Vatican Official Balks at Episcopal Convention Vote to Bless Same-Sex Couples; Sensitive Transgender Language Also Approved by Anglican Denomination

A Vatican official has stated that the U.S. Episcopalian Church’s recent decision to bless same-sex couples can damage future dialogues between the Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishop Brian Farrell, an Irish prelate who is Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the decision, voted in at the denomination’s recent General Convention, was “a huge obstacle on the path to Christian unity,” according to a Catholic News Service story printed in The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese.

The article explains Farrell’s position:

“Bishop Brian Farrell told Catholic News Service in an email July 12 that the decision jeopardizes the achievements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission since 1970.

“After a six-year hiatus, the official Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue began a new phase in May — known as ARCIC III — to discuss the relationship between the local and universal church, as well as women’s ordination, same-sex unions and actively homosexual clergy.

“Bishop Farrell acknowledged that Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury had already called for any province of the Anglican Communion that could not abide by the moratorium on the ordination of people living in same-sex unions to withdraw from the dialogue commission, which the Episcopal Church did.

” ‘Beyond this technical consideration, ARCIC III will continue, but it will have to seriously face the enormous challenge being posed by the internal situation of the Anglican Communion,’ Bishop Farrell said.

“The [U.S.] Episcopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion, which has opposed the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of openly gay bishops. . . .

“Oblate Father John W. Crossin, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, declined an interview request about the move, saying, ‘We don’t comment on the internal workings of other churches.’ “

The Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly to bless same-sex couples at their recent General Convention in Indianapolis.  According to a report in USA Today:

“At the Episcopal General Convention, which is divided into two voting bodies, about 80% of the House of Deputies voted to authorize a provisional rite for same-sex unions for the next three years. A day earlier, the House of Bishops approved the rites 111-41 with three abstentions during the church meeting in Indianapolis.

“Supporters of the same-sex blessings insisted it was not a marriage ceremony despite any similarities. Called ‘The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,’ the ceremony includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings. Same-sex couples must complete counseling before having their unions or civil marriages blessed by the church. . . .

“In a separate vote Monday, the full Episcopal convention approved new anti-discrimination language for transgendered people that cleared the way for transgendered clergy.”

A Christian Science Monitor article notes that relationships with Christian denominations (other than the Catholic Church) can also be strained by the Episcopal vote on same-sex couples:

“With this week’s votes, the 2 million member Episcopal Church goes where some (though not all) other Protestant denominations have hesitated to tread. Just last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) narrowly defeated efforts to redefine marriage in its constitution to include gay couples. In May, the United Methodist Church reaffirmed its teaching that same-sex relationships are incompatible with Christian teaching. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meanwhile, permits same-sex ceremonies but has not created a rite for blessing them.

“Yet since 2005, the 1-million-member United Church of Christ has supported same-sex blessings.

“Unlike other Protestant groups, the Episcopal Church belongs to a worldwide church that has called for a moratorium on same-sex blessings. The 80-million-member Anglican Communion includes the Episcopal Church among its 34 provinces. Some fear this week’s adoption of a same-sex liturgy will add further strain to already-frayed relationships.

“ ‘It means the Episcopal Church is now separating itself that much more from the Anglican Communion,’ says Hood College historian David Hein, co-author of The Episcopalians, a standard history of the church. ‘The American Episcopal Church is trying to set itself up as a separate denomination, although they would claim that they’re not.’

“The Episcopal Church has spent decades cultivating closer ties with other Christian groups, most notably Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox churches. Authorizing a same-sex liturgy could spell trouble for these ecumenical relationships, observers say. In 2010, the Anglican Communion asked Episcopalians to resign their posts in ecumenical dialogues because their church had defied the moratorium on same-sex blessings.”

Commenting on the vote, as well as on the pressure not to approve the blessing ritual, was the Rev. Susan Russell, senior associate at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif.:

“We are not going to be blackmailed into bigotry against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in order to maintain a unity that requires uniformity.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

When Will the Pope Speak Out, Too?

Dr. Rowan Williams

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, has “called upon nations to respect the human rights of homosexuals in countries where they are often targeted for violence, as he suggested that anti-gay legislation is akin to racial discrimination,” according to a report just published in Christian Today.  He made his remarks in a speech to the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

Such a strong call from a high-ranking international church official begs the question of when Pope Benedict XVI will also speak out against these human rights abuses. Williams has offered arguments that can easily be spoken by a Roman Catholic official.  The news report quotes Williams:

” ‘Many societies would now recognise that legal interference with some sorts of consensual sexual conduct can be both unworkable and open to appalling abuse (intimidation and blackmail),’ Dr Williams said.

” ‘The existence of laws discriminating against sexual minorities as such can have no justification in societies that are serious about law itself.

” ‘Such laws reflect a refusal to recognise that minorities belong, and they are indeed comparable to racial discrimination.’

“Dr Williams emphasised that concern for protection of gays and lesbians from violence and intimidation did not imply approval of homosexual behaviour on moral grounds.

” ‘This concern for protection from violence and intimidation can be held without prejudging any moral question; religion and culture have their own arguments on these matters.

” ‘But a culture that argues about such things is a culture that is able to find a language in common.

” ‘Criminalise a minority and there is no chance of such a language in common or of any properly civil or civic discussion.’ “

The Catholic Church has been shamefully reticent about human rights abuses against LGBT people.  The situation in Uganda, in which Catholics are the largest denomination (42%) and recently tried to institute the death penalty for homosexuals, should be particularly relevant for the pope.

Now is the time for Pope Benedict, the Vatican, and Catholic leaders in countries where human rights abuses exist to speak powerfully about the Church’s teaching on the respect for the human dignity of LGBT people.  If extreme cases such as these don’t warrant such a statement, then the teaching is meaningless.

Bondings 2.0 has already reported on the Uganda situation twice and each time has called on Catholic leaders to speak out for the rights of LGBT people. You can connect to the previous posts, “A Gay Catholic in Uganda Speaks. . .” and “Breaking the Catholic Silence on LGBT Human Rights Violations.”  Also relevant would be our post “How Catholic Was Clinton’s Speech?”

–Francis DeBernardo,  New Ways Ministry