German Bishops Offer Nuanced Response to New Marriage Equality Law

Germany’s bishops have said they are “deeply saddened” by the legalization of equal marriage and adoption rights for same-gender couples in their country, but their response is more nuanced than what is being reported.

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Brandenburg Gate lit up for Pride

Early last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she was dropping her opposition to marriage equality. Legislators passed the law Friday, including several who are members of the lay-run Central Committee of German Catholics.

After the law’s passage, Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin released a statement in his role as chair of the German Bishops Conference’s Commission on Marriage and Family. Koch said, in part:

“I regret the fact that the legislature has given up the essential content of the marriage concept in order to make it fit for same-sex partnerships. At the same time, I regret the fact that today’s decision gives up a differentiated perception of different forms of partnership in order to stress the value of same-sex partnerships. Differentiation, however, is not discrimination. A valuation of same-sex cohabitation can also be expressed by another institutional arrangement. It does not have to appear in the opening up of the legal institute of marriage for same-sex partnerships. The fathers of the constitutional law (Grundgesetz) have given marriage such a prominent place in our constitution, because they wanted to protect and strengthen those who as a mother and father want to give their children their lives. If, above all, the protection of relationships and the assumption of shared responsibility as a justification for the opening of the marriage are brought forward, this means a substantial re-balancing of the content and a dilution of the classic marriage concept.”

Koch said that a conversation about “the strengthening and promotion of the diverse communities of responsibility” was necessary, adding:

“As a church, we have respect for those same-sex partnerships in which mutual responsibility and care are taken over for many years.”

In light of marriage equality’s passage, Koch said the bishops would need to “present [their understanding of marriage] invitingly in public” and promote sacramental marriage as a separate entity.

Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg echoed this sentiment, according to PinkNews, saying, “I regret that our understanding of marriage and the state’s understanding are moving yet further apart.”

Before the vote, reported The Tablet, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, president of the German Bishops Conference, called the snap vote “absolutely inappropriate” and said marriage must remain defined as it is in the German constitution.

These statements need to be read in a very important context. German bishops have been some of the most supportive voices in the church for LGBT people. Indeed, both Archbishop Koch and Cardinal Marx attended Catholic Day festivities in Germany last year as LGBT groups were welcomed to participate for the first time.

At the Synod on the Family, Koch said the German contingent sought to advance the conversation on homosexuality as much as possible despite resistance from other regions. The German-speaking group of bishops at the synod stated that the church should apologize to people it has harmed, including lesbian and gay people. Cardinal Marx has also said the church should apologize.

But when lay Catholics in Germany called for the church to bless same-gender partnerships outside of marriage, bishops including Marx rebuked them sharply. Marx himself has both affirmed the love found in such partnerships, and also spoken strongly against understanding them as equal to marriage. Meanwhile, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck said such couples should be blessed.

The bishops’ response to Germany’s new marriage law is equally nuanced, yet it should be seen as a positive change in the church. It would be too far at this point to expect they would affirm marriage equality, but their statements reveal three noteworthy advances.

First, they recognize the need to legally protect same-gender couples even if they desire differentiated means of doing so. Second, Koch’s statement acknowledges the lasting “mutual responsibility and care” found in such relationships. Third, they admit the difference between civil and sacramental marriage. Going forward, Koch is clear that the bishops’ role is not to fight the new law, but to invitingly propose their understanding of marriage and hope it attracts people.

I await the day when bishops, recognizing the goodness and love which mark same-gender relationships, celebrate with their fellow Catholics when marriage equality laws are passed. Until then, I hope more bishops will look to Germany and try for less caustic, more nuanced responses.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 5, 2017

San Jose Bishop Counters Paprocki’s Decree Against Married Lesbian/Gay Couples

A California bishop has written a letter instructing clergy and religious in the diocese to be compassionate and inclusive when it comes to pastoral care. a direct repudiation of last month’s alienating directives from an Illinois bishop.

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Bishop Patrick McGrath

Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose sent the letter on June 29, 2017. While it doesn’t specifically mention Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree that bars people in same-gender marriages from participation in certain forms of pastoral care, sacramental life, and leadership, from the language of the text, it seems this recent development was on McGrath’s mind . According to the blog Proper Nomenclature, McGrath wrote:

“Recent news reports of policies and practices related to members of the LGBT community in other dioceses can be confusing.

