Cardinal Schönborn Says Church Must Meet All Families Where They Are

A top cardinal has endorsed the idea that the church support all families, including those not considered traditional by the Magisterium’s standard.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna made his remarks while attending a conference in Ireland entitled, “Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family.” He told journalists, per The Catholic Herald: 

“Favouring the family does not mean disfavouring other forms of life – even those living in a same-sex partnership need their families. . .[Family is] the survival network of the future [and] will remain forever the basis of every society.”

Before the conference held in the city of Limerick, Schönborn addressed the idea of family as it relates specifically to Ireland, reported The Independent:

“‘Ireland is synonymous with family, a country that traditionally has had family at its core. . Second unions, divorce, same-sex unions; these are all part of a new narrative around the family in Ireland. So there is a lot of change and the church must show mercy in the context of that change. It must be willing to meet families where they are today.

“‘Ultimately, and this is certainly the case with Ireland, for all the crises in the institution of marriage the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people.'”

Schönborn added that “the weakening of family” threatens society and, as such, “Reinvigorating family is perhaps our great mission today.”

Schönborn’s comments are grounded in his understanding of moral theology. He expounded on this topic during his Irish visit, and Crux quoted the cardinal as saying, “Moral theology stands on two feet: Principles, and then the prudential steps to apply them to reality.” The report continued:

“The problem, he said, was that conscience came often to be seen merely as “the transposition of the Church’s teaching into acts” but in fact “the work of conscience is to discover that God’s law is not a foreign law imposed on me but the discovery that God’s will for me is what is best for me. But this must be an interior discovery.”

“He was ‘deeply moved’ when he read the famous paragraph 37 of Amoris, which complains that too often the Church fails to make room for the consciences of the faithful, and that the task of the Church is to ‘form consciences, not replace them.’

That meant understanding that people operated within constraints. . .’The bonum possibile in moral theology is an important concept that has been so often neglected,’ said Schönborn, adding: ‘What is the possible good that a person or a couple can achieve in difficult circumstances?'”

Grounding his remarks in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the cardinal summarized the document’s message as “marriage and family are possible today,” and said it was noteworthy that even when “everybody can get married. . .so many choose not to get married.”

About pastoral care to families, Schönborn said the reception of Amoris Laetitia is “a long process.” He criticized both rigorists and laxists “who have rapid, clear answers.” Accompaniment, the cardinal said citing St. Gregory the Great, “is an art and it needs training.” Indeed, he admitted the Synod on the Family and Amoris Laetitia were not a set of rules that would be applicable in all cases.

What is refreshing about Cardinal Schönborn’s remarks in Ireland is his willingness to admit reality, and then do theology from it amid life’s messiness rather than dictate from idealized models. Being the child of divorced parents likely helps his more merciful understanding of so-called irregular families. His desire to seek the good that is possible in all situations, including same-gender relationships, is too rare among church leaders.

Schönborn’s visit comes a year before Ireland hosts the 2018 World Meeting of Families, which could be accompanied by a papal visit. There may be no more fitting backdrop for the Catholic Church to consider family than Irish society, given its rapid changes, but this will only be true if church leaders are honest about the realities around them.

Hopefully, the next World Meeting of Families takes up Schönborn’s approach, and focuses on how the church can support all families instead of just those which fit the strict parameters of the Magisterium.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 21, 2017

QUOTE TO NOTE: How Gay Bars and Churches are Safe and Sacred Places

When Orlando, Florida newspaper columnist Justin Mitchell visited the Pulse Nightclub memorial this past June, it stirred him to remember the 49 victims who were killed there. It also stirred him to reflect on how gay nightclubs and churches can be quite similar spaces.

club-church-amsterdamMitchell, writing in the Sun Herald, described his journey as a gay man who was raised Catholic. There were positive moments in youth group when church elevated him in prayer, and there was also “the moment I fell out of love with mass” as pastors criticized marriage equality. There was the progressive church in college that welcomed him, and then the rejection by a former parishioner in his hometown. All of this came back to Mitchell as he watched prayer candles burn at the Pulse memorial. He reflected:

“The point of all of this, though, is that I lit that prayer candle and was brought back to my days in church. Because what many don’t realize is that a gay bar is exactly like church in many ways for the LGBTQ+ community. They both are safe spaces where its members can let go and be vulnerable. They can share their most suppressed feelings, whether it’s holding a man’s hand or praying to the man upstairs. It’s a place where, above all, you don’t feel like anything bad is going to happen to you.”

Many people around the world remembered the Pulse anniversary last month. Catholics lamented one bishop’s decree released on that very day which bans married lesbian and gay people from the most important aspects of church life.

As we move forward, these violations (and others that come to mind) of safe and sacred places are our propellants to work even harder so that there will be places like clubs and churches where all are welcome to be who they are.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 15, 2017

Catholic Groups Object to Bishop Paprocki’s Anti-Gay Decree

Weeks after an Illinois bishop announced pastoral guidelines that bar people in same-gender marriages from church life, Catholics continue to object while the bishop has begun responding to critics.

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Reform organizations’ letter to Bishop Paprocki

Catholic Church reform organizations sent a letter to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield to express their disappointment about his decree which would, among other prohibitions, bar Catholics in same-gender marriages from having funerals. The letter read, in part:

“As communities of Catholics, we were shocked and gravely disappointed at the decree you recently promulgated. . .The Church, at its best, is a haven, a source of spiritual nourishment in a sometimes harsh world. In times of confusion, loss and grief, the Sacraments are especially valued for the strength and grace they provide to all who wish to avail themselves of them. It is disheartening to us as Catholics that our family would forego such cherished ideals in favor of mean and unkind policies.”

The organizations wrote they “decry the rancor and derision that has become such a pervasive part of public life and community,” and expect the church to be a refuge in troubled times. The fourteen organizations include Call to Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, who has written an open letter to the bishop which you can read here, commented to WGLT 89.1:

“The reaction has run the gamut from anger to shock to real disgust at such a Draconian prohibition against lesbian and gay people, especially in this era of Pope Francis where more and more Catholic leaders are making gestures of welcome. . .People feel there are so many other areas the church declares as sin that are not included in this prohibition, such as greed, militarism, racism and support for the death penalty.”

Women-Church Convergence, a coalition of Catholic feminist groups, released its own pastoral letter to the people of Springfield to “offer words of comfort” to LGBTQI persons and their families. The letter read, in part:

“The Decree misses the signal importance of public, joyfully celebrated baptisms of babies, young people, and adults as they become part of our community. It ignores the welcome table that is the Eucharist. And, it dishonors the dead who are denied church funerals not because of sin but because of love. Let especially your young people hear us sing atop our voices, ‘All are welcome.'”

In a statement, Deborah Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch said Paprocki’s “harsh tactics defy the Gospel and deny the God’s own people the love, care, and acceptance that we are called to offer one another.”

While the National Catholic Reporter noted that few bishops are willing to offer criticism of another publicly, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego did support San Jose’s Bishop Patrick McGrath who released a communique to pastoral ministers in his diocese that said all Catholics would be welcome to the sacraments. McElroy commented:

“‘I think that is the appropriate policy that I would hope the priests would observe, especially in the times of funerals, but more broadly in the sense of regular pastoral action in support of men and women who are in all states of lives and who have all sorts of challenges. . .Our fundamental stance has to be one of inclusion in the church, especially during a time of burial.'”

Bishop Paprocki (1)
Contact Bishop Paprocki about his decree

In the face of criticism from many quarters, Bishop Paprocki is speaking out in defense of his decree through a diocesan statement, a column in the diocesan newspaper, and an interview. NCR reported about the interview:

“. . .Paprocki states that he was surprised by the attention the decree received as it is ‘a rather straightforward application of existing Church teaching and canon law.’ He also said he has ‘received many supportive comments and assurances of prayer,’ including ‘positive reactions’ from the priests in the diocese.

“When the online news magazine asked about Martin’s Facebook post, Paprocki said, ‘Father Martin gets a lot wrong in those remarks.'”

Paprocki also clarified that his decree applied not to lesbian and gay people generally, but specifically to those persons who had entered into civil same-gender marriages. He added that even someone in such a marriage could be fully admitted to the sacraments “if they repent and renounce their ‘marriage.’ ”

Responding to DeBernardo’s open letter, which suggested people would leave the church because of such exclusive policies, Paprocki told Catholic World Report “the real issue is not how many people will come to church, but how to become holy, how to become a saint.” The bishop added, “It is disappointing when people leave the Church, just as it surely must have been disappointing for Jesus when people walked away from Him.”

Such clarifications are doing little to pacify the bishop’s critics. The look to his lengthy LGBT-negative record for proof that this decree is but one instance among many harmful actions. You can read about Paprocki’s full record by clicking here.

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John Freml

John Freml, a married gay Catholic in Springfield, told WGLT 89.1 he was “disappointed and very hurt” by the decree. But, Freml added, the church is not simply the bishops but the entire people of God. He was supported while coming out at a Catholic high school, and he and his husband have found welcome at their parish where “we didn’t make any effort to hide who we were.”

To read more Catholic reactions to Paprocki’s decree, click here and here.

New Ways Ministry continues to recommend you contact Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him. 

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 13, 2017

Cardinal Tobin and Pope Francis on LGBTQ Issues: Half-Empty or Half-Full?

In a recent interview with the Crux website, Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin elaborated on his decision to welcome a recent LGBTQ pilgrimage to his archdiocese’s cathedral.  His explanation aligns very clearly, for better or worse, with many of Pope Francis’ messages about LGBT issues.

The interviewers elicited from Tobin a statement of welcome to LGBTQ people, a statement about LGBT lives, and a statement of fidelity to church teaching about sexual morality.

Cardinal Tobin and Pope Francis

First, the welcome.  Tobin stated:

My intention was to welcome. I would justify that with the words of somebody like Benedict XVI, who would frequently say: ‘If we proclaim the Gospel first and foremost as a moral code, then we’ve destroyed the Gospel, it becomes something else.’ It doesn’t mean that our moral choices aren’t important, but they’re a response to the previous announcement of good news, the encounter.

Then, concerning LGBT lives, the cardinal said:

I don’t presume that every person who identifies him or herself as LGBTQ is sexually active. If they’re attempting to live a chaste life, then they certainly need the support of the believing community, a chance to pray, and to know that they’re welcomed within the body of Christ.

And he also acknowledged his support of church teaching:

If anybody asks me, I preach what the Church preaches, and teach what the Church teaches, and believe it with great serenity. But I also feel that it’s my job to welcome people. When I received the crozier in St. Peter’s in Rome, what I did was say a prayer that says, ‘You’re to be attentive to the hearts of the people entrusted to you.’ I feel these people were entrusted to me too.

Tobin’s remarks are a complex series of statements.  Like Pope Francis,  he emphasizes welcome. What is good is that he prioritizes welcome over morality.  The “announcement of good news, the encounter” is what is important to both men.  Though they don’t ignore morality, they don’t see it as primary in terms of initiating pastoral outreach.

This tension between morality and welcome is evidenced in the third section of his comments where he professes his support for church teaching.  He places that support, however, within the context of welcome once again.  He sees that LGBT people are part of the people “entrusted” to him.  He has a responsibility toward them.  He can’t ignore them.

His middle comment about LGBTQ lives is a bit more ambiguous than his other comments.  On the one hand, he acknowledges that he doesn’t see sexual or gender minorities primarily in terms of being sexually active.  That is a good step.  It means that he recognizes that there is more to being an LGBTQ person than sexual activity.  LGBTQ people have whole lives, and, often because of their sometimes stigmatized identities, those lives often experience an undue amount of oppression and discrimination. At the same time, their lives also evidence an amazing amount of courage and honesty.  All of these shadings are lost when church leaders think of LGBTQ people on in terms of sexuality.

Tobin goes on in that section seemingly to place a greater value on LGBTQ people who live chaste lives.  He identifies only them as needing “the support of the believing community.”  That is wrong.   ALL LGBTQ people need the support of the believing community. Without exception.

The cardinal’s comments seem to encapsulate the identical tension that is so often present in Pope Francis’ discourse about LGBTQ people.  Pope Francis emphasizes welcome and encounter. Pope Francis places welcome above morality.  Pope Francis certainly supports church teaching about sexual morality, sometimes going so far as to speak out passionately against marriage equality initiatives around the globe.

So, in assessing both Cardinal Tobin and Pope Francis, the question comes down to:  Do we see their efforts in regard to LGBTQ people as a glass half-empty or a glass-half full?  I admit that I tend to see the latter choice.  Neither the cardinal nor the pope are expressing positions of full equality of LGBTQ people.  But they are certainly steps ahead of where their predecessors have been.

So what do you think:  half-empty or half-full?   Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 10, 2017

 

Is Chick-fil-A Unsafe for Catholic Schools?

Are Catholic campuses made less safe for LGBTQ students when Chick-fil-A outlets are present? According to some students, the answer to this question is a clear “yes.” This spring, disputes over the fast food chain erupted at both Duquesne University and Fordham University.

The popular fast-food chain has become synonymous with anti-LGBTQ issues since 2012 when it was learned that its CEO, Dan Cathy, spoke out strongly against marriage equality and the chain’s foundation had donated millions of dollars to oppose same-gender marriage initiatives.

chick-fil-a-secret-menu-mealAt Duquesne, the Student Government Association passed a resolution asking administrators to reconsider opening a Chick-fil-A on campus. The resolution was prompted by concerns from Lambda, a gay-straight alliance. Rachel Coury, the group’s president, told campus newspaper The Duke:

“‘I’ve tried very hard within the last semester and a half to promote this safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community. . .So I fear that with the Chick-fil-A being in Options that maybe people will feel that safe place is at risk.'”

Coury and her peers in Lambda are concerned because of Chick-fil-A’s ties to, in her words, “specifically anti-gay organizations” like Focus on the Family and the now defunct Exodus International. According to the company, it no longer funds groups with social-political agendas, instead focusing on youth and education initiatives.

University spokesperson Bridget Fare countered the Student Government and Lambda claims by saying student reactions are overall quite positive and that the company “has assured [Duquesne] that they do not discriminate.”

As an aside, Donald Trump, Jr. attacked the Duquesne students in a tweet, saying: “Luckily these students wont likely have to tackle issues more stressful than a yummy chicken sandwich in their lives… Oh Wait #triggered”.

At Fordham, University administrators rejected a proposed Chick-fil-A because of negative student reactions. Campus groups, including the Rainbow Alliance and United Student Government, were consulted, according to campus newspaper Fordham Observer. Concerns were expressed about not only the company’s LGBT-negative record, but diet-based problems tied to a fast food chain.

In a move to quell negative responses, Chick-fil-A offered to partner with Rainbow Alliance for on campus programs. This was roundly rejected by the Alliance’s membership with Co-President Renata Francesco saying, “[W]e’re not going to partner with an institution, a corporation that has so strongly supported other institutions that work to destabilize and demolish movements for queer equity.”

The administration’s decision to reject Chick-fil-A is not necessarily being celebrated at Fordham. Students have been critical of the University’s failure to provide transgender-inclusive accommodations. Roberta Munoz, co-president of the Rainbow Alliance, said, “I don’t want to pat them on the back. You can’t say ‘Oh you’re such a great ally’ when there’s still so many issues with our queer students. Like great, love it, but keep going.”

While not condoning the corporation’s policies, I think what students should consider is what is how Catholic schools should prioritize their efforts to provide LGBT supports. Chicken sandwiches seem far less pressing than the need for gender-neutral restrooms. Keeping perspective will help strengthen student efforts by focusing resources and not allowing school officials to easily dismiss students’ demands.

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

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June ??, 2017

 

 

Students Protest Catholic School’s Decision to Remove Rainbow Flag

Controversy over LGBT issues in one of Canada’s Catholic school systems has once again made headlines, resulting in unfortunate harm during Pride celebrations.

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Students protesting at Blessed Oscar Romero High School

To mark Pride, students at Blessed Oscar Romero High School in Edmonton, Alberta, hung a rainbow flag in the school with some additional rainbow decorations. The next day, students drew a rainbow flag in chalk at the school’s entrance. CBC reported what happened next:

 

“On Tuesday morning, student president-elect Francis Nievera was called into the principal’s office. He said he was told all the decorations must come down because the chalk was being tracked inside, which he said was understandable. But those weren’t the only reasons.

“‘They said putting up flags was a political statement and it made some people uncomfortable and we need to make everyone feel comfortable,’ said Nievera, an openly transsexual and transgender Grade 10 student. ‘To have it all torn down in less than a day kind of sucked.'”

Lori Nagy of the Edmonton Catholic School Board denied claims the decorations were authorized, and said the school’s principal was willing to support other pride celebrations. Nonetheless, Nievera’s invitation, students protested, according to the CBC: 

“Prior to the protest, a video shows an emotional Nievera, near a handful of supporters including the school mascot, address students from the stage in the school cafeteria.

