Here’s What Catholic Bishops Should Have Said About Marriage Equality Decision

June 30, 2015

Today’s compilation of Catholic responses to the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality begins with an interesting hypothetical response, written one day before the decision was issued.  Also included in today’s list are further comments from New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo, three bishops, and others.

Reverend Tom Washburn, OFM

Reverend Tom Washburn, OFM, Executive Secretary of the English Speaking Conference of Franciscan Provincial Ministers, who blogs at

After reviewing Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s statement that the Catholic Church needs to do a “reality check” on same-gender marriage, Fr. Washburn proposed, on the day before the Supreme Court ruled on marriage, a possible statement for the U.S. bishops to issue (the boldface emphases are Washburn’s):

“A possible response of the U.S. Bishops: ‘Today, in a truly landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision, the result of which makes it legal for people of the same-sex to contract a legal marriage in the United States. To the extent that this decision represents the end of discrimination and oppression of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as a group of people, we rejoice with them. The Catholic Church has long opposed discrimination under the law in all of its forms and we rejoice whenever such legal discrimination is cast aside in favor of progress toward the recognition of the equality of all people. We rejoice with those who welcome this movement of liberation. We understand that civil law is different than church law or theology, and our tradition as well as current and long-held theological understanding of the sacrament of marriage continues to be that sacramental marriage is a union between a man and a woman. But, we also understand the desire of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to find long term, lasting, loving and committed relationships. The Church in recent years has struggled in its attempts to reconcile all of these positions in a coherent way that leads all her children to Christ without making some feel as though they are not welcome within our walls and our communities, or that we desire anything less than a full, happy and fulfilled life for them. What we ask of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters today is this: please, keep struggling with us; let’s continue to dialogue together. We need you and hopefully, you need us too. Please continue to be active members of our parishes and communities and help us understand one another better and figure out how we all walk to Jesus together.’ “

(From a blog post on

Archbishop Blase Cupich

Archbishop Blase Cupich, Archdiocese of Chicago:

“. . . [T]he United States Supreme Court has ruled that two persons of the same sex have a constitutional right to marry each other. In doing so, the Court has re-defined civil marriage. The proposed reason for the ruling is the protection of equal rights for all citizens, including those who identify themselves as gay. The rapid social changes signaled by the Court ruling call us to mature and serene reflections as we move forward together. In that process, the Catholic Church will stand ready to offer a wisdom rooted in faith and a wide range of human experience.

“It is important to note that the Catholic Church has an abiding concern for the dignity of gay persons. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: ‘They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ (n. 2358). This respect must be real, not rhetorical, and ever reflective of the Church’s commitment to accompanying all people. For this reason, the Church must extend support to all families, no matter their circumstances, recognizing that we are all relatives, journeying through life under the careful watch of a loving God.”  (From a statement)

Kaya Oakes

Kaya Oakes, Author, The Nones Are Alright (Orbis Books: October, 2015): 

Noting that church leaders risk alienating the whole generation of younger Catholics if their responses to marriage equality are “defensive and strident,”  Oakes stated:

“Catholics under 50 were brought up in a time when same-sex relationships were more and more accepted and presented to them in media, so they’re acclimated to that as a fairly normal thing. When they hear the opposite message coming from faith leaders, it’s alienating. . . . Even just a change of tone would be a step in the right direction.”  (From a news article on Crux)



Bishop Michael Jarrell

Bishop Michael Jarrell, Diocese of Lafayette in Louisiana:

“I realize that this ruling will create conscience problems for many Catholics, especially those in public office. In some cases civil disobedience may be a proper response. No priest or deacon of this Diocese may participate in the civil solemnization of celebration of same-sex marriage. All Catholics are urged not to attend same-sex marriage ceremonies. No Catholic facility or property, including but not limited to parishes, missions, chapels, meeting halls, Catholic educational, health or charitable institutions, or facilities belonging to benevolent orders may be used for the solemnization of same sex marriage.” (From a statement)

SLS Professional

Ish Ruiz

Ish Ruiz, a Catholic school teacher in San Francisco, will begin doctoral studies in the fall at the Graduate Theological Union,Berkeley:

“The Church has always taught that the Holy Spirit speaks through the laity as well as the hierarchy. I hope the decision from the Supreme court, combined with polls that show that the majority of Catholics support same-sex marriage, encourages the hierarchy to be more in touch with the people, the sense of the faithful.

