London’s Catholic LGBT Ministry Rallies Around Ugandan Exile

In what is a strong display of Catholic advocacy for the human rights of gay people, the members of LGBT Catholics Westminster have rallied around a gay Ugandan who worships with them to prevent him from being deported to his native land where homosexuality is criminalized.

LGBT Catholics Westminster embers at London Pride.

London’s Tablet reported that the man “faces a very high risk of being killed if he is forced to return to the place of his birth.”  LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official diocesan pastoral ministry in London, approved by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Westminster Diocese.

The Tablet provided background about the man at the center of this situation:

“Godfrey Kawalya, a gay Ugandan refugee, LGBT campaigner and a member of LGBT Catholics Westminster, has been living in Britain since 2002. In Uganda, where same sex acts are illegal and punishable by life imprisonment, he says he was expelled from secondary school, sacked from his job and rejected by his family for being gay. He was also an active member of the political opposition to the current president, Yoweri Museveni.

“After he fled from Kampala to rebel-held territories in Northern Uganda, Kawalya said he was attacked and robbed, and a friend who sheltered him was killed. He escaped to Kenya with the help of some nuns and eventually made his way to England.

“In August 2015 the Home Office refused his claim for asylum on the grounds that they did not believe he was gay and because he didn’t disclose his sexuality when he first arrived. ‘I was fearful, it wasn’t easy. I don’t know why they don’t believe me’, Mr Kawalya told The Tablet.

“Several appeals have failed and Mr Kawalya has one final chance to appeal by supplying new evidence to support his case by 17 May.”

LGBT Catholics Westminster has organized a petition for UK citizens to sign, asking the British government to grant Kawalya asylum.  Several Catholic leaders have already signed the petition, including  Vincent Manning, chair of Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support, Ged Clapson, Jesuit Communications Officer in Britain, and Fr. Tony Nye, a pastor at Farm Street Jesuit Church in Mayfair, London, which hosts the LGBT Catholics Westminster organization.

Martin Pendergast, a leader in the LGBT Catholics group said of Kawalya’s case that “even if he were not (gay), the law takes the view that refugees who are in danger of death or persecution because they are perceived to be gay in their home country must be granted asylum.”

For more information about LGBT Catholics Westminster or to learn how to sign the petition if you are a UK citizen, visit or email

When people speak about appropriate Catholic pastoral ministry for LGBT people, I can think of no better example than this story of Catholics using church teaching condemning discrimination against LGBT people to help save a person’s life.

In less than two weeks, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information and to register, visit

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 19, 2017


In Advance of the Synod, Global Network of Rainbow Catholics Launches In Rome

This post is the third in Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome.  New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here and here

Some of the participants in the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics Assembly in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick can be found in the blue blouse , second from right in the second row from the bottom. Francis DeBernardo can be found in the green shirt, fourth from the right in the top row.

My time in Rome began last week, before the synod, as I participated in the weekend-long launch of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.  Close to 100 Catholic LGBT leaders from six continents and over 30 nations gathered here for meetings to discuss the substance and structure of what this newly formed international association of Catholic LGBT and ally organizations should look like.

The planning began two years ago, done mostly through Skype meetings and emails.  I was privileged to be part of this planning process, so seeing the diverse group of representatives gather together for prayer, discussion, and planning was a personally thrilling experience as well as an important step forward in the movement for LGBT equality in church and society.

One thing I learned from participating is how different Catholicism is around the globe and how different the LGBT experience is.  It helped me to see that in the United States, Catholic lay people have many opportunities to participate in the life of the church–even though we are still denied participation in many decision-making processes.  I also realized how privileged the U.S. LGBT community is.  Again, we still have work to do in terms of full equality in employment and other areas, but the level of repression, violence, and state oppression against LGBT people is much greater in many places around the globe.

Gathered under the theme of “LGBT Voices to the Synod,” the Assembly accomplished three main tasks: the establishment of an interim governing structure, the hosting of an international conference on pastoral care with LGBT people, and the development of a letter to the synod on LGBT issues.

Mary McAleese

The international conference, entitled  “Ways of Love:  Snapshots of Catholic Encounter with LGBT People and Their Families,” was keynoted by Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland and the mother of a gay son.  She strongly critiqued the church’s teaching on lesbian and gay relationships, reported The Guardian:

“Church teaching currently defines same-sex relationships as ‘intrinsically disordered’ and demands gay people live a life of chastity, but opponents argue this fails to address the reality in which the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics are living.

“Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, which earlier this year legalised same-sex marriage, said on Saturday it was the church’s teaching itself which was intrinsically disordered.

” ‘The gravitational pull of tradition is used as a vehicle for refusing to face the growing reality, accepted by many people in this world, that the church’s teaching on homosexuality is simply wrong,’ she said to rapturous applause at a meeting of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics in Rome.”

Bishop Raul Vera

The conference’s closing talk was given by Bishop Raul Vera, of Saltillo, Mexico, who has been a long time advocate for LGBT people.  Vera told a Crux reporter:

“. . . [T]he Church needs a ‘change in language’ when referring to the LGBT community because as it is, it ‘brings people to define a homosexual as a sinner, degenerate and promiscuous. I think we have to temper our language.’

“Asked if he was in favor of same-sex marriage, he said that’s something for the Church to decide.

“He has little faith regarding serious changes in the Church’s approach to the LGBT community as a direct result of the synod, but believes that in time, things could change.

“ ‘Francis is talking about existential peripheries, going out to meet the people who are being persecuted and damaged,’ the bishop said.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick was one of the featured speakers at the conference.  She spoke about the development of LGBT-friendly parishes in the U.S., using  Baltimore’s St. Matthew’s parish is a case study. In an interview with Crux, Gramick spoke about the Vatican’s synod on the family, saying that her

” ‘highest expectations would be that gay and lesbian people would be included totally into the Church, and that would include welcome to all the sacraments, including marriage.

“She believes that even though the Catholic Church does teach about the dignity of the person, the message is sometimes muddled because of what the ‘official Church” says about sexual activity and the ethics of sexual activities.

“She wants the Church to not look at the ethics of a sexual relationship from a point of view of the acts, but of that of the person: ‘love, commitment, care; that’s what makes a relationship an ethical one.’ “

Martin Pendergast

Martin Pendergast from LGBT Catholics Westminster spoke about the history of the London Catholic diocese’s outreach to the sexual and gender minority community in that city.  The Guardian noted his opinions, stated in an interview, about how Monsignor Charasma’s coming out as gay, which occurred on the same day as (but unrelated to) the conference, may help the synod process:

“Pendergast, a British campaigner on LGBT faith issues, said he hoped Charamsa’s coming out in particular would pave the way for a more open debate at the synod. ‘It may encourage others, particularly bishops who might have been nervous about talking too radically about divorce, remarriage and same-sex relationships, to speak more openly and more honestly,’ he said at the Rainbow Catholics event.”

London’s Catholic Herald printed an excerpt from the letter that the Assembly participants sent to each member of the synod:

” ‘We come from over thirty countries, both as individuals and as representatives of groups, who have been involved with the flourishing of people like ourselves in the lives of our local churches, (as well as with many other tasks),’ the letter said.

” ‘The last years have not been an easy ride! Many in our Church thought that they were serving God by hating us, and some still do, especially among the hierarchy; but we can tell you with joy, that we have kept alive our Confession of the Catholic faith! We have kept the faith under persecution, and are ready to join with you in the joyful announcement of the Gospel to which Pope Francis has called us.’

“It added: ‘Because God is wonderful, we have found that through this life as dregs among the people of God, the Holy Spirit has given us a surprising (at least to us) capacity to stand up and be counted, not to be frightened of those who fear us, not to be resentful of the incapacity for approval, and the bureaucratic meanness of spirit and dishonesty to which we have regularly been subjected. We have learned that it is not what the Church can do for us, but what we can do for the Church that matters.’ “

As the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics grows and develops, Bondings 2.0 will keep you informed of its activities.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

The Washington Blade:  “LGBT Catholic groups meet in Rome”

Agence-France Presse:  “First global Catholic LGBT network hopes to build bridges”

Pink News: “Rainbow Catholic network launches as Pope condemns same-sex marriage”

Gay Star News: “Read the defiant message from gay Catholics to the Pope and his bishops”

In Europe, Some Catholic Leaders Strive for LGBT Reconciliation

In Europe, some Catholic bishops seem to be trying to heal the hurt that LGBT people have experienced, sometimes hurt caused by church leaders.

Admiral Duncan Public House on April 30, 1999
Admiral Duncan Public House on April 30, 1999

In England, the gay community recently marked the 15th anniversary of the Soho Bombing, when 3 people died, including a pregnant woman, over 80 injured, when a device exploded in the Admiral Duncan Public House (a gay bar).  The event galvanized the LGBT community in that nation.  

The event was marked by a joint statement from the Anglican Bishop of London, the Right  Reverend & Right Honorable Richard Chartres, and the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols:

“On this 15th Anniversary of the bombings in Soho, Brixton and Brick Lane, we affirm our condemnation of all such acts of violence and hold in our prayers those whose lives have been taken or shattered and all those who mourn. It is fundamental to our faith that all men and women are made in the image of God and so deserve our respect, care and compassion. In this great World-in-a-City, we stand alongside all those who oppose the hatred that continues to divide communities and diminishes us all. We work and pray for a society in which we have learnt to love our neighbour as ourselves.”

Thanks to one of the United Kingdom’s most prominent Catholic LGBT advocate, Martin Pendergast, for alerting us to this statement.  Queering The Church blogger Terence Weldon commented: “Finally, some Catholic bishops are taking seriously the Church teaching to condemn all forms of violence or malice,in speech or in action against gay or lesbian people.”

Across the Channel, in France, the head of the French bishops’ conference has been trying to heal the pastoral damage done when some Catholic leaders in that nation strongly opposed that nation’s marriage equality law when it was being debated last year.  The Tablet reported:

Archbishop Georges Pontier
Archbishop Georges Pontier

“Marseille Archbishop Georges Pontier, president of the French bishops’ conference, urged his fellow bishops to avoid being ‘manipulated by social movements’ when he opened their spring plenary meeting.

“The meeting in Lourdes just before Holy Week was overshadowed by different views about how to deal with a growing polarisation that emerged with last year’s anti-gay marriage protests, with some bishops actively supporting the protests but many others keeping a discreet distance. Some organisers of that lay-led movement have since become active in conservative and far-right politics.”

According to The Tablet, the most recent example of the influence of the conservative faction is the removal of a speaker from a French Catholic meeting:

“Differences flared again last month when the bishops’ conference’s Family and Society Council withdrew a conference invitation to a feminist philosopher after a traditionalist blog collected about 1,100 signatures on a petition denouncing her as a proponent of gender theory, that is incompatible with Catholic doctrine. That led to an internal debate about whether the council should have caved in to what the Catholic daily La Croix called ‘a minority, promoted to be thought police.’ “

The examples of these British and French prelates should be emulated by Catholic bishops here in the United States.  Harsh rhetoric opposing marriage equality from U.S. prelates such as Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois (to name a few), have alienated many Catholics.  Reconciliatory statements and gestures would go a long way to healing the hurt that many Catholics, LGBT people and allies alike, have experienced by so many harmful messages.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

The Complex and Layered Meanings in Pope Francis’ New Document

Pope Francis

As more people begin to scrutinize Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), new details emerge which show that in regards to LGBT issues, the new document shows a complex picture.

The New York Times reports that buried in a footnote to the document is a reference to the U.S. bishops’ 2006 document, Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclinations:  Guidelines for Pastoral Carewhich promoted the traditional definition of a homosexual orientation as an objective disorder.  The Times reports:

“Nowhere in the document did Francis speak explicitly of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. However, he said the church should not give in to ‘moral relativism,’ and cited with approval a document written by the bishops of the United States on ministering to people with ‘homosexual inclination.’ The pope said the American bishops are right that the church must insist on ‘objective moral norms which are valid for everyone’ — even when the church is perceived by supporters of gay rights as promoting prejudice and interfering with individual freedom.”

This detail is a clearer indication that Pope Francis does not seem inclined to change the teaching on homosexuality.  That notion had been clear since he first started speaking about gay and lesbian issues back in July with his “Who am I to judge?” interview, in which he also did uphold the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality.  I’ve noted before that it looks like Pope Francis’s road to change in the church won’t be a straight one.

But while in content Pope Francis remains traditional, many people, including myself,  perceive he is opening up a process that will eventually lead to positive developments in church teaching.  For example, Martin Pendergast, a long-time Catholic advocate for LGBT equality in the United Kingdom, offered what he saw as two important selections from the document which point to the possibility of change in the Church, which I had overlooked in yesterday’s post on this topic.

In the first selection, the pope is calling for decentralization of authority in the church:

“Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization.’ ”  (Introduction, section 16)

In the second selection, the pope acknowledges that not all Church teachings hold the same weight:

“All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, ‘in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith’.[38] This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.” (chapter 1, section 36)

What gives me hope from this document, despite the fact that it does not challenge the traditional teaching on homosexuality, is that there is an openness and humility that seem to get at the core of the Christian message.  Having a pope who is interested in the opinions of the laity, who stresses dialogue and the possibility of change, who stresses diversity and decentralization, who acknowledges the role of science, who seeks to update old traditions can only mean that the road ahead is filled with possibilities.  (All of the items mentioned in the previous sentence were included in yesterday’s blog post on excerpts from the papal document.)

John Allen, writing in The National Catholic Reportersummarizes what he sees as Pope Francis’ outline for reform, which includes many of the items mentioned above.  Allen writes:

  • He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.
  • He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.
  • Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.
  • He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”
  • Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
  • He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”

Pope Francis may not be the radical reformer that many have hoped for.  But for those who trust that the Holy Spirit is moving among the laity of the church and who have longed for the possibility of discussion of diversity of opinions, Pope Francis’ project seems to open up a new possibility of hope.

Clearly, this is not the kind of pope that we had gotten used to over the last four decades. And clearly, this new document is complex and layered.  Bondings 2.0 will continue to provide analysis and commentary of this document, especially as it relates to LGBT issues, as we become aware of them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




British Catholic Leaders Support Marriage Equality Legislation

The Times of London, England, has published a letter to the editor today from 27 prominent British Catholics expressing support for the United Kingdom’s proposed legislation to legalize same-gender marriage.  (It is not possible to link to the text on the Times’ website because a subscription is required to access letters to the editor.)

The 27 signatories include James Alison (theologian & priest), Tina Beattie (theologian), Mary Grey (theologian), Bernard Lynch (priest), Martin Pendergast (Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality).

The text of the letter reads:

“Sir,  Not all Catholics share their hierarchy’s stated views against proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. Nevertheless, the submission by the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales  to the Government’s equal civil marriage consultation indicates a growing understanding about legislating for same-sex unions, compared with its 2003 position, when it firmly opposed civil partnerships.

“It seems  to us, as Catholic laity, theologians and clergy, important to uphold some key pastoral care principles used by the Catholic Church in England & Wales. Its 1979 guidelines stated that the Church has a serious responsibility to work towards the elimination of any injustices perpetrated on homosexuals by society.

“In 1997 Cardinal Hume wrote that love between two persons, whether of the same sex, or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected. This respect demands that such loving relationships be afforded social recognition according to social justice principles. He proposed three criteria for considering issues of social policy: are there reasonable grounds for judging that the institution of marriage and the family could, and would be undermined by a change in law? Would society’s rejection of a proposed change be more harmful to the common good than the acceptance of such a change? Does a person’s sexual orientation or activity constitute, in specific circumstances, a sufficient reason for treating that person in any way differently from other citizens? We suggest that it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

The full list of signers:

James Alison, Theologian & priest
Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest (LGBT Catholics)
Tina Beattie, Theologian  
Mike Castelli, Educationalist
Mark Dowd, Journalist
Michael Egan, Chair, Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement
Maria ExallChair, Trade Unions Congress LGBT Committee
John Falcone, Theologian
Eileen Fitzpatrick, Educationalist
Kieran Fitszimons, Priest
Mary Grey, Theologian
Kevin Kelly, Theologian & priest
Ted Le Riche, Retired educationalist
Bernard Lynch, Priest
Gerard Loughlin, Theologian
Francis McDonagh, Lay-person
Patrick McLoughlin, Priest
Anthony Maggs, Priest
Lorraine Milford, Lay-person
Frank Nally, Priest                                                                                                                                                                                                       Martin Pendergast, Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality                                                                                         Sophie Stanes, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                       Joe Stanley, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                   Valerie Stroud, Chair, Catholics for a Changing Church                                                                                                                                Terry Weldon, Editor, Queering the Church                                                                                                                                            Matias Wibowo, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                           Deborah Woodman, Clinical Psychologist

Congratulations and many thanks for this thoughtful piece.  Let’s hope and pray that Catholic leaders in other countries, particularly the United States, will speak out as clearly and forthrightly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

The U.K.’s Marriage Equality Debate Heats Up

The Catholic debate about marriage equality has been heating up in the United Kingdom lately.  With proposals to legalize same-gender marriages in both England and Scotland, both sides in the debate have been issuing strong statements.

The BBC reports that on Sunday, March 11th,

“A letter written by the two archbishops representing London’s Roman Catholics – to be read in churches this weekend – alerts churchgoers to a potential future political fight to preserve traditional marriage.

“The letter – by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Peter Smith – tells Catholics that changing the nature of marriage would be a “profoundly radical step” which would reduce its effectiveness and significance. . . .

“The letter – to be read out in 2,500 churches this weekend – ends by telling Catholics they have a ‘duty to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.’ “

Martin Pendergast

Martin Pendergast, a leader in Britain’s Catholic LGBT movement, offered a response to the letter in an essay published in The Guardian. Part of his argument against the archbishops’ letter rests on clear historical fact and part rests on an important distinction between marriage and civil unions:

“State and church have regularly redefined marriage and its structures over centuries due to changing cultural patterns, religious influences, and insights in social and human development. The structures of marriage are rooted not in biology or gender difference per se, but in relationality. If not so, those with clearly no potential for fertility could not enter a valid marriage. Faith communities have countenanced and rejected polygamous marriage, allowed nullity, divorce and remarriage, and the 20th-century Catholic church developed its earlier teaching that marriage was solely for procreation, declaring its purpose is twofold, including the mutual relationship of the couple.

“Yet I am not a supporter of same sex marriage for myself. Marriage essentially depends on the subjection of one person to another, even if it’s a mutual subjection, in the exchange of vows. So I don’t seek such status. Civil partnerships are based on equality, legally expressed in a joint signing of a contractual covenant, rather than through vows. This value of equality is what those of us in same-sex civil unions bring to the common good. For those of us who are people of faith, the sacramentality of such unions is what we strive to live out. Many parents, families, friends, and members of congregations have grasped this message even if, sadly, much religious leadership has not.”

In Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien has been speaking out forcefully–and recklessly–against marriage equality in that nation.  Recently, he compared the legalizing marriage for lesbians and gays to legalizing slavery:

“Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the head of Catholics in Scotland, described gay marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and said the Government’s plan to reform marriage laws was “madness”.

“In a stinging response to the Government’s assurances that no church would be compelled to conduct gay marriages, he wrote: ‘No government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage.

” ‘Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that ‘no one will be forced to keep a slave’. Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?’ “

O’Brien’s grossly insensitive remarks prompted The Tablet, Britain’s leading Catholic publication, to publish three opinions from prominent Catholics, under the heading “Can Marriage Ever Change?”  Below are excerpts from each of them:

Timothy Radcliffe, OP

Timothy Radcliffe, OP, a former master of the Dominicans world-wide:

“Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility. Without this, there would be no life on this planet, no evolution, no human beings, no future. Marriage takes all sorts of forms, from the alliance of clans through bride exchange to modern romantic love. We have come to see that it implies the equal love and dignity of man and woman. But everywhere and always, it remains founded on the union in difference of male and female. Through ­ceremonies and sacrament this is given a deeper meaning, which for Christians includes the union of God and humanity in Christ.

“This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same-sex civil unions. The God of love can be present in every true love. But “gay marriage” is impossible because it attempts to cut loose marriage from its grounding in our biological life. If we do that, we deny our humanity. It would be like trying to make a cheese soufflé without the cheese, or wine without grapes”

Martin Pendergast

Martin Pendergast(quoted at the beginning of this post), a founding member of the Cutting Edge Consortium:

“I believe Timothy Radcliffe risks idealising marriage too strongly, seeing it through his own dedicated prism of vowed celibacy. He states that “marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility”. But the social and anthropological structures of marriage are rooted not in biology but in relationality. As the Hebrew Scriptures say: “It is not good for a person to be alone.” Also, what of those who clearly have no potential for fertility – are they to be prevented from marrying, limited to a version of civil unions?

“Faith communities have redefined marriage throughout their history, countenancing and rejecting polygamous marriage, allowing divorce and remarriage, and the Second Vatican Council stated that the ends of marriage are twofold, not solely based upon procreation. In medieval times the focus was so strongly on betrothal rites that marriage, in some places, was a rarity, since so few people could fulfil the social and economic requirements for a marriage to take place before the altar. And what of all those “sworn brotherhood” rites, adapted also to include same-sex female partners, identified by researchers such as Alan Bray and John Boswell?”

Tina Beattie

Professor Tina Beattie, director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholic Studies, University of Roehampton:

“If we want to understand the sacrament, we need to look to Christ and the Church, not to the abundant diversity of participation within that sacramental love that constitutes our bodily human relationships. I’ve been married for 37 years and I have four children, but the loving relationships of my gay friends have helped me to understand more deeply what marriage means as a partnership of equals. I hope that they in turn have been enriched by their married heterosexual friends, and have better understood what their love means within the sacramental love of Christ and the Church.

In these times of radical change in our understanding of sexuality and human dignity (especially the full and equal dignity of women in this life and not just in the life to come), maybe we heterosexuals need the marriages of our homosexual friends to help us to understand what marriage looks like when it’s not corrupted by traditions of domination and subordination.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry