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

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Members of the Mexican episcopate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

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

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Fr. José García with Carmen and Lucia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

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

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Deborah Piccini and Elena Vanni celebrating their civil union in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Bishops Criticize Vice President Joe Biden for Officiating Same-Gender Marriage

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Tweet from Vice President Biden of the wedding ceremony

Vice President Joe Biden has been criticized by U.S. bishops for officiating at a same-gender wedding last week.

On Friday afternoon, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  (USCCB) published a blog post about public officials who officiate at same-gender marriages. Written by three bishops, the post does not mention the Vice President by name but, given the post’s timing, he is most likely one of its targets.

The bishops who authored the post are Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB president; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. They wrote:

“When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”

The bishops said that faithful witness “will only grow more challenging in the years to come,” alluding to their claims that expanded LGBT rights threaten their religious liberty. They cited both Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia and the pontiff’s address to the U.S. Congress last fall to support their negative position on same-gender marriage. When it comes to marriage equality, it seems some U.S. bishops are willing to reverse their general silence about Francis to use the popular pontiff in their opposition to LGBT rights.

Conservative Catholics have criticized Biden as well, reported Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter. The Lepanto Institute, an ultra-conservative watchdog group, wrote letter to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. asking whether Biden has  excommunicated himself by his action.  Yet, Edward Peters, a conservative canonist, acknowledged that canon law does not provide for excommunication in such a case.  Peters did suggest, however, that he thought that there are grounds to deny Communion to the Vice President.  So far, Wuerl has not responded, at least publicly, to either charge.

Last Monday, Biden officiated his first wedding, conducted for White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie. The Vice President, who is Catholic, has a long record of supporting LGBT rights and is credited with pushing President Barack Obama to endorse marriage equality.

Marriage equality is an irreversible given in the United States now. Why do the bishops keep expending their energy and resources fighting this new reality which protects families and expands love? Their opposition to LGBT rights is well-known, as is their public feud with the Obama administration. It is unclear what impact the bishops had hoped for with this blog post–especially since it seems that they took a swipe at the Vice President without directly confronting him. These bishops need to read a little more of Pope Francis’ writings, and reflect a little more on his witness of living out a church that is “home for all.”

I would point them specifically to Amoris Laetitia’s line that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them. Like many Catholics who affirm LGBT people and their relationships, Biden seems to have properly formed his conscience and then acted upon it by choosing to officiate this wedding ceremony. And like so many other Catholics, he is witnessing to God’s expansive and ever-present love.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, Officiates Same-Gender Marriage

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 4.13.20 PMVice President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, officiated a same-gender marriage this week.  just as electoral politics, and Catholic engagement of them, heat up. Biden tweeted a picture of the ceremony, commenting:

“Proud to marry Brian and Joe at my house. Couldn’t be happier, two longtime White House staffers, two great guys.”

That photo has been retweeted over 38,000 times, including by Jill Biden who commented, “Love is love.”

The Washington Post reported that the couple, Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie, both work at the White House. Mosteller oversees Oval Office operations while Mahshie is a trip coordinator for First Lady Michelle Obama. The intimate ceremony at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., where the Vice President resides, was the first wedding at which Biden had ever officiated.

Vice President Biden has, however, been a longtime supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights. He endorsed equal marriage rights in 2012, suggesting then that the criteria for marriage should be, “Who do you love?” That comment is credited with helping speed up President Barack Obama’s “evolution” on the issue, so he could then offer his own endorsement. Biden has also advocated for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, challenged the international community to address LGBT human rights, and said transgender equality is “the civil rights issue of our time.

For his decades of public service as a faithful Catholic, this spring Biden was awarded the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal alongside former Speaker of the House John Boehner.  Yet, Biden has also taken heat from the Catholic hierarchy, on a number of occasions, for holding views inconsistent with magisterial teaching.

Looking to November, disputes about the actions of a vice president who is Catholic may not end. Indeed, they have already begun. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee. Kaine, a Catholic who has said his faith is “central to everything I do,” has a positive record on LGBT rights.