“[Ruiz] wondered if Church leaders might ‘challenge themselves’ to listen to those with different opinions about marriage and relationships, asking themselves, ‘Hey maybe we don’t have all the answers, maybe there’s more to this issue than we’ve been teaching so far.’ ” (From an interview and a news article on Crux)

“Pope Francis encouraged bishops to allow themselves “to be surprised by God, the God of surprises.” I pray the Church continues to engage with the sense of the faithful, especially those that are LGBTQ+, through dialogue. That door must always remain open.”


Cardinal Donald Wuerl

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.:

Cardinal Wuerl issued a public statement on the Supreme Court ruling, and he also sent a four-page letter to the archdiocese’s priests, giving directions on their pastoral response in light of the new reality of marriage equality.

The National Catholic Reporter quoted from this letter in a news article by Tom Roberts, Editor-At-Large:

” ‘Are people who share our faith but struggle with the church’s understanding about marriage still welcome at church?’ And he answers, ‘Because Jesus came to save all people, all are invited to be a part of god’s family – his church.’

“The welcome, he said, ‘is extended to everyone: married couples with children, unwed mothers and fathers, the single unmarried, couples who struggle with infertility, men and women with same-sex attraction, individuals facing gender issues, those whose marriages have broken down and suffered the trauma of divorce, people with special needs, immigrants, children born and unborn, the young, seniors, and the terminally ill, sinners and saints alike. If the church were to welcome only those without sin, it would be empty.’

“Accepting the person, however, doesn’t mean accepting everything one does. ‘Church teaching and common sense make a distinction between who a person is and what that person does.’   Condemnation of sin doesn’t mean condemnation of the person, writes Wuerl. ‘The church has and always will meet people where they are to bring them closer to Christ. . . .’

“The practical challenge for the church and its agencies, he said, is the need ‘to balance two important values, the provision of appropriate health care benefits for all church personnel including their spouses, and the avoidance of the perception that by doing so we accept a definition of marriage and spouse contrary to faith and revealed truth.’ (From a news article in The National Catholic Reporter)

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry:

In addition to issuing New Ways Ministry’s official statement on June 26, 2015, DeBernardo also penned an essay on Crux and commented to The National Catholic Reporter on the significance of the decision.

In the Crux essay, DeBernardo wrote:

Instead of continuing to fight political and legal battles, creating bigger and stronger walls against American society, the U.S. bishops should follow instead the way of reconciliation with the larger culture, and with their Church’s own alienated members.

DeBernardo offered the following suggestions for the bishops:

  1. Initiate a dialogue with the vast majority of US Catholics who support marriage equality and LGBT issues.
  2. Institute a moratorium on firing employees from Catholic institutions because of marriage equality.
  3. Give up their campaign for religious liberty they have been waging to oppose marriage equality.
  4. Work toward reconciling Catholics who have been on opposite sides of this issue.
  5. Educate themselves about LGBT people and issues in two ways:
  • Open dialogues with LGBT Catholics and their family members to learn about the everyday reality of their lives and their faith.
  • Avail themselves of the wealth of Catholic theological writing which for the past 40 years has been calling on the Church to recognize the goodness and holiness of gay and lesbian relationships. (From an op-ed on Crux.)

In a National Catholic Reporter article , DeBernardo added the following reaction:

“I think that while the law has changed, people’s hearts and minds are not going to change until they see same-sex marriage in practice. That is the significance of this. It paves the way for people in parts of the country where marriage equality doesn’t exist to see the benefits of same-sex marriage and that it’s nothing to fear. . . . 

“There are still a lot of places in the United States where that education and familiarization still has to happen. One of them being the U.S. Catholic bishops. They have shielded themselves from knowledge of the reality of lesbian and gay couples.”  (From a news article in The National Catholic Reporter)

Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

The Progressive Catholic Voice: Questions for Archbishop Kurtz re. the U.S. Bishops’ Response to the Supreme Court’s Marriage Equality Ruling

Crux:  “In wake of Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling, some bishops call for calm”

Los Angeles Times: “Catholics see same-sex marriage ruling in disparate lights”



New Ways Ministry and U.S. Catholics Rejoice at Supreme Court Marriage Equality Decision

June 26, 2015

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to enable marriage equality to be enacted throughout the nation.

New Ways Ministry rejoices with millions of U.S. Catholics that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in favor of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples! On this historic day, we pray in thanksgiving that justice and mercy have prevailed and that the prayers and efforts of so many have combined to move our nation one step closer to fairness and equality for all.

With this Supreme Court victory, Catholics recommit themselves to working to make sure that all LGBT people are treated equally in both church and society.  While we are delighted with this victory, there is still much work to be done to ensure those goals.

Catholics have been at the forefront of working for equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples. The overwhelming majority of U.S. Catholics have consistently been in favor of marriage equality, and have put their support into action in legislative, judicial, and electoral campaigns.

Their Catholic faith has inspired them to make sure that their lesbian and gay family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers receive equal treatment by society. The Supreme Court’s decision embodies the Catholic values of human dignity, respect for differences, and the strengthening of families.

While the U.S. Catholic bishops have consistently opposed marriage equality measures on all fronts, Catholic people in the pews have had a different perspective from their leaders.   The lived faith of Catholic people has taught them that love, commitment, and sacrifice are the essential building blocks of marriage and family. Their daily experiences interacting with lesbian and gay couples and their families has taught them that these relationships are identical to heterosexual marriages in terms of the essential qualities needed to build a future together, establish a family, and contribute to social stability and growth.

The U.S. bishops now need to reconcile themselves to the new social reality of marriage equality, as it is poised to spread to all 50 states. They can do so by entering into a dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics to learn more about the reality of their lives and how their faith inspires their relationships. The bishops should declare a moratorium on firing lesbian and gay church employees who have married legally. These firings have been a scandalous trend with effects that are harmful not only to the people involved, but to the life of the Church.

Today begins a time for Catholic supporters and Catholic opponents of marriage equality to reconcile with one another and work to build up their local faith communities so that together they can work for a world Pope Francis envisions: one of justice and mercy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




Vatican’s ‘Defeat for Humanity’ Statement Shows Church Officials Have Not Learned from the Irish Example

May 28, 2015

Reactions to Ireland’s historic referendum vote to establish same-gender marriage in that nation have brought responses from around the globe.  The latest reaction came from the Vatican Secretary of State who said it was “Not a defeat for Christian principles, it was a defeat for humanity.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin

Religion News Service noted that Cardinal Pietro Parolin made this comment while speaking on Vatican Radio, and that he also noted “The Church must take account of this reality, but in the sense of reinforcing its commitment to evangelization.”

This reaction from a high Vatican official differed from those of someone closer to Ireland, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who had stated that he thought the Church needed to consider the views of young people on this and other issues:

“I think really the church needs to do a reality check right across the board, to look at the areas in which we’re doing well and see have we drifted away completely from young people.”

Martin also acknowledged that gay and lesbian people would see the new legal option “enriching as the way they live”–a far cry from calling it a threat to humanity.

Parolin’s remarks seem to be part of a shift from the more positive rhetoric that Pope Francis had been employing in regard to LGBT issues. More recently, however, Pope Francis has made it clear that he opposes marriage equality initiatives. His speech at a Vatican-sponsored conference on “sexual complementarity” last fall, and an address about marriage and family during his visit to the Philippines are two examples. Yet, as a Guardian analysis of Parolin’s remarks pointed out:

“Parolin differed from the pope in one respect: the Argentinian pontiff has also used the phrase ‘defeat for humanity,’ but he was talking about war, not the legalisation of gay marriage.”

