Puerto Rico’s Archbishop Calls for Referendum As Marriage Law Is Ignored

March 26, 2015

Puerto Rico will no longer uphold its defense of marriage law which only permits heterosexual couples to marry and will not recognize same-gender marriages from other jurisdictions.  But the archbishop of San Juan was not happy with the decision and has called on the island’s government to hold a referendum on same-sex unions

Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves

According to Latino. FoxNews.comArchbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves responded strongly to the decision by Justice Secretary César Miranda, stating:

“We urge our people to launch a process so that a decision of such historical magnitude and significance can be decided through a referendum in which (voters) can express themselves. If not, this would be a dictatorial imposition by the government.”

Gonzalez Nieves called the decision “”very regrettable and disconcerting.”

Miranda, on the other hand, views the decision as a victory for human rights. According to a Reuters article, the Justice Secretary said:

“The decision recognizes that all human beings are equal before the law. We believe in an equal society in which everyone enjoys the same rights.”

Miranda’s decision was announced just before the deadline for the Puerto Rican government to respond to a Court of Appeals case, being heard in Boston, in which five same-sex couples were challenging the prohibitive law.  The jurisdiction of the Boston court also includes five states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Ricky Martin

Other prominent Puerto Ricans applauded the government’s decision, including openly gay singer Ricky Martin, who stated, in Spanish, on social media:

“My thanks to Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla for demonstrating that he is a leader who is not afraid of the challenges of the present. His support for the determination of the Boston Court on marriage equality does justice to equality. My appreciation to Senators and Representatives and my sisters and brothers who joined this struggle for equality and human rights.”

“Today is a great day for my island, my heart beats fast in my chest. How proud I am to live in a country of equality. I love you Puerto Rico.”

In a statement quoted by Reuters, Governor Padilla pointed to the changing attitudes in the United States, of which Puerto Rico is a territory, stating that there was an

“undeniable consensus that does not allow discriminatory distinctions as that contained in our Civil Code with respect to the rights of same sex couples.”

Padilla, a 43-year old practicing Catholic, who in the past had supported the law, added:

“Everyone knows my religious beliefs but political leaders should not impose their beliefs.”

Though not a state, Puerto Rico has enormous cultural exchange with the United States.  It will be interesting to see if this Latin island nation, where 56% of the population is Roman Catholic, will follow the tide of growing acceptance of same-sex marriage both in the U.S. and Latin America.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Catholics Leave Mass Over Bigoted Homily, but Not All Priests Oppose Marriage Equality

March 21, 2015

Gaelic footballer Eámon McGee, left, supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign

Catholics in Ireland walked out of Mass recently after a priest made prejudiced and personal attacks during a homily against marriage equality, about which the Irish are set to vote in a referendum later this spring.

Fr. John Britto, a Carmelite from India, encouraged parishioners at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Annagry, County Donegal, to deny same-gender couples the right to marry by voting ‘No.’ He also attacked local Gaelic footballer Eamon McGee, who has publicly supported the ‘Yes’ campaign, recently telling the Irish Examiner:

” ‘I don’t know would I be more ashamed that I didn’t vote or the fact I voted against it. It comes down to equality and one less difference in society…It’s not that I have any friends who are gay or any close family members but it’s a social issue.’ “

In response to Fr. Britto’s homily, more than a dozen attendees stood up and walked out, including family members of the woman for whom Mass was being offered on the first anniversary of her death. One parishioner who left told The Independent:

” ‘He (the priest) is entitled to his view but it didn’t go down well. After the Mass some members of the congregation approached the family of the woman being remembered to say they only stayed because of them, otherwise they would have walked out too.’ “

Former altar boy and longtime parishioner Noel Sharkey, who assists the ‘Yes’ campaign there also commented:

” ‘As a Catholic and a gay man from the area, I think it’s essential that we engage on this issue in a respectful and tolerant way, and I ask people to avoid using hurtful or upsetting language. Yes Equality Donegal asks people to focus their attention on the key principles of love and equality as they make their mind up on this important issue.’ “

Fr. Britto, however, denies these claims and refuses to clarify what happened, saying only:

“I didn’t see anybody leaving. I didn’t see that…I won’t talk to the media because the media will only twist what I have to say; I speak to the people in church and I only the speak the truth and the Word of God.”

It was reported that the priest issued an apology to McGee, but Fr. Britto denies apologizing for any of his homily, reports The Independent.

Fr. Iggy O’Donovan

On a slightly more positive note, an Augustinian priest from County Limerick announced he would vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum. Fr. Iggy O’Donovan wrote an op-ed for the Irish Times in which he stated:

” ‘It is possible to have deep and passionately-held convictions without seeking to have those convictions imposed by the State on fellow citizens who do not share them…respect for the freedom of others who differ from us is part and parcel of the faith we profess. For these and for other reasons I will be voting Yes.’ “

In a later radio interview, Fr. O’Donovan clarified that he does not endorse marriage equality and would never preside at a same-gender wedding, but he could not judge others and how they choose to live their lives. He ventured that other priests would likely vote ‘Yes,’ too.

With about ten weeks until Irish polls open, the ‘Yes’ campaign is launched and the debate over marriage equality is intensifying.

The damage by negative statements from church leaders such as Fr. John Britto or Bishop Kevin Doran, who said gay couples were not parents and compared homosexuality to Down syndrome, is enormous. Catholic clergy would do well to temper their anti-LGBT viewpoints, which are increasingly not accepted by an Irish Church already devastated due to the sexual abuse crisis and other problems, and keep these thoughts out of Mass. If they wish to make their opinions known on the issue, like Fr. Iggy O’Donovan, doing so in another venue, and in a way that is respectful of and sensitive to LGBT people, should be the foremost considerations.

Marriage equality coming to Ireland could be a moment of renewed belief in marriage, love, and family in this traditionally very Catholic nation. Church leaders should choose to prevent divisive pastoral harm in the lead up to the referendum.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Archbishops Correct Irish Bishop’s Insensitive Remarks About Lesbian & Gay People

March 12, 2015

The two leading bishops of Ireland have refused to support the recent statements by another Irish bishop in which he said that gay people are not parents and that homosexuality was comparable to Down’s Syndrome and spina bifida.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Archbishop Eamon Martin speak with the press about Bishop Kevin Doran’s comments.

The Irish Times reported that Armagh’s Archbishop Eamon Martin and Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin held a press conference during the national bishops’ meeting to correct the statements by Bishop Kevin Doran, of Elphin, which he made during a recent radio interview focusing on the Irish hierarchy’s opposition to the upcoming national referendum on marriage equality.  [For a transcript of selected portions of the interview, click here.]

Both Eamon Martin and Diarmuid Martin are, respectively, president and vice president of Ireland’s national conference of bishops.  The Dublin archbishop made headlines last year when he said:

“God never created anybody that he doesn’t love.…

“Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that – they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people.”

The Irish Times report carried a good deal of the two archbishops’ statements concerning Doran’s interview:

“Asked whether Bishop Doran had his confidence following a Newstalk interview he gave on Monday, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin replied: ‘I won’t go into that.’

“He continued ‘I believe certain types of language are inappropriate.’

“He described as ‘an unfortunate phrase,’ a comment by Bishop Doran in the interview that ‘people who have children are not necessarily parents.’

“The Archbishop continued: ‘I hope that people were not offended by it. We have used the term parenthood…we talk about adoptive parents, we talk about lone parents. There are very many, many definitions. I think that we should look on that variety of situations in a way that is more positive. We shouldn’t use phrases that may offend people.’ . . .

“Archbishop Eamon Martin said ‘I believe there are many different kinds of parenthood and indeed there are many gay people who are parents.’ ”

Archbishop Eamon Martin also commented on another important error in Bishop Doran’s interview:

“On Bishop Doran’s claim that ‘the jury is out’ on whether people were born gay or became gay Archbishop Eamon Martin said ‘I believe people are born the way they are born and I believe that God creates us as we are.’ “

While Bondings 2.0 reported on Doran’s comments on Down’s Syndrome and spina bifida, we were not, at the time, aware of his comments on parenting.  What follows is the transcript of that portion of the interview with host Chris Donoghue:

Doran: “Yeah, but you obviously haven’t heard what I’m saying. There’s an essential relationship between marriage and the giving of life to, and caring for, children.”

O’Donoghue: “What I’m saying is…”

Doran: “Ad so when you change the meaning of marriage, you change the relationships of parents because if children are now, to have say, two parents who are of the same sex, that…”

O’Donoghue: “But children do, Bishop. As in lesbian people, lesbians, gay men they are already parents..”

Doran: “They’re not parents. You see the point about it is…”

O’Donoghue: “But they are, all over Ireland. They have children.”

Doran: “They may have children but that’s the difference, you see that’s the point, people who have children are not necessarily parents. ‘

Both archbishops did not back down on their opposition to marriage equality becoming the law of the land in Ireland.  They restated their arguments, including noting that Pope Francis is opposed to marriage equality laws.

Significant still, however, is that these two leaders would make such a public denouncement of one of their brother bishops.   In fact, they noted that Doran does not speak for the conference:

“When it was put to him that Bishop Doran had been fronting the Catholic bishops stance on the marriage equality referendum, the Archbishop of Dublin said the position was being fronted ‘by the President and Vice President of the Conference. That is why we are here today.’

Archbishop Eamon Martin said that Doran apologized for any hurt that his words had caused.

In a separate incident earlier this month, Doran made headlines by stating that gay people could already legally marry–jut not each other.  Thes public relations fiascos are a lesson in how bishops need further education on LGBT issues, and this could best be accomplished by greater dialogue with LGBT people.  Let’s hope that Bishop Doran, who will likely not be speaking further on the marriage referendum, will use his time to educate himself by open and honest conversations with Catholic LGBT people in his diocese.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Pope’s Influence Fails to Move Slovaks to Oppose Marriage & Adoption Equality

February 9, 2015

Even with the endorsement of Pope Francis, a referendum to ban same-gender marriage and adoption by lesbian and gay couple in the heavily Catholic European nation of Slovakia failed due to extremely low voter turnout.

Billboard in Slovakia supporting ban on marriage and adoption equality.

At least 50% of the electorate would have had to participate in the referendum, but only 21.4% showed up at the polls,  according to Associated Press news story on LGBTQNation.com

The Catholic bishops in Slovakia supported the referendum’s goals, and last week at the Vatican, Pope Francis encouraged a group of Slovakian pilgrims “to continue their efforts in defense of the family, the vital cell of society.”  This statement was his most direct involvement in a national marriage equality debate.   In addition to the questions about marriage and adoption, the referendum also contained a question about allowing parents to remove their children from sex education classes in schools.

Because the referendum was dependent on a 50% turnout for it to be valid, those who opposed the anti-LGBT measures encouraged voters to refrain from voting.  That strategy seems to have worked. Deutsche Welle reported on the results:

“Ahead of Saturday’s vote, liberals gay rights activists and various media outlets had called on the nation’s electorate to boycott the referendum – a simple tactic which proved to be a success.

” ‘The result shows that a campaign full of prejudice … failed to mobilize people, which is very good news for Slovakia,’ activist Lucia Plavakova told Reuters news agency.”

Those who did turn out to vote overwhelmingly endorsed the ban on marriage equality (95%), adoption (92%), and allowing opting out of sex education (90%).   Slovakia already has a ban on same-gender marriage, civil unions, and adoption.  The referendum was meant to strengthen the bans legally.

One LGBT activist was hopeful following the vote, according to the Associated Press story:

“Romana Schlesinger, a LGBT activist said, she hoped the government will now work to make it possible for same-sex couples to live in registered partnership ‘because all our partnerships, our families are living without legal recognition or protection.’ “

More than 80% of Slovaks are Christian, and of these, most are Catholic.  Billboards (see photo above) picturing the pope giving a thumbs-up sign, with slogans supporting the referendum, appeared across the nation, but they seem to have been ineffective.  LGBTQNation.com offered the following explanatory caption for the photo above:

“A billboard depicting Pope Francis with his thumb up located at Klokocina district in Nitra, Slovakia, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, invites voters to the Slovak national referendum on the protection of the traditional family scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7. The Billboard slogans read (in clock-wise direction from left upper corner: ‘Come to referendum 7.2.2015,’  ‘Vote 3xYES’ and  ‘ “Slovakia fights brave today for the protection of the traditional family” (as a quotation) – Pope Francis, Jan. 22, 2015, in Rome.’ “

Yet, the pope’s role seemed to have little influence on the way that they voted. Despite his charismatic popularity among Catholics worldwide, it seems that Pope Francis’ political message against marriage equality is not as powerful as the power of people who want to respect human dignity, rights, and equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


What to Make of Cardinal Marx’s Ambivalence Toward Gay & Lesbian Couples?

February 8, 2015

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Readers of this blog may become tired over the next year of hearing about Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx.  Yet, it seems that whenever he opens his mouth he has something positive to say in regard to gay and lesbian issues (he has not, to my knowledge, spoken about bisexual or transgender topics).  He is one of Pope Francis’ nine close cardinal advisors, and at last year’s synod, he was one of the leading voices for greater welcome and pastoral outreach for gay and lesbian people and couples.  And already this year, he gave a lecture at Stanford University, California, and during the question period, he addressed gay and lesbian topics positively.

Luke Hansen, SJ, who reported on the Stanford lecture for America magazine, sat down with Cardinal Marx for a one-on-one interview, which the magazine published this week. Again, the prelate had very positive things to say about gay and lesbian people, but he also revealed his limitations on the issue of marriage.  What to make of this ambivalence, which seems to be something common among even the most progressive church leaders today?

When asked what he has learned from committed gay relationships that might influence sexual ethics, Marx answered:

“When speaking about sexual ethics, perhaps we must not begin with sleeping together, but with love, fidelity and the search for a life-long relationship. I am astonished that most of our young people, including Catholic homosexuals who are practicing, want a relationship that lasts forever. The doctrine of the church is not so strange for people. It is true. We must begin with the main points of the doctrine, to see the dream: the dream is to have a person say, a man and woman say, ‘You and you, forever. You and you, forever.’ And we as church say, ‘Yes, that’s absolutely O.K. Your vision is right!’ So we find the way. Then perhaps there is failure. They find the person, and it is not a great success. But life-long fidelity is right and good.

“The church says that a gay relationship is not on the same level as a relationship between a man and a woman. That is clear. But when they are faithful, when they are engaged for the poor, when they are working, it is not possible to say, “Everything you do, because you are a homosexual, is negative.” That must be said, and I have heard no objection. It is not possible to see a person from only one point of view, without seeing the whole situation of a person. That is very important for sexual ethics.

“The same goes for people who are together but marry later, or when they are faithful together but only in a civil marriage. It is not possible to say that the relationship was all negative if the couple is faithful together, and they are waiting, or planning their life, and after 10 years they find the way to come to the sacrament. When possible, we must help the couple to find fulfillment in the sacrament of marriage. We discussed this question at the synod, and many synod fathers share this opinion. I was not alone in this opinion.”

Looking at sexuality broadly in terms of situation, context, and quality of relationship is something that Catholic LGBT advocates and many theologians have been saying for decades now.  It is refreshing to hear a cardinal of the Church echo such sentiments.

But in the next question, which asked Cardinal Marx if he agreed with Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny’s recent statement that the church should find ways to bless the relationships of gay and lesbian couples, he stated a belief in the normativity of heterosexual marriage:

“I said in the synod that Paul VI had a great vision in “Humanae Vitae.” The relationship between a man and a woman is very important. The sexual relationship in a faithful relationship is founded on the connection of procreation, giving love, sexuality and openness to life. Paul VI believed that this connection would be destroyed. He was right; see all the questions of reproductive medicine and so on. We cannot exclude this great model of sexuality, and say, ‘We have diversity,’ or ‘Everybody has the right to….’ The great meaning of sexuality is the relationship between a man and a woman and the openness to give life. I have also previously mentioned the question of accompanying people, to see what people are doing in their lives and in their personal situation.”

It seems that Marx is not yet willing to be bold in support of institutionally recognizing same-gender relationships as equivalent to marriage.  In one sense, his statements are as confusing as Pope Francis’ remarks have been.  On one hand, they something positive, and then on the other hand, they defend traditional marriage. This ambivalence is curious.  Are they afraid that if they support marriage equality strongly that they will be discredited by the majority of bishops who do not hold their opinions?  Or are they truly as ambivalent as they sound, not yet ready to accept marriage.

Both Marx and Francis have spoken of “accompaniment,” and I think that is a good thing.  Some critics think that this accompaniment only means that church ministers will accompany gay and lesbian people on a faith journey that is ultimately leading to the acceptance of celibacy.   No doubt, some ministers will see it that way.

I think, however, that we need to be aware that any sort of pastoral accompaniment means that the minister may be changed as much, or even more so, than those ministered to.  Haven’t you found this in your own experience?  That when you think you are “giving” something to someone in need, you find that you often end up “receiving” much more than you were able to give?

I tend to see calls to accompaniment not as devious ways to get people to change their attitudes, but as ways of dialoguing, which leaves both parties open and vulnerable to change. Accompaniment has been terribly absent from most parishes’ approach to LGBT people.  Shunning and shaming have too often been the official response.   Accompaniment, while not the ideal, does seem to be the next step that is needed in the process of the institutional leaders of the church getting to know and appreciate what so many of us have already seen for so long:  that LGBT people, and their relationships, are wholesome, healthy, and holy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Amid Conflicting Statements, Catholic Healthcare System Considers Granting Benefits to Same-Sex Couples

January 25, 2015

Conflicting statements have led to a growing controversy about whether the nation’s sixth largest Catholic healthcare system in the U.S. will begin offering benefits to employees in same-sex marriages this spring.

Last week, Missouri’s Springfield News-Leader reported that Mercy Health System, which has 40,000 workers across seven states, would begin offering benefits to employees in same-sex marriages to comply with shifting employment and healthcare regulations. The newspaper quotes Mercy spokesperson Sonya Kullmann:

” ‘As a Catholic health ministry, Mercy has followed the Church’s position on this issue in the past…However, in line with recent changes in government regulations, we will extend benefits to all legally married spouses effective this spring.’ “

However, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch later cited a Mercy statement which says the system is only “exploring how best to expand health care benefits for our co-workers, their dependents and loved ones…to help address their varied family situations…” According to an update from the Springfield News-LeaderMercy is not responding to inquiries about the differing statements.

However, this discrepancy has not stopped Catholic officials from condemning even the possibility that LGBT employees be granted equal benefits. Bishop James Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau condemned the healthcare organization’s action, stating: “no believing Christian worthy of the name should violate God’s law because of ‘regulations.'” Crux reported that the bishop continued:

“Our ancestors refused to abandon the faith even when subjected to the cruelty and torture of the Roman Empire, but in our age unspecified ‘regulations,’ government funds, and fear of public ridicule is sufficient in order to secure the compliance of some,”

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Archdiocese of St. Louis weighed in on Mercy’s potential move by criticizing the federal government for putting Catholic businesses in a tough spot.

“ ‘It is simply inconsistent to claim to be a Catholic institution while publicly acting against Church teaching…Today, however, Catholic institutions face sanctions from the American government for fidelity to their Catholic identity.’

“The statement added that failure to comply with federal regulations would result ‘in crippling penalties that would gravely impact Mercy’s employees and patient care.’ “

Bishop Johnston and the Archdiocese of St. Louis do not yet understand how valuing and protecting LGBT employees benefits the common good.  Was it their harsh rhetoric that caused Mercy administrators to pause on their decision to extend benefits?

The Springfield News-Leader pointed out that local competitor CoxHealth, a secular healthcare provider, began offering such benefits last fall as a means of “attracting and retaining the best talent.” Mercy would not be the first church-affiliated system to offer equal benefits. For instance, Catholic Health Initiatives began offering such benefits earlier this month to employees in the 19 states in which it operates, saying in a statement:

” ‘CHI believes that health care is part of the common good and is considered a basic human right…And so it was important to make health benefits accessible to employees, their dependents and loved ones within the employee’s family where possible. The goal of expanding coverage overall will continue to align more closely with the desired culture of supporting diversity and families. This change also serves the purpose of eliminating any perceived inequity of benefits by some employees and will help CHI to attract and retain talented employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or personal situation.’ “

The same article also offers other examples of Catholic institutions finding alternative ways to provide benefits to same-sex couples:

“St. Louis-based SSM Health — which has facilities in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Illinois and Missouri — opened employee health plans to ‘legally domiciled adults’ in 2003, according to spokesman Steve Van Dinter.

” ‘Through this innovative and compassionate program, we have been able to extend health care coverage to hundreds of adult spouses, parents, children, and friends who reside with an employee and are not otherwise insured,’ Van Dinter said in an email.

“To qualify as a legally domiciled adult under the plan, the individual must reside in the same home with the employee, be a member of the employee’s household and be 19 years old or older. The first page of a Google search for “legally domiciled adult” is predominantly Catholic institutions explaining their benefit policies, including Loyola University Maryland, Georgetown University, Denver-based SCL Health and the University of San Francisco.”

” ‘As a Catholic health ministry founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, SSM Health believes that access to health care coverage is a basic good,’ Van Dinter said.”

Additionally, according to a National Catholic Reporter article from October 2014,  22 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. offer benefits to employees’ same-sex partners, as will the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana.

Mercy administrators should make the just choice for their workers and patients by extending benefits to same-sex couples, a choice which both upholds Catholic identity and adheres to government regulations. In the American system where benefits, especially health insurance, are tied to employment, ensuring employees and their families are adequately cared for is an act of justice. Indeed, Pope John XXIII was one of the first voices to declare healthcare a human right in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris. Expanding access to quality care for all, especially marginalized groups like LGBT people, is the action of a “believing Christian worthy of the name.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


What to Make of Pope Francis’ Latest Comments on Marriage?

January 17, 2015

Until yesterday, I had wanted to write a hope-filled blog post about Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines this weekend.  On Wednesday and Thursday, I had been reading articles about the great expectation for his visit building in this nation with the third largest Catholic population in the world (behind Brazil and Mexico, and followed by the U.S.).  There has been much good news lately about Filipino church leaders speaking out for LGBT people.

Pope Francis addressing the meeting of families in Pasay City, Philippines

But then yesterday, the news broke that in one of his talks in the Philippines, Pope Francis decried the “ideological colonization” of the family, of which journalist John Allen said that a Vatican spokesman told him that “at least in part, the pope had gay marriage in mind.”

Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter provided the details of the statement, made at a meeting of families:

“Saying that God is calling people to ‘recognize the dangers threatening our own families,’ Francis stated, ‘There is an ideological colonization we have to be careful of that tries to destroy the family.’

“Obliquely referencing historical colonization of the Philippines and his native Argentina, he continued: ‘Just as our peoples were able to say no to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and very strong with fortitude to say no to these initiatives of colonization that could destroy the family.’ “

Later in the story, McElwee reported on the pope’s elaboration of these ideas:

” ‘The pressures on family life today are many,’ Francis said. ‘The economic situation has caused families to be separated by migration and the search for employment, and financial problems strain many households.’

He continued: ‘The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.’ “

In the same talk, he praised Pope Paul VI’s birth control encyclical, Humanae Vitae, but also urged pastors to be compassionate in particular cases.

What to make of this development, especially since it comes just about two months after the Vatican hosted a conference on male/female complementarity in sexuality, where the pope publicly praised the concept which many see as sexist and irrelevant to authentic discussions of sexual relationships?

John Allen wrote that while many saw Pope Francis as a progressive at the last synod, and that some feared he was stacking the deck for the next synod to align with liberal notions.  Allen’s response:

“In light of the pope’s comments in the Philippines, those conclusions may have to be rethought.”

Allen may be right that for some people, both on the right and on the left, their vision of Pope Francis as a liberal is severely challenged by his recent remarks.  But Francis, while much more progressive in many ways than the previous two popes, had never really stated firmly that he supported same-gender marriage.  The furthest he had gone was to support civil unions as an alternative to marriage when he was an archbishop in Argentina, and to make a vague reference in an interview last spring to being open to the possibility of legal civil unions, though it was unclear if he meant this for heterosexual couples as an alternative to marriage or to lesbian and gay couples as a form of civil protection.

My response to the pope’s recent comments focus more on his use of the words “ideological colonization.”  That to me is more problematic than a negative assessment of marriage equality, which I did not think he ever supported.  “Ideological colonization” invokes a political framework of imposing outside values by force.  There are two reasons why that is problematic.

First, most Catholics who support marriage equality do so because they are motivated by their faith. It is not an ideological or political stand for them.  They believe in the equality of lesbian and gay people, they see their committed relationships as holy, natural, and wholesome, and they want the children in those families to be protected.  These are not ideological concerns, and they are not based in relativism.

Second, “colonization” seems to refer to statements by some African members of the hierarchy who have erroneously stated that homosexuality is not native to their countries, but brought in by Westerners.  Of course, this is not true at all, as homosexuality has existed in all cultures.  If colonialists brought anything in this regard, it was homophobia.

There is a burgeoning LGBT movement in the Philippines, and one of the reasons I was hopeful earlier in the week was that I read a news report that a coalition of LGBT organizations had written an open letter asking the pope to meet with them.   What is interesting about the letter is that there is no mention of marriage equality in it.  They wanted to meet with him to discuss stigma, bullying, assault, disease, and dehumanization, among other problems they have.  Wouldn’t it have been great if the pope met with this group and listened, rather than speaking words which do not reflect the truth about LGBT lives?

Pope Francis could also have met with Filipino pastoral workers who do outreach to LGBT people.  The New York Times reported:

“The church has also become more tolerant of those whose lifestyles conflict with church teachings on social issues.

“ ‘Gay people and people who are living with a partner outside of marriage worship and serve in our parish, said Joseph Zaldivar, a seminarian at the Archdiocese of Manila. ‘They are welcomed.’

“He said that message had reached parishes around the country.”

Or he could have spoken to one lesbian couple who were married in a non-denominational church in the Philippines on the day that the pope arrived there.

The hallmark of Francis’ papacy has not been his outreach to LGBT people, though indeed that has been more marked than his predecessors.  The hallmark has been his openness to dialogue and discussion.  He should have followed his own principles and been a listener in the Philippines, rather than a talker.

And finally, the teaching against birth control and the teaching against same-sex relationships both spring from the principle that all sexual acts should be open to procreation.  If Pope Francis is willing to consider individual cases in regards to birth control, as he said in this speech, couldn’t the same direction be given in regards to lesbian and gay couples?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

ABS-CBN News: “Little hope of Roman Catholic revolution”

Reuters:  “Pope says ‘ideological colonization’ threatens the traditional family”

CNN: “Philippines welcomes the Pope”

GLAAD.org blog: “Pope Francis called marriage equality ‘ideological colonization’ to destroy family”

Advocate.com: “Pope Calls Same-Sex Marriage a ‘Threat’ to the Family”


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