U.K. Bishops’ Voting Guide Reveals Pope Francis’ Influence

Conversations on marriage and family initiated by Pope Francis have opened doors within the church for families which are considered “non-traditional” by church leaders. But could the pope’s shift to mercy and inclusion in church discussions be having public policy implications as well? There is good evidence from the United Kingdom that the answer is yes.

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 9.57.59 AMLike many episcopal conferences, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) released a voting guide ahead of the U.K.’s general election this June. These guides generally include both guiding principles and specific political positions, which too frequently are reduced to the bishops’ opposition to abortion and to LGBT rights.

It is therefore highly significant that CBCEW’s guide omits commentary on LGBT rights altogether, and poses questions rather than dictating positions on issues which are taken up.

Pope Francis is quoted extensively throughout the two-page document. Among the key principles the bishops draw from the pope are Francis’ words, “We love this human family with all its tragedies and struggles.” The bishops then commented:

“The family is the basic model by which we think of humanity, for the family is indeed the fundamental unit of the human race and therefore to be protected and nurtured. The practical expression of this love is mercy and compassion, extended especially at times of illness, homelessness, bereavement, violence and desolation.”

What follows are brief issue-specific sections,  which have just a line or two of commentary before asking questions of the voter, who is asked to make a conscience decision. This method of engagement is very much in keeping with Pope Francis’ message in Amoris Laetitia that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them.

In the section, “Issues on Family and Life,” the bishops ask the question: “What policies do your candidates propose for the flourishing of family life?” Where too many bishops worldwide have in the last decade reduced family concerns to opposing marriage equality, CBCEW’s membership recognizes that public policy needs to be protecting families against actual problems they are facing.

In the section, “Freedom of Religion and Belief,” the bishops look outward to the protection of all religious minorities currently facing danger because of their beliefs. There are no claims that expanding LGBT rights are persecuting Christians in the U.K., claims which the U.S. bishops continue to make quite vocally about their own context.

The voting guide is not proof that the British bishops have changed their beliefs about marriage equality nor does it suggest they will soon become leading advocates of LGBT non-discrimination. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster (London), who has a positive record on LGBT issues and even said recently he “rejoiced” in the growing acceptance of LGBT people, has said the Magisterium will remain “obstinate” in its opposition to marriage equality.

It is, however, proof that the style and tone of the U.K.’s bishops have begun to more closely mirror Pope Francis’ example. They are focusing on significant injustices in today’s world like migration, care for creation, and human trafficking, and by doing so, are setting aside “culture war” issues. In the church, such changes are not superficial: they are quite substantive.

The guide is also further proof that church teaching does evolve.  Instead of explicitly changing teachings, bishops can simply fail to mention them and then ultimately “forget” these teachings to history. English bishops endorsed civil partnerships for same-gender couples in 2011. They are now letting go of any vocal opposition to civil marriage equality. Perhaps they can now become positive voices for LGBT human rights in a global context.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if bishops’ conferences elsewhere, in their function as political actors, will come to mirror Pope Francis’ model and vision more closely.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 29, 2017

Anti-Transgender Bus Stalled in Spain; Catholic Prime Minister Attends Pride; Other International Updates

Here are some items that may be of interest:

Anti-Transgender Bus Impounded

a8a3650e0ead0895-e1488395586828A bus decorated with physically explicit anti-transgender messaging has been impounded in Madrid, per a judge’s ruling. Hazte Oir (translation: Hear Yourself), a Catholic group, owns the bus which was set to tour Spain with slogans like, “Boys have penises, girls have vulvas. Do not be fooled.” But until the offending messages are removed for violating a civil code against public advertising, the bus will remain in police custody.

Marriage Equality Sought in the Philippines
Due to its strong Catholic culture, the Philippines is the only nation besides the Holy See to ban divorce. This prohibition, coupled with difficulty attaining annulments, has led many Filipinos into long-term partnerships, including bearing children, that are not recognized by the state. Against this situation, LGBT activists have joined causes with persons seeking legalized divorces to attain reforms in marriage law.
Ariel Guban, a gay Catholic man in a relationship, said he believes in the sanctity of marriage, but as “as a union defined by common respect, acceptance and love—all of which are what gay people desire and are capable of giving.” Beyond legal protections and financial stability, allowing same-gender marriages Guban said:

“‘I will [probably] be able to better understand the concept of marriage and die knowing that I have been married, loved and enjoyed life without the undying threat of discrimination. Marriage is for everybody. It is not and should not be limited by gender preference.'”