“I take this opportunity to assure you that the pastoral response in the Diocese of San Jose remains just that: compassionate and pastoral. We will not refuse sacraments or Christian Burial to anyone who requests them in good faith.

“Finally, let us remember and be guided by the words of Pope Francis: ‘The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.'”

Paprocki’s decree drew strong reactions from Catholics, especially his instruction that pastoral ministers deny funerals to Catholics in same-gender marriages. You can read a report on his decree here, along with reactions here and here.   While other bishops (notably Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput and Newark’s former Archbishop John Myers) barred married gay and lesbian people from communion and liturgical roles, only Paprocki went so far as to forbid funerals for them.

This letter is not Bishop McGrath’s first step to be more welcoming of LGBT people. Last year, after the massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, he was among the handful of bishops who explicitly mentioned the victims’ sexual and/or gender identities in a statement.

The Diocese of San Jose also hosts the Catholic LGBT Ministry Council, which sponsors monthly “All Are Welcome” Masses at parishes and provides pastoral ministers with welcoming resources.

Criticism of Paprocki has continued from other quarters. A MoveOn.org petition asking Paprocki to reconsider his decree is gaining signatures, and Jim Ketchum wrote in The Times Herald of Michigan:

“Does this mean the church now can bury only saints? Should there be any doubt, it sounds as if you should get your requests for forgiveness in well before your last breath. . .Nobody dies sinless.”

Thankfully, Bishop McGrath has recognized that every person is welcome to pastoral care. His instruction to welcome everyone to the sacraments who “requests them in good faith” echoes Jesus’ invitation in the Gospel, and it mirrors a more merciful tone in the church sought by Pope Francis.

But beyond that, his letter is significant because, even if indirectly, he is publicly challenging a fellow bishop. This development is a sign of health in a church where there is too often silence from bishops when their peers act inappropriately. More U.S. bishops should follow McGrath’s example by issuing guidelines of welcome and inclusion.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 2, 2017

 

Bishop Paprocki’s Decree Was Released on Orlando Massacre Anniversary

Catholics have continued to express their strong responses to Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree barring people in same-gender marriages from participation in church activities, including being denied funerals. To read further about the decree, click here. For more reactions, click here.

Bishop Paprocki (1)Deb Word of Fortunate Families wrote an open letter to Paprocki, and noted that the decree was released on June 12, the one year anniversary of the massacre at an Orlando LGBT nightclub in which 49 people were murdered. Word wrote:

“I thought your decree was heartless and an assault on our families, our children, our church community. That was until I realized the date of the [decree]. You chose to remember the dead with a communication that says they were not worthy of BURIAL. I have never seen such hate and I am filled with grief and frankly nauseous that any human could do this. . .Please sir, resign. Or put down the pen. But please stop hurting my kids!”

To read an open letter to Paprocki from Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, click here.

On Vox.com, Brian Flanagan, a theologian at Marymount University, Virginia, believes Bishop Paprocki is “entirely qualified” to deem married gay Catholics as “manifest sinners,” according to canon law definitions.  Vox’s report continued:

“At the same time, [Flanagan] points out, other canon laws suggest that Paprocki’s narrow interpretation is itself problematic: He notes that, generally speaking, when there’s room for interpretation, the governing principle of canon law is that a law should be interpreted ‘to the benefit of the baptized Catholic.'”

Flanagan also questioned whether Paprocki’s actions were prudent, saying “he’s essentially failed” in preventing scandal:

“[T]his decree’s mean-spiritedness deeply undermines respect for Catholic bishops and their teaching authority. Coming just after Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy, denying funerals to the departed and their grieving families seems jarringly unmerciful, and un-nuanced in its blanket application to married gay people as compared to other Catholics who fall short of perfection. . .the denial of a funeral to a married gay person is more scandalous to most Catholics than that funeral’s occurrence.”

Martin Pendergast, a member of London’s Farm Street Church LGBT Community, told Independent Catholic News:

“A number of [U.S.] bishops are locked into the realm of ideas rather than really responding to the reality of peoples’ lives which Pope Francis keeps urging ALL of us to do. . .LGBT Catholics, parents and families are not the stumbling blocks here, rather it is ideological bishops such as Bishop Paprocki who are the real cause for scandal.”

Dr Gemma Simmonds, C.J., a theologian at Heythrop College in England, added, “I hope that we can all work to build a scandalously merciful church rather than setting ourselves up as harsh judges of those whose judgement lies in God’s hands alone.”

Michael Sean Winters, writing in the National Catholic Reportersaid Paprocki “should be sacked.” Winters says that Paprocki’s action “warrants the extreme sanction of removal from office proposed in the motu proprio, Come una madre amorevole.” He continued:

“If I were a bishop, and I think we can all agree it is a good thing I am not, but if I were, I would issue a decree that Tom Paprocki can’t be buried in my diocese. As it is, I suspect 95 percent of the bishops in this country were horrified by what Paprocki did, and the other five percent, while not horrified, would not follow his lead.”

Finally, Steve Jones submitted a letter to The State Journal-Register opposing the decree despite Jones’ own reservations about marriage equality. He wrote:

“Maybe Bishop Paprocki should open his eyes and see what his flock has been seeing for years. Such as Catholic grade schools closing because of lack of students, Masses not full, and the younger generations not involved in the church, largely in part to the gross mishandling of the priest abuse scandal. Don’t believe me, go to a Catholic Mass and count the number of attendees who might fall between the ages of 16 and 36. . .Now is the time for the Catholic Church to unite and grow, not divide and continue its downward spiral.”

Jones concluded by referencing Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” statement, adding, “the God I pray to at night loves people for who they are, not who I want them to be.”

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him. 

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

For continuing updates on Bishop Paprocki’s decree and more Catholic LGBT news, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 using the box in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 29, 2017

Catholics Angered by Bishop’s Attempt to Exclude Lesbian and Gay Couples

Catholics have reacted strongly against Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree prohibiting people in same-gender marriages from participating in the church’s life.

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Contact Bishop Paprocki

Bondings 2.0 reported Thursday on the decree released by the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. In it, Bishop Paprocki instructs pastors to bar people in such marriages from receiving Communion, participating in liturgical ministries, entering RCIA programs, and being granted funerals. You can find an initial report by clicking here.

Yesterday, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, released an open letter to Bishop Paprocki that you can find by clicking here. Today’s post highlights from other Catholic leaders.

Fortunate Families, a network of Catholic parents with LGBT children, published its own letter to Paprocki. The Board referred to the decree as “a hard-hearted document” in which the bishop shows “no pastoral sensitivity, no attempt to dialogue about the positions taken and no effort to reach out to our LGBT children.” The letter continued:

“In denying [LGBT people] the reception of Communion and funeral rites you effectively excommunicate them. Your decree indicates that a dying person who is living publicly in a same sex marriage may be given Holy Communion only if he or she repents. Is being in a same sex marriage on the same level as a person who denies the Creed? Imagine someone in a committed loving relationship for his or her entire life having to choose on his or her deathbed whether to discount a life of love and receive the Body and Blood of Christ or continue a commitment of integrity.”

Fr. James Martin, S.J., who recently published a book on Catholic LGBT issues based on an address he first gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award, posted on Facebook:

“If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. . .they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a ‘sign of unjust discrimination’ (2358).”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement:

“It is simply cruel and shameful to refuse burial or Communion to those who seek the grace and comfort that our Church offers at some of the most difficult moments of life. This is reminiscent of the appalling practice of denying Communion, funerals, and burial to people dying of AIDS at the height of the epidemic. . .[The decree] is unchristian and demeaning. It is totally unworthy of our Catholic faith.”

John Freml, a married gay Catholic in the Diocese of Springfield, told The State Journal-Register the decree “puts priests and other church workers in a difficult position.” Another Catholic in the diocese weighed in:

“Cindy Carlson Rice, also a Springfield Catholic, said she was implicitly told she couldn’t approach for communion because of her support for her daughter’s same-sex marriage. . .said the decree was ‘a smack across the face’ to those LGBT Catholics who have stayed involved in the church.”

In the same article, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said that Bishop Paprocki’s decree goes beyond previous restrictions imposed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other prelates. DeBernardo added, “Paprocki is an anomaly and is not in the mainstream of Catholic thought (with this decree).”

Also quoted was Christopher Pett, the incoming president of DignityUSA, who said:

“Bishop Paprocki’s decree makes it very clear why so many (LGBT) people and their families feel unwelcome in the Catholic Church and why so many leave it. . . .

“This document is mean-spirited and hurtful in the extreme. It systematically and disdainfully disparages us and our relationships. It denies us the full participation in the life of our Church to which we are entitled by our baptism and our creation in God’s image.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter told NPR News that he “can’t imagine a cruder thing more at cross purposes with what the Holy Father is trying to do,” and that “privately, 95 percent of other bishops in the U.S. are reading [the decree] and are horrified. Even the ones who are pretty arch on same-sex marriage think this is too far.”

Bishop Paprocki is defending the decree, telling The Washington Post, “These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues.”

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him. 

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 24, 2017

Related Article

The Chicago Tribune, “Springfield bishop: No communion, last rites, funerals for same-sex couples

 

Bishop: Pastors Must Deny Funerals to Catholics in Same-Gender Marriages

An Illinois bishop has released guidelines about same-gender marriages that may greatly restrict participation in his diocese’s parishes by people in such marriages.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki
Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield issued his “Same-Sex Marriage Policies Decree 6-12-2017” earlier this month, which instructs lesbian and gay Catholics along with pastoral ministers on several aspects of ecclesial life.

Addressing the sacraments, Paprocki said people in same-gender marriages should neither seek to receive nor be admitted to Holy Communion because their relationships are of an “objectively immoral nature.” Most strikingly, the bishop decreed about funeral rites:

“Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites. In case of doubt, the proper pastor or parochial administrator is to consult the local ordinary [bishop], whose judgment is to be followed (cf. c. 1184).”

Further restrictions on people in same-gender marriages include the following prohibitions:

  • “[They] are not to serve in a public liturgical ministry, including but not limited to reader and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”;
  • “[They may] not serve as a sponsor for the Sacraments of Baptism or Confirmation”;
  • “[They are] not to be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) or receive the Sacrament of Confirmation unless he or she has withdrawn from the objectively immoral relationship”.

Paprocki’s decree also includes restrictions for pastoral ministers. No church worker, acting in a professional capacity, may participate in same-gender weddings. No church properties may host such weddings, and the bishop even forbids “items dedicated or blessed for use in Catholic worship” from being used in such ceremonies. Church personnel are also forbidden to bless same-gender marriages.

Pastors are further instructed to accept children whose parents are in a same-gender marriage for the Sacraments of Initiation, though pastors must use “due discretion in determining the appropriateness of the public celebration of the baptism.” Likewise, such children are to be admitted to Catholic schools and religious education, but the family “must agree to abide by the Family School Agreement.” To read more about that Agreement, which is LGBT-negative, click here.

Finally, the bishop threatened pastoral ministers that a “culpable violation of any of these norms can be punished with a just penalty.”

This Decree is not entirely novel. Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput sought last summer to bar LGBT people from both Communion and liturgical ministries in his restrictive pastoral guidelines. Elsewhere, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit and former Archbishop John Myers of Newark both told LGBT Catholics and their allies not receive Communion. What is notable about Paprocki’s guidelines is its treatment of funeral rites and threat of punishment for pastoral ministers.

The Decree is also not Bishop Paprocki’s first damaging act against LGBT people and their families. Last year, he implicitly criticized Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich for suggesting that reception of Communion is to be determined by each person according to their conscience. When Illinois passed marriage equality in 2013, Paprocki held a public exorcism because of the law, and had previously suggested that supporters of marriage equality should be disciplined like children.

Beside the obvious pastoral insensitivity, there are a few other things wrong with Paprocki’s new guidelines. In canon law, Canon 1184, which the bishop referenced in regard to funeral rites, says restrictions on such rites should be imposed on “notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics,” those persons who are cremated for “reasons contrary to Christian faith,” and “manifest sinners” whose funerals would be publicly scandalous.

It is discrimination to target LGBT people when, in a certain sense, all Catholics could be deemed “manifest sinners.” Who among us, including Bishop Paprocki, does not publicly sin at different moments? Yet, funeral rites are not denied to Catholics who pay employees an unjust wage, publicly advocate for the death penalty, or deny climate change.

It is cruel to suggest that people who have, by the dictates of their conscience, entered into same-gender marriages should uniformly be equated with apostates and heretics.

Secondly, threatening Catholic pastoral workers with a “just penalty” is improper for someone who is to be a loving shepherd for the diocese. It borders on spiritual abuse to tell pastoral ministers and LGBT Catholics that, should they adhere to a most fundamental church teaching and follow their properly formed consciences, they could be punished by ecclesiastical authorities.

In a moment when a growing number of church leaders, led by Pope Francis, are opening doors to LGBT people and their families, it is tragic that Bishop Paprocki has chosen to act so harmfully. Despite his claims, it is the Decree itself which is the real scandal in this incident.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 22, 2017

As U.S. Bishops Strengthen Religious Liberty Committee, What Does This Mean for LGBT Equality?

U.S. bishops voted last week to strengthen their committee on religious liberty. What might this vote mean for the bishops’ engagement with LGBT rights?

Bishops gather in St Louis for spring general assembly
U.S. bishops meeting in Indianapolis

Meeting in Indianapolis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted 132-53 to make their  Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty a permanent structure. Crux reported:

“Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, committee chairman, said the need for the body stretches beyond the specific legal and public policy issues challenging religious freedom that continue to emerge.

“Lori expressed hope that the committee’s work would help ‘plant the seeds of a movement for religious freedom, which will take years of watering and weeding in order for it to grow, to grow strong and to bear fruit.'”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter detailed the floor debate over the question of a permanent religious liberty committee. He said that listening to Archbishop Lori’s  oft-repeated allegation that expanded LGBT rights threaten religious liberty which expanded LGBT rights bring with them was like “entering a time warp.” Winters questioned “whether the histrionic approach to the issue is truthful or helpful.”

Several bishops vocally challenged making the Committee a permanent one. Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, both Francis appointees, warned sharply against continuing to press the religious liberty agenda while at the same time that the USCCB leadership was proposing to close down the working group on immigration. Winters reported further:

“Tobin and other bishops also questioned the funding of the work of the religious liberty committee: The proposal to make the committee permanent was stated to be budget-neutral and it was pointed out that funding sources dry up for a variety of reasons. Archbishop William Lori did his best to assure his colleagues that the funding was solid and not going anywhere: We know the Knights of Columbus have donated $250,000 to the committee since its inception, and Lori is the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights. But he won’t be forever, and his pal Carl Anderson won’t be Supreme Knight forever, either.”

(Note: The National Catholic Reporter recently published an in-depth analysis of the Knights’ spending. You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of how that funding impacts LGBT issues by clicking here.)

The Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty has spearheaded U.S. bishops’ opposition to LGBT and reproductive rights in recent years.  A main part of their program has been the USCCB’s annual Fortnight for Freedom, which begins today and runs until July 4th.  In April, the USCCB supported the so-called “Inclusion Act,” a federal bill that would allow religiously-affiliated social service providers to discriminate against LGBT people. They have long opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), defending what they understand to be “just” discrimination. And they have acted thus despite the fact a majority of U.S. Catholics oppose religious exemptions from LGBT non-discrimination protections.

Since Pope Francis’ election, many Catholics and observers have wondered if and when the pope’s vision for the church would be realized in the U.S. episcopacy. There has been little movement to this point; indeed, the bishops’ notably stuck to their conservative, anti-LGBT priorities in 2014 and 2015. But the Indianapolis meeting may finally reveal changes. Winters said, “the tide is turning and the ice cracking in the conservative chokehold of the conference.” He explained:

“The turning of the tide was obvious in larger ways, too. In 2016, the bishops overwhelmingly adopted with only a handful of negative votes a strategic plan that was little different from the previous one, despite requests that the new strategic plan better address the changing focus of Pope Francis. The one major change on the strategic plan? They made religious liberty one of their five areas of special concern. Wednesday, however, 53 bishops voted not to make the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty a standing committee. That was insufficient to defeat the proposal, but it showed that Team Francis is not simply going to sit quietly and go along.”

There are genuine attacks on religious liberty in our world. Even in the United States, Muslims and other non-Christians face increasing assaults on their civil rights and their personal safety. Catholics are right to be concerned about these injustices, and to seek recourse in such a way that the religious rights of all people are defended.

The U.S. bishops’ work on religious liberty so far have given little indication that they are concerned about attacks on people of other faiths. Religious liberty has become a nearly empty term when used by them, a tactic in their strategy to undermine LGBT civil rights. Hopefully, in Winters’ term, “Team Francis” bishops will reclaim real religious liberty as the bishops let go of their partisan anti-LGBT agenda that has been all too present in recent years.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 21, 2017

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