But his support for marriage equality, in addition to being pro-choice, led Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence to suggest “[Kaine’s] faith isn’t central to his public, political life,” according to the Providence Journal. Since his nomination, Kaine has received public criticism from Virginia’s bishops, as well as from a priest in Washington, D.C. who tweeted, “Do us both a favor. Don’t show up in my communion line.” Faithful America has launched a petition calling upon Catholic leaders to stop questioning Kaine’s faith.

Tobin’s and other bishops’ suggestion that Catholics who support LGBT rights are not fully Catholic is troublesome. Recent data from the Pew Forum revealed 42% of Catholics considered that the treatment of LGBT people is “very important” in the upcoming election, the highest of any Christian denomination and two points higher than the average for all voters. The bishops deny the reality that, like Joe Biden and Tim Kaine, many Catholics support LGBT rights because of, and not in spite of, their faith.

That denial causes unnecessary controversy for the church, and further harm to LGBT Catholics and their families. Thankfully, lay Catholics act daily for inclusion and justice. To Brian and Joe, and Joe Biden, Bondings 2.0 says congratulations!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

The Huffington Post, “Why Joe Biden’s Blessing of a Gay Wedding Matters

Fired Church Worker’s Lawsuit May Proceed Against Archdiocese, Court Rules

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Colin Collette

A federal court in Chicago has ruled that a fired gay church worker’s discrimination case against his former employers may proceed as he had hoped.

The Archdiocese of Chicago had filed a motion to dismiss former music director Colin Collette’s lawsuit against both Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, Illinois, and the archdiocese itself. The court ruled against the Archdiocese’s motion, reported the Chicago Daily Herald, and said the case over whether Collette was fired for “entering into a ‘nonsacramental marriage'” may proceed.

Kerry Lavelle, the church worker’s lawyer, said they were “extremely pleased” with the ruling because they “believed all along that Colin has an actionable claim.” She continued in a press release:

“There remains a long road ahead but this validates our position that the suit merits review by the court. . .We had sincerely hoped to negotiate Colin’s return to his job but short of any further dialogue with the Archdiocese, we will continue to pursue remedy through the courts which we know could be a lengthy process.”

The Archdiocese rebuffed mediation efforts last fall, though Collette did meet with former Cardinal Francis George shortly after the firing. Collette sued the Archdiocese and the parish earlier this year for violating federal, state, and local non-discrimination protections. This latest ruling follows an earlier finding by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that there is sufficient possibility of discrimination for a lawsuit.

Collette was fired in 2014 as Holy Family’s music director, a position he had held for seventeen years, when he publicly announced his engagement to another man. His lawsuit seeks Collette’s reinstatement as music director, along with back pay and damages.

This firing was traumatic for the Holy Family Catholic Community. 700 parishioners at a town hall conversation about the incident welcomed Collette with a standing ovation, and one parishioner expressed anger and disappointment at the treatment of Collette, saying: “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.

This firing also raises questions for Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. Last December, he said the consciences of LGBT people must be respected and even endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender partners. Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, offered a more pastoral voice during the Synod on the Family and told Bondings 2.0 that process would have benefited from hearing lesbian and gay people share their experiences. Yet, Collette and another fired gay church worker in Chicago, Sandor Demkovich, have open discrimination complaints which the Archdiocese is adamantly defending.

Though more than 60 church workers since 2008 have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes, there have been only a few legal victories. A teacher fired from a Catholic school in Italy won her lawsuit in that country. And Matthew Barrett settled with the Catholic school which had rescinded a job offer after finding out he was a married gay man. Colleen Simon reached an out of court settlement with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph after being fired from her parish social justice job.  Flint Dollar also reached a settlement with the Macon, Georgia, Catholic high school that fired him as band director.  Marla Krolikowski also reached a settlement in her suit against a New York City Catholic high school which fired her when she transitioned genders.

Whether Colin Collette will join this small, but growing list is uncertain. But Archbishop Cupich could ensure justice by ending the Archdiocesan defense efforts, apologizing to Collette, and enacting reconciliation efforts to heal the wound of anti-LGBT discrimination in the church.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Cardinal Schönborn: “Amoris Laetitia” Evolves Catholic Doctrine on Family Life

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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, right, holding Amoris Laetitia when it was announced in April

A top cardinal who was closely connected to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, has again affirmed the exhortation’s authoritative status, and said it evolves understandings and expressions of Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a Dominican, made these remarks and others in an extensive interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro of the Vatican-reviewed Italian journal, La Civita Cattolica. Excerpts, available here, have been translated into English.

Amoris Laetitia is “the great text of moral theology” the church has awaited since Vatican II, America quoted Schönborn as saying. It is moving the church from ” ‘a defensive pastoral style in which evil becomes an obsession’ toward one that focuses on recognizing the value of encouraging what is good.” Asked about the exhortation’s authority and the exhortation’s relation to Catholic doctrine–in light of criticisms that it is a minor document, or even only the pope’s opinion, as Cardinal Raymond Burke claimed–Schönborn said:

“It is obvious that this is an act of the magisterium. . .I have no doubt that it must be said that this is a pontifical document of great quality, an authentic teaching of sacra doctrina, which leads us back to the contemporary relevance of the Word of God. . .

“In this sphere of human realities, the Holy Father has fundamentally renewed the discourse of the Church – certainly along the lines of Evangelii gaudium, but also of Gaudium et spes, which presents doctrinal principles and reflections on human beings today that are in a continuous evolution. There is a profound openness to accept reality.”

Schönborn said Pope Francis rejected doctrine which is “abstract pronouncements that are separated from the subject who lives,” saying the exhortation’s “bedrock” is understanding that families are not ideals but rather are journeying. He continued:

“The complexity of family situations, which goes far beyond what was customary in our Western societies even a few decades ago, has made it necessary to look in a more nuanced way at the complexity of these situations. To a greater degree than in the past, the objective situation of a person does not tell us everything about that person in relation to God and in relation to the Church. This evolution compels us urgently to rethink what we meant when we spoke of objective situations of sin. And this implicitly entails a homogeneous evolution in the understanding and in the expression of the doctrine.”

In short, Schönborn clarified, “There is no general norm that can cover all the particular cases.”

Other bishops have affirmed Amoris Laetitia‘s authority as they consider how it should be implemented. Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, Malta, called church ministers to exercise “cautious discernment and respect” when encountering people in irregular situations, reported the Independent. Naming LGBT Catholics in civil unions, Grech said:

“Our pastoral activity should be based on four actions – accepting, accompanying, discerning and integrating. The Pope tells us it is important that we help divorced people who are in a new relationship to feel part of the church, that they are not excommunicated or regarded as such, because they also form part of the ecclesiastical communion.”

Grech, whose record on LGBT issues is generally positive, encouraged church ministers not to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “torture chamber.” Instead, he said the church must engage people as people, not situations, and to “[be] mindful of the language you use.”

Yet despite Schönborn and others’ insistence that Amoris Laetitia represents a development of doctrine, especially in its respect for the complexities of family life today, not all bishops have treated it as such.

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on new guidelines from Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput establishing general norms in the archdiocese that ban LGBT people from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to Catholics in non-traditional families. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on these guidelines here.

Debates about Amoris Laetitia will certainly continue for months, if not years. What is important for LGBT Catholics and their advocates, however, is the growing admission by church leaders that doctrine can and has developed when it comes to family life. Opponents of same-gender sexual activity, relationships, and marriage equality frequently say church teaching is unchanging. But Cardinal Schönborn’s interview makes clear such a view is false, and that beyond the clear pastoral recommendations there are doctrinal implications, too. His voice possesses tremendous weight. He was the spokesperson at the April press conference that made Amoris Laetitia available to the public.  He appeared alongside a married Italian couple and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri, the Synod of Bishops’ secretary general.  In the 1990s,  Schönborn oversaw publication of the most recent edition of the Catechism.

The progressive changes sought by many Catholics on gender and sexuality issues were not accomplished in or by Amoris Laetitia. And Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines are evidence the document can and will be misinterpreted by church leaders who wish to suppress pastoral and doctrinal evolution. But there is tremendous hope in the reality that a growing number of church leaders are admitting change is possible, and even needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry