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.

Former Nuns Celebrate Civil Union in Italy, as Ousted Priest Marks Anniversary of Coming Out

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 3, 2016

Two women in Italy who had formerly been in religious life celebrated their civil union last week,  just about a year after a priest working in the Vatican  publicly came out as gay.

screen-shot-2016-01-20-at-6-01-42-pmFederica and Isabel celebrated their civil union in the city hall of Pinerolo, where they live, reported The Guardian. The ceremony was held a day early because “the media were alerted to the story and the couple wanted to avoid a media frenzy.” Mayor Luca Salvai, who officiated for the couple, said the town respected the couples’ desire for discretion and a simple ceremony. Theirs is only the second civil union in Pinerolo, a town near Turin in the north of the country.

The couple met while they were Franciscan sisters working at a rehabilitation center with people suffering from addiction. They left religious life, critical of the church’s teaching on homosexuality, and have entered not only a legal partnership, but will make their marriage vows in an unofficial religious ceremony. Franco Barbero, a resigned priest and friend of Frederica and Isabel, will preside at a religious service for the couple. He commented, reported The Irish Times:

“They are two lovely people, of intense faith and with serious studies behind them. . .They prayed a lot about this and they reflected at length during a difficult process.  In the end, they took their decision knowing that not many would approve….

“Mind you not everyone in the church disapproves…. They were criticised but also understood by their fellow nuns. Just like there are many decent priests who do not condemn this type of choice. I can also tell you too that this is not the first time that I have married two nuns.”

Having exercised their civil rights, the couple affirmed that they remain faithful believers and called publicly for greater respect from the Catholic Church, according to The Telegraph. Isabel said, “God wants people happy, to live the love in the light of the sun,” and Federica added, “We call upon our church to welcome all people who love each other.”

A year ago yesterday, former priest Krzysztof Charamsa came out as a gay man with a similar message. He has offered thoughts on the church in a new book, The First Rock. A Vanity Fair report on the book says the former priest criticizes a culture at the Vatican which “built the perception that homosexuals are sick and pedophiles” as a “move that serves to maintain homophobia within the Church.” Charamsa claimed further that allegations of a gay lobby were false, but propped up by ranking church leaders who “favored a corrupt system that allowed them to hide any suspicion of sexual abuse.”

CharamsaStonewallA former Vatican theologian and professor in Rome, Charamsa announced his coming out just days before the 2015 Synod on the Family, a moment that was a “big step for himself and the Church” according to New Ways Ministry. He has since moved to Barcelona with his partner, having been suspended from priestly duties.

In the interim, Charamsa has lectured and written widely, including an appeal to Pope Francis to end the “immeasurable suffering” the Catholic Church inflicts on LGBT people. He has said, “Today, I am a better priest. . .The paradox is that today, I cannot exercise my being a priest,” and that, “The church needs a Stonewall.” To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Krzystof Charamsa’s journey, click here.

Charamsa said in October 2015 that he hoped to be “free, happy, out of the closet, and serving the same ideals and the same values for which I became a priest” in a year. As he celebrates today the anniversary of his coming out, and as Federica and Isabel celebrate their love, may we echo their joy, the joy which comes from living as one’s authentic self, as one is created by God to be.

Mexican Bishops Warn of “Gay Dictatorship;” Defend Reparative Therapy

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Members of the Mexican episcopate

Tensions over LGBT rights have been increasing in Mexico over the past two months, with Catholic bishops there taking a strong stand against marriage equality. The debate in that nation has elicited some strident rhetoric from both sides, with strong charges of persecution by their opponents from each side.  And, Catholic bishops have received the endorsement of a powerful Catholic voice in their anti-marriage equality campaign: Pope Francis.

The rhetoric of persecution has now enjoined the bishops in a battle about the much-disproven field of reparative therapy, which the bishops have endorsed.

Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred), a governmental agency, recently denounced reparative or “ex-gay” therapy, responding to an article in Catholic media titled “No one is born gay.”

The country’s bishops reacted negatively to Conapred’s denunciation, reported Pink News. Fr. Hugo Valdemar, a spokesperson for the bishops, said:

“There is persecution against the Church. . .It is something very serious, the state now determines the sexual behavior of citizens and forbids any attempt to return to normalcy.

“The state prohibits parents from helping their children to solve their sexual doubts and prohibits homosexuals from changing, but if they want to change their sex they fund that atrocity, it’s something diabolic.”

Valdemar said there would be a “gay dictatorship” soon under which people who disagree with LGBT rights would be imprisoned.

