Earlier this week, Pope Francis gave a surprise TED Talk on “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone.” The pope covered many topics in the seventeen-minute address, including appeals for inclusion and love. Francis said “we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone,” and continued:
“How wonderful would it beif the growth of scientific and technological innovationwould come along with more equality and social inclusion.How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets,to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.How wonderful would it be if solidarity,this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word,were not simply reduced to social work,and became, instead, the default attitudein political, economic and scientific choices,as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.”
Pope Francis also called for a “revolution of tenderness,” which is “the love that comes close and becomes real.” He explained what this revolution will require of people:
“In order to do good,we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. . .Yes, love does require a creative, concreteand ingenious attitude.Good intentions and conventional formulas,so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough.Let us help each other, all together, to rememberthat the other is not a statistic or a number.The other has a face.The ‘you’ is always a real presence,a person to take care of.”
LGBT Catholics, their loved ones, and allies may experience a dissonance reading these words. Pope Francis’ mixed record on issues of gender and sexuality may weaken his strong call for inclusion. But this address could also be the foundation from which Catholics can build greater inclusion of LGBT people. Catholics, especially church leaders should apply the pope’s principles to the ways they approach LGBT people and topics.
Is Pope Francis’ call for inclusion and equality harmful or helpful? What would you like to see from him on LGBT issues? Leave your reactions in the “Comments” section below.
This weekend, Catholics are gathering in Chicago for New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Today’s post reflects on Sister Margaret Farley’s groundbreaking work, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Farley, whose justice-oriented sexual ethic has greatly advanced the conversation on LGBT issues in the church, addressed Symposia in 1992, 1997, and 2007. She also received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in 2002.
Unsurprisingly, the 2010 Notification that Margaret Farley received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about her book, Just Love, missed not only the forest for the trees; it missed the trees for the minutiae of their bark.
Far from engaging Farley’s vision, intentionally laid out as she weaves tradition with contemporary knowledge, the Notification issued is a poor, proof-texted engagement. But a reader more receptive to Farley’s work easily sees not only the forest, but the horizon to which this theological giant is leading, and gratefully joins the path towards it.
Questions of sexuality and gender have progressed rapidly in the decade or so since Just Love was published. Yet Farley’s insights, deeply drawn from her first section on traditions, still speak to new and emerging issues. [To read a summary of Just Love’s ethical principles, click here.]
One example of these issues is the Synod on the Family. The synod process made clear how inexperienced many Catholic bishops are at negotiating cross-cultural ethics.The Synod also raised an old question in a new way: In a truly global church, can the Vatican really pronounce on universal norms beyond the most fundamental of principles? In other words, are issues of family life, sexuality, and society today too complex and diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach?
Emerging churches, particularly in Africa, have resisted more permissive stances on sexuality with claims of “ideological colonization,” a term notably used by Francis, the church’s first pope from the Global South. Farley identifies the troubling dynamic driving many such claims: sexual control has been central to Western colonization and postcolonial regions are still grappling with this damaging legacy. Acknowledging these traumas is absent from magisterial discourse today, even as theologians have welcomed such necessary dialogue through international conferences such as Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church.
Another emerging issue is gender and its relation to sexuality, now hotly contested in many contexts due to the expansion of transgender rights. Farley’s technical treatment of intersex and trans identities needs some updating given new research in this area, but, more significantly, she remains open to the realities of such persons, writing that “[n]o one ought to pass judgement on any configurations of gender [emphasis added].” This outward-looking stance paired with compassion means her larger points retain their integrity.
No statement of Farley’s is more relevant for today, when “gender wars” are rapidly and harmfully intensifying, than when she observes that “[g]ender wars would cease if we saw that we are not ‘opposite’ sexes but persons with somewhat different (but, in fact, very similar!) bodies.” Farley’s sexual ethic, with its roots in justice, is wonderful for slowly shifting the conversation beyond a primary concern with whom one has physical intimacy (raising questions of sexual and/or gender identity) to a primary concern about how one has sexual intimacy (raising questions of bodies, abilities, pleasures, and participants).
Finally, though Just Love can and should speak to many emerging questions, conversations about consent could benefit greatly from her just sex framework. To the detriment of healthy sexual relationships, consent has been reduced to saying “no,” or under affirmative consent thinking, the absence of an active and enthusiastic “yes.” While such models are being used to educate youth and young adults, particularly in higher education, as correctives against society’s historical failure to address sexual violence, they are not adequate.
Despite their good intent, such models are actually doing harm because they employ a mechanical understanding of sexual acts that excludes context and relationality. Farley is clear that free consent and respect for bodily autonomy are minimal norms for just sex, but she is equally clear that sexual justice means more. She insists that sexual acts cannot be separated from the contexts in which they happen, and the foremost context is relationality. Incorporating Farley’s theory of sexual justice into understandings of consent would both help curb sexual violence and promote healthier relationships.
Ten years on, it is clear that Just Love’s relevance has only grown, and that Christian ethical reflection has yet to receive fully its wisdom. Farley’s writing is precise and thorough, reflecting the years she spent laying the foundations for her sexual ethic. Behind her clear argumentation are complex layers of meaning with which the reader must repeatedly grapple. Her closing section on contexts for just love, addressing matters like same-gender relationships and persons who are divorced and/or remarried, is really the springboard Farley provides for Christians to employ her framework in their own research, contexts, and lives.
But what may be most clear of all is that Vatican’s fears were, in one way, fully warranted. Just Love is a truly radical text, which, received more and more fully by Christians, has and will continue to alter radically our lives and the life of our churches. It lays before us a road to full equality for LGBT people, one recognizing the beauty of diverse sexual and gender identities, the goodness of same-gender sexual intimacy, and the gift that every family is to our church.
These questions are not just similar: they are deeply interrelated. Indeed, the cause of women’s equality in the church is inextricably linked to the cause of LGBT equality, and vice versa.
DeGeorge described the genesis of the book and its title:
“[Wexler] is not a theologian or historian, she writes, nor does she intend the book to be a definitive work about the views of Catholic women. She seeks instead to inspire conversations among women who, like her, are ‘torn between the faith they love and the institutional church that often sets their teeth on edge.’ . . .
“There is a reason, Wexler says, that she titled the book CatholicWomen Confront Their Church rather than their ‘faith.’ For these women and so many others, it’s not a matter of confronting their faith, but rather confronting an institution that is led exclusively by men.”
Among the nine Catholic women that Wexler profiled are two involved with LGBT advocacy: Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, and Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK who is most known for her leadership of “Nuns on the Bus.”
Other women in the book include: Teresa Delgado, a Latina feminist theologian; Frances Kissling, founder of Catholics for Choice; and Diana L. Hayes, a theologian who was the first African American woman to earn a pontifical doctorate.
The chapter on Marianne Duddy-Burke follows the contours of her journey as a devout Catholic and lesbian woman. Wexler explained at one point:
“Catholicism is just too important to Duddy-Burke to abandon. So she’s found a different space to practice her faith, a space outside the norms of the institutional church. The Catholicism she practices, she contends, more authentically follows the gospel. . .
“Whatever steps Pope Francis may take to soften the church’s position on same-sex marriage and LGBT issues, she believes that real change has to come from the people in the pews, not the church hierarchy. And she continues to immerse herself in a Catholicism that embraces the sacraments and service to the poor and marginalized.”
Sr. Simone Campbell’s advocacy for LGBT people has increasingly been a part of her larger efforts for social justice. Her organization, NETWORK, is linked with New Ways Ministry in a particular way: the two organizations were singled out by the Vatican in its 2012 investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for allegedly promoting “radical feminism.” Campbell offered the following wisdom, as reported by Wexler:
“One might have thought that the public denunciation. . .would have signaled to the sisters to lie low until the flap blew over. But Campbell did not express any sense of remorse. ‘When you don’t work every day with people who live at the margins of our society, it’s so much easier to make easy statements about who’s right and who’s wrong.’ Campbell said, ‘Life is way more complicated in our society, and its probably way easier to be eight thousand miles away in Rome.’ . . .
“‘I wish I knew what was in their [the Vatican leaders’] brains. . .The leadership doesn’t know how to deal with strong women.'”
In her latest supportive act for LGBT Catholics, Campbell will lead “Justice and Mercy: Our Faith Challenge?“, a retreat preceding New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this week. For information, please click here.
Teresa Delgado is a feminist theologian who is both Puerto Rican and a survivor of sexual violence, influenced by liberation and womanist theologies. These aspects of her identity have, in her words, “allowed me to speak in a way that is authoritative around issues of sexuality and faith.” While not explicitly focused on LGBT issues, her work to integrate sex and faith has obvious implications. Wexler wrote:
“Delgado has remained a Catholic despite her deep reservations about the church’s approach to sexual issues, and its misogyny. She regrets that an institution that developed a nuanced ethical position on the concept of a ‘just war’ has failed to explore the nuances of sexual ethics. Within her classroom, where she teaches Christian sexual ethics, she faces students deeply confused about how to apply Catholic principles to their sex lives. Her goal, she says, is to offer them a safe place to discuss their feelings, and to share her own insights about navigating these moral dilemmas.”
Reading the stories of these nine Catholic women is moving, and Wexler’s advice, especially for younger women, is compelling by the end: “Don’t give up on Catholicism just yet. Make it work for you. Fight for it.” DeGeorge’s concluding words will ring true for readers:
“In conclusion, she notes the dangers facing a church that is unwilling to allow women a greater role and voice. . . .[The reader will] come away with a deeper conviction that there is a place for visionary feminist women in the church. Wexler’s book deserves to be read widely, especially among parish-based women’s groups and young women who struggle with their Catholic faith.”
To read Gail DeGeorge’s full review inthe National Catholic Reporter, please click here.
In a ruling released last week, a federal judge has said a Catholic parish was legally justified in firing a gay church worker. The Washington Blade reported:
“In a seven-page decision, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras determined Tuesday the Holy Family Parish, which is under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Chicago, had the right to terminate Colin Collette because the worker’s position was ministerial in nature.
“‘By playing music at church services, Collette served an integral role in the celebration of mass,’ Kocoras said. ‘Collette’s musical performances furthered the mission of the church and helped convey its message to the congregants. Therefore, Collette’s duties as Musical Director fall within the ministerial exception.'”
Collette sued Holy Family and the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2015 claiming employment discrimination under federal, state, and county laws. It was hoped Collette’s case would add to the small, but growing number of legal victories for church workers who have lost their jobs over LGBT issues.
Judge Kocoras did not, however, rule on whether Collette was discriminated against by the parish; he ruled on whether the firing was protected under the so-called “ministerial exemption.”
According to the Blade, the judge’s actions preceding the ruling show he “entertained the idea Collette’s position wasn’t ministerial in nature and therefore protected under the civil rights law.” But that was not where Kocoras ended up, as he explained in the ruling:
“[A] position can be found to be ministerial if it requires the participant to undertake religious duties and functions. . .Here, Collette worked with church volunteers to choose the music that would enhance the prayer offered at mass. Choosing songs to match the weekly scripture required the group, including Collette, to make discretionary religious judgments since the Catholic Church does not have rules specifying what piece of music is to be played at each mass.'”
Collette was fired in 2014 as Holy Family’s music minister because his engagement to longtime partner and now husband, Will Nifong, became known to church officials. The firing was traumatic for the parish, where Collette had served for 17 years. Some 700 parishioners attended a town hall about it and there welcomed Collette with a standing ovation. One parishioner expressed anger and disappointment at the treatment of Collette, saying: “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.”
The firing is problematic not only for the parish, but for the Archdiocese as well. Archbishop Blase Cupich has said the consciences of LGBT people must be respected, and even endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender partners. Yet, the Archdiocese has continued to defend the firings of Collette and another gay church worker, Sandor Demkovich.
This latest ruling should not be celebrated by church officials because, while it may be legal justice, it has not advanced social justice. Archbishop Cupich could, however, freely choose to act for the common good by apologizing to Collette and taking the lead in reconciliation efforts at Holy Family.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 25, 2017
If you would like to learn more about the issue of LGBT church workers in Catholic institutions, consider attending
Leslie Griffin, a professor of law, will give a plenary session talk on “Religious Liberty, Employment, & LGBT Issues” at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. During one of the focus sessions, three people affected by the firings, Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea Vettori will give personal testimony about “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers.” For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Attempting to redefine what inclusion means, the U.S. bishops endorsed the U.S. House of Representatives’ “Inclusion Act,” which aims to protect social services agencies who exclude same-gender couples from being foster or adoptive parents. Cruxreported:
“Three bishops, in a joint letter to the measure’s sponsor, voiced their support of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would permit social service agencies to refuse on religious grounds to provide adoption or foster services for households headed by same-sex couples.”
The three church leaders behind the letter–Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore; and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska–are the respective chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Religious Liberty;and the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
Bishops claim the Act, if passed, would advance religious liberty by ending “unjust discrimination” against those providers who deny services to people based on the agency’s religious and moral beliefs. The bishops also claimed:
“‘Women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose from a diversity of adoption agencies, including those that share the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions.'”
Controversies about adoption rights have increased in the last decade as more jurisdictions legalize same-gender couples’ rights to marriage or civil unions. In the U.S., Catholic Charities and other church-related agencies have stopped providing adoption services in Massachusetts, Illinois, and the District of Columbia because as government-funded organizations they could not exclude LGBT clients.
Church institutions elsewhere have followed a similar pattern despite more supportive stances held by Catholics in the pews. The Missionary Sisters of Charity, the community which Mother Teresa founded, stopped facilitating adoptions in 2015 because they feared single gay people would become parents. Scotland’s St. Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society successfully attained the right to discriminate against LGBT clients. And, according to an unconfirmed report from one of Malta’s bishops, Pope Francis was “shocked” in 2014 to find out that same-gender couples could be granted adoption rights in the island nation.
[Editor’s note: a follow-up post on Bondings 2.0 later this week will dig deeper into the intricacies in these issues by exploring a story from Australia about Catholic parents, LGBT rights, and adoption.]
Given the U.S. political environment, including Judge Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court, it is uncertain whether the so-called Inclusion Act will succeed. But even if the legislation fails, there is a larger issue for Catholics at play. We must not allow the rich concept of inclusion, a defining value of Jesus’ ministry, to be hijacked by church officials for their LGBT-negative agenda.
Real inclusion, in the law and in the church, would recognize that the greater good is for children to be in loving homes, and for families to be strengthened by the protections and assistance which the State can offer. Those ideals are deeply rooted in the Catholic social tradition. It is from these places from which we should be the basis of Catholic adoption policy.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 18, 2017
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. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Luxembourg’s openly gay prime minister and his husband were welcomed at the Vatican recently, a potentially hopeful sign that church officials will increasingly respect people in same-gender civil marriages.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein greeted Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and his husband, Gauthier Destenay, as they arrived to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European Union. Pink News reported:
“The gay couple joined other heads of government from across Europe for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome [which founded what would become the European Union]. . .Pope Francis then held a meeting with the leaders, including Prime Minister Bettel, in the Vatican, marking the anniversary.
“Despite the unusual circumstances – Mr. Bettel is the only openly gay leader in the world – Vatican bosses opted for the usual protocol around heads of government and their spouses.”
That it was Gänswein who welcomed them is also notable as he was given a Vatican position by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whom he still serves as the former pope’s personal secretary.
Luxembourg legalized marriage equality in 2014, a move Bettel oversaw in a country where 67% of the population remains Catholic. In 2015, the couple married shortly after the new law went into effect. About their treatment at the Vatican, Prime Minister Bettel tweeted:
“It was a great pleasure and honour for me and Gauthier to be welcomed by the leader of the Catholic church. XB”
Welcoming an openly gay politician is another chapter in the confusing story of whether and how the Vatican and other Catholic institutions will treat LGBT people, including those people in same-gender marriages.
In 2015, a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics and their families led by New Ways Ministry was given VIP seating at an audience with Pope Francis. It was reported that Archbishop Gänswein had a role in securing the tickets, and pilgrims expressed their feelings that it was moment of welcome they would never forget.
But that same year, the Holy See rejected France’s ambassador, Laurent Stéfanini, who is openly gay and married. Few answers about the rejection were offered by either the French government or the Holy See. After six months of simply waiting, France withdrew Stéfanini’s application for diplomatic credentials without an official reason given by either party.
This institutional confusion is, in part, due to Pope Francis’ own mixed record on LGBT issues. The pope of “Who am I to judge?” is also the pope of “there is a world war to destroy marriage.” In just over two weeks, Catholics will gather in Chicago to discuss just what to make of LGBT issues in the age of Pope Francis during New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium. There is still time to register, which you can do by clicking here.
While magisterial teaching prohibits same-gender sacramental marriage, civil law is not synonymous with church teaching. One thing Pope Francis is clear about through his many acts is that church leaders should be prioritizing radical hospitality over exclusion. Welcoming Bettel and Destenay is a good step, but to really make such inclusion palpable, it must be modeled at churches worldwide.
Gilbert Baker, the person who designed the rainbow flag used as a symbol of LGBT identity, passed away last week. Despite his flag first appearing in 1978, controversy about its presence continues, including a recent spate at a Catholic university in Australia. As we remember Baker’s contribution, this additional unfortunate incident is a reminder of why pride flags are so essential for Catholic spaces.
Rainbow flag stickers have twice been posted, and twice torn down, at the University of Notre Dame Australia’s campus in Fremantle. The stickers were posted by the Student Association on their office windows as an expression of welcome, given the general absence of LGBTQ supports on campus. Buzzfeedreported:
“’We took it upon ourselves to do stuff for our LGBTIQ students, because there was nothing,’ student association president Dylan Gojak told BuzzFeed News. ‘One of the first steps was putting up these ally stickers.’ . . .But the vandalism has placed the stickers in the spotlight – and prompted complaints to university management arguing the ‘divisive’ rainbow flag has no place on campus.”
Gojak said for LGBTQ students like himself “there’s nothing, there’s no public statement, there’s no sign that you’re welcome here.” No action thus far has been taken on recommendations made by the Sexuality and Pastoral Care Working Party. The repeated vandalism against the flag stickers has only intensified awareness that such supports are absent.
Administrators initially asked the Student Association to remove the flag stickers, though a compromise was reached which allowed them to remain. After the stickers were vandalized a second time, Vice Chancellor Celia Hammond sent an email, saying:
“‘While I believe the symbol is divisive, and the University does not support all that has come to be associated with the Rainbow flag, the University does not condone the sticker being deliberately taken down in the way that it was. . .This only aggravates the situation and has the potential to cause additional distress.’ . . .
“‘To that end, while the University does not endorse the Rainbow flag, and does not approve it being displayed on any other parts of the University campus, the University is not seeking for it to be removed from the two windows of the Student Association Office at this time.'”
According to Hammond, “the display of the politically charged stickers” could imply the University is not in full compliance with Catholic teaching. She acknowledged there may be people on campus with homophobic views that are “inconsistent with our Catholic teachings,” but that there were others with “legitimate concerns” about the flag stickers.
Over time, the rainbow flag has come to signify inclusion, acceptance, and pride in embracing the sexual and/or gender identity. These are all Catholic values and can lead a person on the path to holiness.
Baker’s flag, created at the request of martyred gay icon Harvey Milk, was to be more celebratory than the pink triangle symbol then in use, which has ties to Nazi Germany. And, according to Gay Star News, Baker imbued the flag with even more meaning:
“Each stripe on the original eight-color flag had a meaning starting with hot pink which represented sexuality. Red represented life, orange was healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic and art, blue for serenity and harmony and violet for spirit.”
These facts make it hard to understand what “legitimate concerns” could be lodged against the posting of rainbow flag stickers. Rather, it is very disturbing that the University of Notre Dame Australia offers no formal support to LGBTQ students, and, in this recent situation, administrators could not express unqualified solidarity with such students.
As the world remembers Gilbert Baker, church officials should remember that church teaching backs the value of each stripe on the rainbow flag, as well as the flag’s symbol of welcome and acceptance. Given how important LGBTQ visibility can be for youth and young adults, every Catholic institution should fly the rainbow flag with pride this spring.