Despite Catholic Opposition, U.S. LGBT Envoy Kept On
President Donald Trump will retain the U.S. special envoy for LGBTI rights, Randy Berry. Retaining Berry’s office was opposed by right-wing Christian groups, including some Catholics, who hoped the Trump administration would vacate former President Obama’s efforts towards global LGBT equality.
Catholic Prime Minister Attends “Big Gay Out”
New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English, a Catholic attended the nation’s largest pride celebration last month. English had been opposed laws proposing civil unions and marriage equality until changing his position in 2013. The pride celebration, known as the “Big Gay Out,” is now a mainstay on political calendars. English’s appearance comes after he softened his views on LGBT rights, and apologized for anti-equality votes. His National Party has moved to support equality in recent years as New Zealand voters became more supportive.
Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 11, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Same-Gender Love “Not a Natural Condition,” Says Vatican Official

A senior Vatican official who defended the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics has said such openness does not apply to same-gender relationships, which he said were “not a natural condition.”

card_francesco_coccopalmerio_at_briefing_on_new_motu_proprio_on_the_reform_for_marriage_annulment_at_the_vatican_press_office_1_on_sept_8_2015_credit_daniel_ibanez_cna_9_8_15
Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, made his comments in a recent interview with Crux.

The cardinal sparked headlines earlier this month for publishing a booklet in which he defended Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Crux reported further:

“Asked if this interpretation applies also to gay couples who live together, some civilly married too, Coccopalmerio said that it’s ‘clearly’ not the same situation because for Church teaching and doctrine, ‘it’s not a natural condition. We can accept them, welcome them, accept their decision, but it’s not [the same].'”

The booklet, titled The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’, was offered as a “simplification” against claims by more traditionalist Catholics that there was doctrinal confusion, Coccopalmerio said. Though not released in any formal capacity, his comments are especially noteworthy because the Pontifical Council he oversees is charged with interpreting church documents. He is also a member of both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Apostolic Signatura.

Coccopalmerio’s reasoning is worth a closer consideration given his tenuous claim that same-gender couples can not be included in his communion idea. In the booklet, the cardinal explained the conditions under which a Catholic in a “non-legitimate” heterosexual relationship could receive Communion: the person is “conscious of the wrongness of the situation, has the desire to change it but can’t because it would hurt innocent people, such as the children,” and has consulted a priest and/or bishop to find a “common solution” through dialogue. America reported on a case study offered by the cardinal:

“He cited as an example the case of a woman who is free to marry according to church law and decides to enter into a stable relationship and lives with a married man, whose wife had left him with three young children. In such a case, he explained, ‘the children would now consider her their mother and for the man, she is his life,’ as she means everything to him. If she eventually recognizes the problem with her situation and decides to leave, then her husband and children will find themselves in great difficulty. But the cardinal said, ‘If this woman concludes “I cannot leave. I cannot do such harm to them,” then this situation, where she wants to change but cannot change, opens the possibility of admissions to the sacraments.’

“In such a situation, the cardinal said, there is the recognition of sin and the sincere desire to change but also the impossibility of making it happen. In this situation, he would tell her, ‘remain in this situation, and I absolve you.’ While he said that he has never had to refuse absolution to anyone, the cardinal nevertheless insisted that ‘one cannot give absolution except to persons who are repentant and desire or want to change their situation, even if they cannot put their desire into practice now because that would harm innocent persons.’ In this way, he said, ‘the doctrine is safeguarded but takes account of the impossibility.’

Coccopalmerio also said that ideally such a couple should live without sexual intimacy, but also noted that Amoris Laetitia referenced Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, where it is acknowledged that lack of such intimacy could deeply harm relationships. It may be impossible, he admitted, for couples in “non-legitimate” situations to practice complete abstinence. He ultimately affirmed the necessity of Catholics in these situations to make a conscience decision.

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I explained his reasoning in such detail above because as I read the interview, I wondered why his reasoning about Catholics who are divorced and remarried cannot, in his estimation, apply to Catholics in same-gender relationships. If his positions are accepted and engaged, then shouldn’t same-gender couples be able to receive Communion after consulting a priest, making penance, and following their consciences, even if they remain in such situations? Granted, given the Magisterium’s present articulations of church doctrine, there are differences between the two groups, but appeals to conscience make no such distinctions. Every person is mandated to follow the decisions of a properly formed conscience.

The reason for Coccopalmerio’s dissonance is his statement about same-gender relationships as “not a natural condition.” Such a statement reveals inadequate knowledge about sexuality, and likely an unfamiliarity with the lives of LGB people. He appears unable to imagine same-gender relationships as loving and generative, and worse yet, he seems to imply LGB people have less moral agency than their heterosexual peers.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio is not the first, and sadly will not be the last, church leader to hold such errant views about sexuality. But I find his remarks particularly disheartening. When news of his booklet first broke, I was glad to see a Vatican official so willing to practice the mercy and respect for conscience called for by Pope Francis. That he could not extend that willingness to include LGBT people greatly undercuts his message. I pray his eyes will be opened to that natural and divine spark found and mixed-gender and same-gender relationships alike.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 24, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Bishops Take Note: Marriage Equality Linked to Decreased Youth Suicides

According to a new study, suicide attempts by youth have decreased where marriage equality is enacted. Such data should be a wake-up call for Catholic bishops rethink their strong opposition to equal civil marriage rights and LGBT rights more generally.

web1_suicide-stop2JAMA Pediatrics, a leading medical journal, published the study, “Difference-in-Difference Analysis of the Association Between Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts,” in its February 20, 2017 edition. PBS Newshour reported:

“The researchers found that suicide attempts by high school students decreased by 7 percent in states after they passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage, before the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in 2015. Among LGB high school students, the decrease was especially concentrated, with suicide attempts falling by 14 percent.

“But in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage, there was no change.”

PBS noted that overall deaths by suicide for all populations have risen during the period surveyed by this study, 1999 to 2015. Led by Julia Raifman of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers compared suicide rates between states that had and had not passed marriage equality. She told PBS:

“Raifman told the [PBS] NewsHour she was interested in studying same-sex marriage laws ‘as a marker of equal rights in general,’ adding that other laws that pertain to LGBT rights — such as employment and housing protections — still vary widely around the country.

“The study noted that the laws themselves reflected larger social trends toward support for the LGBT community, a possible factor in the fall in suicide attempts. But Raifman said that the decrease was especially concentrated around the time that same-sex marriage laws passed.”

What is left unexplained is why the decrease in suicide attempts is correlated to marriage equality. Raifman suggested it could be mental health improvements that come with being considered equal in society or seeing more representations in public life of married same-gender couples. PBS reported further:

“The feelings of being accepted and connected to society have “a protective effect in relation to suicide risk, suicidal ideation and suicidal behaviors,” said Dr. Victor Schwartz, a chief medical officer of the JED Foundation who works to reduce youth suicide. Schwartz wasn’t involved in the study. . .

“‘[Stigma is] a real risk factor, a feeling that you’re at odds with your family or community. . .It’s very painful, and can be very frightening. You feel like you’re going to be left out on your own.'”

Dr. Brian Mustanski of Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, said the wider literature shows “positive health effects of social policies that affirm and protect the equality of the LGBT community, and those positive benefits extend beyond LGBT individuals to the general population.”

Will these findings affect the way U.S. church leaders relate to LGBT equality? They should. Religious leaders, including Catholic bishops, have led the opposition against marriage equality and LGBT rights generally. But their opposition, as many pointed out, has the potential of causing harm to LGBT people, especially youth. Given the fact that 15 youths in the United States die by suicide each day and that LGB youth have an attempted suicide rate four times the average, this approach is no longer tolerable, if it ever was.

The U.S. bishops promote pro-life activities, but most often limit these to abortion. Many Catholics question bishops’ real commitment to social justice. But if the bishops are indeed pro-life, then why have they shown so little regard for the lives of LGBT people? If this latest research, which shows how much good legal equality can have on the lives of LGBT youth, does not move their hearts to end campaigns against LGBT rights, then their pro-life admonitions will ring empty.

