SYNOD SHORTS: Vatican Censorship? Theory-Practice Gap? Fragmentation? Western Bias?

April 21, 2014

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

SYNOD SHORTS is a new, occasional series designed to bring you news about the upcoming Vatican Synod on Marriage and Family, scheduled for October 2014.  Since so much news is generated about this meeting, we hope that this feature will help keep you informed, particularly on news relating to LGBT issues and the synod.

Was England Silenced by the Vatican?

The Tablet reported that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has cited the Vatican as their reason not to publish findings from an online survey designed to elicit lay opinion on marriage and family which they made available last fall. The bishops were hailed at the time for posting the Vatican’s questionnaire online and 16,600 responses were received. When called upon by Catholics to release the results, a conference spokesperson said the synod’s secretary general, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, told Cardinal Vincent Nichols that responses should be kept private.

The spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales also stated that the Vatican’s request was that all episcopal conferences withhold results , though this is unconfirmed and already bishops in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere have made the questionnaire responses public.

A church reform group known as “A Call to Action” (ACTA) wrote a letter to the British bishops’ conference that quoted Baldisseri as saying the very opposite of what Nichols has stated.  ACTA stated:

“[Baldisseri] has said the results of the questionnaire show the ‘urgency of recognising the lived reality of the people and of beginning a pastoral dialogue with those who have distanced themselves from the Church.’ The letter, which praises the bishops’ decision to publish the survey online, then states: ‘Withholding the results cannot be a promising way to begin that pastoral dialogue.’ “

Cardinal Baldisseri has also engaged in this participatory process himself, hosting a forum in early April called “Listening to the family. Uncertainty and expectations.” According to Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter, the forum held at the Pontifical Gregorian University  in Rome focused on issues related to family life, and it included scholars and married people sharing their wisdom through small group discussions.

Outside of England, the decision is mixed on whether to release findings from the questionnaire responses or keep them for bishops alone. Irish and some American bishops have been more open, while Canadian bishops are remaining quiet.

In Ireland, a theory-practice gap

The Irish Times reports that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin called Catholic teaching on sexuality and family life, including same-gender relationships, “disconnected from real life experiences of families — and not just be younger people.” He said it was “poorly understood…[and] accepted,” saying there was a “theory-practice gap” between what the Church teaches and how it is lived out. The Times reports further:

“On same sex relations ‘some saw the church’s position as being purely negative and judgemental…Many felt that there should be some way of civilly recognising stable same-sex unions, but there was a clear hesitancy, uneasiness and opposition with regard to marriage for same sex unions,’ he said.”

Martin has previously spoken strongly in favor of the dignity of lesbian and gay people. Earlier this year, he said that to be anti-gay was to be anti-God and has called for a more respectful tone in the debate over marriage rights. The Irish bishops reversed a March decision to withhold the results and made them public. In a statement reported on by the National Catholic Reporter, they said:

” ‘The church’s teaching in these sensitive areas [of sexuality and family life] is often not experienced as realistic, compassionate, or life-enhancing.’ “

Canadian Fragmentation

Canadian bishops followed a plan similar to the Americans by leaving the decision to engage lay consultation up to each bishop, creating a fragmented situation. Only 13 of 73 diocese made it available online, which, according to president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Archbishop Paul -André Durocher, gave the country’s prelates a “good read” of the pastoral situation.

Critique from India

Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a lay woman in India, is voicing concerns that the Synod of Bishops is not sufficiently global and is concerned with Western problems. She writes in UCA News:

“My own reading of the questionnaire found two critical lacunae. As a woman functioning in an interfaith family for the past 25 years in a subcontinent where women form the anawim - or ‘poor ones’ – vulnerable, exploited, marginalized, I felt excluded. I found no attempt to elicit information about the status of women in the family, a factor so crucial to the health of the family.

“Interfaith marriages were another silent zone in the questionnaire…Unfortunately the focus of the questionnaire was on divorced Catholics and same-sex unions. I wish there had been more sensitivity to the concerns of Asia.”

Her comments echo those of the Japanese bishops, who earlier this year wrote about the Vatican’s questionnaire being irrelevant to their pastoral reality. Rethinking marriage and family must entail the wisdom of a global Catholic community. For a thoughtful analysis of the global community’s challenge to Catholicism, read Jesuit Jeremy Zipple’s analysis at The Jesuit Post.

Check Bondings 2.0 regularly for more updates on the Synod or enter your email in the upper right hand corner to subscribe to the blog for daily posts delivered to your email. For our previous posts on the Synod, click on “Synod 2014″ in the “Categories” list to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


A Handful of American Clergy Release Synod Survey Results

March 6, 2014

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL

Bishops conferences from Germany to Japan are releasing reports on their surveying and consultation in preparation for this fall’s Synod on Marriage and Family Life. The opinions expressed, which reflect strong disagreement by the laity with regard to church teaching, are not a surprise to many.  What is news, however, is that we are finally hearing bishops acknowledge that much of the laity have rejected the hierarchy’s teachings on sexuality and marriage.

Absent from these recent reports was anything from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which left it to individual dioceses to collect information as they deemed appropriate. Most bishops chose to consult clergy and diocesan offices, but not even all did that much.

At least two prelates, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg and Bishop David O’Connell of Trenton, have released statements on diocesan survey results. In addition, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston spoke about the survey at a press conference. Perhaps most interesting are the responses one anonymous priest wrote which Religion News Service published.

Lynch was among the handful of American bishops actively seeking lay input for the survey. Writing on his blog, the bishop summarizes the 6,800 responses he received, and blames a “too short” timeline for hindering more outreach. Of the results, Lynch writes that they are largely from Catholics attending Mass each week and “do not represent the feelings of those who have fallen away from the practice of their faith, are angry or frustrated or feel alienated by the Church. How I wish I could have heard from them as well.” Regarding LGBT matters, Lynch continues:

“1. There was very strong support for the notion that marriage (which I believe they understood as sacramental marriage) is between one man and one woman.

“2. Having said that, it was also clear that the respondents felt that the Church needed to be better prepared to respond to the reality of same-sex marriage.  In addition, many respondents felt that the people involved in such relationships believe that the Church has turned its back on them.

“3. The respondents generally tended to suggest that the Church needed to be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, be less judgmental and more welcoming.

“4. Very clearly stated was the opinion that an adopted child of same-sex parents should be treated in the Church exactly the same as a child born of a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.”

These results mimic the findings from other surveys, and Lynch admits changes that are perhaps necessary must come from the universal church. Yet, what makes Lynch’s post most interesting is the pastoral initiatives he promises:

“I have made it known that I will not tolerate any discrimination or anything which smacks of the punitive to children of same-sex couples. I think all representatives of the Church’s many ministries can be kinder, gentler, more welcoming and less judgmental of those who find our praxis and preaching on marriage and family life to be at odds with their experiences…

“Finally, if the ‘choir’ is singing this anthem, imagine what we might have heard had we had the time and access to those alienated, fallen-away, hurt or frustrated. Pope Francis’ call to hightail it to the trenches, to the difficult and smelly parts of the people of God to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ is not only a call to serve the economically impoverished but the spiritually impoverished, so often of our own making.”

Bishop David O’Connell of Trenton

In New Jersey, Bishop O’Connell included survey results in his  “State of the Diocese” report, which had been released on the diocesan website. 1,007 responses were received, mostly from lay people who were predominantly women and married. Unlike Lynch, O’Connell spent several paragraphs discrediting the respondents as lacking in knowledge of Church teaching and providing misguided responses. On LGBT matters, he writes:

“Similarly, a significant number of respondents raised questions about the Church’s position on same sex marriage, many expressing sympathy for those with a homosexual orientation…

“Although the task of reading the voluminous pages of responses to the questionnaire was arduous, it did provide a snapshot — albeit very small — into some of the trends in Catholic thinking.  What impact the questionnaire will have on the extraordinary synod itself remains to be seen.  As Bishop, I did feel that I should offer some sense of the information gleaned from my review.”

Further downplaying the synod and the survey is Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston who is also the vice-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In his own archdiocese, responses to the survey posted online were limited, and he only reached out to established councils for input. DiNardo claimed marriage equality was not an issue Catholics in his diocese would like discussed.  Additionally, there was not strong support for reforming the teachings on divorced and remarried Catholics. National Catholic Reporter reports further on the cardinal’s attempts to curb expectations for the synod:

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston

“Asked if knew how the Vatican synod office would deal with the responses to the questionnaire from the world’s bishops, said to number in the tens of thousands of pages, DiNardo said he did not know.

” ‘I’m looking at just what we sent in, and I’m saying you multiply that by 180 dioceses in the United States, I don’t know what they’re going to do…Even if they summarized everything [by country] and sent it over, there are 152 countries.’ “

These prelates are simply admitting what most American Catholics believe about LGBT people and their relationships. Most interesting are responses published by Mark Silk of Religion News Service of an anonymous American priest, which are worth a read in their entirety. Below are a sampling of these responses, with questions included:

“b) In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?

“Yes there are difficulties. From Humanae Vitae forward, one driving principle behind these teachings seems to be an argument from authority. The Church says it, you must believe it, that settles it. Any questioning – even by people of faith and sufficient scholarly credentials and long years of service to the Church – has been seen as some sort of disloyalty or bad faith. However, arguments framed with this authoritarian bent may produce little formal push-back but rather create indifference even from devout Catholics…Credible teaching has to be open to question and must offer cogent and defensible reasons in order to be taken seriously…

“a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?

“It is hard to define the term ‘natural law’ as understood by the church. Any exploration of the historical origin of this term and its use by Catholic theologians runs into serious problems. It relies heavily on an outdated and factually erroneous understanding of the nature of reality – which is dynamic, not static. ‘Truth’ has evolved, it is not ‘perennial.’ Only God’s love is constant. Church teachings have changed and must continue to change in order for the message of Jesus Christ to make sense to new generations.

“b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?

“This is changing as acceptance of same-sex unions takes root in various global cultures. Natural law itself as understood by the church is not intelligible to anyone who has high school or college knowledge of physics, biology or human psychology…

“b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?

“Privately, among priests, religious and laity – compassion and understanding. Publicly, statements and actions that run the spectrum from the ridiculous to the scandalous. One cardinal attributes the ‘success’ of these laws to poor ‘marketing’ by the church. Another mean-spirited and theologically deficient bishop actually ‘exorcised’ the state legislature for passing a same-sex marriage bill. The Holy Father needs to extend some public discipline for statements and actions like these which seriously erode the already flagging credibility of the Catholic Church in the USA. To work against same sex marriage, church leaders have entered into ‘alliances’ with such groups as the Mormons, spent huge sums of diocesan money to alter political outcomes (i.e. state referenda), and even appointed a man of great insensitivity on this issue to head the cultural capital of Gay America: the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The cluelessness of the American hierarchy and their friends in the Vatican could not be more on display than it has been in these past few years over this issue…

“d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?

“The answer is clear cut: we care for the children, baptize them, love them, provide a community of caring and inclusion and try to approach the issue of their parents union with compassion, love, and respect.”

Several months remain before the Synod, and what impact these widespread consultations may have is unknown. However, we hope that bishops and clergy will respond like Bishop Lynch and begin immediately implementing pastoral changes to further create an LGBT-inclusive Church. You can read Bondings 2.0‘s continuing coverage of these results by typing ‘Synod’ in the Search box to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter, “Bishop: Synod questionnaire shows most reject teaching on contraceptives

National Catholic Reporter, “Studies of US Catholics Provide Insight on Synod Questions


Pope Francis’ Letter to All Families Hopeful Sign as Synod on Family Life Approaches

February 27, 2014

Pope Francis and the world’s cardinals in consistory at the Vatican.

Following last week’s consistory of cardinals, Pope Francis has written an open letter to families around the world asking for prayers and promising to include their voices in October’s synod on marriage and family life. There are also new details about what exactly happened during that consistory of 150 cardinals, as well as developments on how the Synod will take shape.

The letter was published Tuesday by Pope Francis as a means of further explaining  the upcoming synod, as the pope hoped to “come into your homes.” National Catholic Reporter quotes the letter as saying, in part:

” ‘This important meeting will involve all the People of God — bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the particular churches of the entire world — all of whom are actively participating in preparations for the meeting through practical suggestions and the crucial support of prayer”…

“Saying the synod is ‘dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church,’ the pope asks to ‘pray intensely’ for its success.”

Pope Francis concluded the letter with a blessing for “every family” without distinction.

Around the same time, the pope had been meeting with cardinals for closed-door discussions on family life which included comments from the pope, a two-hour address by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and follow-up from 43 other cardinals. Discussion was said to include the matter of divorced and remarried Catholics, marriage preparations, and John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” according to reports from the National Catholic Reporter. It seems LGBT people and their relationships were not discussed, an ambiguous sign as there were neither condemnations nor positive discourse that had been public.

Elsewhere, the synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri spoke about the overall impression he had of responses coming in from the Vatican’s questionnaire released last fall. About 80% of national bishops’ conferences and 60% of Vatican congregations had submitted their responses, as well as 700 responses from Catholic organizations globally. According to the Catholic Herald, the cardinal said in an interview:

“[T]he responses show ‘much suffering, especially by those who feel excluded or abandoned by the Church because they find themselves in a state of life that does not correspond to the Church’s doctrine and discipline’…

“By urging bishops around the world to conduct the broadest consultation possible given the brief amount of time allotted, synod officials ‘sparked a spontaneous reaction that may seem surprising, but is actually proof of how necessary it is to go out of our offices’ to where people really live, he said.

“The results compiled by the bishops’ conferences, he said, show ‘the urgency of recognising the lived reality of the people and of beginning a pastoral dialogue with those who have distanced themselves from the Church for various reasons’.”

Finally, the names of the synod’s three presidents were announced during the consistory: Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila, Cardinal Raymundo Assis of Aparecida. They will rotate chairing the synod in October, and at least one, Cardinal Vingt-Trois, has a murky record on marriage equality after warning of the violence which might erupt if France passed equal marriage rights in 2013.

You can read Bondings 2.0‘s past coverage of survey results by typing ‘Synod’ in the Search box to the right.  We will be updating you, as more reports come in.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


U.S. Catholics Make Known Their Opinions on Marriage and Family Issues

February 22, 2014

In the past few weeks, we’ve posted about a few international bishops’ conferences reporting about what they have learned from their surveys of their lay people on matters of marriage and family life, in anticipation of the October 2014 Synod in Rome on those topics.  More and more bishops’ conferences are starting to disclose the responses to these surveys, and we will be reporting on them in the coming days.

Noticeably absent has been any report from the U.S. bishops, and this is probably due to the fact that very few of them made the survey available to their laity.   To remedy this omission of the voices of U.S. lay Catholics, a network of Catholic reform organizations sent out the survey to their members, and yesterday they have released a report on the compiled responses.  Released by member groups of the Catholic Organizations for Renewal and entitled Voices of the People: Responses to the Vatican Survey in Preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Familythe report provides statistics on the information gathered from over 16,000 respondents.   According to a press release, the report categorized responses under seven major themes:

  1. Pastoral care urgently needed
  2. Pedagogical/evangelism challenges
  3. Separated, divorced and remarried Catholics
  4. Same-sex marriage
  5. Women in the Church
  6. Sexual abuse scandals
  7. Skepticism and hope.

The survey responses were analyzed by an independent reviewer, Dr. Peter J. Fagan, M.Div., PhD., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland. 53% of the respondents identified as weekly church-goers, higher than the national average of 31% of Catholics who do so.

On the issue of  marriage equality, the report offers the following evaluation of Catholic attitudes:

“There  is  a  law  recognizing  marriage  equality  in  the  states  of  57  percent  of  the   respondents  (Q29)  and  marriage  equality  is  very  important  for  26  percent  of  the   respondents  and  extremely  important  for  47  percent  (Q33*).

“Respondents  were  asked  to  judge  the  attitudes  of  their  diocese,  parish  and  small   faith  communities  toward  both  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (Q30).  As  the  geography  of  the  entity  became  more  local  and   familiar,  i.e.  from  diocese  to  parish  to  faith  community,  the  respondents’  judged  that   the  attitudes  were  less  hostile,  less  condemning  and  less  negative  and  became  more   supportive,  even  highly  supportive.  This  pattern  applied  to  both  marriage  equality   and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  relationship.    One  third  of  respondents  viewed  their  dioceses  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐ sex  couples  (35  percent);  their  parishes  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage   equality  (11  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (13  percent);  and  their  faith  communities   as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (3  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (4   percent).

“Asked  about  attitudinal  support  of  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples,  the   inverse  pattern  applied:  the  more  local,  the  more  support  for  marriage  equality  and   same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  partnership  (Q30).    Seven  percent  of  dioceses  were   seen  being  at  least  somewhat  supportive  of  both  situations,  as  did  thirty  one  percent   of  parishes  and  two  thirds  of  small  faith  communities.    The  striking  contrast  in  this   inverse  pattern  is  the  discrepancy  between  the  dioceses  perceived  as  hostile  and   condemning  toward  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (35   percent)  and  the  perception  of  the  respondents’  small  faith  communities  attitudes  as   being  highly  supportive  of  marriage  equality  (45  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (47  percent). “

The entire report concludes with the following observation from the analyst:

There  can  be  no  conclusion  to  this  Report  because  it  is  offered  as  participation  to   the  dialogue  and  discernment  leading  up  to  the  Extraordinary  Synod  on  the  Family   to  be  held  in  the  Vatican  during  October  2014.    However,  if  we  were  to  try  to   capture  what  the  respondents  have  said  in  one  sentence,  we  turn  to  voice  of  Pope   Francis  when  he  wrote,

“ ‘The  Church  must  be  a  place  of  mercy  freely  given,  where  everyone  can  feel   welcomed,  loved,  forgiven  and  encouraged  to  live  the  good  life  of  the  Gospel.’   (Evangelii  Gaudium,  #114)

“If  there  were  one  near-­‐universal  hope  of  the  over  16,000  respondents  to  this  Survey,   it  would  be  that  this  vision  of  the  church  would  become  a  pastoral  reality.”

Organizational sponsors of the survey project from Catholic Organizations for Renewal include American Catholic Council, Call To Action, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, and Women’s Ordination Conference.   Other supporting organizations include Catholic Church Reform, Fortunate Families, and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

You can read some of the qualitative responses to the survey either in English or Spanish.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


European Bishops Continue with Reports on Marriage & Family Life Surveys

February 18, 2014

More bishops around the globe have released the results of  information gathering for this coming fall’s Synod on Marriage and Family Life, and the results have been remarkably honest. This post provides updates from several European nations, following up on positive statements from the German bishops which you can read about here.

Switzerland

Findings from Swiss bishops echoed those of the German bishops, as their initial report based on 25,000 respondents reported the disconnect between what the bishops teach and how Catholics live. National Catholic Reporter offers further insight:

“Both the German and the Swiss reports said Catholics in their countries accept the church’s vision of marriage as a life-long union of a man and a woman open to having children, and hope to realize that vision in their own family…

“The Swiss bishops said that ‘approximately 60 percent of participants in the consultation support the recognition of and a church blessing for homosexual couples,’ though the responses showed ‘no consensus, but rather a polarization,’ with strong negative reactions.”

Belgium/Luxembourg

A report from Vatican Insider, cited at Queering the Church, reveals that these French-speaking Catholics responded the the survey in the same way that German Catholics did. These answers highlighted the rift between what the bishops’ teach on sexuality and the practical realities of Catholics’ lives. Most positive, however, were the Belgian bishops’ forward-leaning remarks on gay and lesbian people. A rough translation of their remarks from InfoCath.be states:

“It is learned that Belgian Catholics are very committed to how the church can accommodate every person no matter their differences or errors. This is particularly highlighted for homosexuals or divorced. Like the Pope Francis, the Belgian Catholics hold that the Church is seen as a loving mother, without rejecting those who come to it. To Church, it is also recognized that families need input from the community to get to grow in faith, hence the need of living communities…”

England

The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales has said through a spokesperson that there will be no public report of their findings from  16,500 responses, according to the Catholic Herald. The spokesperson did report high participation rates, which may be the result of the Conference’s early release of an online survey.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Nigerian Bishops Support Anti-Gay Law; Help Get the Pope to Speak Out

February 13, 2014

While it is obvious that the trend toward anti-gay oppressive laws around the globe is a disturbing phenomenon, perhaps nothing is more disturbing than the positive response the Catholic bishops of Nigeria recently gave to the new draconian law in that nation.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama

Michael O’Loughlin, writing on Advocate.com, reported:

“Catholic bishops in Nigeria are congratulating the president for successfully pushing legislation that imposes 14-year jail sentences for gay people who marry, and punishes any gathering of LGBT people in that African nation, placing those who run LGBT organizations in jail for a decade.

“Ignatius Kaigama, archbishop of the Middle Belt region of Jos, told SaharaTV that Catholic bishops in Nigeria ‘thank God that this bill was passed,’ and in a letter sent to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, called the law ‘a courageous one and a clear indication of the ability of our great country to stand shoulders high in the protection of our Nigerian and African most valued cultures of the institution of marriage.’ ”

Further in the letter, the the archbishop wrote:

“We commend you for this courageous and wise decision and pray that God will continue to bless, guide and protect you and your administration against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices, that have continued to debase the purpose of God for man in the area of creation and morality, in their own countries.”

Archbishop Kaigama is not the only Nigerian Catholic prelate to support the new law.  Information Nigeria reported:

“Bishops of the Owerri Catholic Ecclesiastical Province have commended President Goodluck Jonathan for ignoring threats from Western nations and signed the Anti-Same sex Bill into law.

“The commendation was part of the 10-point communique issued after their first plenary meeting for 2014, held at the Pastoral Centre, Owerri, and signed by the Chairman and Secretary, His Grace, Dr. Anthony J.V. Obinna and Most Rev. Dr. Augustine T. Ukwuoma of Orlu Diocese, respectively.”

TellNigeria.com reported on yet a third group of Nigerian bishops supporting the law:

“The Catholic Bishops of Ibadan Ecclesiastical province, comprising Ibadan Archdiocese, Ondo, Ekiti, Ilorin, Oyo and Osogbo dioceses, have endorsed the anti-gay law in Nigeria.”

The wrongness of supporting such a bill is highlighted by a New York Times account of how the anti-gay law is brutally enforced in Nigeria:

“Since Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country last month, arrests of gay people have multiplied, advocates have been forced to go underground, some people fearful of the law have sought asylum overseas and news media demands for a crackdown have flourished.”

Physical punishment also does not seem to be unheard of in some parts of the country:

“The young man cried out as he was being whipped on the courtroom bench. The bailiff’s leather whip struck him 20 times, and when it was over, the man’s side and back were covered with bruises.

“Still, the large crowd outside was disappointed, the judge recalled: The penalty for gay sex under local Islamic law is death by stoning.

“ ‘He is supposed to be killed,’ the judge, Nuhu Idris Mohammed, said, praising his own leniency on judgment day last month at the Shariah court here. The bailiff demonstrated the technique he used: whip at shoulder level, then forcefully down.”

While this account notes that the beating took place in an Islamic religious court, not a civil one, the horror of the case speaks to the depth of anti-gay feeling in the nation.  The Nigerian bishops’ support for the new law will only strengthen these hateful attitudes and practices.  It is amazing that the bishops do not speak out against such violent treatment and such hateful attitudes–which even orthodox Catholic teaching should compel them to do.

Such misguided emphasis on the part of Catholic leaders who should be responsible for the protection, not the flaunting, of human rights, reinforces the need for Pope Francis to speak out against the rise of anti-gay laws around the globe.  You can encourage the pontiff to raise his voice for human dignity by participating in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign.  You can access information about the campaign by clicking here.

Catholic bishops could simply follow the advice of The New York Times editors, who recently opined about the situation of gay and lesbian people in oppressive African nations.   In their editorial about new harsh laws, they state:

Such laws violate commitments made by United Nations members in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents.

If these nations cannot do the humane thing, they should at least consider their self-interest. For any leader who values stability, it makes no sense to promote new laws that foment greater hostility among people, like in Nigeria, where there is already ethnic tension.

Even in countries where antigay laws are not enforced, they provide an excuse for abuse — including blackmail and extortion — by police, Amnesty International said. It is unlikely that any of these countries can reach their full economic potential because many foreign entities may find it too risky to invest in such hostile environments. These governments, in abusing their citizens, are moving in dangerous and destructive directions.

The editors’ sane, humanitarian approach, which also recognizes how laws can affect people’s personal attitudes and behaviors, is quite in line with Catholic social justice principles.  Too bad that a secular newspaper, and not the Catholic hierarchy, which is making these arguments for human rights and respect.

For information on anti-gay laws and the criminalization of homosexuality around the globe, a recent BBC.com article had a good, comprehensive reference, including a chart and a map.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Article

Gay Star News: Nigerian Catholics congratulate President for making same-sex marriage a crime 


Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders

February 11, 2014

Two European prelates have made statements recently which point, once again, toward a more open discussion of LGBT and marriage issues, topics which will be discussed at October’s Synod on Marriage and the Family.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

In Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin acknowledged that some people in the church have used doctrine “in a homophobic way.”  The Irish Times reported that the archbishop made these comments in a discussion about the upcoming national referendum in Ireland about the legalization of same-gender marriage:

“Discussions have to be carried out in a ‘mature’ way so that people can freely express their views, while at the same time being respectful and not causing offence, he said. He said that in general he believed it was the person who was offended who defined what being offended is.

” ‘Anyone who grew up in Ireland would have told jokes that were pointed at the gay community; at Travellers [gypsies]; it is part of the culture we grew up in, but we have to grow out of it,’ he said. He said church teaching was that marriage was between a man and a woman, exclusively, but that this approach did not exclude gay people from celebrating their union by a different means.”

The Independent quotes Martin as saying further:

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

“Speaking to the Irish Independent, the senior cleric said this meant that ‘anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that – they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people’…

“He added: ‘We all belong to one another and there is no way we can build up a society in which people are excluded or insulted. We have to learn a new way in Ireland to live with our differences and for all of us to live with respect for one another.’ “

According to RTE.ie, a leader of Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), was disappointed that the archbishop did not address pressing issues facing the LGBT community there, but affirmed his statements about the damage that cultural attitudes can cause:

“GLEN’s Brian Sheehan described it [the archbishop's comment] as ‘a missed opportunity’ to tackle the role of the church and church teachings in creating what it said were ‘some of the difficult realities for lesbian and gay people in Ireland today.’

“However, he welcomed Dr Martin’s acknowledgement of the impact that a culture, which still has homophobia as part of it, has on those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (standing) and Austrian bishops meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna made some surprising statements about the hierarchy’s views on marriage, at the time of the Austrian bishops’ ad limina with Pope Francis. The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“In several interviews shortly before leaving Vienna, Schönborn advocated a more rational, down-to-earth approach toward family relationships. ‘For the most part, the church approaches the [family] issue unhistorically,’ he said. ‘People have always lived together in various ways. And today, we in the church tacitly live with the fact that the majority of our young people, including those with close ties to the Catholic church, quite naturally live together. The simple fact is that the environment has changed.’ . . . .

“Schönborn said he regretted that the Austrian bishops haven’t dared to speak out openly on necessary church reforms in the past. They haven’t had the courage to address the need for greater decentralization and to strengthen local churches’ responsibilities, he said. ‘We were far too hesitant. I beat my own breast here. We certainly lacked the courage to speak out openly.’ “

Schönborn had high praise for the work and message of Pope Francis, and said he sees the promise of change occurring in the church:

“Schönborn said he was convinced that far-reaching church reform was on the way, ‘but it will not be achieved through big words and programs but through people like Pope Francis.’ One could already see that the pope has become a role model, Schönborn said. ‘The atmosphere is changing and his behavior is making itself felt,’ he said. What impressed him most about the pope was his charisma. ‘You can feel his inner devotion to God from which his compassion, his warmth and his infectious sense of humor emanates,’ the cardinal said.”

Though U.S. bishops have not yet embraced the new era of Pope Francis, it seems that some of our European church leaders are, in fact, taking steps toward a new era of less judgement and more discussion and openness of the reality of people’s relational lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


German Bishops Admit Most Catholics View Sexual Teachings Unrealistic and ‘Merciless’

February 4, 2014

In a groundbreaking move, Germany’s bishops have released results from a survey conducted for next fall’s Synod on Marriage and Family Life. The results reveal just how wide the gap is between how Catholics live and the hierarchy’s teaching on issues of sexual ethics. Further, the bishops’ report is unusually blunt in its conclusions.

Reuters reports that the bishops admit most German Catholics either reject the hierarchy’s views on a slew of sexual issues (including same-gender relationships) or were unaware of teachings in the first place. The article notes:

“The results will not be news to many Catholics, especially in affluent Western countries, but the blunt official admission of this wide gap between policy and practice is uncommon and bound to raise pressure on Pope Francis to introduce reforms.

“Bishops in Germany, one of the richest and most influential national churches in the 1.2-billion-strong Catholic world, have been pressing the Vatican to reform, especially over divorce.

“A statement from the German bishops conference called the results ‘a sober inventory of what German Catholics appreciate about Church teaching on marriage and the family and what they find offputting or unacceptable, either mostly or completely.’ “

Also notable, is that many German Catholics hold to the ideal of marriage and family life as positive elements in society. When it came to the issue of same-gender relationships and legal recognition, the article states:

“There was a ‘marked tendency’ among Catholics to accept legal recognition of same-sex unions as ‘a commandment of justice’ and they felt the Church should bless them, the report said, although most did not want gay marriage to be legalized…

“The German bishops suggested the Church should move away from what it called its ‘prohibition ethics’ of rules against certain acts or views and stress ‘advisory ethics’ meant to help Catholics live better lives.

“In sexual morality, it [the Church] should find a way of presenting its views that does not make people feel it is hostile to sex.”

Germany’s bishops also strongly urged Vatican officials responsible for the Synod to consult with lay people experienced with family life, and were forceful about needing to welcoming divorced and remarried Catholics.

This report follows a recent letter by that nation’s leading Catholic theologians which said the Church needs a new paradigm from which to discern sexual morality and called for increased pastoral care for LGBT people and their children.

Leading German magazine, Der Spiegel, has also released an article called “The Pope’s Sex Problem” analyzing the survey results from all twenty-seven dioceses in Germany. [Editor's note:  Thanks to Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com for referring us to this article.]  The article also described the German bishops’ process in conducting the survey. When the Vatican released the 39-question survey, the German Bishops’ Conference chair sent it to dioceses without instructions for further dissemination.  Der Spiegel reports:

“The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, simply passed the survey on, providing no further instructions on who was to respond to the Vatican survey.

“Zollitsch proved to be more decisive on another, albeit very important issue. In a letter to German bishops written by his secretary, he noted: ‘Questions 1, 2, 5, 7 and 8 will be answered by the central office.’ To save time, existing church positions were to be used.

“In fact, this meant that particular issues were being withheld from churchgoers. For instance, the set of questions under item 5 relates to gay and lesbian couples, while question 7 concerns contraception and abortion.”

However, Catholics in Germany became aware of the survey questions because the Bishops Conference of England and Wales had made the entire survey available on the Internet, and they responded in great numbers. Der Spiegel notes that the German Catholic Youth Federation received 10,000 responses, the Catholic Women’s League organized in several regions, and one pastor received 116 from his parishioners alone. Of these efforts, the magazine states:

“Despite the differences [in collection procedures], there was widespread unanimity in the evaluation of the survey…’Even though they are not representative, the survey results create and amplify the impression of an unfortunate, calamitous situation,’ says Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the bishop of Mainz…

” ‘Many Christians cannot understand this attitude [of condemning homosexuality],’ the staff of Cologne’s Cardinal Joachim Meisner concluded after reading the survey responses they received. In fact, Catholics in Cologne are all too familiar with their conservative archbishop’s condemnation of gays and lesbians. Now Meisner can read about the consequences in the analysis prepared by his own priests, who conclude: ‘Many have already turned away from the church. And many are convinced that this is no longer acceptable.’ “

Surveys, polls, and ancedotal evidence abound which reveal how affirming Catholics are of LGBT people and their relationships, but this development shows that a national group of bishops are finally acknowledging this reality. Now, it is an open question how these results will reach Rome and inform the coming Synod, with groups as diverse as the progressive reform organization “We Are Church” and the more traditional Catholic Family Federation asking Germany’s bishops to leave the results as they are: transparent and unfiltered.

Whether or not this report will impact the Synod’s deliberations on marriage and family life may not be known until October, but by simply getting Church leaders to admit widespread disparities exist between teaching reality, advocates for healthier, more Gospel-infused sexual ethics have already scored a major victory in Germany.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

QueeringTheChurch.com: Cardinal Schonborn: Church must adjust to reality of co-habitation, divorce and remarriage


QUOTE TO NOTE: Seattle Catholic H.S. Student Reflects on Firing of Gay Educator

January 31, 2014

computer_key_Quotation_MarksToday is ZDay in Seattle and across the nation.   Catholic high school students from Eastside Catholic Prep organized the event as an expression of solidarity with the Mark Zmuda, the former vice principal of the school who was fired in December for marrying his husband.

Believe Out Loud‘s blog carried an essay by Zeena Rivera, a student at Seattle’s Holy Names Academy who has been active in the inter-varsity demonstrations that Catholic high school students have been conducting to support the fired teacher over the last month.  In the essay, Ms. Rivera, who is founder and editor of  Be!Magazinean online publication for LGBTQ youth, reflected on how her Catholic faith has informed her decision to oppose the firing of Zmuda:

“I am Catholic. By May, I’ll have gone to Catholic schools for 13 years and there’s a good chance that I’ll be spending another 4 years in a Catholic school. I go to Mass every Sunday, work at a Catholic food bank during the summer, and am in a leadership position in my school’s campus ministry.

“It would be a lie to say that my moral compass hasn’t been touched by Catholic virtues.

“Furthermore, in my experience as a Catholic school student in Seattle, I know that my religion classes never taught discrimination. I was taught to live a loving life. I have learned that you’re supposed to stand up in solidarity and help create positive action when someone is being treated unfairly. We’re supposed to protect the rights and dignity of workers, not being the ones taking them away.”

You can read her entire essay here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Schools Week Calls Us to Reflect on Fair Employment for LGBT Educators

January 30, 2014

We are in the middle of Catholic Schools Week here in the U.S., a time to reflect on the importance of Catholic education in the life of the church and society.  This year, the celebration of this week is particularly bittersweet because while we know that Catholic schools have done so much good in our history, we are painfully aware that over the past few years, some (not all, by any means) Catholic schools have committed grave injustices by firing gay and lesbian employees who have legally married their spouses. No response to such actions have been stronger than that of the students of Eastside Catholic Prep School, near Seattle, Washington, where students have been active for over a month in their protest efforts to have former vice principal Mark Zmuda re-instated to his job.  Tomorrow, the students will be hosting #ZDay–a major demonstration of their support for Zmuda who was fired for marrying his husband.  People are encouraged to wear orange as a sign of solidarity with the students and Zmuda.

Rick Garnett

A wealth of interesting commentary has developed around this case and around the growing trend of such firings.  Rick Garnett, who contributes to Mirror of Justice, a blog about Catholic legal theory, has provided some important questions for reflection on the issues in this case.  Garnett writes:

“As a legal, constitutional, and political-theory matter, I guess I am committed to the view that a Catholic high school is and ought to be able to decide (a) that teachers and administrators must teach and form students in accord with the Church’s proposals and teachings and (b) whether or not a particular teacher or administrator is failing to do so.  That said, cases like these are . . . tricky for several reasons:   Even those Catholic schools that are most committed to tethering hiring and firing decisions to their Catholic mission and character do not, generally speaking, investigate employees’ private lives to be sure they are entirely consistent with the Church’s moral and other teachings.  (Phew!).  What’s more, failures to live in accord with the Church’s teachings regarding sexuality are failures, but they are not necessarily, as a category, more ‘serious’ or ‘grave’ failings than the failure (of so many of us!) to live in accord with the Church’s teachings on charity and humility, and yet we don’t hear about many Catholic school teachers being fired for exhibiting insufficient joy. “

I disagree with Garnett’s claim that not living in accord with Church teachings are “failures.”  After all, a person may have made this decision after serious conscience reflection, and, thus, are not “failing,” but actually “succeeding” in doing what they believe God has said is right.  Despite that disagreement, I think he is right to point out that adhering to rules about sexuality should not be the litmus test for whether or not one is a good role model as a Catholic educator.

Eduardo Moises Penalver

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver, a blogger at dotCommonwealcommented on Garnett’s post by offering an alternative course of action that the schools could have taken:

“Although I am inclined to agree with him [Garnett] that (at least for Catholic elementary and secondary schools who do not accept state funding) this is a choice for the Church to make, it seems to me that the Church has left itself the space to make a different choice in these situations.  It could choose to view the injustice it sees in gay marriage as (in its view) one that is perpetrated by the state, and not by the participants in gay marriages. Consequently, as to actual gay couples, it could simply treat the marriages as a nullity and ignore them.  On this view, the Church’s beef is with the state, not with the gay couple.  If it is willing to hire someone who is gay, it should not fire him/her for taking advantage of a set of secular benefits that the state has chosen to exend to him/her.”

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, responded to Garnett’s blog post by teasing out many of the other moral issues at work in this case.  For instance, he writes:

“As a matter of law, Garnett is undoubtedly correct that there is no real debate: Eastside Catholic has the right to terminate any school employees it wishes. Teachers are certainly within the compass of the ministerial exemption from anti-discrimination laws, and even other staff members could seriously disrupt a parochial school’s mission if they wished in ways that would extend the ministerial exemption to them as well. The Church is free to fire and hire free from government interference, which does not mean it is smart to do so, only that it is undoubtedly within its legal rights to do so. “

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

I think this is an important distinction to make because it addresses the issue of what the school is teaching the students by its actions.   Though they may have had a legal right to fire Zmuda, did they stop to think what lesson they would be sending to students with such an action?  From the response of the students, they have learned a terrible lesson about Catholic institutional discrimination, what columnist Jamie Manson has termed “a vaccine against faith.”   Who did more damage to the students’ lives as Catholics:  Mark Zmuda for marrying his husband or school administrators for responding so harshly to such an action? Winters makes another important distinction relevant to this case:  the difference between violating church teaching and undermining church teaching:

“Here is the rub for me. It is true that marriage is a public act. It entails official government recognition. You can look it up on a government register. But, most people do not spend their time sorting through government records to see who is, and is not, married. If Mr. Zmuda began bringing his husband to the school and introducing him as his husband, I do not see that as any different from a straight woman bringing in her live-in boyfriend or a straight man bringing in his mistress, and introducing them as such. In all three cases, I think the school would be within its moral as well as its legal rights to fire them. The offense, however, is not that they violated Church teaching, but that their announcement of their violation can be considered an effort to undermine Church teaching.”

Winters concludes with an appeal to the example of Pope Francis, whose style would be welcome in cases such as these:

“Blessings upon the gay rights leader who stands up for the constitutional right of a Catholic school to fire whom they wish. Blessings upon the Catholic prelate who admits that civil marriage for same-sex partners is not the threat it has been painted as. And, blessings upon everyone who helps to restore a greater appreciation for the idea that one’s private life is best kept private, that the personal is not necessarily the political, and that it is possible, at the same time, to both cling to the Church’s teachings and be generous and merciful with those who cannot or will not share them in their entirety. Isn’t that what Pope Francis has been trying to remind us these past few months?”

Ken Briggs

Ken Briggs

Ken Briggs, who also blogs for The National Catholic Reporter, has a more pessimistic view about Pope Francis’ influence on firings.   Briggs feels that Catholic institutional leaders have their hands tied by church law, and that they can’t do anything until the law changes.  He writes:

“Francis’ sentiments have become a mantra for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates as meaning gay and lesbian sexuality is within the bounds of moral approval. The anathema visited upon homosexual acts by the Vatican (‘intrinsically disordered’) is believed to have been superseded by the pope’s tolerance in the view of these hopeful thinkers. And who’s to blame them for the optimism in that ray of hope? “But in the real world of the Seattle archdiocese, decisions are supposed to be guided by official church teaching. The Catholic church’s opposition to same-sex marriage isn’t just advice. Practically speaking, it’s church law. What option do Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and the Eastside administration have but to follow the rule? “Nothing the pope has said gets to a particular case such as this and others that are cropping up. Perhaps that’s what the pope intends. He utters a personal vision of how things should be, even contrary to church teaching, hoping it will spark a grassroots debate that will eventually bring about change. Let a wholesale discussion work it out. He has endorsed a much more communal, conciliar church, so maybe he’s playing the role of catalyst.”

I disagree with this more pessimistic view.  I think that church leaders have the right and responsibility to weigh all factors in any situation and that they have an obligation to do what they think is right, not just what they think an authority is telling them to do.   People have a lot more freedom than they give themselves credit for.  Of course, they also have to be willing to live with the consequences of their decisions, but that is what a life of faith is all about. Moving past the culture of blindly following authority is something that Catholic leaders and people need to do.  We also need to move past a culture in which people courageously do what they think is right only up to the point where they may get in trouble.  Robert McClory touches on this topic in a National Catholic Reporter analysis of the Zmuda case.  McClory notes:

Robert McClory

Robert McClory

“Now that gays are marrying their longtime partners thanks to changes in federal and state laws, they are facing dismissal from their jobs. The alleged reason for dismissal is the fact that they are not following the church teaching on homosexuality. The real reason is that the word is out; the public knows they are gay — and the church is embarrassed. “But the affected employees weren’t following church teaching on this issue before, and somehow pastors and bishops were able to live with this less-than-perfect situation. Now, they feel, it’s time to impose a strict interpretation of the law. That’s where the hypocrisy, the double standard, is so obvious. Secrecy has been the chronic disease of Catholicism for a long time.”

There are many lessons to be learned from the Zmuda case about how church leaders can constructively respond to LGBT issues as they arise in Catholic institutions.  Let’s hope that the next time such a situation arises, the leaders involved will be able to look at some of the broader issues involved, and not narrowly focus on just the sexual issues that may be involved.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles 

For an excellent timeline about the Zmuda case, visit QueeringtheChurch.com

For learning how to establish non-discrimination policies in Catholic institutions, click here.


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