SYNOD 2015: Cardinal Marx’s New Approach to Lesbian & Gay Relationships

January 23, 2015

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

One of the strongest pro-gay voices to emerge at the synod in October 2014 was Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and a member of Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisers.  Time and again during the meeting in Rome last year, Marx made several statements which indicated that he is eager for a more welcoming and open approach to lesbian and gay people in the Church.

America magazine’s website has just published an interview with Cardinal Marx, conducted by Luke Hansen, S.J., a former associate editor of America, and a student at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, California.  The interview was done following Marx’s delivery of the Roger W. Heyns Lecture  at Stanford University, California, on January 15th.  It’s an amazing document, and I strongly recommend reading it in the entirety to get a fuller sense of Cardinal Marx’s mind. You can access it by clicking here.

I’ve excerpted the sections from the interview which deal with lesbian and gay issues, and have offered some commentary, too.

Marx was asked to comment on his statement during the synod that he had to admit that there was value in “the case of two homosexuals who have been living together for 35 years and taking care of each other, even in the last phases of their lives.”  Hansen asked him “What have you learned from these relationships and does it have any bearing on sexual ethics today?”

Marx’s answer echoed some of the pastoral and theological principles advocated by theologian Sister Margaret Farley and  Australia’s Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, both of whom, along with many theologians, call for the Church to base its sexual ethics on a theory of right relationship, rather than on the morality of particular sexual acts:

“When speaking about sexual ethics, perhaps we must not begin with sleeping together, but with love, fidelity and the search for a life-long relationship. I am astonished that most of our young people, and also Catholic homosexuals who are practicing, want a relationship that lasts forever.  The doctrine of the church is not so strange for people. It is true.”

Though he acknowledges that the Church officially does not equate heterosexual and homosexual relationships, Marx affirms lesbian and gay committed couples:

“The church says that a gay relationship is not on the same level as a relationship between a man and a woman. That is clear. But when they are faithful, when they are engaged for the poor, when they are working, it is not possible to say, ‘Everything you do, because you are a homosexual, is negative.’ That must be said, and I have heard no critic. It is not possible to see a person from only one point of view, without seeing the whole situation of a person. That is very important for sexual ethics.”

His answer brings to mind the terrible scourge of firings of LGBT people from Catholic institutions over the past few years.  Marx’s way of

Colleen Simon

thinking points to an approach which examines a person’s entire life, not just their sexuality, when determining a moral evaluation of them.  In particular, his comments remind me of Colleen Simon, who by all accounts was an effective and compassionate social justice minister who ran a food pantry at a parish, yet was fired when it became inadvertently public that she had married her female partner.

Marx’s answer to another question touches on another tragic trend here in the U.S. church:  the denial of communion to lesbian and gay people. In answering a question about both divorced/remarried and lesbian/gay people, Marx sees sacramental withholding as a terribly wrong pastoral strategy:

“The Eucharist and reconciliation are necessary for people. We say to some people, ‘You will never be reconciled until your death.’ That is impossible to believe when you see the situations. I could give examples. In the spirit of ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ we have to see how the Eucharist is medicine for the people, to help the people. We must look for ways for people to receive the Eucharist. It is not about finding ways to keep them out! We must find ways to welcome them. We have to use our imagination in asking, ‘Can we do something?’ Perhaps it is not possible in some situations. That is not the question. The focus must be on how to welcome people.”

Bishop Johan Bonny

While clearly advocating for greater openness to lesbian and gay people and relationships, it is important to note that Marx, while progressive, is not ready to challenge the teachings of the Church regarding marriage and sexual relationships.  In answer to a question about Belgium Bishop Johan Bonny’s call for the Church to bless committed lesbian and gay relationships, Marx answered:

“I said in the synod that Paul VI had a great vision in ‘Humanae Vitae.’ The relationship between a man and a woman is very important. The sexual relationship in a faithful relationship is founded on the connection of procreation, giving love, sexuality and openness to life. Paul VI believed that this connection would be destroyed. He was right; see all the questions of reproductive medicine and so on. We cannot exclude this great model of sexuality, and say, ‘We have diversity,’ or ‘Everybody has the right to….’ The great meaning of sexuality is the relationship between a man and a woman and the openness to give life. I have also previously mentioned the question of accompanying people, to see what people are doing in their lives and in their personal situation.”

This answer gives us an insight not only into the mind of Cardinal Marx, but, I think, into the mind of Pope Francis.  Neither, it seems, are willing to call for a change to the church’s doctrine on sexuality, but both seem eager to allow for two dynamics which may, eventually, have an impact on changing doctrine:  pastoral outreach in the form of welcome and accompaniment; greater discussion and dialogue on these matters.  At one point in the interview, Marx says the following about theological discussion:

“I have the impression that we have a lot of work to do in the theological field, not only related to the question of divorce, but also the theology of marriage. I am astonished that some can say, “Everything is clear” on this topic. Things are not clear. It is not about church doctrine being determined by modern times. It is a question of aggiornamento, to say it in a way that the people can understand, and to always adapt our doctrine to the Gospel, to theology, in order to find in a new way the sense of what Jesus said, the meaning of the tradition of the church and of theology and so on. There is a lot to do.”

And in another spot, he discusses pastoral outreach:

“It is best to read ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’ Some people say, ‘We don’t know what the pope is really wanting.’ I say, ‘Read the text.’ It does not give magical answers to complex questions, but rather it conveys the path of the Spirit, the way of evangelization, being close to the people, close to the poor, close to those who have failed, close to the sinners, not a narcissistic church, not a church of fear. There is a new, free impulse to go out. Some worry about what will happen.”

Marx seems to agree with Pope Francis in one other way:  both are cautionary that the 2015 will not bring about change in the church’s doctrine.  Marx declares that the synod is more of a deliberative exercise than a decision-making body:

“It is very important that the synod does not have the spirit of ‘all or nothing.’ It is not a good way. The synod cannot have winners and losers. That is not the spirit of the synod. The spirit of the synod is to find a way together, not to say, ‘How can I find a way to bring my position through?’ Rather: ‘How can I understand the other position, and how can we together find a new position?’ That is the spirit of the synod.

“Therefore it is very important that we are working on these questions. I hope that the pope will inspire this synod. The synod cannot decide; only a council or pope can decide. These questions must also be understood in a broader context. The task is to help the people to live. It is not, according to ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ about how we can defend the truth. It is about helping people to find the truth. That is important.”

While Marx may be technically correct about the synod, let’s not downplay the tremendous public relations effect that a synod can have. Last October’s extraordinary synod may not have made any decisions, but it did reveal that there are several voices in the hierarchy who did not agree with John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s approach to lesbian/gay people, and other questions about marriage and family.

Cardinal Marx and Pope Francis are not where we might like them to be on lesbian and gay issues, but there openness to pastoral care and greater discussion could pave the way for greater changes down the road.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


Irish Priest Comes Out During Mass, Endorses Marriage Equality to Applause

January 10, 2015

Fr. Dolan celebrating Mass in Dublin

A priest in Ireland recently came out as gay, telling Catholics to vote for civil marriage equality in Ireland’s upcoming referendum on the issue.

Irish Central reports Fr. Martin Dolan, longtime pastor of St. Nicholas of Myra Church in Dublin, spoke during Masses last weekend:

“Calling on his Dublin city congregation to support same sex marriage in the upcoming Irish referendum, set for the end May, Dolan said ‘I’m gay myself.’ “

Parishioners applauded him and said they were “very proud” of Dolan. Congregant Liz O’Connor told the Irish Sun that the priest consistently witnesses for the rights of all people, even speaking up for victims of clergy abuse during the Irish church’s ongoing scandals. She continued:

” ‘There’s not many of them (priests) that would come out because they’re afraid of the bishops and that, but Martin is his own man. He is a man of real conviction and he doesn’t back down…He is right to advocate gay rights. The Church should back the priest.’

” ‘He should not be condemned by the hierarchy of the Church; he should be supported.’ “

The Irish bishops have vocally opposed equal marriage rights, yet the Archdiocese of Dublin is refusing to comment on Dolan. However, The Sun quotes one church official as affirming the priest’s remarks:

” ‘It was very brave. He said he was gay. That was it…no bones about it…He was just doing his service, it was part of his homily, and that’s it. If he feels strongly about something, Martin just says it.’

“He’s happy with himself. There is no fear of him running away, he wouldn’t be one of them people…There’s a lot of gay priests but nobody will actually get up and say it.’ “

Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has a positive record on LGBT issues, previously criticizing the homophobic tone of the same-gender marriage debate in Ireland and saying church teaching on sexuality is “disconnected from real life experiences of families.” It will be interesting to see how the archbishop handles Dolan’s coming out and endorsement of same-gender marriage.

Ireland, one of the most Catholic of nations, has recently shown that its citizens are strongly supportive of LGBT equality, despite opposition from the nation’s hierarchy. The referendum is schedule for May, with a recent poll showing 71% of Irish citizens supporting equal marriage rights.

Parishioners, however, are clear that their support lies with Fr. Dolan. Liz O’Connor concludes:

” ‘I wouldn’t like to see him being moved for the statement he made. That would be horrendous. He should be supported. He has done nothing wrong. If he’s moved, there would be uproar in this parish. He’s still the same man today.’ “

New Ways Ministry applauds Fr. Dolan for his tremendous integrity and for having the courage to speak forcefully for LGBT rights. When Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny called for the church to formally recognize gay couples, this blog said “courage breeds courage.” Let’s pray that in 2015 more clergy find the courage to speak their truth and promote an inclusive Gospel.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Belfast Telegraph: “Dublin priest receives standing ovation after saying he is gay during Mass”


Should Civil Marriage Be Separated from Sacramental Marriage?

November 25, 2014

Conservative religious leaders, including some Catholics, have imitated an action that many pro-marriage equality advocates have used successfully:  they have pledged not to perform civil marriage ceremonies until their view of marriage is accepted by the state.

According to an article in Crux, the conservative Catholic opinion journal First Things has posted “The Marriage Pledge” on their website, which is a statement by Christian ministers who agree not to perform the civil aspect of wedding ceremonies (i.e., not signing the marriage licesnse) until same-gender marriage is revoked.  The pledge states, in part:

“. . . [I]n our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.”

What I find most interesting about this stand is that in many states across our nation, pro-marriage equality ministers took a similar pledge as they were advocating for the state to adopt marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  The pro-marriage equality pastors pledged to not sign any marriage licenses for any couple until marriage was extended equally to all couples.

When opponents adopt the same strategy to achieve opposite ends, something must be happening.

I think that “something” is a growing consensus on the idea that marriage in the U.S. should be separated from religious institutions.  In other words,  civil marriages would only be performed by government officials, and not religious leaders, who currently are authorized to do so.  If a couple chooses to have a religious ceremony in addition to the civil ceremony, they are free to do so, though the religious ceremony by itself would not be legally recognized.  As many people are aware, this is how marriage is conducted in many European countries.

Some pro-marriage equality advocates, including Catholics, have been advocating for this distinction for a long time.  In addition to being intuitively fairer, this situation also helps to clear up  the muddy interaction that religious and government institutions have about the definition of marriage.  In that sense, such a distinction supports marriage equality.

One major problem that marriage equality advocates have had is that some people see marriage as a mixture of civil and religious ideas, and so the thought of changing even just the civil part of marriage makes them fear that the religious part of marriage will change, too.  Separating the two institutions thus paves the way for the state to democratically decide who should be allowed to marry, and for religious institutions to decide who they want to marry according to their own definitions.

There has already been a discussion of this separation from Catholic advocates on both sides of the marriage equality question.  Back in July 2013,  Bondings 2.0 carried two connected posts exploring the debate.  The first was by Jesuit law professor, Fr. Frank Brennan, who advocated for such a separation as a way to allow lesbian and gay couples to marry:

“It is high time to draw a distinction between a marriage recognised by civil law and a sacramental marriage. In deciding whether to expand civil marriage to the union of two persons of the same gender, legislators should have regard not just for the well-being of same sex couples and the children already part of their family units, but also for the well-being of all future children who may be affected, as well as the common good of society in setting appropriate contours for legally recognised relationships. . . .

“It would be just and a service to the common good for the State to give some recognition and support to committed, faithful, long-term relationships between gay couples deserving dignity, being able to love and support each other in sickness and in health, until death they do part.”

Arguing for the same distinction, but for an opposite purpose, was the Archdiocese of Washington’s Msgr. Charles Pope, a pastor, who said:

“It is a simple fact that word ‘marriage’ as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean.”

After giving an interpretation of why he thought such a redefinition took place, he stated:

“So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word ‘marriage’ is not even close to what the Church means. The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think.

I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as ‘Holy Matrimony.’ ” [emphasis, his]

Interestingly, Msgr. Pope called for exactly the type of protest that First Things is now encouraging:

“A secondary but related proposal is that we begin to consider getting out of the business of having our clergy act as civil magistrates in weddings. Right now we clergy in most of America sign the civil license and act, as such, as partners with the State. But with increasing States interpreting marriage so differently, can we really say we are partners? Should we even give the impression of credibility to the State’s increasingly meaningless piece of paper? It may remain the case that the Catholic faithful, for legal and tax reasons may need to get a civil license, but why should clergy have anything to do with it?

The Crux article cited other examples of this type of proposal in the last few years, from both liberals and conservatives, Catholic and Protestant:

The concept that civil and religious marriage should be separate is not entirely novel. At US Catholic, columnist Bryan Cones has asked, “Is it time to separate church and state marriages?” And writer Len Woolley raised similar questions at the Mormon-run Deseret News. . . But the idea isn’t just limited to conservatives.

Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, proposed the idea as early as 2009. By 2011, three North Carolina church pastors and at least one in Virginia quit signing marriage licenses as a way of opposing state bans on same-sex marriages they felt violated their conscience.

And in July of this year, Paul Waldman argued at The American Prospect, a liberal publication, that religious couples should fill out state-mandated marriage forms and then have the religious ceremony of their choosing. “The wedding, in other words, should be a ritual with no content prescribed by the state, no ‘By the power vested in me by the state of Indiana’ at all.”

Waldman added: “The state doesn’t tell you how to celebrate Christmas or Ramadan, and it shouldn’t tell you how to get married.”

Such an interesting development!  What do you think?  Should marriage be separated into civil and religious institutions?  Leave your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Ethika Politika:  The Marriage Pledge: Black, White, and Red All Over”

 


To Answer “What Is Marriage Now?” Lesbian & Gay Couples Must Be Included

November 15, 2014

These days, it is rare indeed that I read an argument about marriage equality that doesn’t remind me of other arguments that I’ve read in the past.  It seems that we have kind of reached the saturation point for arguments on this issue, having discussed this topic seriously for well over a decade now.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised to read Gerald W. Schlabach’s essay, “What Is Marriage Now?  A Pauline Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” in The Christian Century this week. His essay deserves to be read in its entirety (which you can do so by clicking here), but in this blog post, I will try to highlight a few of what I think are the most insightful parts of his thinking.

Schlabach, who is a Catholic professor of moral theology at the University of Thomas in Minnesota, develops the idea that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will strengthen marriage for all couples, and will do so because such an extension of the marriage institution will help us understand what is its essence. His thesis is:

“Extending the blessings of marriage to same-sex couples by recognizing their lifelong unions fully as marriage could allow the church to speak all the more clearly to what deeply and rightly concerns those who seek to uphold the sanctity of marriage.”

He uses as his jumping off point St. Paul’s famous line about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” or as it is more commonly quoted from the King James translation “It is better to marry than to burn.”

One of the many things which make his argument unique is that he argues acknowledges the social power that marriage has in stabilizing individuals and society, as well as acknowledging the beauty of sexual expression and its importance in a couple’s overall sense of intimacy.

Schlabach doesn’t argue from the more common, progressive position of justice and equality, but states, instead:

“. . . . [S]ome of the best reasons to support same-sex marriage turn out to be deeply conservative ones. This suggests how the Pauline remark might provide the church with a framework for proclaiming a message of good news for all sides. It offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that we continue to hallow the institution of marriage as the only appropriate place for intimate sexual union. And it offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that people of same-sex orientation be allowed equal opportunity to flourish as human beings—that the covenanted bonds of sexual intimacy play just as much of a role in their lives.”

Gerald Schlabach

Schlabach’s interpretation of St. Paul’s admonition is a very insightful one, that raises the remark above a simple denigration of lust.  He looks at the key words as metaphors for deeper understandings about the power of marriage, beyond a cure for concupiscence:

“ ‘To burn’ may stand for all the ways that we human beings, left to ourselves, live only for ourselves, our own pleasures, and our own survival. By contrast, ‘to marry’ may signal the way that all of us (even those who do so in a vocation of lifelong celibacy) learn to bend our desires away from ourselves, become vulnerable to the desires of others, and bend toward the service of others.”

Schlabach upholds St. Augustine’s ideas about the three “goods” of marriage: permanence, faithfulness, and fruitfulness, yet he expands these beyond the more traditional understandings:

“Christian interpreters today may continue to see procreation and child rearing as the prototypical expression of fruitfulness, but not as the only one. Every Christian marriage should face outward in hospitality and service to others.

“Together with permanence, therefore, faithfulness has come to stand for all the ways that couples bind their lives together. Spouses do not practice faithfulness only by giving their bodies exclusively to one another in sexual intimacy, but by together changing dirty diapers and washing dirty dishes, by promising long and tiring care amid illness and aging, by offering small favors on very ordinary days.”

These new understandings of these “goods” can be easily applied to lesbian and gay couples as they are to heterosexual ones. Perhaps the most important part of his essay is in his understanding that traditional views about marriage are not for heterosexual couples only.

Schlabach takes traditionalists to task for equating homosexuality with the current licentious sexual mores of “contingency,” engaging in sex when it is convenient, like making a consumer choice.  He also challenges the progressive arguments which make marriage, in the words of writer David Brooks, seem like “a really good employee benefits plan.”

Instead the moral theology professor discerns a more important definition of marriage which is based on intimate relationship, not sexual convenience or economic advantage:

“Marriage can and should remain a covenant and a forming of the one flesh of kinship, rather than a mere contract forming a mere partnership. . . .

“Marriage will indeed be subject to endless reinvention unless we recognize it as more than a contract. Instead we should recognize and insist that marriage is the communally sealed bond of lifelong intimate mutual care between two people that creates humanity’s most basic unit of kinship, thus allowing human beings to build sustained networks of society.”

This view of marriage allows him to see the beauty and power of sexual expression, not procreation as the main force which establishes a couple’s union:

“Procreation will always be the prototypical sign of a widening kinship network. But as spouses in any healthy marriage know, including infertile ones, kinship is already being formed in tender, other-directed sexual pleasuring. Such pleasure bonds a couple by promising and rewarding all the other ways of being together in mutual care and service through days, years, and decades.”

Schabach concludes his essay with advice to pastoral leaders:

“. . .[T]he church and its leaders need great pastoral wisdom to do two things simultaneously:

  • Walk back from the culture of contingency by explaining and insisting in fresh ways that God intends for active sexuality to belong uniquely to marriage.
  • Work compassionately with those who have embraced the relative fidelity of cohabitation, even if they have not yet moved to embrace a covenant of marriage or a vocation of celibacy.

“If we aim for these two goals, Christians will be better able to speak clearly and work energetically because together we’ll affirm that marriage is good—for everyone.”

His advice would be important for bishops at next year’s synod on marriage and the family to consider.

If your appetite has been whetted for a new understanding of marriage and the marriage equality debate, I strongly recommend that you read Schlabach’s essay in its entirety by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Two Sacramental Stories Show How Divided Our Church Is By LGBT Issues

November 7, 2014

Two stories from London’s Tablet magazine show how far our Church has come on LGBT issues, and also how far we yet have to go.

One story reports on a parish priest in Bürglen, Switzerland, who blessed a lesbian couple’s relationship in a public ceremony in the parish church.  The Tablet  said it was “a service closely resembling a marriage ceremony.”

In the short article, Fr. Wendelin Bucheli explained his rationale for granting the couple’s request that their partnership be blessed:

“The question he had asked himself and those he consulted was, ‘Can I perform this blessing in the name of God and is it God’s will?’ The conclusion he had come to was, ‘As animals, cars and even weapons are blessed nowadays, why should it not be possible to bless a couple who want to go their way with God?’ ‘As for the form [of the service], this blessing was not very different from a church marriage [ceremony],’ he added.”

The story reminds us of the growing trend of positive statements and regard that many church leaders, including some high-ranking cardinals and bishops, have been exhibiting over the past few years.  It is also reminiscent of the Bondings 2.0 post a couple of months ago which described a New York City parish bulletin affirming the 44-year relationship of a lesbian couple who are parishioners.

The positive vibes of this Swiss story, though, are somewhat dampened by the fact that another Tablet story recently described the experience of a gay Catholic man who was denied absolution during the sacrament of reconciliation because of his sexuality.  Aaron Saunderson-Cross, a 29 year-old gay Catholic in an eight year-old committed relationship, was denied absolution during one of his regular experiences of the sacrament of reconciliation.  He describes the occurrence:

“For the first time ever, the priest refused me absolution. The experience left me angered, saddened and confused.

“I accept the irregularity of my situation as existing outside of the Church’s normative structures of family life and yet I am resolved, by God’s grace in the life of ‘complete continence’ (Familiaris Consortio 84), to live out my call to holiness as detailed in Lumen Gentium.

“It is always difficult when visiting a new confessor and language so often fails in our feeble attempts to give a full account of the complexity of our lives . . .”

From the depth of reflection that Saunderson-Cross, who converted to Catholicism five years ago, expresses in his blog post, it is obvious that he has studiously and prayerfully informed and resolved his conscience.  One comment particularly stands out as he describes the confessor’s response to learning about the partnered relationship:

” [The] bonds of affection that are Providential in our redemption are less important to the homophobic mind than the presumption of our genital transgressions.”

The denial of absolution does not fit in with the more pastoral approach towards gay and lesbian Catholics that was promoted at the synod, particularly by London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols.  Saunderson-Cross writes:

“I returned to that priest the next afternoon. He distinguished between being refused and deferred absolution, yet this distinction failed to acknowledge my relationship – in Cardinal Peter Erdo’s words from the recent Synod – in the ‘light of the law of graduality’ which Cardinal Nichols explains is a ‘law of pastoral moral theology which permits people, all of us, to take one step at a time in our search for holiness in our lives.’ The grace of sacramental absolution is ‘sweetness to the soul and health to the body’ (Proverbs 16:24) and necessary to the mental health of gay Catholics who labour in faith to integrate their lives to the perfect will of God.”

The story was resolved by the penitent returning to his regular confession to receive absolution.  The discouraging aspect of this story reminds us of so many times that LGBT Catholics are denied sacraments.  Pope Francis’ message of pastoral outreach and inclusion cannot be implemented soon enough.

Just like the synod of a few weeks ago, these two stories show how much opinion in our our Church is divided about LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Vatican Marriage Conference Can Endanger the Good Will Pope Francis Has Built

November 4, 2014

Any good will from gay and lesbian people that was won because of the open discussions at the recent extraordinary synod on marriage and the family will evaporate quickly if events like the one announced yesterday become the order of the day. The Vatican revealed that a major interfaith conference on complementarity in marriage will take place there on November 17-19 of this year.  The meeting is sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity are co-sponsors.

According to a Catholic News Service article on the America magazine website, the conference, entitled “Complementarity of Man and Woman,” will feature

“more than 30 speakers representing 23 countries and various Christian churches, as well as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Sikhism.”

Pope Francis will give an opening address at the meeting, and we will need  to listen closely to his remarks to see how strongly he defends the church’s traditional view of marriage, the place of complementarity in marriage, and what he might say about same-gender couples.  His remarks in the past on this topic have refreshingly avoided the harsh rhetoric against marriage equality that his predecessors frequently employed.  Speaking at a conference focused on such a pointed topic as complementarity will mean that his rhetoric needs to be very sophisticated if he wants to maintain his otherwise welcoming overtures to lesbian and gay people.  If his praise for complementarity becomes exclusive, he endangers the good will he has built up with LGBT Catholics over the past year and a half.

Of course, in and of itself, a conference on finding ways to support heterosexual marriage is not a bad idea.  But focusing on complementarity, and holding it up as the only ideal for intimate relationships, places same-gender relationships in an inferior position. Moreover, complementarity has been widely criticized as a sexist idea since it reinforces traditional gender roles which put women in inferior positions.  Support heterosexual couples in their marital commitments:  Yes.  Support complementarity as a goal and requirement of marriage: No.

Crux.com’s Inés San Martín explained how “complementarity” is a loaded term in contemporary church discussions:

“Complementarity comes up frequently in Catholic circles as part of the intellectual basis for opposing same-sex marriage, on the grounds that the natural differences between men and women reflect the divine plan for marriage as a union between the two sexes. Given that many of the flash points at the synod revolved around homosexuality and marriage, the agenda for the looming conference seems destined to bring them back to the fore.

“Complementarity has also been invoked by recent popes to defend the Church’s ban on women priests, on the grounds that men and women play different but equally important roles in Catholicism.”

But what makes this conference particularly disappointing is that Vatican leaders have invited representatives from other faiths to come and present their views on marriage, yet the Catholic hierarchy has yet to have a public and serious discussion with members of their own church who have views on marriage which differ from the traditional heterosexual model.   A Religion News Service story on The National Catholic Reporter website described the background of some of those who are invited:

“. . . [T]he conference will include Muslim and Jewish representatives, as well as American leading evangelicals like megachurch pastor Rick Warren and Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore.Organizers say the new conference will show that while the Catholic hierarchy is split on how to address contemporary challenges to marriage and family life, the church can nonetheless seek common ground with religious leaders outside the Vatican. . . .

” ‘I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelical Protestants believe about marriage and the gospel, especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled,’ said Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. . . .

“The conference will include Wael Farouq, a Muslim and president of the Tawasul Cultural Center in Cairo; Henry B. Eyring, an top-ranking apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Manmohan Singh of the World Sikh Council.”

The Catholic News Service story detailed more of the participants:

“. . . Mercy Sister Prudence Allen, former chair of the philosophy department at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, whom Pope Francis named to the International Theological Commission in September.

“Other notable speakers will include Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, and Anglican Bishops N.T. Wright and Michael Nazir-Ali.”

Crux.com also mentioned two more participants: Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers, a doctoral fellow in African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, and Johann Christoph Arnold, a pastor with the Bruderhof Communities.

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, who will host the September 2015 World Meeting of Families, will also be a speaker.  After the synod, Chaput had commented on that meeting, stating: “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion.”   Given his strong opposition to the synod’s more open discussions, it makes one wonder if this event will be used to repudiate any of the more positive messages that came out of  the bishops’ discussions last month.

Conference organizers say that the conference’s purpose is to

“examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.”

Helen Alvare, a Catholic commentator known for her conservative positions, is the spokesperson for the event, and she told Crux.com that she sees the meeting is being very much in line with Pope Francis’ call for wide discussion:

“For Alvare, the exchange is an answer to Pope Francis’ call to ‘look, listen, face reality, [and] get people from around the world to tell us their situation.’

“ ‘I know I’m not seeing things,’ she said. ‘With his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and his final speech at the synod, he’s telling us to open the dialogue. Solidarity between religions and cultures is possible.’ “

If Pope Francis truly wants to open the dialogue, he should host a Vatican meeting to listen to and interact with LGBT Catholics and other advocates of marriage equality to hear their points of view.  Hosting a conference for those who agree with the church’s traditional view of marriage is not something new and it is not something needed.  Vatican officials, and the world, have heard that position over and over and over.  Opening the dialogue would occur if the all points of view were heard.  And solidarity with conservative religious leaders is less important than solidarity with LGBT Catholics and their supporters, who have been asking for a dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy for decades now.

At the conclusion of the conference, participants will issue a “Declaration on Marriage.”  Key to this document will be how it describes and evaluates same-gender couples and marriage equality laws.  Even though the Vatican is not ready to recognize same-gender couples, they should still be able to find a way to support heterosexual couples without relying on devaluing lesbian/gay relationships, or promoting sexist notions of complementarity.

Pope Francis, known for outreach and reconciliation, may have his work cut out for himself after this conference is over.  His best option is to give equal time to at least Catholic advocates who are working to ensure that all couples and families that are based on loving relationships are recognized and blessed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Christianity Today: Pope Francis Wants To Know What Rick Warren, Russell Moore, N. T. Wright Think about Marriage”

 

 

 

 


Synod Final Report Disappoints, But Significant Progress Is Made In the Process

October 18, 2014

The synod on marriage and family has released its final report.  You can read it by clicking here, though, so far, it has only been released in Italian. (Try Google Translate or another translation program.)  The passages on lesbian and gay issues are numbers 55 and 56.

The following is the statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, responding to the final report of the synod on marriage and the family:

The synod’s final report significantly backtracks on LGBT issues from the draft released earlier this week, but the synod’s process and openness to discussion provides hope for further development down the road, particularly at next year’s synod, where the make-up of the participants will be larger and more diverse, including many more pastorally-oriented bishops.

It’s very disappointing that the Synod’s final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included.  Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples. Additionally, their further comment about supposed “international pressure” to accept same-gender marriage selfishly views the hierarchy as the victims, not LGBT people who receive unjust and oppressive treatment by governments, church, families, and society.

Pastoral care should focus on for LGBT people as total human beings, many of whom have suffered significant alienation and personal harm, and not just as sexual beings.  Pastoral care should also focus on the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Church, something that the earlier draft highlighted.

One major error the bishops made in the final report was to quote the Vatican’s 2003 document condemning same-gender marriage, which referred to adoption by gay and lesbian couples as a form of “violence” toward the children.  Such language is pastorally harmful and destructive to any welcome to lesbian and gay people.

It’s important, however, to keep two things in mind.  First, the paragraphs on homosexuality which did not receive the required 2/3rds vote, and which were more welcoming of LGBT people, failed by only a handful of votes, indicating significant support from a majority of bishops. Second, this report is not the final word, but as a Vatican spokesperson explained, it is still a working document which will be discussed in the coming year.

What was good about this two-week long meeting?  The real value of this synod is that it has started the discussion among the hierarchy on LGBT issues which has been going on for decades among the lay people and theologians in the Church.  The bishops began to catch up, and I don’t think that the discussion will stop here, but will only continue, with more promising outcomes for LGBT people and their families in the future.

It is not surprising that the paragraphs on lesbian and gay people proved to be among the most controversial of the synod’s proceedings.  The paragraphs on homosexuality were among those that received the lowest affirmative votes.  This result shows that there is still much to be examined and explored on LGBT issues in the Church.  Let’s hope and pray that at next year’s synod, the bishops will invite lesbian and gay people and couples to give their personal testimonies, so that the bishops can learn first-hand about their experiences of faith and love.

More importantly, though this synod revealed that there are some strong voices for LGBT equality and for change in church teaching, something which was not known clearly before the meeting.  Now that these voices have been bold enough to speak, more bishops who think like them will surely follow their example.  The biggest problem in the Church up to this point has not been lack of support among the hierarchy on LGBT issues, but lack of courage for those bishops to speak out what they truly think.  The silence has ended.  Nothing will be the same.

Between now and next year’s synod, the discussion in the Catholic Church–at all levels–on LGBT issues, as well as other issues of family and sexuality, will be more open and robust than it has ever been.  That is a very good thing!

New Ways Ministry is a 37-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the wider Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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