Debates over LGBT rights have intensified in recent weeks after President Enrique Peña Nieto said in May that he would push Congress to pass marriage equality, adoption rights for same-gender partners, non-discrimination protections, and allowances for people to self-identify their gender on official documents. Just ten of Mexico’s 31 states do not have bans on same-gender marriages in place. Peña Nieto’s federal effort seeks to override such bans, and implement LGBT protections universally.

However, LGBT advocates have challenged the president’s commitment, suggesting that his announcement in May might have caused more harm then good. After Peña Nieto’s party suffered losses in June elections, LGBT issues have been sidelined by parrty leaders. But his announcement did stir intense opposition from the Catholic hierarchy and other groups opposed to LGBT rights.

The anti-equality group National Front for the Family has organized dozens of rallies across Mexico, according to Animal Politico. Reports from ABC News said about 215,000 people turned out for anti-marriage equality rallies this past weekend, following up on earlier protests on September 10th. The National Front is primarily supported by the Catholic hierarchy in Mexico with key bishops offering their support in an August 12th letter.

Fr. Valdemar attempted to withdraw such direct support by the bishops later in August, saying moral support for the marches offered by church leaders was in favor of marriage and family, not opposed to any specific legislation or community of people. Church leaders have led marches or rallies in at least eleven states between the September 10th and September 24th demonstrations.

Following the September 10th rallies, TeleSur reported that Conapred released a statement implicitly critical of the bishops’ involvement, saying the denial of equal marriage rights is “an affront to [gay couples] dignity and their integrity.” The statement said further:

” ‘Encouraging discrimination against people because of their sexual and gender orientation or status, as well as trying to exclude families that do not replicate the traditional nuclear model, through expressions and speeches that may incite hatred and violence, as has happened in recent months, violates the human rights of all people.’ “

Pro-equality organizations have organized their own rallies, including one on September 11th which ended at the cathedral in Mexico City. There the National Pride Front of Mexico, an umbrella group for 70 LGBT organizations, launched a campaign calling for the removal of the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera. Spokesperson Patria Jimenez explained the Front was appealing to Pope Francis because, TeleSur reported:

” ‘We want to stop the speeches of violence. We respect freedom of expression and we have open arms. The Church says that it preaches love for your neighbor, but today we see that it promotes hatred.’ “

Rhetoric about marriage equality LGBT rights has been heated and hyperbolic from both sides. Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo of Cancun said he would “go to prison to defend the family” where he said “some charitable soul would go to visit me, especially in this year of mercy.”

On the other side, La Jornada reported a national strategy put forth by the group Equality Mexico to file discrimination complaints against the Catholic Church in multiple regions. For instance, LGBT coalition Red Positiva filed a discrimination complaint with Conapred against Bishop Elizondo. Crux reported:

“The complaint filed also claimed the bishop was opposing article 130 of the Mexican Constitution, which dictates that religious ministers can’t oppose the law nor call the faithful to do so in any public event or religious ceremony.”

Victor Aguirre Espinoza and Fernando Urias Samparo, the first same-gender couple to marry in the state of Mexicali, filed a complaint against the Catholic Church with the governor there. They claim church leaders have violated Article 8 of the Law of Religious Associations, which the plaintiffs allege means religious organizations cannot intervene in politics and must the respect human rights of all people, reported La Voz de La Frontera.

Elsewhere, two LGBT groups filed a complaint against the Archdiocese of Tijuana, specifically alleging that Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barrón had incited hate speech. Equality Mexico filed a complaint against the Archdiocese of Mexico City with the Ministry of the Interior. Complaints are expected in Chihuahua, Yucatán, Hidalgo, and Sinaloa as well.

Finally, Crux reported that Pope Francis offered support for Mexico’s bishops following the Angelus yesterday, saying

” ‘I join willingly the Bishops of Mexico in supporting the efforts of the Church and civil society in favor of the family and of life, which at this time require special pastoral and cultural attention worldwide.’ “

Francis has refrained from entering debates about legal protections for same-gender couples in many countries, including the United States and Italy. But he involved himself when LGBT issues were being debated in Slovakia and Slovenia. This bifurcated response is puzzling.

Mexico is the world’s second largest Catholic nation with nearly 100 million people, or more than 80% of the population, identifying as Catholic. But opinions are equally divided on marriage equality. 40% of Mexicans support equal rights, 40% oppose them, and 10% have no opinion per polling in early September, reported Vanguardia.

When considering what is happening in the country on LGBT rights, one must be keep in mind that Mexico has a troubled and violent history between the church and secular government, including anti-clerical laws in the early 20th century which led to many churches being closed and the oppression and even murder of priests. While laws have changed and tensions lessened, the legacy of these decades lingers. Furthermore, church ministers are targeted today as part of the country’s drug-related violence.

These realities may cause prelates to make extreme claims like the church is being persecuted or suggestions they would be jailed. But church leaders should be more responsible in their rhetorical actions, instead of using hyperbolic and inflammatory terms like “gay dictatorship.” Actual violence in the past and today makes it especially troubling that church leaders and LGBT advocates have both used such charged language in this debate. Where the church should be a unifying force for the promotion and expansion of human rights for all people, including LGBT communities, it is instead acting as a source of unnecessary pain and conflict.

De-escalation from both sides would be advisable, as it would likely allow dialogue to replace divisive tactics. Dialogue could produce laws which are respectful of every person’s dignity and the rights of religious institutions. Such laws would ultimately advance the common good, and that is the cause to which all sides should ultimately commit themselves.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Priest Who Blessed Lesbian Couple’s Love Now Facing Church Sanctions

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Fr. José García with Carmen and Lucia

A Spanish priest is facing disciplinary sanctions after blessing a same-gender couple the day before their civil marriage.

Fr. José García held a “blessing of love” for Carmen and Lucia at Saint Bartholemew Church in Onda, Spain. The July 30th ceremony was attended by their family and friends. García explained the women sought to “celebrate the love they have for God and the love which exists between them,” according to the blog Dos ManzanasThe couple was married in a civil ceremony the next day.

This blessing became public in late August when a conservative Spanish new outlet posted about it, eliciting a response from the Diocese of Segorbe-Castellón. Acknowledging first that lesbian and gay people should not be discriminated against, the diocese’s statement quoted Pope Francis in saying “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family [Amoris Laetitia, no. 251].”

According to the statement. Fr. García was then visited by both the diocese’s Vicar General and Bishop Casmiro López Llorent who demanded an explanation from the priest. The diocese said Fr. García admitted to the bishop the “grave error” of his actions, saying they were motivated by “an erroneous application of mercy” that “did not distinguish the welcome and pastoral accompaniment of persons” from what may seem like approval of same-gender marriage.

The statement reported that the priest apologized to people who considered the blessing scandalous, and he promised not to act similarly in the future. But recanting is seemingly not enough for Bishop López, reported Euro Weekly. The diocese has opened a canonical investigation against Fr. García to see whether formal sanctions should be applied for blessing the love between two people.

Critics of the diocese’s actions have noted the differing speeds with which this case and clerical sexual abuse allegations have been dealt with. Loottis, a Spanish LGBT blog, wrote:

“What is amazing is the speed with which the diocese of Segorbe-Castellón has reacted to this case and in contrast to other scandals which starred members of the Church as happened with the scandal of ‘The Romanones’ in Granada in which several priests were accused of abusing minors for years and the Spanish hierarchy hurried from the first moment to preserve the innocence of the priests involved.”

Loottis noted, too, that Bishop López has made LGBT-negative remarks in the past. In 2013, he said marriage equality had led to a “significant increase in children with severe personality disturbances” and that families led by lesbian and gay people created environments that “frequently ends in violence.”

It is quite sad that the diocese has punished Fr. García so severely, and that more sanctions may be coming. Media reports have been limited to the diocese’s account as the priest has either largely chosen to keep quiet or been silenced. But the limited statements he has made, explaining this incident as a blessing that celebrates love of God and between two people speaks volumes.

If the church blesses animals, ships, church vestments, eggs, and so much more, why are ministers barred from blessing the holy love that exists between two people? The hierarchy’s opposition to same-gender marriages is well known. But blessing love and supporting couples is precisely the type of pastoral accompaniment to which Pope Francis has called the church, even if such relationships do not conform to the heteronormative standards of the Magisterium. There is no love which is wrong, and there is no love outside God’s embrace.

The good news is that God clearly blesses the love between Carmen and Lucia, and their desire to have that love blessed in the church acknowledges their reciprocal love for God. Priests should not be punished for recognizing these realities, and being good pastoral ministers to LGBT people who have been marginalized. The only “grave error” in this incident will be if the canonical investigation now underway were to imperil Fr. García’s priesthood because he was simply a good priest.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Italy Is a Case Study for How the Church Can Build Up a Marriage Culture

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Deborah Piccini and Elena Vanni celebrating their civil union in Italy

Civil unions by same-gender couples have begun in Italy, implementing a law passed earlier this year against the Catholic hierarchy’s objections. But a new study suggests that church weddings, already in great decline, may disappear altogether in Italy in 15 years.  These two facts make Italy a case study for how the church can actually build up a healthy and positive culture around marriage.

It is not clear which couple was the first to be legally joined in Italy, but it is clear that couples have rushed to get their relationships legally recognized. Malay Mail reported one couple entered a union early in Milan because, after 28 years together, one partner was terminally ill. Gay Star News reported that Elena Vanni and Deborah Piccini were among the first couples, celebrating their union at the City Hall of Castel San Pietro near Bologna. Vanni said of their decision to be united under the law:

“‘Desires are the engine that leads us to be happy. . .Not that we were in a hurry, but at some point, our union [became] a discourse about justice.'”

Italy’s national conversation about same-gender relationships has been contentious, and much of the debate has been framed around the issue of justice. Both sides rallied hundreds of thousands to their cause, resulting in massive demonstrations in the lead-up to the law’s passage last May. Lay Catholics were split on the civil unions question, though Italians overall support expanding LGBT rights.  Italian church leaders substantively supported anti-equality efforts, though the Italian Episcopal Conference and some bishops practiced more distance than they had before Pope Francis’ election. For its part, the Holy See avoided the debate in Italy. Still, church leaders were overwhelmingly clear they did not support the law and the Conference’s president called the law’s passage “a loss for everyone.

Contrasting this rush by couples to enter civil unions is a report which suggested that Catholic sacramental weddings in Italy may end altogether by 2031. The study was done by CENSIS, the Center for Social Investment Studies, and analyzed marriage trends from the last two decades. Crux reported that the numbers of Italians entering into sacramental marriages were “in free fall” despite 95% of the nation’s residents still identifying as Catholic. Religious weddings fell by an average of 6,400 annually, and civil ceremonies are holding steady, but show little to no growth.

CENSIS director Massimiliano Valerii said the study indicates the “dissolution of this institution [of marriage],” which the Center attributed in part to legislative trends “including the fact that children born outside of marriage are now recognized as equally legitimate as those born to married couples, and also the civil recognition of de facto couples in addition to those who are married.” Civil unions for lesbian and gay couples are too new to have been factored into any calculations.

The phrasing, “culture of marriage” is used mostly by conservative opponents of marriage equality who claim that the expansion of LGBT rights undercuts the institution of marriage and family life. But Italy reveals that the culture of marriage is not defended, and certainly not strengthened, by denying LGBT people their human rights. If this were the case, marriage should be flourishing in Italy, the last Western European nation (aside from the Holy See) to grant rights to same-gender couples. It is not.

Whether or not sacramental marriages in the Catholic church will cease by 2031 is uncertain. Trends provide guidance, but do not predict the future. What is certain is that the debate over LGBT rights in Italy will continue. Civil unions are progress but are not equivalent to equal marriage rights. Adoption rights for same-gender partners were stripped from the civil unions law to ensure its passage. While employment non-discrimination protections exist, these protections do not extend to other areas like public accommodations. Between now and 2031,  Italian church leaders have an opportunity to shift their strategy on marriage equality, and, in the process, save the nation’s culture of marriage.

Until now, bishops’ engagement with marriage policy in many Western nations has almost exclusively existed of their public condemnations of marriage equality, divorce and remarriage, or contraception. They have failed to offer a compelling, positive, and hopeful vision of marriage and family life that the Catholic tradition possesses. The synodal process and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, attested to the institutional church’s deficiency in preaching and cultivating this vision.The generally conservative Italian episcopacy has been a prime example of this approach.

But if the bishops would listen to the LGBT people and their loved ones, who are actually defending marriage and family, they might actually build up the culture of marriage that they seek. Where the bishops have failed, lay people have led the way. It is no coincidence that marriage equality, and LGBT rights overall, frequently advance first in regions which are predominantly Catholic. The faithful, driven by a sense of justice for people who are marginalized, have championed equality under the law precisely to strengthen all couples and their families. Catholic loved ones of LGBT people, particularly parents, have passionately affirmed not only the goodness of same-gender relationships but demanded equal protections for them. These Catholics understand that all love is good before God, and it should be affirmed and protected by society because marriage and family are indeed essential goods for human flourishing.

As Italians keep addressing LGBT rights, the nation’s bishops should stop resisting LGBT rights as if equality’s progress is anti-marriage and anti-family. They have done tremendous damage to the institution of marriage by claiming some love is second class, and that some families should not be recognized as such. Bishops should instead listen to the many faithful Catholics in Italy and around the world whose advocacy for equality has done more to build up a culture of marriage.

Foremost among these leaders is the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, who has to some extent undertaken this positive reclamation of marriage and family.  Unfortunately, he has done so by promoting heterosexuality as the norm for these institutions. If he cannot affirm marriage equality, he could at least affirm publicly  the love and commitment which exists between same-gender couples and the legal protections their families deserve.   That would do wonders for the culture of marriage in Italy and around the world.

 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry