lord and has good will.”
The newest document, entitled “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” contains three sections about gay men as candidates for the priesthood, and all of the messages are negative. The writers of the document seem to have closed their eyes to the fact that thousands upon thousands of gay men are already serving faithfully and effectively in the Catholic priesthood. Indeed, without gay men, the Church would not be able to operate. (Add to that the multitude of lesbian women who serve in diverse ministries in the Church, whose service allows so much good to happen.)
Bishops and many heads of men’s religious orders have ignored the 2005 document, realizing the gifts that many gay men bring to the priesthood and church ministry. It is likely that these and many other leaders will simply ignore the bad advice of this most recent document.
Had the document not been approved by Pope Francis, it could easily be dismissed as the work of over-zealous Vatican officials. But the pope’s approval of this text is a great disappointment to many people—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual supporters—who held out greater hopes for this pontiff who had done so much to open church discussion on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. So much of the language about gay men is simply a restatement from the 2005 document issued by Pope Benedict XVI. In his three-and-a-half years as pontiff, Francis has shown that he has moved away from Benedict’s approach to issues of sexuality.
It’s not too late for the pope to retract this document. That would be a healing balm to many who are surely going to be pastorally hurt by this step, and many others who are sure to leave the Catholic Church because of it.
At the very least, Pope Francis owes it to the Church, the world, and, not least, the LGBT community to explain exactly where he stands, given the blatant contradiction between “Who am I to judge?” and this most recent document.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 7. 2016
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.
Marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples became the law of the land in June 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared freedom to choose who to marry is a constitutional right. As a result, now all 50 states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses for civil weddings to same-gender couples.
This new legal and political reality does not apply to churches and other houses of worship. Each religious faith is still able to decide for itself who is eligible to marry whom, according to their own beliefs and teachings. So, while Catholic lesbian and gay people may decide to marry civilly, under current church policy, they will not be able to marry in a church ceremony.
As a result of the new civil framework for marriage, more and more such couples, and families headed by such couples, are becoming more visible in local communities, including faith communities and institutions. Catholic lesbian and gay couples and their children are starting to be a familiar sight in parishes and schools.
Are Catholics prepared to welcome such couples and families into their parishes, schools, and other religiously sponsored programs? The following list of suggestions is intended to help such institutions and individuals offer a welcome, motivated by sincere Christian hospitality, to these couples and families so that they can participate fully in church life.
Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Couples and Families
Make it known that all children will be baptized, not only those of heterosexually married couples.
Include lesbian and gay couples in all aspects of parish life: prayer and liturgy, educational programs, social events, and service opportunities.
Invite gay and lesbian couples to participate in marriage preparation and enhancement programs.
Open bereavement support groups to lesbian and gay people whose spouses have died.
Acknowledge and celebrate the love and commitment of lesbian and gay couples in the same ways that heterosexual couples are affirmed.
Educate one another about sexual orientation and the reality of lesbian and gay people.
Institute a non-discrimination policy for sexual orientation, gender identity, marital and relational status.
Welcome families headed by lesbian and gay couples to all family events that the parish sponsors.
Allow local Scouting programs to accept lesbian and gay mothers and fathers to be Scout leaders.
Make sure that everyone knows that the children of lesbian and gay couples are welcome in educational programs, parish schools, and all appropriate sacramental preparation programs.
Include discussion of lesbian and gay people in all parish programs concerned with diversity, multiculturalism, social justice, sexuality, and faith sharing.
Listen to, converse with, and be present to parishioners or community members who may disagree about welcoming lesbian and gay people and families.
What are your suggestions for how Catholic parishes and other institutions affirm civilly married lesbian and gay couples and their families? Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 7, 2016
New Ways Ministry has launched a website with information and registration materials for its Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago.
By going to www.Symposium2017.org, you will find all the information you will need about speakers, program, schedule, travel and hotel discounts–and even a form to register online!
Sign-up by December 31, 2016 to receive a substantial discount on the registration fee!
The Eighth National Symposium is looking to be the best one ever! With Pope Francis in the Vatican, we are living in a new moment in our Church. We’ve seen the opening of a dialogue on LGBT issues, but we’ve also seen that repressive practices and policies continue, too. How to make sense of this new situation?
The program is designed for church leaders and ministers, parents, LGBT people, members of religious communities, and all who are interested in building a more welcoming and inclusive Catholic Church.
Our plenary speakers will cover some of the most pressing topics of our day:
Lisa Fullam,Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, will discuss “Sexual Ethics and Same-Sex Marriage”
Leslie Griffin, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Law School, will examine “Religious Liberty, Employment, and LGBT Issues”
Rev. Bryan Massingale, Fordham University, will speak about “Pope Francis, Social Ethics, and LGBT People”
Frank Mugisha, Sexual Minorities Uganda, will report on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws and the LGBT Experience in Uganda”
In addition, the weekend includes some exciting prayer experiences:
Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv, of Lexington, Kentucky, will offer Scriptural reflections at prayer services
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, of NETWORK and “Nuns on the Bus” will present an optional pre-symposium retreat day
In addition to these main events, the symposium includes break-out sessions on the following topics:
transgender and intersex family issues
youth and LGBT topics
LGBT ministry in the Hispanic community
LGBT church worker justice
And, of course, there will be opportunities to network with hundreds of Catholics from many different parts of the U.S. and the globe about the challenges and joys of advocating for LGBT people.
Our website, www.Symposium2017.org, has all the information you need to plan your participation at the symposium. If you have any additional questions, please contact our office at info@NewWaysMinistry.org or (301)277-5674.
Register today to reserve a space and to get a great discount!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 6, 2016
Bondings 2.0 has reported on the Vatican-level debate between four cardinals, led by Cardinal Raymond Burke, and Pope Francis about the doctrinal validity of Amoris Laetitia, the pope’s apostolic exhortation on the family. Last week, Father Pio Vito Pinto, the head judge of the Roman Rota, the Vatican’s highest court, weighed in on this debate, strongly criticizing the cardinals for causing what he called a “very grave scandal.”
Vito Pinto, who was appointed in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI, made his comments in a talk he gave at the University of San Damaso, Madrid, at a conference on marriage annulment reforms. Crux reported on his comments, noting that he said the four cardinals were criticizing “two synods of bishops on marriage and family. Not one but two! An ordinary and an extraordinary one. The action of the Holy Spirit is beyond doubt!”
Additionally, he challenged pastors who see their role as gatekeepers for the Church:
“[T]he priest said that in countries such as Italy, Spain or Poland, religious marriage is still highly valued, but ‘the truth is that many baptized celebrate civil marriages or live together out of wedlock.’
“Faced with what the Church calls ‘irregular situations’- which he didn’t specify, but which could run from divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to gay Catholics in a civil marriage – Vito Pinto asked: ‘What do we do? Turn the Church into a prison? Stand at the door of the parish and say: “You yes [can go in], you no?” ‘ “
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 6, 2016
Has the Republican electoral victory in the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives ushered in a new moment in the debate about religious liberty and LGBT rights? Jesuit Father Thomas Reese thinks so. In a blog post for The National Catholic Reporter, Reese, who has been serving as the chair of the Obama administration’s U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, makes the case that the new national mood means that it is now “Time for compromise on gay rights and religious freedom,” the title of the essay.
Reese says that the days of thinking of the debate as a “zero-sum game where no compromise is possible” should end. He describes the current political context of the debate:
“The Republican sweep should give gay activists pause. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, it is unlikely there will be any more gay-friendly legislation or regulations. While Trump does not appear to be a homophobe, he is appointing to his administration people who would like to roll back gains of the gay community, and his judicial appointees will undoubtedly look askance on expanding gay rights. Although he will not press for a reversal on gay rights, he will probably sign any religious liberty legislation he gets from the Republican Congress. . . .
“The best the gays can hope for is a retention of the status quo. But it is just as likely that they will see roll back in some areas. Will this encourage the gay community to compromise or will it make them dig in for a longer fight?”
And religious liberty advocates might be tempted to view the new mood as a total success for their perspective, but Reese cautions that this kind of thinking would be a mistake:
“The danger is that they will see [the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the success of Republican candidates] as a total rejection of the gay agenda and an opportunity to reassert their power. But it would be a dangerous mistake if they overreached.
“They should remember those polls that show growing sympathy for gays, especially among young people. In addition, the business community has been willing to use its economic power to push states like Indiana to reverse religious freedom legislation if it is seen as anti-gay.
“Nor should they forget that Donald Trump says that same-sex marriage is here to stay. He even spoke of protecting LGBTQ citizens in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, a first for a Republican nominee. While Congress and his administration will be filled with people who have opposed gay rights, this opposition is not a priority with Trump. And if history continues to repeat itself, the Democrats will be back in the White House in four or eight years.”
Reese surmises that this atmosphere which is fragile to both sides’ goals “presents the country with an ideal opportunity to discuss compromise.” Reese’s vision of one possible compromise is as follows:
“In broad strokes, it would see an extension of nondiscriminatory laws to cover gays while providing limited exemptions for religious believers and institutions. People could no longer be discriminated against in employment, housing, and public accommodation based on their sexual identity or orientation, but church institutions would retain the right to employ and serve on the basis of their faith claims.”
Reese sees the following benefits for the gay community in such a compromise:
“They get national legislation outlawing discrimination in all but a few instances of employment, housing, and public accommodation. Most of the pie is better than nothing. In addition, they get to appear gracious in victory, knowing that the real challenge is not getting legislation passed but winning over most people to a recognition that gays should be treated with respect. As long as they are seen as attacking religion, they will meet opposition from people for whom religion is a central part of their lives.”
Religious leaders would gain the following:
“More certainty about what is legal or illegal. The ability to run their institutions according to their beliefs without state interference or the fear of being sued. Clear exemptions that protect their institutional freedom. An end to being portrayed as homophobic.”
Reese’s proposal has its appeal, but it has its flaws, too. For one thing, he sees the debate as much more black-and-white than it actually is. We are not in a situation of gays on one side and religious people on the other. What about all the LGBT people who themselves are religious and who want their faith institutions protected? What about the many religious people who see religious freedom as primarily protecting religious people and their consciences, and not just institutions? The reality of the debate is a lot more complex than two totally separate, opposing camps.
Related to this idea of complexity is the situation of LGBT people being fired from employment or dismissed from volunteer opportunities with religious institutions. Reese does not really address that important question in his essay.
Second, he sees religious people as motivated by conscience and faith, and the LGBT community motivated by achieving political reform. That is why he urges the LGBT community to engage in a pragmatic compromise so that they can achieve some, if not all, of their goals. He blames the inability to compromise on LGBT leaders, not the grassroots:
“Most gays would accept these exemptions, but sadly the activists are not interested in compromise.”
While it is certainly true that leaders and the grassroots don’t often share the same opinions (Catholic bishops and lay people are an excellent example), in the case of LGBT rights vs. religious liberty advocates, I think that the leaders and grassroots are on the same page.
From the perspective of LGBT people, especially those at the grassroots, the issue is not one of mere pragmatism, but one of being legally and politically considered as second-class. The debate for LGBT people is as much a matter of closely-held principles (such as human dignity) as it is for the religious liberty advocates.
A third problem with the argument Reese lays out is that he seems to minimize the details of what compromises might involve. He states:
“”The details of the compromise need to be negotiated, and the results might be different in different localities. How small should be the family businesses that are exempted? What about an individual employee who has a conscience problem? What if there is no alternative business or employee available to the gay person? For florists and bakeries, should the exemption only cover same-sex weddings and not other purchases? Should exemptions for religious institutions cover all employees, including janitors, or only those considered “ministers” and teachers of religion? Can issues like bathrooms and locker rooms for transgender persons be postponed for a later day?”
These details are important, and involve some very important practical concerns as well as principles. Compromising on many of them could mean allowing for discriminatory practices to still exist.
A final weakness of Reese’s argument is that the definition of religious liberty is not something that should be dictated by leaders of religious institutions alone. If religious liberty laws are going to allow exemptions for secular businesses run by religious leaders, then that already is an admission that religion is not just a matter of institutional concern, but personal concern, too. So, religious liberty proposals need to take into account the religious concerns of LGBT people and their supporters, too.
Despite my critique of Reese’s argument, I think he is sincere in his efforts to try to resolve this debate in a way that allows LGBT people to gain steps toward equality. He is certainly not motivated by homophobia, but more from a desire to see LGBT people win some political gains during what promises to be a difficult four years. The overall weakness of his essay is that it doesn’t take the LGBT perspective seriously enough to see what values, as well as practicalities, are at stake for them, or how they view the issue.
Fr. Reese has been a strong supporter of LGBT equality. You can read about a number of his previous statements about LGBT issues by clicking here. I thank him for using his powerful voice to advocate for LGBT people.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 5, 2016
For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College. The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8,12-13, 17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12. You can read the texts by clicking here.
Today’s reflection is from John Winslow, a former Jesuit Volunteer and current M. Div. student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
In Advent, we do not only reflect on the coming of Christ in the Incarnation as a historical moment but also as a contemporary reality. We reflect on how Christ is being made manifest to us and for us in the present moment.
We hear today, in a passage from the prophet Isaiah, that the “wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,” that “the leopard shall lie down the kid;” and that “the calf and young lion shall browse together.” We hear the message that a relationship paradigm based on a never-ending cycle of violence and exploitation will end. Christ’s coming undoes one of nature’s most fundamental relationships: that of predator and prey. In Christ, the life of one will no longer depend upon the death of another. In Christ, all of creation “shall be glorious.”
As LGBTQ Catholics, the relationship between the wolf and the lamb is one we know intimately. Growing up, the only feeling I associated with my sexuality was fear: overwhelming, mind-numbing, constant fear. It was closer to me than my bones. It was woven into every word I spoke, like a second language I never knew I was learning but woke up speaking fluently one day.
As LGBTQ Catholics, we often feel pulled in at least two different directions. We do not fit neatly into any of the boxes or categories that contemporary society has created for us. To those who support our God-given LGBTQ identities, our Catholicism is often seen as backward and inexorably tied to cultural conservatism. Meanwhile, our LGBTQ identities are often demeaned and demonized by our faith communities – sometimes the very faith communities that raised us.
And the struggle is not simply instigated by groups external to ourselves. For many of us, the struggle is also a constant, exhausting war of self-attrition: sometimes feeling at peace with ourselves as queer, and sometimes feeling at peace with ourselves as Catholic, but rarely feeling completely at peace with both.
For many people – especially those in the LGBTQ community – the idea that a Roman Catholic priest would somehow be anything other than condemning of my sexuality, much less actually compassionate and helpful, is baffling. Most people laugh when I tell them that the best coming out advice I ever received was from a priest. To be fair, I, too, never imagined I would say, “I came out to my family on Holy Thursday via email because a priest told me to.”
And yet, it is true. I would never have come out without the ongoing love, support, and counsel of many Catholics – women religious, seminarians, lay people, and, yes, priests. The night before Holy Thursday of my junior year of college, I stayed up reading through the journal I had been keeping on and off since age fourteen. I read through accounts of family vacations, and memories of adventures during my semester abroad. I read through my list of firsts: my first kiss with a boy, my first time telling someone I was gay, my first sexual experience. I read through the manic biblical scribblings, the raging prayers and questions. I touched fingers to the tear stains on the poem I wrote about my first crush.
I thought about how desperately I longed for peace–a peace the world seemed incapable of giving.
Of things that would surprise me, receiving “peace” was not at the top of the list. Quite frankly, it’s not something that I ever thought I would find – certainly not after coming out.
And yet, reading through my life, with that priest’s advice on coming out dancing through the back of my head, I realized that coming out was not about doing anything. Rather, coming out was like the wolf and the lamb embracing one another in love, letting something seemingly impossible simply happen the way it was always meant to. And when I did come out, it was the most profound experience of peace that I had ever known.
This Advent is an opportunity for us to remember that Christ’s peace is not just one that will come at the Parousia, the Second Coming. No, Christ’s peace is offered to us daily, a peace that can give us rest. Regardless of the condemnations of the Magisterium, or the sudden emboldening of homophobia and transphobia spreading across the United States after the election, or the vitriol of our families, we are in fact loved in all that we are. When we embrace ourselves in all of our integrity, we find Christ embracing us, too. And it is this embrace that will give us peace.