Controversy at Irish Seminary Prompts Conversation on Gay Priests

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 13, 2016

This summer’s controversy at Ireland’s national seminary over the use of a gay dating app by students has quieted, but it has since inspired many worthwhile commentaries on homosexuality, ministry, and the future of the Catholic Church. Today’s post features excerpts with links provided if you would like to read more.

St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

Earlier this year, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin removed three archdiocesan seminarians from St. Patrick’s College Maynooth over allegations of a “gay culture” there. But he also expressed more general concerns about the closed, strange world of seminaries, and proposed that new models of priestly formation would be needed. Other bishops have rushed to defend the seminary, and a review with an eye towards reform has been conducted.

Michael Kelly’s column in The Independent speculated that the review of priestly formation now underway could actually “kickstart an authentic reform and renewal of Irish Catholicism.” He noted that, according to history, the concept of seminaries was itself a response to problems in the priesthood, but now:

“The world has changed and the way that Irish priests are educated needs to change to meet the needs of the modern world. Pope Francis – that great herald of Church reform – recently observed that Catholicism is not living in an era of change, but a change of era.”

These changes must include the church acknowledging and affirming the presence of gay and bisexual men in the priesthood, said former Irish president and LGBT advocate Mary McAleese. She told The Irish Times:

” ‘We have the phenomenon of men in the priesthood who are both heterosexual and homosexual but the church hasn’t been able to come to terms with the fact that there are going to be homosexuals in the priesthood, homosexuals who are fine priests.’ “

McAleese tied this problem to church teaching and its damaging language about homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered.” Thislabelling  has resulted in Maynooth’s culture where “policing celibacy is more important than pastoral service” and where they seem “to be concentrating on the wrong things.”

Promoting an atmosphere hostile to gay clergy was most noticeable, McAleese said, when Maynooth was visited in 2012 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Edwin O’Brien. She commented:

” ‘They wanted to be reassured that neither place was, in their words, ‘gay friendly’ . . . so they walked away happy that they were gay unfriendly, hostile to gay people – what sort of message does that send out to young men who are there who are gay, to priests who are gay?’ “

One commentator, Tom Clonan of The Journal, suggested that focusing on gay seminarians and priests is driven by external prejudice, and i misses the actual crisis in the Irish church:

“To be honest, I believe the sexual orientation of seminarians or priests is largely irrelevant in the context of the grave challenges that confront the institution of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Indeed, much of the coverage has been voyeuristic and gay shaming – perhaps unwittingly revealing a deep-seated homophobic bias among some commentators.”

But in general, Irish Catholics have said that a main, if not the primary, issue at Maynooth this summer has been a toxic culture around gay and bisexual men in the priesthood. Voices like Senator Jerry Buttimer, a former seminarian, and Fr. Tony Flannery, CSsR, have affirmed gay priests. Others have rejected outright the allegations of gay dating app use which prompted this controversy.

This question of homosexuality in ministry is not limited to Ireland, however, and affects the global church. Some priests, like Fr. Warren Hall and Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa have been sanctioned because of LGBT issues. Too often conversations are problematically focused around the question of celibacy, rather than the gifts and opportunities gay and bisexual priests offer the church. Ignored is the faithful service of gay men like Fr. Fred Daley, Fr. Michael Shanahan, and Fr. Ron Cioffi, who has said:

“Yes, I am a gay person whose self-identity includes an abiding call to ministry in our church. . .my orientation is a blessing from God for use in and for the church that is called to help each of us discern and celebrate the good and always affirming love of God for all persons.”

The Maynooth incident has been yet another ugly scandal for an Irish church already crippled by the clergy sex abuse crisis. Instead of turning inward and implementing new restrictions on seminarians, which only further remove them from reality, the nation’s bishops should welcome gay and bisexual men (and, ultimately, people of all sexual and gender identities) to the priesthood with open arms. To paraphrase Pope John XXIII, this is a clear moment to throw open Maynooth’s windows and let the fresh air in.

Catholic Church Had “No Choice” in Firing Gay Musician, Says Bishop

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 6, 2016

A Catholic bishop in Rhode Island said there had been “no choice” when firing a gay church worker, and that the decision to do so was in line with Pope Francis’ thought.  Meanwhile in New Jersey, the top administrator at a Catholic school which fired an LGBT employee has been reinstated.

Bishop Thomas Tobin
Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop says Church Had “No Choice” in Firing Gay Church Worker 

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence has defended the firing of gay church worker Michael Templeton. In a brief statement, reported by GoLocal Providence, Tobin said a church worker or volunteer who “deliberately and knowingly enters in a relationship or engages in activity that contradicts the core teachings of the Church, that individual leaves the Church no choice to respond.”

Tobin also defended the decision in the Templeton case on the Diocese of Providence’s website, saying church leaders who fire LGBT people “are indeed a lot like Pope Francis.” Tobin cited the pope’s criticisms of marriage equality, and attributed to Pope Francis the firing of gay Vatican theologian Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa and the rejection of France’s gay ambassador to the Holy See.

Finally, after celebrating a Mass for “Milestone Marriages” shortly after Templeton was fired, Bishop Tobin remarked to the Providence Journal:

“Well this is for people celebrating 25 years or more so we don’t have anybody like that [in same-gender marriages]. We’ll worry about that in 20 years. Not today.”

Michael Templeton

Templeton, the former music director at the Church of St. Mary, was fired last month for being in a same-gender marriage. The Journal reported on the negative impact this incident has had on the community there, which had been known for its inclusive welcome:

“Many St. Mary’s parishioners, who arrived at the 10 a.m. Mass wearing rainbow buttons and shirts promoting marriage equality, hoped to hear an explanation from Father Francese. They held hands, and at times, wept — many, gay themselves, said they no longer felt comfortable in the one Catholic parish that has sheltered them.

” ‘This priest had the opportunity to explain himself, or at the very least, to be direct with us,’ said Leo Narducci. ‘But instead he ignored us and gave the same gibberish we hear from him every Sunday.’ “

Parishioners resisted the unjust firing at Mass when more than 30 people, following one choir member’s lead, began singing “All Are Welcome” during the recitation of the Nicene Creed.

Fr. Francesco Francese did not acknowledge the firing in his homily, and avoided parishioners and media alike after Mass. His actions in conjunction with the Diocese are causing many to question their place in the church, and some to walk away altogether:

“Glen Beattie, who came to St. Mary’s in 2008, waved goodbye to the altar Sunday as he headed out the door. ‘Bye church,’ he said, sadly. If Templeton isn’t welcome, Beattie, also a gay man, doesn’t feel safe, either. . .One woman, who has been attending church there for 40 years but did not want to give her name, said she’s thinking of leaving the religion altogether.

” ‘This isn’t right,’ she said with tears in her eyes. ‘This isn’t what being a Christian is.’ “

Principal in LGBT Dispute Reinstated at Paramus Catholic High School

In New Jersey, Principal Stephanie Macaluso has returned to Paramus Catholic High School. The preceding week, Macaluso and President James Vail were placed on leave by the Archdiocese of Newark, reported

Jim Goodness, the archdiocesan spokesperson, has refused to comment on why the administrators were placed on leave initially and why Macaluso but not Vail had been allowed to return. An email from Archdiocesan Schools Superintendent Margaret A. Dames urged parents to “disregard the recent public speculation and misleading media hype.”

There are speculations that the decisions about Macaluso and Vail are related to the firing of lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole, who announced a lawsuit against Paramus Catholic in August. The Record reported that some students suggested Vail and Macaluso had supported Drumgoole against the Archdiocese.

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 60 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

Parish Welcomes Lesbian Couple Back to Music Ministry with Inclusive Mass

St. Michael’s Church, Athy

Catholics in Ireland welcomed a lesbian couple back to their parish after a right-wing parishioner pressured the couple to leave last year.

Jacinta O’Donnell and Geraldine Flanagan had resigned as choir leaders for St. Michael’s Church in Athy, County Kildare. Last week, they returned to the parish and resumed their roles with overwhelming support from the local community. The couple was interviewed by radio station KFM and said they received public support that “overwhelmed and humbled” them. O’Donnell told The Journal:

“We will never be able to sufficiently thank you, the people of our congregation, the people of our town Athy, for your love, your support and your prayers. Buoyed by all of this support, we as a choir will be returning to sing at 6pm Mass in Athy tomorrow evening. . .It is our wish that the focus should now turn to the love of God and his mercy.”

The couple married in July 2015, after which the editor of a right-wing Catholic newspaper publicly criticized them and contacted them through a “very personal text.” Facing pressure, they resigned from the music ministry, as well as from leadership positions with Lay Dominicans Ireland.

O’Donnell said their whole purpose in serving in the music ministry was to “enhance the Eucharist,” but, during the dust-up last year they felt that perpetuating the controversy fueled by this right wing editor “would be really futile and would negate anything we’re trying to do.” So, they made the “very difficult decision” to resign, despite being supported by the pastor, Fr. Frank McEvoy, and fellow parishioners.

The Mass welcoming O’Donnell and Flanagan back was quite the liturgical celebration, reported The Irish Times. Parishioner Sandy O’Rourke-Glynn posted a video on Facebook, which you can view below.  O’Rourke-Glynn commentedd, “I have never enjoyed a mass as much – 5 priests, 8 altar servers, a full choir and a packed church.”

The Mass is a positive ending for an ugly incident. This is not the first time right wing members of the church have targeted LGBT people, and it is likely not the last. Recent examples include the forced resignations of Catholic News Service editor Tony Spence and Catholic Relief Services’ Rick Estridge, as well as denial of communion to Barbara Johnson, at her mother’s funeral. But the community in Athy has exhibited Irish hospitality, especially the Catholics at St. Michael’s Church who lived their faith by standing up for inclusion and justice against right-wing attacks. And by loving one another and remaining faithful to God, Jacinta O’Donnell and Geraldine Flanagan certainly enhanced the Eucharist last Saturday. Thankfully, they can now do so at many Masses to come.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Gay Priest Already Fired from Job, Now Suspended from Ministry by Archdiocese

Fr. Warren Hall

Fr. Warren Hall, an openly gay priest who was fired from Seton Hall University last year, has now been suspended from ministry in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, reported Religion News Service.

Hall was informed that his priestly faculties were being revoked because, according to Newark Archbishop John Myers, his actions were”confusing the faithful.” These actions have included support for unofficial LGBT events at World Youth Day this past July, along with support for PFLAG New Jersey, Gays Against Guns, and New Ways Ministry.

Hall has also publicly supported fired lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole, whom Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey fired last January after her same-gender marriage became known to school officials.

Hall himself was fired as the Seton Hall’s director of campus ministry in May 2015 after posting a NOH8 Campaign photo of himself on social media. He later came out as a gay man, and was assigned to assist at two parishes in New Jersey. Hall commented to RNS:

” ‘The problem is that we have an archbishop who doesn’t believe you can be gay and Catholic. . .Since my firing from Seton Hall and coming out last year I felt an obligation to use this as an opportunity to more directly let people know of God’s love for all of us and that gay Catholics should stay in the church and work for more wider acceptance. . .I do not feel I ever preached or taught anything contrary to the Gospel (and) this is true from my entire 27 years of ordination.’ “

Myers, who turned 75 this year, has already submitted his resignation letter to Pope Francis.  Additionally, the Vatican had already assigned a coadjutor to assist him in administering the archdiocese.  Both Myers and the Archdiocese are defending their suspension of Fr. Hall as consistent with a priest’s vow of obedience.

The following is the statement of New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo on the suspension of Fr. Warren Hall:

“By all accounts, Fr. Warren Hall has been a caring, compassionate, and faithful Catholic priest. But there’s one more important adjective to describe him: courageous. He has courageously stood by the LGBT community, taking personal risks to let them know that God loves them unconditionally.

“Fr. Hall first leaped into the pages of the news in 2015 when he was fired from his chaplaincy at Seton Hal University. His supposed crime: on Facebook, he supported the NOH8 campaign, an LGBT equal rights crusade with a strong anti-bullying focus.

“Later he took a more personal and courageous step by coming out publicly as a gay man. Throughout the media blitz that ensued, he also continually professed his love for the Church and for his priesthood. Fr. Hall has ministered to and with LGBT people in the New York City metro region, being a sign of hope and welcome to many.

“Archbishop Myers’ decision to remove Fr. Hall’s faculties exposes a weakness: by doing so, the archbishop is saying that his church fears associating with LGBT people—a fear which is contrary to the gospel. Myers’ authoritarian style, evidenced by his years as archbishop of Newark, is one that is on the wane in the U.S. church, and around the globe.

“Fr. Hall’s ministry with LGBT people is in line with the Church’s own authentic teaching that its ministers must reach out to all those who have been marginalized. He is in line with Pope Francis’ more pastoral and welcoming approach towards LGBT people.

“It is painful that Fr. Hall has had to suffer such an unjust penalty from an archbishop who is soon to be replaced because of his looming retirement. Our God, who is a God of surprises and blessings, surely has some good in store for this priest who has been such a good and faithful servant to the Church community.

“New Ways Ministry is proud that earlier this summer Fr. Hall agreed to lead a workshop on the topic of gay men in the priesthood and religious life at our organization’s Eighth National Symposium on Catholicism and LGBT People, to be held in Chicago, April 28-30, 2017. Because of this latest ordeal, his presentation will further show his strength of character, faithfulness to God, and devoted service to those shunned by dictatorial Church leaders.’

To DeBernardo’s statement I would add that there does not seem to be much good in removing a faithful priest from celebrating the Sacraments or being a positive face for the church in Newark.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



Gay Priests Have a Place in the Catholic Church, Says Irish Senator

Senator Jerry Buttimer

An Irish legislator has affirmed a place for openly gay priests in the Catholic Church, comments made as discussion continues about an unhealthy sexual atmosphere at the country’s national seminary.

St. Patrick’s College Maynooth is in the spotlight after Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin decided to withdraw the archdiocese’s seminarians from the school. As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, he cited as his reasons an alleged “gay culture” and questioned whether the seminary was a “good place for students.”

This archbishop’s decision has elicited many responses, including that of Irish Senator Jerry Buttimer who, according to the Evening Echo, said he was unsurprised that gay men would be in formation for the priesthood

Buttimer, an openly gay Fine Gael legislator from Cork and a faithful Catholic, said church leaders should welcome this reality rather than regard it as a problem. He said the church has failed to respect people of all sexual identities, and Archbishop Martin’s decision “exposed the hypocrisy of the Church around its teachings on sexuality, celibacy and attitude towards gay people.” This case highlights for the senator “the need for the Irish hierarchy to embrace LGBT people of faith and make them part of our church,” adding:

” ‘Many of these [LGBT] people are already making a huge contribution in parishes across Cork. The Church is nothing without its people, all of its people. Many of us pray for a Church that is inclusive, welcoming, accepting, open and transparent. We are fortunate that in many parishes across Cork and around the country a vibrancy does exists and liturgies are participative, led by good men. However, unfortunately, we could do a lot better.’ “

Buttimer studied at Maynooth for five years, and spoke highly of his time there which left a “lasting impression” upon him, saying he never regretted studying there. But he continued:

” ‘I disagreed with them at times about issues surrounding formation and teachings of the Church, but I still believe today that they were, in the main, interested in developing and educating young men to be good priests. As a person of faith, I pray and yearn that my Church and its leaders would move to be more progressive, open and transparent around the teaching on sexuality.’ “

Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, founder of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), concurred in a piece for The Independent  where he called on Irish Catholics to use this controversy as a time for re-imagining ministry. Flannery suggested that most applicants to seminary today were either gay men (or at least men confused about their sexuality) and traditionalist men. He wrote:

“There is absolutely no reason why a gay man should not be a priest, but if a particular profession is attracting a far higher percentage than is present in the general population, then questions need to be asked about the nature of the profession. . .what type of priest is needed in today’s world, and what type of spiritual and theological formation should they be given?

“I believe that the present malaise has much deeper roots. The solution would have to involve a radical revision of our understanding of ministry and the requirements necessary to become a priest. So, rather than just tinkering around with Maynooth, the Catholic Church needs to initiate a process of discussion at all levels to discern what type of ministry is best suited for the Church of the future.”

Flannery said beyond affirming gay men in the priesthood, the church must critically examine the issues of women in ministry, clericalism, and Roman interventionism.

Fr. Brendan Hoban, himself a member of ACP, said Martin’s decision amounted to “moving deck chairs on the Titanic” because the larger question behind the Maynooth happenings is the crisis of priestly vocations. He told The Irish Times:

” ‘[In seminary] you are always going to have a mixture of gay and heterosexual candidates, that has always been the case, and there will be – from time to time, incidents that people would prefer didn’t happen. But they do happen, human nature being what it is.’ “

Hoban said despite allegations, “there doesn’t seem to be anything substantially proven.” ACP’s statement defended Maynooth, and claimed criticisms were coming from disgruntled former students, traditionalist Catholics, and “right-wing commentators who are unhappy with the focus on the theology of the Second Vatican Council and suspicious of modern psychological and other insights.”

Several commentators have also said that homosexuality is, perhaps unfortunately, a feint to hide the real and much larger problems at Maynooth and beyond. Irish Times columnist Una Mullally said hypocrisy was the real scandal in this incident, writing:

“The immature, archaic and coded language clergy members and others have used to describe the Maynooth story – ‘gay subculture’ ‘strange goings on’ ‘quarrelsome’ ‘not the healthiest place’ – belongs in the past, and compounds homosexuality as something to joke about or be scandalised by. Across social media, the temptation for crass jokes and wink-wink-nudge-nudge comments was too much for many. Unfortunately, all this does is re-enforce an attitude towards homosexuality that is crude and childish. . .

“The church still views homosexuality as a ‘problem’, inside and out of its organisation. But the real scandal at Maynooth isn’t about gay priests. Of course there are gay priests. Tonnes of them. The real scandal is the church’s addiction to secrecy, arrogance, and its hierarchy of hypocrisy.”

Colum Kenny, also writing in the Irish Timessaid the Maynooth controversy has nothing to do with sex or theology at all. Ireland’s hierarchy has again proven itself  not to be credible, Kenny said, and so the Irish church must use this opportunity to renew itself:

“It is a question of the spirit, a challenge to be converted to a new order of witness and theology – one that can help Irish people of Catholic background who have rejected outdated dogma and practice as empty forms to live spiritually in the modern world.”

Allegations of sexual relationships, harassment, and mishandling at Ireland’s national seminary will assuredly keep provoking conversations. Archbishop Martin’s decision to withdraw his seminarians remains controversial. This incident is immensely painful for an Irish church already in crisis and surely so for the seminarians and staff of Maynooth.

The responses to this case show the necessity and the increasing willingness of many Catholics to have extremely hard conversations about ministry, sexuality, ecclesial power, and the intersection of these issues. If done well, this moment of pain and scandal could lead to a time of renewal and flourishing.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholics Recommit to Bridge Building after Orlando Tragedy

Australians Hold Candlelit Vigils For Victims Of Orlando Nightclub Shooting
Memorial for Pulse Nightclub victims

Many bridges still need building when it comes to LGBT people, their families, and the Catholic Church. Where can Catholics turn for models of bridge building, especially after the mass shooting in Orlando which left 49 people dead and 53 more wounded?

Lay people and religious have offered some compassionate models of how this reconciling work can be done. For instance, the Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin organized a vigil shortly after Orlando. Sister Sally Brickner told the Fond du Lac Reporter that 150 vigil attendees “really do feel that discrimination is wrong . . . hate crimes are wrong.” This vigil was the most well attended of any which the sisters have held for other causes, revealing both the deep need for such an action by a Catholic group.

The Orlando incident and the sisters’ response helped to shine the spotlight on two Wisconsin parishes that offer welcoming ministries. The same article which reported the sisters’ vigil took a look at the week-to-week ministry that goes on in Catholic parishes that welcome LGBT people. At Holy Family Catholic Community in Fond du Lac, a group called All God’s Family meets every couple of months. There, according to pastor Fr. Ryan Preuss, lesbian/gay people and their families share their stories and discuss how they engage church teaching. Barbara Lent, the group’s coordinator, told the Reporter:

” ‘Everyone’s the same. . .It’s just who you love. You really have a right to love who you want to love. . .Sometimes [change] takes time, but you got to keep doing it.’ “

Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Menomonee Falls hosts Gay and Straight in Christ, about which founder Ann Castiglione said:

” ‘It’s just important that everyone be welcome in our church. . .[LGBT people don’t] feel welcome, so we’re trying to do something about that in our little corner of the world.’ “

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, explained to the news reporter the background motivation that inspires such groups:

“Catholic support of LGBT people is done because the people are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic.”

DeBernardo, however, was critical of bishops who “have been very negative in their approach to LGBT issues.”

The majority of U.S. bishops’ responses to Orlando seriously challenges their claims of engaging LGBT people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Just a handful of bishops acknowledged the targeting of an LGBT nightclub, and even fewer admitted the church’s complicity in encouraging anti-LGBT prejudices. In its editorial on the mass shooting, the National Catholic Reporter stated:

“The massacre in Orlando was a heinous hate crime, a moment screaming out for moral outrage, for the words to match the horrific reality. What the Catholic community in the United States received from the president of its bishops’ conference was a three-sentence serving of sanctimonious boilerplate that, except for the use of the term ‘violence,’ might have been referring to a natural disaster or a plane crash. . .

“It is good to have the language of a few members of the hierarchy who understand that intolerance breeds contempt and violence, but we can’t and don’t need to wait for bishops to speak. The laity are leading the bishops on this issue, and with a strong, persistent voice, we can and must advocate against discrimination based on sexuality and gender in society and in our church.”

It is not too late for more bishops to engage positively with LGBT people and their families, in the church and outside of it. Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden wrote about Orlando in the Catholic Herald, saying:

“Just as heart wrenching as the deaths themselves, I am troubled that the victims were specifically targeted because of their sexual orientation. No human being should ever suffer the hate of others. Hate is an affront to God.

“As Christians we are subject to the Law of Christ. “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is His new commandment. ‘One another’ includes gay people. A Catholic who demonstrates hate toward a person — because of his or her sexual orientation, religion, or the color of his or her skin — needs to seek the forgiveness of God. From where does such hate originate? And, why are homosexual persons too frequently its victims?

“Our LGBT sisters and brothers are as much made in the image of God as I am. Their sexual orientation does not make them less in the eyes of God. As someone who is loved by gay relatives and friends, and who loves them equally, I fear that they too could be victims of such hatred.”

In a letter to those Catholics who gathered for prayer about Orlando, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver expressed particular sadness because the victims were “targeted for being identified with the LGBT community.”

The lesson about building bridges after Orlando may be that acts are more necessary than words if the church is going to be in real solidarity. This is a point driven home by Caitlin Opperman, a queer Latina student at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, who write in campus newspaper The Hoya:

“We cannot forget Pulse was an LGBTQ club. We cannot forget it was Latin night. We cannot forget Latinxs, specifically Puerto Ricans, were most affected by this tragedy. We cannot let people use this massacre as an excuse to engage in Islamophobia. We cannot stay silent on the issue of gun control. We have to acknowledge that masculinity is toxic. We have to accept that queer people of color need safe spaces. But most of all, we need to act. Silence and inaction perpetuate violence against members of my communities and other oppressed groups. We are living in fear. We are out of safe spaces. We need more than thoughts and prayers.

“To the 49 beautiful queer folks whose lives were taken on June 12, rest in power. Que en paz descansen [Rest in peace]. I hope wherever you are, you keep dancing.”

The National Catholic Reporter’s editorial emphasized that lay people need to lead the way if church leaders remain unresponsive.  The editors said that Catholics do not “have to wait for approval or direction from on high to know what to do in this extreme circumstance.” They continued:

“The Catholic community knows a hate crime when it sees it and should do all it can to promote understanding and tolerance. . .The Catholic community, making the case from the church’s social justice tradition and the inherent Christian concern for the common good, can become a formidable influence in challenging the status quo. Standing together, we can say no to a culture of gun violence. We can say yes to gender justice and inclusivity.”

How have you or your faith community responded with a yes to justice and inclusivity after Orlando? How have you witnessed bridges being built between LGBT people and church leaders? Please let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry




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

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