DignityUSA, a national organization for LGBT Catholics and supporters, is hosting their third season of Queer Catholic Faith, a webinar series featuring distinguished and interesting speakers on LGBT Catholic topics.
The webinars are live one-hour web-interviews with featured guests and real-time questions and conversation from participants who connect through their computers.
The first installment, on Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m., Eastern time, will feature three of the six young Equally Blessed pilgrims who promoted LGBT equality and justice at World Youth Day in Brazil this past summer. The promotional material describes these young people’s experiences which they will share during the webinar:
“Wearing your rainbow colors, your smile and carrying your banner that reads “Faithful Catholics committed to full equality of LGBT persons”, you walk into a crowd of Catholics you presume to be generally unsupportive of LGBT rights and dignity. What happens next? Six young adults did just that for an entire week during World Youth Day celebrations. What they encountered may greatly surprise you. DignityUSA is
thrilled to host three of these pilgrims on it’s premier webshow of the third season of Queer Catholic Faith. Join us for a taste of Catholicism among young people empowered with compassion and justice.”
Participation is free. You can register for the October 22nd webinar by clicking here.
The monthly series is scheduled for Tuesday evenings at 9:00 p.m., Eastern time. The remaining episodes feature the following people and topics:
November 26, 2013: Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, President of the Catholic Theological Society
of America, Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College and father of a
gay son. Register here.
December 17, 2013: Dignity Alive! A look at a thriving Dignity chapter community in San Diego, CA. with three SD guests: Brian, Roxanne and Al. Register here.
January 21, 2014: Joe Gentilini, Dignity/Columbus member and author of the new memoir, Hounded By God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love, and Relationship. Register here.
February 18, 2014: Thelathia ‘Nikki’ Young, a star attraction at Dignity’s 2013 Convention. Nikki will show how our own stories can bring others to deeper understanding and acceptance. Register here.
March 18, 2014: Mateo Williamson, a young trans man from Arizona who will engage you with his curious mind and joyful Catholic faith. Register here.
April 22, 2014: Dignity Prays! Discover the diversity and richness of Dignity worship in this interview with three persons from Dignity communities across the nation. Register here.
Webinars for May and June have yet to be announced.
Since starting this blog over 18 months ago, I have never had such a hard time keeping up with Catholic LGBT news and commentary than in the last two days as articles keep popping up about Pope Francis’ statement which was heard around the gay and Catholic world. Not even the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions in June generated this much electronic “ink.”
Yesterday, we supplied you with the first round of comments from Catholic writers and organizations. Today we will try to continue that sampling from some of the best that we have seen from Catholics–and one “cosmopolitan” response that you will have to read to the end to discover!
Like yesterday, you will probably notice a range of opinions, though mostly people are positive. Let us and others know what you think by posting your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.
One of the common themes of the commentary I read was whether Francis’ change in tone is really significant? Professor Richard Galliardetz of Boston College, who this year serves as President of the Catholic Theological Society of America, answered both of those quandaries in a Religion News Servicearticle:
‘This may be a matter of “style” in some sense, but in this case style matters,’ Gaillardetz explained in a statement that echoed the poet Robert Frost. ‘One can appeal to our doctrinal tradition in order to justify moral rigidity and exclusionary attitudes or one can appeal to our doctrinal tradition as a call to be instruments of mercy and compassion. Francis has chosen the latter course and it has made all the difference!’ ”
Catholic lesbian theologian Mary Hunt was more guarded in her praise of Pope Francis’ comments, noting particularly that the interview in which he made the statement about gay priests also contained a strong denial of the possibility of ordaining women to the Catholic priesthood. Hunt’s conclusion in a Religion Dispatches essay:
“The proof of whether this off the cuff press conference, following a well-staged week in Brazil, signals real change will unfold in the months ahead. Will there be stirrings of democracy, a Vatican spring complete with líos [translated: “mess,” referring to the pope’s statement to young people to “go, make a mess” in the world] in every diocese capable of upending a kyriarchal church and letting a mature, diverse community emerge? Will women finally and definitively share power with men in a democratic church? Or, will there simply be a little tweaking of the rules to make sure that a few favored sons who happen to be gay can remain in power?”
One person who is uniquely qualified to comment on the pope’s comment is Fr. Gary Meier, a St. Louis Archdiocese priest, who came out publicly as gay earlier this spring. In a CNN blog post, Fr. Meier expressed cautious optimism about the news:
“I am optimistic, that our Pope’s comments can lead to greater love and acceptance of the LGBT community. And at the same time, I am cautious – cautious that the change in tone and attitude represented by the Pope’s statement will not lead to a change in theology and doctrine which so desperately needs to change.
“My prayer for the church is that we might take this opportunity to stop causing harm, to stop being judgmental and to become more welcoming; more inviting; more loving towards all people, especially those who are marginalized and ostracized.”
Speaking from the perspective of parents of LGBT people, Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata of Fortunate Families welcomed the pope’s statement. A WHEC.com news story noted:
“Casey Lopata said, ‘This has opened a door. It seems to signal a willingness to dialogue.’
“Casey Lopata says it is reminiscent of something that happened in Rochester 16 years ago.
“ ‘Back in 1997, here in Rochester, Bishop Clark said a mass with gay and lesbian people, family and friends at the time a lot of people weren’t very happy with it and he later wrote an article in the Catholic Courier and title of the article said, ‘Listen, leave the judgment to God’ and that’s exactly what Pope Francis said today.’”
“I sense what he is saying is that we are all children of God and we need to treat each other that way regardless of our sexual orientation,” she said. “If that is indeed what he is saying, I think that is a good step forward for reconciling with gay and lesbian people around the world, and also their families.
“Much that’s been said in past years by church leaders has been very hurtful not only to gay and lesbian people but to their families as well.”
That same NBCNews.com story also provided the perspective of LGBT Catholics themselves through the voice of Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA. Beginning with a quote from Francis’ statement, Duddy-Burke said:
“ ‘If someone loves the Lord and has goodwill’ [Francis’ statement] — the reality of that describes an awful lot of LGBT people,’ she said. ‘There are a lot of LGBT people of faith who are working very hard to hold onto their faith and I think it would be important for us to bring our stories to the pope and other church leaders to move this conversation forward.’
“A key step would be bridging the gap between some church leaders who engage in anti-gay rhetoric and their parishioners, many whom support LGBT rights, Duddy-Burke said. Fifty-four percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage, according to a Pew Forum poll released earlier this year.
“ ‘If Francis can be an instrument in healing that divide, we would certainly welcome that and are happy to partner with him,” she said, while noting that only time would tell what impact his remarks would have on daily life.’ “
The perspective of a pastoral minister who works with lesbian and gay Catholics was offered by Sister Marian Durkin, CSA, in The Cleveland Plain Dealer:
” ‘I appreciate Pope Francis’ compassionate look at homosexuality in the church,’ said Sister Marian Durkin of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. ‘There are gay men in the priesthood, there always have been. And they serve God’s people with great integrity and love.’
“Durkin has worked in a local outreach ministry for gay Catholics for 20 years. She holds an annual retreat for homosexual Catholics and their parents at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma.
“ ‘I’m delighted whenever there’s good press about gays and lesbians,’ she said. ‘Francis is a breath of fresh air.’ ”
Portland, Maine’sPress Herald offered the perspective of a theologian who notes the pragmatic effect the pope’s statement can have:
“Stephen Pope, professor of theology at Boston College, said Francis’ comments were consistent with his other efforts to address declining church membership by reaching out to a more diverse audience.
“That approach stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, he said.
” ‘I think Pope Benedict’s philosophy was to say, “Let them go. We’ll have a smaller church but more pure,” ‘ Pope said. “Pope Francis has sort of adopted this strategy of meeting people where they are and looking for commonality.’ “
Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, noted, in a Baltimore Sun article, that the pope’s statement was not really “off the cuff,” and was, in fact, an invitation to dialogue:
” ‘The message of mercy, I think, is one he is sounding out on every single issue that the culture has identified as one it rejects the church’s teachings on,’ Pecknold said. ‘What Francis wants to say is, “Let’s talk.” ‘
“The pope offered his thoughts in a remarkably open news conference in response to questions about rumors of a ‘lobby’ of gay priests seeking to influence the Vatican. He said he disapproved of any such lobby or influence, but distinguished influence-seekers from priests who might happen to be gay.
“Pecknold said it was important to consider that context when reading the pope’s comments, but he also said the pontiff would have been aware that his comments to international journalists about homosexuality would have been viewed in a broader context.
” ‘We’re going to hear this over and over and over again,’ Pecknold said. ‘The way in which Francis wants to initiate a conversation, the way in which he wants to invite a conversation, is through this message of mercy.’ “
“. . . Catholics United, which has been very critical of Church leadership, said Francis’ comments ‘speak to what every young person knows: God loves gay people, and so should the Catholic Church.’
” ‘Pope Francis’ call for the acceptance of gay priests is a direct repudiation of the backward beliefs of many ultra-conservative ideologues in the Church,’ the group’s leader James Salt said in a statement.
” ‘This statement on gay people, while largely symbolic, is a big step in the right way.’ “
And we close out with a decidedly non-Catholic perspective: Michelle Ruiz, a blogger at Cosmpolitan magazine:
“A lot of arguments against gay marriage and even homosexuality in general point to religion: ‘The Bible says God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,’ anti-gay groups have been known to say. But now the leader of the Catholic church himself, Pope Francis, is coming out in support of gays. Can we get a Hallelujah?
” ‘If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’ Francis told reporters yesterday while on an overnight flight from Brazil (for his first foreign trip) back to Rome.
“Francis was responding directly to a question about gay Catholic priests, and his answer is groundbreaking because his more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was so against gay clergy, he signed an official document in 2005 saying homosexual men should not be allowed to serve the church.
“So if Francis is cool with gay priests, perhaps gay marriage has a prayer in the church? “
The third part in a three-part series reflecting on Vatican II and LGBT issues. For the first part, click here; for the second part, click here.
The third dynamic that Richard Gaillardetz identified as instrumental to making Vatican II a success is “openness to the world.” In his article in America magazine, he discusses this concept:
“The final dynamic evident in the council’s deliberations was its openness to the world. Pope John XXIII himself set the tone for this openness. . . .
“Pope John knew well the evils present in the world, but he was convinced that we must not exaggerate those evils and succumb to a dark apocalypticism. In his many addresses and homilies he evinced an attitude of respectful yet critical engagement with the world. In ‘Humanae Salutis,’ the apostolic constitution with which he formally convoked the council, the pope warned of ‘distrustful souls’ who ‘see only darkness burdening the face of the earth.’ And in his opening address at the council, he noted the advice he sometimes received from ‘prophets of gloom’ who see ‘nothing but prevarication and ruin’ in the world today.
“Pope John XXIII was convinced that Christians must be willing to read ‘the signs of the times’ and enter into a more constructive engagement with the world. . . .
“Here again the council’s conduct and attitude offer insight for our modern church, for we still hear far too many apocalyptic pronouncements regarding ‘a culture of death’ and a ‘toxic secularism.’ The council reminds us that we must not yield in the face of evil, but neither can we close our eyes to the signals of grace always present where humans seek justice and truth and ask the great questions about life’s meaning and ultimate significance.”
In regard to LGBT issues today, the current hierarchy would do well to follow this advice to be more open to the world. Too often they sound like Pope John’s “prophets of gloom” who “see only darkness burdening the face of the earth.” The negative attitude of the current hierarchy is doing great harm to their relationship with the world on LGBT issues and other issues as well.
Equally important, this negative attitude harms the hierarchy themselves. In a sense, they are blinding themselves to all the good and holiness that exists in the LGBT community. Sadly, they are missing out on the joy of life experienced by many in the Catholic LGBT community, specifically. The gospel is being lived out in both traditional and new ways in the faith experiences of those involved in the Catholic LGBT community, but the hierarchy’s negativity and closed-mindedness prevents them from seeing this.
By being more open to the world, as the bishops at Vatican II were, the current hierarchy could learn from new advances in science and social science regarding gender and sexuality. The world outside the church doesn’t have to be treated as the enemy. God works there, too. Instead of building a fortress around the church to “protect” it from the world, the current hierarchy should be engaging it so that the spirit of the Gospel can inform and enlighten it.
One note of caution: I don’t mean to imply that LGBT issues are issues of “the world” only. LGBT people are very much part of the church and its life already and don’t necessarily need to be “reached out” to. But by being more open to the world, the hierarchy could be establishing better forms of communication with those in the LGBT community who do not share the church’s vision of faith. Sadly, they have too often painted themselves into a corner where they have no available tools to speak credibly or effectively with those not in the church.
You may have noticed that there is some overlap between the three dynamics which Gaillardetz has identified: catholicity of dialogue, humble learning, and openness to the world. These three concepts work with each other; if one develops one of them, the other two, it seems, would be easy to develop, too. Openness to the world includes being open to dialogue and being a humble learner, for example.
The most effective way that I see to reclaim the spirit of Vatican II for the church is for lay people to start living out these three dynamics the best ways that we are able to do so. To paraphrase Gandhi, we must be the change we want to see in the church. One of the greatest lessons of Vatican II is that lay people are equal partners with the hierarchy in building up the church. We can’t expect the hierarchy to live the spirit of Vatican II if we don’t live it ourselves. In doing so, we can help to transform our church on LGBT issues. Indeed, we can help to tranform our church. Period.
The second part in a three-part series reflecting on Vatican II and LGBT issues. For the first part, click here.
In this second part of the Vatican II and LGBT series, we will look at Richard Gaillardetz’ second of three dynamics which he identified as instrumental for making the Council so successful. (To read the entire Gaillardetz essay on which this post is based, click here. ) The second dynamic he identified is “humble learning.” In part, he had this to say about this essential dynamic:
“A second dynamic evident at the council was the bishops’ commitment to humble learning. In the century before the council it had become common to divide the church into two parts: a teaching church (ecclesia docens) made up of the clergy and a learning church (ecclesia discens) consisting of the laity. This way of imagining the church dangerously overlooked the fact that bishops do not have a monopoly on divine truth. They do not receive supernaturally infused knowledge at their episcopal ordination. It is not the case that a priest with a shaky understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity on the day before his episcopal ordination would suddenly be able to give learned lectures on the topic on the day after ordination! As St. Cyprian of Carthage sagely pointed out in the third century, bishops must themselves be learners before they can be teachers (Epistle 74, 10).
“Historians of Vatican II will point out the remarkable willingness of so many of the council bishops to become students once again. It is easy to forget that a good number of bishops, then as now, found that their pastoral responsibilities made it difficult for them to keep up with current historical, biblical and theological scholarship. As the council proceeded, many bishops sought the expert input of some of the many distinguished theologians and ecumenical observers who were in Rome at the time. Many regularly attended evening lectures offered by leading theologians. . . .
“Vatican II reminds us that we are all disciples of Jesus and, therefore, lifelong learners.”
If there is one area where our present-day bishops can use some humble learning, it is the area of sexuality and gender. Our world has undergone such a major transformation in this area over the last century, particularly the last half-century, yet our bishops don’t seem to have paid any attention to it.
I say this not just because the hierarchy’s ideas in this area are traditional, but because when they make statements about sexuality or gender, they often do so in such a way as to give the impression that they are totally unaware that everyone else in the world has been discussing these topics passionately for so long. Often the hierarchy won’t even raise opposing arguments as “straw men” so that they can refute them. They seem unwilling to acknowledge that a whole new universe of discourse has been established. It seems like their strategy is that ignoring these new discussions might make them go away.
Gaillardetz’ argument reminds us that as an entire church, we need to be continually learning. “Humble learning” is almost a redundancy. All learning requires the humility to acknowledge that one may not already have all the answers or not know how to respond to new information.
In the particular area of LGBT issues, new ideas and new research continue to be published every day. Reputable and faithful Catholic theologians and scholars have been developing new ideas about sexuality and gender since the 1960s, but church leaders rarely even acknowledge that this robust discussion has been taking place. If they do acknowledge new ideas, too often it is to censure them without giving them a full and honest hearing.
I believe that what the church most needs is a new C0uncil focusing solely on the issue of sexuality and gender. Such a gathering would hopefully allow bishops to become humble learners in this most important area of human and ecclesial life.
2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II. As we’ve noted before, the Second Vatican Council was instrumental in laying the groundwork that allowed a discussion of LGBT issues in the church to develop.
Earlier this year, theologian Richard Gaillardetz wrote an insightful essay in America magazine marking this important anniversary. Gaillardetz identified three crucial dynamics at the Council that allowed it to emerge as the transformative experience it was for the church. In three separate posts, I’d like to examine those three dynamics and reflect on how they apply to LGBT issues in the church today. (The next two posts will appear here in the coming week.)
The first dynamic Gaillardetz idenitifies is “the catholicity of dialogue.” He observes:
“During the four sessions of the council, bishops were introduced to other prelates from diverse countries and continents, who looked at key pastoral and theological issues from strikingly different perspectives. One of the more felicitous decisions of the council concerned the seating of bishops in the aula (the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica where the main meetings of the council were conducted). The bishops were seated in order according to episcopal seniority rather than by region. This created the circumstances in which an Italian bishop, for example, might sit next to a bishop from Africa.
“This arrangement made possible a fruitful exchange of diverse perspectives and insights. Indeed, some of the most important work of the council was accomplished at the coffee bars (nicknamed after two Gospel characters, Bar-Jonah and Bar-Abbas) kept open behind the bleachers in the aula. Bishops, after struggling to stay awake during one mind-numbing Latin speech after another, found respite at these coffee bars and often engaged in frank conversation about a variety of topics. It was the sustained, face-to-face conversation and sharing of diverse experiences that opened episcopal eyes to new possibilities. These conversations were further facilitated by informal gatherings of bishops like the 22 bishops who met regularly at the Domus Mariae hotel and were committed to encouraging a more wide-ranging deliberation than was possible within the aula. These bishops met weekly to discuss topics being considered by the council. . . .
“It was the many opportunities for discussion and debate, both formal and informal, that allowed the bishops to discern the impulse of the Spirit.”
What a remarkable opportunity for the church! Bishops actually had the opportunity to dialogue with one another, to share perspectives and test their ideas against what others think.
From so many hierarchical statements today on LGBT issues, one gets the idea that the bishops are not talking even with one another. Instead, they seem to be listening to and repeating only statements that come from the Vatican. Our church is clearly the poorer for this situation.
Bishops–and our entire church–need more opportunities like Vatican II to dialogue, particularly in the area of LGBT issues. LGBT topics are a relatively new topic for examination and discussion in both society and the world. It was only after the mid-point of the 20th century that even secular society began to slowly discuss these topics. Clearly, LGBT topics are among those that needed the fresh air that Pope John XXIII discussed when he announced the Council as an opportunity to open the windows of the church.
Several bishops have told me personally that these days bishops rarely discuss ideas with one another in informal settings. They, sadly, have few opportunities to test out ideas and theories with one another in free and open situations. Only staleness could thrive in such a context.
For LGBT issues, and for all issues related to sexuality, bishops need to dialogue with more than one another. Since all bishops are vowed celibates, if they only speak with one another, they will only hear part of the necessary conversation. They need to hear the lived faith experiences of people involved in public and loving sexual relationships.
While it may take a long time to end the culture of silence and non-discussion that infects our current hierarchy, we can foster that spirit of dialogue by starting conversations on LGBT issues on the grassroots level. Start programs of dialogue and education on LGBT issues in your parish or faith community if you can. If you are unable to do that, then raise LGBT issues whenever possible: in social justice committee meetings, education committee meetings, pastoral outreach meetings, evangelization meetings–wherever there is an opportunity to do so.
I know that in many quarters in the church there is an unhealthy silence about LGBT issues. We need to end that silence by addressing these issues whenever and wherever we can in ways that will not alienate those we are trying to engage in dialogue. If we begin the dialogue in small ways in our home communities, then the larger dialogue that is needed in our church, and that Vatican II modeled for us, can become a reality.