Archdiocese Denies Same-Gender Catholic Couple the ‘Freedom to Bury’

May 20, 2016
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Michael De Leon, front left, and Greg Bourke, back right, with their two children outside the U.S. Supreme Court

A Catholic cemetery refused a same-gender couple’s headstone design because officials say its symbols conflict with Catholic teaching.

Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, a married couple, had purchased a joint burial plot at St. Michael Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Last October, they also submitted a headstone design after consulting an Archdiocese of Louisville employee, reported The Courier-Journal.

The design includes the U.S. Supreme Court building, signifying Bourke’s and De Leon’s roles as plaintiffs in the historic Obergefell v. Hodges decision which legalized marriage equality in the U.S..  It also includes interlocked wedding rings. The couple thought nothing of their burial plans after this because, Bourke explained, they considered the matter innocuous “like picking out countertops.”

On March 30 the couple received an unexpected letter from the executive director of Catholic Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Javier Fajardo saying that their design had been reviewed by the “proper Church authority.” The letter said the  Archdiocese “cannot approve the depiction of the Supreme Court building and the use of wedding rings” because they allegedly conflict with church teaching. The letter did make clear the couple could retain the remaining design and affirmed their ability to be buried together under a shared headstone.

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Proposed headstone design

Speaking at a press conference this week, Bourke said the couple believe they have been “dealt with unfairly” because their design is quite modest in comparison to existing headstone engravings. Commenting on an engraving featuring the spires of Churchill Downs, Bourke said according to The Huffington Post:

” ‘In my mind, it’s outrageous that the church would think it’s OK to have an icon on a memorial of this palace for gambling, and yet they would find an image of the Supreme Court — which is an icon of American democracy — is somehow inconsistent with church teachings.’ “

Bourke suggested the Archdiocese’s action was “deliberate retaliation against my family,” inconsistent with Pope Francis’ desires for the church, and asked: “Is that what Jesus would do?”

Catholics for Fairness, which campaigns for LGBT equality in Kentucky from a faith perspectie, joined Bourke and De Leon at the press conference. Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s LGBT civil rights organization, who also attended, said the couple “might have a more receptive audience with the Vatican than with the Archdiocese.” He said further, as reported by 89.3 WFPL:

“They’re simply looking for the same dignity that everyone else has in death; to have their final wishes honored and the Catholic Church, specifically the Archdiocese of Louisville and Archbishop Kurtz, are denying them that yet again. . .They’ve faced repeated indignities here in the Archdiocese, and it’s really time [the Archdiocese] listened up and stopped.”

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera of the Human Rights Campaign called headstones “sacred and personal statements about our lives, faith, accomplishments” and continued:

“There is so much room in Pope Francis’ call for mercy and acceptance and in a diverse Catholic community that values its LGBTQ brothers and sisters grace and generosity – instead of the narrow and hurtful decision by the Archdiocese. These two good men of faith deserve better.”

Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, chosen as the 2015 Persons of the Year by the National Catholic Reporter, deserve much better. Beyond seeking marriage rights, the couple remain involved in both LGBT advocacy and in the life of their parish of 28 years. Earlier this year, Bourke and De Leon helped organize the fifth annual Pilgrimage of Mercy which called upon Catholics to support LGBT non-discrimination protections.

As a result of their past efforts, their burial plans are not the couple’s first conflict with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and the Louisville archdiocese. In 2012, Bourke was forced to resign as a Boy Scout leader because of his sexual identity, and even after the Boy Scouts of America reversed their ban on LGBT leaders, Archbishop Kurtz barred Bourke from the Scouts permanently.

Archbishop Kurtz told the National Catholic Reporter that Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia would affect “every aspect of church ministry.” This incident is a prime opportunity to re-imagine what this ministry of burying the dead, a corporal work of mercy, means for the church today. Will church ministers afford LGBT people equal burial plans? Will church officials respect LGBT people’s consciences and the relationships to which they may have committed themselves in life? Will the violence of Communion denials at a parent’s or partner’s funeral be replaced with enhanced grief care that is intentionally inclusive for families with LGBT members?

 These broader questions should be considered by theologians, by pastoral ministers, and by the entire faithful so we can shift Catholic grief care and burial practices to be more just and inclusive. But in the meantime, a first step could be taken if the Archdiocese of Louisville would simply reverse its discriminatory decision and give Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon the freedom to bury.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Top Cardinal: Transgender Rights Are ‘Demonic’; Marriage Equality Is ‘Poison’

May 18, 2016
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Cardinal Robert Sarah speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast

A top cardinal at the Vatican attacked transgender civil rights as “demonic” and compared marriage equality to “poison” during a speech before high-profile U.S. Catholics.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, keynoted the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast yesterday morning in Washington, D.C. His address about family and religious freedom in the contemporary world narrowed into particularly harsh LGBT condemnations. Sarah attacked transgender equality in his speech, saying family is threatened:

“[T]hrough a demonic ‘gender ideology,’ a deadly impulse that is being experienced in a world increasingly cut off from God through ideological colonialism.”

Sarah said efforts towards “tolerance” were really religious persecution, part of an “insidious war” in the U.S. and worldwide to dismantle Catholic teaching. He criticized transgender non-discrimination legislation being debated in many states by his denial of trans identities altogether. He said “nothing could be simpler” than people assigned male at birth using a men’s restroom.

Sarah used portions of his address to attack marriage equality, too. He said the devil is “intent on destroying the family” through “distorted impositions of the family,” including same-gender relationships. The cardinal said non-traditional family arrangements “cause damage to little children” such that children experience “a deep existential doubt about love.” Marriage equality and other legal recognition of non-traditional arrangements is comparable to “putting bandages on an infected wound” while the wound “continues to poison the body.”

In addition to Cardinal Sarah, the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast featured Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, and Fr. Paul Scalia, a priest of the Arlington diocese who is son of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Pope Francis appointed Sarah as the Vatican’s top liturgist in 2014. These are not the cardinal’s first or even worst negative words in relation to LGBT people. During the 2015 Synod on the Family, Sarah said the LGBT rights movement had “demonic origins” and compared it to Nazism and fascism.  Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo, who covered the meeting from Rome, deemed Sarah’s comments the Synod’s “most homophobic remark”. The cardinal previously said marriage equality supporters sought to “destroy the family in Africa.

Is there a rational response to such repeated and irrational comments by Cardinal Sarah? I offer two thoughts.

First, contextual differences may account for a certain, limited amount of his remarks’ intensity. Speaking about spiritual warfare, including the demonic, is far more normative in Guinea, where he was archbishop, and other African contexts. Referencing the demonic is absolutely jarring in a U.S. Catholic context. Cultural differences, Guinean and Roman alike, may also account for the ways in which he misconstrues religious liberty in the U.S. and feeds a narrative of persecution proposed by this nation’s bishops. Sarah should have avoided partisan politics and spoken in a pastorally-sensitive manner during his address.

What is truly inexcusable are Cardinal Sarah’s metaphors about LGBT people and their relationships as a “deadly impulse” and “poison,” as well as his failure to engage contemporary understandings of gender and sexuality before issuing such harsh condemnations. His address shows almost no attention to pastoral realities, nor even the realities of public policy in the U.S. about which he ostensibly is commenting. Cardinal Sarah’s remarks about LGBT people and their civil rights are inconsistent with Pope Francis’ desire for a church of mercy. Rather, his remarks are dangerous words which he should retract and for which he should apologize.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Beyond Pope Francis, What Else Has Been Happening in Catholic LGBT News?

April 19, 2016
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Fr. Tony Flannery

Pope Francis’ document Amoris Laetitia has dominated Catholic LGBT news since its publication on April 8th. Everyone, it seems, is weighing in about the 250+ page document. You can access Bonding 2.0’s coverage of the document and selected reactions here.

But there has been other news relevant to Catholic LGBT issues that should not be missed. Below, Bondings 2.0 offers a sampling of some of the more important items.

Listen to Fr. Tony Flannery and Other Priests, Says Irish Bishop

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said Ireland’s church leaders need to dialogue with priests who are advocating for church reform. This outreach should include Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who faced Vatican persecution in 2012, and the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland which he co-founded. McKeown said the bishops “have to be constantly reaching out” and “willing to go way beyond our comfort zone,” reported the National Catholic Reporter. Citing Pope Francis, the bishop added:

” ‘It takes time to listen and to talk and to build bridges and to have an openness to hear their story.”

Fr. Flannery, who has been barred from public ministry since 2012, in part because of his openness on LGBT issues, said this support was a first for the Irish hierarchy. He commented on an important topic that such outreach by the bishops might focus upon:

“My answer to that is simple. All I have ever looked for in relation to myself and others who are accused of ‘dissent’ is a process that is fair, just and transparent. . .The present CDF process is a scandal, and brings shame on our church.”

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Bishops, Laity Remain Split Over Religious Freedom Bills

Virginia’s bishops expressed disappointment that Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Catholic, vetoed “license to discriminate” legislation passed by the legislature, reported the National Catholic Reporter.

According to a Virginia Catholic Conference statement, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington and Bishop Francix DiLorenzo of Richmond said the law, which would have protected those who withheld  services from same-gender couples, was about religious freedom . Vetoing the bill on live radio, Governor McAuliffe, himself a Catholic, described the bill as “nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize.”

Meanwhile, Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, who is also Catholic, rescinded an executive order protecting those persons involved with state business who discriminate against LGBT people and replaced it with a non-discrimination order, reported Buzzfeed.

Church Worker Faces Financial Burden in Legal Battle

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Jan Buterman

Fired Canadian educator Jan Buterman is facing financial difficulties in his legal battle against the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, Edmonton, Alberta, reported Metro News.

Buterman sued the district for removing him as a substitute teacher after his gender transition more than eight years ago. He has been in court since, losing the latest round in appeals court, but Buterman has promised to press on and is exploring funding options. He explained why he will keep struggling:

“I’m not the only trans person who has lost a job in this province, far from it, but most people don’t have it in writing or don’t have access to legal council. . .Most trans people who run into this don’t have the means to address it.”

Bishop Says Same-Gender Marriages Can “Destroy Everything Christian”

In a recent interview, Bishop Emeritus Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska claimed that marriage equality would lead to efforts “to destroy everything Christian” and called the increasingly successful movement for LGBT rights “devastating,” reported the Lincoln Journal Star.

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Laurent Stefanini

Gay Ambassador Nixed by Vatican is Reassigned to the UN

Laurent Stefanini, France’s one-time nominee as Ambassador to the Holy See, will take up a position at the United Nations instead by representing his nation in UNESCO, reported France 24. Stefanini’s nomination was seen to be rejected by the Vatican because it was never approved after being submitted January 2015. Many speculate this rejection was due to Stefanini’s identity as an openly gay man.

For all the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog using the provided box in the upper right hand corner of this page. Contact info@newwaysministry.org with questions and news tips.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Sydney Archdiocese In Marriage Equality Brouhaha Concerning Supportive Businesses

April 15, 2016
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Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P.

Reports have surfaced that the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, may have threatened to withdraw from businesses supportive of marriage equality, which is not yet legalized in that nation.  Actions by both Telstra, a telecommunications company, and the archdiocese seem to point toward some sort of agreement between the two entities regarding the upcoming marriage equality plebiscite. Mashable reported:

“According to The Australian, Archdiocese of Sydney business manager Michael Digges approached a number of companies who had given permission for their logo to be used in a newspaper advertisement in support of marriage equality in May 2015. . .He suggested the church could withdraw business from participating companies, including Telstra , which reportedly serves Catholic schools around Australia.”

Digges’ letter said corporations were “overstepping their purpose” in speaking publicly on this issue, and such acts should be “strongly resisted.” A further report from Business Insider claims former Telstra Chairwoman Catherine Livingstone met with Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher in October. Reporter Harry Tucker stated:

“The pair, who have both known each other for years, eventually came to a compromise. As part of that, Telstra would keep its logo on the Australian Marriage Equality page, but it would stop publicly campaigning around the issue.”

Telstra said there would be not further corporate involvement in the pro-equality campaign, other than their being listed as a supporter of the group Australian Marriage Equality.  Whether this decisiono is due to the Archdiocese’s letter is unconfirmed. For their part, Digges and the Archdiocese have denied any pressure was implied in the letter to businesses with whom the church partners.

LGBT advocates have been questioning church leaders’ precise role, if any, in Telstra’s backing away from seeking LGBT equality. The company’s customers, and Australians generally, have reacted quite negatively to this move. Shelley Argent, a mother and spokesperson for PFLAG, said the company was wrong, and the church “should be ashamed they’re even asking this,” reported the Herald Sun. Other customers said they may cancel their Telstra contacts over the matter.

Marriage equality is stalled in Australia’s Parliament despite 70% approval nationally and the support of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition leader Bill Shorten, who are both Catholic. Turnbull is holding fast to a plebiscite proposed by his predecessor Tony Abbot, another Catholic. Shorten recently called on Turnbull to hold the vote during the recalled parliament that begins this week.

Australians have criticized the plebiscite, promised by year’s end, as unnecessary since the overwhelming majority of Australians support marriage equality. Those critics include Fr. Frank Brennan, S.J., a law professor, who released on Facebook a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Turnbull. Brennan, writing against the plebiscite, explained some of the legal and political procedural complications:

“When the plebiscite vote is carried in favour of same sex marriage, as I am confident it will be, there will still be a need for our Parliament to legislate complex provisions protecting religious freedom and expanding the freedom to marry. It’s only a parliament, not a plebiscite, which can legislate the complex details of equality and the protection of all rights, including the right to religious freedom.”

Brennan also said the plebiscite would be “a waste of time” and “unleash torrents of hate on the gay and lesbian community.” Fr. Brennan’s projections seem likely given the Australian bishops’ heavily-criticized approach to opposing marriage equality, which has included using schoolchildren as messengers for an anti-equality pamphlet and using hyperbolic language about same-gender marriages.  Given Archbishop Fisher’s own negative record on LGBT issues and this recent incident between the Archdiocese and Telstra, it seems more than likely that any vote would negatively impact LGBT people.  Beyond the financial and political costs, it is time for church leaders to think foremost of the pastoral costs in mounting a hopeless campaign which aims only at causing further harm and division in an already wounded church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


“Amoris Laetitia” Is a Step in Process that Is Far From Over, Say Commentators

April 10, 2016
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Martin Pendergast

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 featured reactions to Pope Francis’ new exhortation on family, Amoris Laetitia. Below are more reactions related to Catholic LGBT issues. You can read New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

You can read LGBT-related excerpts from Amoris Laetitia by clicking here.

Martin Pendergast, a UK advocate for LGBT Catholics, said many people realized LGBT issues would not be central, reported The Tablet. But even in the “light treatment” this document affords such issues, there are positive developments:

“First of all, no condemnations, no quoting of language of ‘intrinsic disorder’, a nuance around the use of language like same-sex attraction, which some of us find offensive, an actual recognition of homosexual orientation, which is very significant in a document of this status.

“One of the key debates in the Church has been: is there such a thing as a different sexual orientation and paragraph 250 refers to people who manifest homosexual orientation. So it’s actually acknowledging that homosexual orientation exists: that’s very important.”

Pendergast said the text lacks the coherence of Evangelii Gaudium or Laudato Si, instead showing “evidence of interventions from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith” in the conservative messages that were included. He concluded:

“The question that many of us will have is: how are you going to apply those very important principles about conscience, internal forum, not judging people, not throwing stones at people?”

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Jonathan Capehart

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post said the pope’s treatment of homosexuality “hues pretty closely” to paragraphs in the 2014 Synod’s midterm report that were celebrated for their positive approach but inspired quite a backlash. Capehart wrote:

“Sadly missing is this sentence: ‘Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority’. . .

“By talking about the humanity of gay and lesbian Catholics, Pope Francis is openly recognizing them as children of God. After centuries of demonization, that’s a revolutionary act that can’t be undone.”

Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt, theologian and co-director of WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual), criticized the text as “a study in ambiguity that gives new evidence for the use of the term “jesuitical.” She continued:

“Alas, the hetero monogamous ideal remains in place while lip service is paid to the remote possibility of other options. Clearly the input of lay people at the two Synods amounted to little or nothing. All in all, this is a missed opportunity for Pope Francis to demonstrate that there is anything new under the Vatican sun.”

Ryan Sattler

Ryan Sattler

Ryan Sattler of the LEAD Ministry (an LGBT outreach) at St. Matthew Catholic Church, and a board member of New Ways Ministry, told the Baltimore Sun

“As much as we love Pope Francis — he has changed the tone of conversation on so many issues — when you have real, deep substance and doctrine in the church that continues to hurt and marginalize people, changing the tone doesn’t do the job.”

Ken Briggs, writing at the National Catholic Reporter, said the effectiveness of Amoris Laetitia was hindered because its authorship precluded the voices of lay Catholics, including LGBT people, from sharing their wisdom and challenges:

“Despite the many eloquent and enlightening portions of the pope’s message, it still emanates from a place which practices no family life that resembles that of the laity, and loses much credibility accordingly. . .the analysis and prescription contents of the document operate entirely within the sometimes shadowy framework of defined doctrine. allowing for no valid concept of family life outside the narrow definitions of Catholic moral teaching. It precludes the possibility that other models might reflect the Creator’s purposes in yet other ways.”

David Gibson

David Gibson

Beyond the document itself, David Gibson of Religion News Service set Amoris Laetitia within the ongoing process under Pope Francis from which the text emerged:

“But the larger reality conveyed by the document — and one that could unsettle Catholic traditionalists more than anything — is that the pope clearly wants the debates over church teachings and pastoral practices to continue and, perhaps, to continue to evolve. . .

“In other words, don’t look to Rome for the solution to every challenge, and don’t stop looking for ways to welcome anyone and everyone who feels alienated from the faith because their personal lives do not conform to the Catholic ideal. . .

“If that journey is part of the pilgrimage of faith, it is far from over. In fact, it may never be over.”

The journey to justice and equality for LGBT people in the Catholic Church is certainly not over. The reactions to and understandings of Amoris Laetitia and how it will impact the church are not over yet, either. Bondings 2.0 will, as always, keep our readers updated about the new document and its reception.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


For LGBT Rights, Is Pope Francis a Partisan or Not?

February 25, 2016
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Pope Francis

Should the pope be political and/or partisan or not? Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico raised these questions after he challenged whether Donald Trump could be considered Christian. The question also bears on LGBT issues, particularly in Italy where legislators are debating the legalization of civil unions.

Pope Francis gave an in-flight interview returning from Mexico, as he regularly does when apostolic journeys conclude. When asked about the civil unions issue in Italy by Il Sole 24’s Carlo Marroni, the pope responded:

“First of all, I don’t know how things stand in the thinking of the Italian parliament. The Pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics. At the first meeting I had with the (Italian) bishops in May 2013, one of the three things I said was: with the Italian government you’re on your own. Because the pope is for everybody and he can’t insert himself in the specific internal politics of a country. This is not the role of the pope, right? And what I think is what the Church thinks and has said so often – because this is not the first country to have this experience, there are so many – I think what the Church has always said about this.”

From this answer, one would believe the pope refrains from partisan engagement over specific policy questions, and this would include legal recognition of same-gender couples in Italy. But Francis’ record is not so clear. Here are a few relevant facts to consider.

First, in Italy, he has refrained from explicitly condemning civil unions or using the church’s influence to lean on Catholic politicians. This approach directly refutes some Italian bishops’ highly partisan campaigning and is notably different from his predecessors, said theologian Massimo Faggioli. But speaking to the Roman Rota in January, Pope Francis offered his strongest criticism yet of marriage equality saying “there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union.” This was seen by some observers as a comment on Italy’s civil union debate.

Second, Pope Francis has commented on the “specific internal politics of a country” at least twice before when it comes to LGBT rights. In Slovenia in December 2015, during the week of a national referendum which eventually banned marriage equality and adoption rights by same-gender couples, Pope Francis encouraged all Slovenians, especially those in public life, “to preserve the family” .  A similar moment happened in February 2015 when the pontiff exhorted pilgrims from Slovakia to “continue their efforts in defense of the family,”  just days before an unsuccessful referendum in that nation against equal marriage and adoption rights.

Third, Pope Francis often speaks through gestures, actions, or the statements of his surrogates. For instance, this week, in the midst of the Italian civil unions debate, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said it was “essential” that Italian law differentiate between civil unions for same-gender couples and marriage for heterosexual couples.

It helps to remember, too, that Pope Francis is a solitary person shepherding 1.3 billion people, and that his voice can be used and misused, making it hard to know at times what comes from Francis and what comes from contrary parties.

Fourth, and finally, when called upon to be a voice for marginalized LGBT people, Pope Francis has remained silent. Advocates pleaded with him to speak against laws criminalizing homosexuality during his apostolic voyage to Kenya, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic last fall. Advocates have asked him to intervene in the Dominican Republic, where a cardinal has repeatedly used anti-gay slurs against U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. Last week, this blog commented that the case of Cameroon bishops calling for “zero tolerance” of homosexuality was a perfect case for papal intervention.

From my perspective, these facts suggest, despite the pope’s latest claim, the lack of a consistent position for Pope Francis when it comes to partisan involvement in a given nation’s politics. Pope Francis is, rightly I believe, a politically engaged pontiff and affirmed that to be human is to be political. But he has been partisan where it may be imprudent and even inappropriate for him to be so engaged. The damage U.S. bishops have done to the church in their country. because of their hyper-partisan agenda in recent years, is a cautionary tale. I speculate on two possibilities for why Pope Francis lacks a consistent position.

More negatively, it could be that he claims distance when convenient, and becoming more involved when similarly convenient. He chooses whether to speak about LGBT issues depending on whether he will obtain a positive reception from the audience. Could it be that Pope Francis changes not just the style, but the substance of his messaging depending on who is listening? That would be troubling.

More positively, maybe the humble Pope Francis is learning “on the job” as he navigates unprecedented reforms in a church that is now truly global and truly hurting. His inconsistencies arise because he admits to not having the answers and to shifting course when a better way forward appears apparent. Francis’ actions could reveal a leader who is willing to listen to others’ voices and to encounter those from different perspectives. That would be refreshing.

What do you think? Should the pope be involved in partisan national politics? If so, when? Should the pope be political, raising up issues without endorsing specific policy positions? Should the pope be neither? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



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