“‘We have to take down all the decorations today,’ he said, setting off boos from the crowd. ‘But I just want to say because of this I really don’t feel safe.'”

“‘If you guys want to help support pride week, even though all of this will be taken down, feel free to come outside and protest.'”

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The chalk rainbow flag in dispute at Blessed Oscar Romero High School

Students gathered at the chalk rainbow flag as other students used power washers to remove it. According to the CBC, “More than 30 students refused to return to class.”

Kennedy Harper, who helped organize the school’s Pride celebrations, said administrators threatened protesting students with suspension. She commented further:

“‘It seems like along with the chalk they were just washing away their identity. . .It felt really good for a little while, seeing the school really come together and standing up for the rights of minorities whether they’re part of the LGBTQ community or not.'”

Shortly after all the decorations had been removed , school administrators then said that the flags would be allowed for the remainder of the week.

This is hardly the first time Edmonton’s Catholic school system has been roiled in LGBT-related controversies. A student at the neighboring St. Joseph Catholic High School was also asked to remove a rainbow flag he wore during a school ceremony. The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s actions in 2015 around a transgender policy saw meetings erupt into a “shouting match” as the Board approved a draft policy allowing  “just discrimination” of some youth. Elsewhere in Alberta, a former bishop referred to LGBTQ policies being implemented in Catholic schools “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.”

The situation at Blessed Oscar Romero adds to this list of avoidable, damaging incidents where LGBTQ students are made to feel less than comfortable and even unsafe in Catholic education. No harm was caused by allowing some minor Pride decorations to be displayed, but much harm was done by power washing them and ripping them away.

Once again, it is young students in Catholic schools who are the ones leading our church to be more just and inclusive for LGBT people. And of these students’ commitment to justice for all people, Monseñor Romero would likely be very proud.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 19, 2017

 

 

Praying for Orlando, One Year Later

“Then they sat down upon the ground with [Job] seven days and seven nights, but none of them spoke a word to him; for they saw how great was his suffering.”     –Job 2:13

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“Intercessory Prayers” by Ruth Palmer

In moments when hatred and pain coalesce, and violence erupts, like last year’s massacre of LGBT people at Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, year, the shock and grief do not easily leave us. This lingering pain is felt profoundly by those who lost a loved one and by survivors who escaped. Even as we mark the one year anniversary of this tragedy, few words encapsulate well all that is still felt by these mourners, by LGBT communities, and by a shaken society.

The mass shooting in Orlando was not unique, given the regularity of mass shootings in the United States, but it was especially shocking. It reminded us that anti-LGBT violence is not a history lesson. Queerphobia and transphobia still underpin horrific acts. Church leaders silent after Orlando remain silent about such violence despite Catholics’ cries for justice.

Today, in remembering the 49 people killed and 53 people wounded, perhaps it is best we just sit together in community, like Job’s friends, silent before inexplicable suffering and offering prayers of lamentation. I offer this prayer today:

God who is ever with us,

We are hurting today, hurting deeply. Afraid and in mourning, we come to you in prayer because words fail us and justice seems distant. We place ourselves in your embrace, and we trust you because you never abandon those whom you love.

You are God, the Creator. In radiant diversity, you made each one of us like you. Each person is created to be exactly who you made them to be, made so we can share in your divine life by reflecting the glorious array of sexual and gender identities which shine forth from you. May we cherish human dignity, especially the dignity of those who are marginalized and of those people who have caused grave harm.

You are God, the Christ. In Jesus, you dwelt among us. And you were present at Pulse as raw violence shattered lives, just as you have been present when so many LGBT people are crucified because they lived and loved openly. It is only the center of your Cross, in your Sacred Heart, which can hold the world’s suffering when we feel weak before it. Be with us now.

You are God, the Consoler. Pour forth your grace which is our sustenance. Plant within us holy anger at the injustices which compound LGBT people’s suffering: racism, migration justice, ableism, Islamophobia, sexism, economic inequality, and more. Help us cultivate this holy anger with prudence and perseverance such that, through reconciliation, we may help bring about the fruits of justice.

You are God. We are only able to spread love because we know your profound love for us, and even as we hurt, we desire for others to know your presence. God, be with us anew today.

Amen.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 12, 2017