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 reported about the Vatican’s effort to gather input directly from youth and young adults for the 2018 Synod of Bishops. Pope Francis and the Curia seem to have the right approach to engage youth, who are much more strongly aware of the need for LGBT acceptance, inclusion and justice. The U.S. bishops need to change their approach to LGBT rights not just for the good of sexual and gender diverse people, but because doing so will save lives and help youth flourish.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 23, 2017

 

ALL ARE WELCOME: How to Affirm Lesbian and Gay Couples in Catholic Life

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog that highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

Marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples became the law of the land in June 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared freedom to choose who to marry is a constitutional right.  As a result, now all 50 states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses for civil weddings to same-gender couples.

This new legal and political reality does not apply to churches and other houses of worship.  Each religious faith is still able to decide for itself who is eligible to marry whom, according to their own beliefs and teachings.  So, while Catholic lesbian and gay people may decide to marry civilly, under current church policy, they will not be able to marry in a church ceremony.

As a result of the new civil framework for marriage, more and more such couples, and families headed by such couples, are becoming more visible in local communities, including faith communities and institutions.  Catholic lesbian and gay couples and their children are starting to be a familiar sight in parishes and schools.

Are Catholics prepared to welcome such couples and families into their parishes, schools, and other religiously sponsored programs? The following list of suggestions is intended to help such institutions and individuals offer a welcome, motivated by sincere Christian hospitality, to these couples and families so that they can participate fully in church life.

Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Couples and Families

  1. Make it known that all children will be baptized, not only those of heterosexually married couples.
  2. Include lesbian and gay couples in all aspects of parish life: prayer and liturgy, educational programs, social events, and service opportunities.
  3. Invite gay and lesbian couples to participate in marriage preparation and enhancement programs.
  4. Open bereavement support groups to lesbian and gay people whose spouses have died.
  5. Acknowledge and celebrate the love and commitment of lesbian and gay couples in the same ways that heterosexual couples are affirmed.
  6. Educate one another about sexual orientation and the reality of lesbian and gay people.
  7. Institute a non-discrimination policy for sexual orientation, gender identity, marital and relational status.
  8. Welcome families headed by lesbian and gay couples to all family events that the parish sponsors.
  9. Allow local Scouting programs to accept lesbian and gay mothers and fathers to be Scout leaders.
  10. Make sure that everyone knows that the children of lesbian and gay couples are welcome in educational programs, parish schools, and all appropriate sacramental preparation programs.
  11. Include discussion of lesbian and gay people in all parish programs concerned with diversity, multiculturalism, social justice, sexuality, and faith sharing.
  12. Listen to, converse with, and be present to parishioners or community members who may disagree about welcoming lesbian and gay people and families.

What are your suggestions for how Catholic parishes and other institutions affirm civilly married lesbian and gay couples and their families?  Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 7, 2016

 

 

The Pope’s Reaction–Maybe–to Two Former Nuns Marrying

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 19, 2016

Two weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on the story of two former nuns in Italy who joined together in a civil union, noting that the lesbian couple expressed their commitment not only to one another, but to their Catholic faith.   A few more details have emerged from that story which make it even a more poignant tale.

The headline -grabbing follow-up was that the pope has seemingly expressed some sadness about the couple.  London’s Daily Mail reported that a Vatican official disclosed in a tweet that the pope was was downcast when told the news about the women.     Vatican Deputy Secretary of State Archbishop Angelo Becciu tweeted:

“How much sadness on the pope’s face when I read him the news of the two married ‘nuns’!’ ”  (This is a translation of the tweet which was originally written in Italian:  “Quanta tristezza sul volto del Papa quando gli ho letto la notizia delle due ‘suore’ spose!”)

The news story further explained that it was the pope’s famous “Who am I to judge?” remark which inspired the two women (for privacy’s sake, known only by their first names Federica and Isabel) to see their feelings from one another as a graced phenomenon, or, in their words “a gift from God.  The story reported:

“The couple revealed they decided to act on their feelings when Pope Francis encouraged those in the Catholic Church not to judge others. . . .

“The two nuns said: ‘That phrase has opened our hearts.’

“They took advantage of a law passed this year that offers homosexual couples legal recognition in Italy – one of the last countries in the West to do so.”

The tweet from Becciu is irresponsible because of the vagueness of the message.  Did the pope speak any words?  Was he sad because the women had left religious life? Because they were lesbians? Because they entered a civil union? Because their union was public?

Was Becciu counting on the fact that his audience would “know” why the pope’s face showed sadness?  Was he counting on relying on his followers’ negative opinions about civil unions for lesbian and gay people?  Why did he call them “nuns,”  and put that word in scare quotes, when it was obvious that they were former nuns?

If the pope had something to say on the matter, why didn’t he do so in an official statement instead of through ambiguous facial expressions?  If his facial expressions were not an official statement, why did the Vatican Deputy Secretary of State feel empowered to suggest that they might be by tweeting such news?

Our Church really needs better communications.

On a happy note, though, it is so nice to hear that among the many things that the “Who am I to judge?” remark has prompted, it has also prompted a faith-filled, committed love between two women.

 

 

Catholic Church Had “No Choice” in Firing Gay Musician, Says Bishop

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 6, 2016

A Catholic bishop in Rhode Island said there had been “no choice” when firing a gay church worker, and that the decision to do so was in line with Pope Francis’ thought.  Meanwhile in New Jersey, the top administrator at a Catholic school which fired an LGBT employee has been reinstated.

Bishop Thomas Tobin
Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop says Church Had “No Choice” in Firing Gay Church Worker 

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence has defended the firing of gay church worker Michael Templeton. In a brief statement, reported by GoLocal Providence, Tobin said a church worker or volunteer who “deliberately and knowingly enters in a relationship or engages in activity that contradicts the core teachings of the Church, that individual leaves the Church no choice to respond.”

Tobin also defended the decision in the Templeton case on the Diocese of Providence’s website, saying church leaders who fire LGBT people “are indeed a lot like Pope Francis.” Tobin cited the pope’s criticisms of marriage equality, and attributed to Pope Francis the firing of gay Vatican theologian Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa and the rejection of France’s gay ambassador to the Holy See.

Finally, after celebrating a Mass for “Milestone Marriages” shortly after Templeton was fired, Bishop Tobin remarked to the Providence Journal:

“Well this is for people celebrating 25 years or more so we don’t have anybody like that [in same-gender marriages]. We’ll worry about that in 20 years. Not today.”

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Michael Templeton

Templeton, the former music director at the Church of St. Mary, was fired last month for being in a same-gender marriage. The Journal reported on the negative impact this incident has had on the community there, which had been known for its inclusive welcome:

“Many St. Mary’s parishioners, who arrived at the 10 a.m. Mass wearing rainbow buttons and shirts promoting marriage equality, hoped to hear an explanation from Father Francese. They held hands, and at times, wept — many, gay themselves, said they no longer felt comfortable in the one Catholic parish that has sheltered them.

” ‘This priest had the opportunity to explain himself, or at the very least, to be direct with us,’ said Leo Narducci. ‘But instead he ignored us and gave the same gibberish we hear from him every Sunday.’ “

Parishioners resisted the unjust firing at Mass when more than 30 people, following one choir member’s lead, began singing “All Are Welcome” during the recitation of the Nicene Creed.

Fr. Francesco Francese did not acknowledge the firing in his homily, and avoided parishioners and media alike after Mass. His actions in conjunction with the Diocese are causing many to question their place in the church, and some to walk away altogether:

“Glen Beattie, who came to St. Mary’s in 2008, waved goodbye to the altar Sunday as he headed out the door. ‘Bye church,’ he said, sadly. If Templeton isn’t welcome, Beattie, also a gay man, doesn’t feel safe, either. . .One woman, who has been attending church there for 40 years but did not want to give her name, said she’s thinking of leaving the religion altogether.

” ‘This isn’t right,’ she said with tears in her eyes. ‘This isn’t what being a Christian is.’ “

Principal in LGBT Dispute Reinstated at Paramus Catholic High School

In New Jersey, Principal Stephanie Macaluso has returned to Paramus Catholic High School. The preceding week, Macaluso and President James Vail were placed on leave by the Archdiocese of Newark, reported NJ.com.

Jim Goodness, the archdiocesan spokesperson, has refused to comment on why the administrators were placed on leave initially and why Macaluso but not Vail had been allowed to return. An email from Archdiocesan Schools Superintendent Margaret A. Dames urged parents to “disregard the recent public speculation and misleading media hype.”

There are speculations that the decisions about Macaluso and Vail are related to the firing of lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole, who announced a lawsuit against Paramus Catholic in August. The Record reported that some students suggested Vail and Macaluso had supported Drumgoole against the Archdiocese.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 60 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.