The heightened rhetoric of Parolin, though, is not only harmful because it is so harsh, but because it shows that Vatican officials have not yet absorbed the lesson of Ireland.  Throughout this past week, commentators have remarked on the significant change that this vote represents.  Even Archbishop Diarmuid Martin referred to it as a “social revolution.”

For instance, the Irish victory has emboldened other nations to go forward, with leaders in Italy and Germany calling for  similar votes.  In Germany, though many in the ruling Christian Democratic Union party  and the Green party are calling for marriage equality, Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken against it. Following Ireland’s example, Greenland’s parliament voted to adopt Danish laws on marriage equality.  The Irish victory has re-introduced the topic of marriage equality into Australia’s parliament. While Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister opposes the discussion, Bill Shorter, an opposition leader asked:

“If the Irish people can vote in favour of marriage equality, the question has to be asked, what is Tony Abbott’s problem with it?”

Indeed, Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist, has pointed out something that we have noted on this blog for a long time:  that Catholic people and Catholic nations have been in the forefront of the LGBT equality movement around the globe.  In speaking of Irish and other Catholic voters, Bruni said:

“They aren’t sloughing off their Catholicism — not exactly, not entirely. An overwhelming majority of them still identify as Catholic. But they’re incorporating religion into their lives in a manner less rooted in Rome.

“We journalists too often use ‘the Catholic Church’ as a synonym for the pope, the cardinals and teachings that have the Vatican’s stamp of approval.

“But in Europe and the Americas in particular, the church is much more fluid than that. It harbors spiritually inclined people paying primary obeisance to their own consciences, their own senses of social justice. That impulse and tradition are as Catholic as any others.”

With such momentum underway on the part of many nations and Catholic populations, Parolin’s extreme language will only continue to alienate people from Catholicism. It seems that he hasn’t learned that such language only pushes people further away. In Ireland, Fr. Brendan Hoban, a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in that country, observed that strong opposition messages from the bishops there worked against the hierachy’s goal.  Hoban stated in an Irish Times article:

“It was clear from the beginning that the bishops’ decision in policy terms to campaign for a blunt No vote was alienating even the most conservative of Irish Catholics. . . . [The referendum results highlighted] the gap between the church and a significant number of its people… It is so out of tune with the needs of the people.”

In the same article, Fr. Tony Flannery, another co-founder of ACP observed how the bishops’ strategy was not only a political, but a pastoral mistake. He said:

“[T]he day of doctrinaire Catholicism is over in this country. The people are no longer willing to listen to speeches and sermons on morality from the church.

“What was ‘particularly sad was to see the bishops in total opposition to a mass movement of the younger generation.’

“The very people whom the church should be trying to listen to, and trying to learn a way of communicating effectively with, were the ones they were driving further away with all their pastorals in each diocese.”

Instead of ramping up the negative rhetoric, bishops and church officials should focus on another form of communication which LGBT Catholics and supporters have requested for decades: dialogue.  Indeed, that was the message of Dave Donnellan, secretary of “Gay Catholic Voice of Ireland,” the LGBT Catholic organization in the Emerald Isle.  In a statement responding to the referendum vote, Donnellan spoke of the joy the members of his organization felt, but also added:

“As gay Catholics this profound joy was, however, tinged with deep disappointment that our own Church opposed this change. Whilst Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s comment that the Catholic Church needs a ‘reality check’ was noted, if this ‘reality check’ does not involve sitting down and having a dialogue with LGBT Catholics in his own diocese then it is of little value.”

If the Irish example teaches anything, it should teach church leaders that dialogue is the answer to how to proceed regarding not only marriage equality, but all LGBT issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

(Editor’s note:  There has been so much written on the landmark Irish referendum ushering in marriage equality that it has been hard to keep up with all of it.  Expect another post in a few days with more responses and analysis.)

Related articles

New York Times: “Vatican Official Denounces Ireland’s Vote for Same-Sex Marriage”

Crux: “Vatican: Irish marriage vote was a defeat for humanity”

Gay City News: “After This, No Exile: A Gay Priest Reflects on Ireland’s Declaration of Independence”

Religion Dispatches: “Did Ireland Just Bury the Catholic Church?”

Crux: “Irish voters were not swayed by their Church”

Huffington Post: “The Irish Referendum and the Future of Catholicism”


In Historic First, Belgian Bishop Calls Church to Bless Lesbian & Gay Couples

December 30, 2014

For the first time in known history, a Roman Catholic bishop has explicitly called for the Church to recognize and bless committed same-gender relationships.   New Ways Ministry strongly applauds this bold and courageous move.

Bishop Johan Bonny

Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, made his comments in an interview with De Morgen, a Belgian newspaper that was published on December 27, 2014.  He called for the Church to recognize the faithfulness and commitment of same-gender couples in the same way that the Church recognizes the relationships of heterosexual couples.   A news story about the interview in The National Catholic Reporter contained excerpts translated into English, including:

“There should be recognition of a diversity of forms. We have to look inside the church for a formal recognition of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is also present in many gay couples. Just as there are a variety of legal frameworks for partners in civil society, one must arrive at a diversity of forms in the church. … The intrinsic values are more important to me than the institutional question. The Christian ethic is based on lasting relationships where exclusivity, loyalty, and care are central to each other.”

Bonny acknowledged that the pontificate of Pope Francis, which has offered greater openness to LGBT issues, has motivated to speak his mind.  On whether the Church will eventually bless lesbian and gay couples’ relationships, he said:

“Personally, I find that in the church more space must be given to acknowledge the actual quality of gay and lesbian couples; and such a form of shared-life should meet the same criteria as found in an ecclesiastical marriage.… And we have to acknowledge that such criteria can be found in a diversity of relationships and one needs to search for various models to give form to those relationships.”

Bonny also stated that he still considers that heterosexual marriage should maintain its unique place in the Church:

“This relationship will continue to retain its own particular sacramental character and liturgical form. But this particularity does not have to be exclusive nor does it have to close the door on a diversity of relationships whose inner qualities the church can acknowledge.”

“Indeed, we need to seek a formal recognition of the kind of relationship that exists between many gay and lesbian couples. Does that recognition have to be a sacramental marriage? Perhaps the church could much better reflect on a diversity of forms of relationships. One has the same kind of discussion about civil marriages. In Belgium the same model (for civil marriages) exists for man-woman relations as well as for same-sex relations.”

Bishop Bonny’s statements are the first time a bishop has explicitly called for ecclesiastical recognition of same-gender couples, but it is not the first time that a bishop has shown support for such ideas.  In the 1990s, Bishop Jacques Gaillot of Evreux, France, was removed from his diocese, in part because he blessed a gay couple’s relationship.  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, has called for the Church to revamp its sexual ethics in a more progressive way, and in a way which would open the possibility of recognizing and blessing same-gender relationships.  Many bishops and other church leaders have recently been calling for legal recognition of same-gender couples, though none has gone so far as to ask for recognition from the Church for these couples.

Bonny was in the news in September 2014 when he released a paper in advance of the synod on marriage and family, in which he called for greater openness to gay and lesbian couples, divorced and remarried people, and cohabitating partners.

The National Catholic Reporter article quoted  Professor Rik Torfs, a canon law scholar and the rector of the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, who noted the import of Bonny’s remarks:

“Do not underestimate the significance of this. Bonny advocates a change from principles long held as unshakable, something no bishop could have done under the dogmatic pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.”

New Ways Ministry strongly applauds Bishop Bonny’s call for ecclesiastical recognition of same-gender couples. His request is based on the fact that the moral qualities of faithfulness, loyalty, and care which characterize lesbian and gay couples are the very same principles which characterize the unique form of heterosexually married couples.  These principles are the same ones which the majority of Catholic theologians today say should be the basis of the Church’s sexual ethics, instead of basing these ethics on a procreative standard and the outdated concept of male-female complementarity.

Gay and lesbian Catholics and their supporters will surely welcome Bishop Bonny’s call, as this call has been expressed for many decades now, though previous papacies have tried to silence it.  It comes at a time when the entire Church is focused on the idea of marriage and family as we discuss these issues in this year between the synods.  Bishop Bonny’s statements will have a profound effect on this discussion because he is raising an idea which has too long been suppressed, but which many in the Church have desired.  He gives voice to a major segment of Catholicism which has previously been voiceless.

Courage breeds courage.  Let’s pray that other bishops will follow Bishop Bonny’s example and speak out for recognizing the holiness in the committed relationships of lesbian and gay couples.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Irish Bishops and Laity Have Differing Views on Marriage Equality

December 9, 2014

The Republic of Ireland has become the latest of focus of Catholic LGBT political involvement. And as is becoming the pattern in many heavily Catholic nations, there is a huge divide between the way that the Catholic hierarchy addresses these issues and the way that the Catholic people in the pews do so.

Ireland is gearing up for a Spring 2015 referendum on whether to extend marriage laws to gay and lesbian couples.  The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference has entered the debate by releasing a pamphlet entitled “The Meaning of Marriage,” in which they defend the position that marriage should only be open to heterosexual couples. The Irish Times reported on the press conference “launch” of the pamphlet:

” ‘The view of marriage as being between man and a woman and for life, that’s not something which is particular to Catholics and Christians. There are people of all kinds of other religious beliefs, and of none, who believe in that,’ said Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, who is chair of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference council for marriage.

“ ‘To put any other view of marriage on the same level as Christian marriage would be a disservice to society rather than a service,’ added Bishop MacDaid . . .

Since same-gender marriage has been a reality around the globe for well over a decade now, and since we have research on the benefits that marriage equality has had for those couples, their children, and society, it is a very weak argument to say that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will somehow devalue or harm heterosexual marriage and society.

The Irish Times also noted:

“According to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, 67 per cent of Irish people support the notion of same-sex marriage being constitutionally enshrined, with just 20 per cent of respondents opposed to such a move.”

Brian Sheehan, director of the Gay and Lesbian Network, a leading Irish LGBT organization, countered the bishops’ assertions with statistical information about the state of marriage in Ireland, noting:

“ . . . ‘[O]ne third of children born in Ireland are born to single parents. They grow up in a variety of diverse family arrangements.’ Allowing gay and lesbian couples make such a commitment in civil marriage ‘would strengthen marriage.’ ”

Christian Today reported on a significant symbolic gesture which shows how far Catholic Irish leaders have come in their support of LGBT equality. Reporting on the bishops’ release of their document, the article stated:

“The Church’s launch came a day after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny was pictured in one of Dublin’s main gay bars at an event held by his party’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) society. . . .

” ‘The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) in a gay bar is a first,’ renowned Irish drag queen Panti Bliss, owner of Pantibar, the bar Kenny visited, wrote on its Facebook page.

” ‘Only a few years ago a Taoiseach wouldn’t have dared, so it shows how times have changed.’ “

One week before the brochure on marriage was released, Bishop Kevin Doran of the Elphin Diocese said in a talk that his opposition to marriage equality was

“ ‘not about homosexuality or the gay lifestyle, it is about the meaning of marriage.’

“He said ‘societies rely on families built on strong marriages to produce what they need but cannot secure: healthy upright children who become conscientious citizens.’ “

Doran’s arguments were countered in a letter to the editor from Dave Donnellan, secretary of the Gay Catholic Voice Ireland, the nation’s LGBT Catholic organization.  Citing an Irish Medical Journal report that said that LGBT youth are 14 times more likely to commit suicide and 16 times more likely to be the victim of sexual assault, Donnellan called on Catholic bishops to have their priorities better placed:

“This opposition [to marriage equality] mistakenly suggests that the primary issue from a Catholic perspective is a legal one. It’s not. The primary issue here for the Catholic Church is not legal, it is pastoral.

“The question is, do we as a church care about LGBT people who are suffering greatly as the study mentioned above, and others like it suggest? Have we put in place any pastoral care plan to respond to the needs of these vulnerable young LGBT people?

“The fundamental question for the Catholic Church is: ‘Do we love our LGBT people?’ What the LGBT community needs from Bishop Doran and the other bishops in the run-up to the referendum is a witness to the love that God has for the LGBT community and not instructions on how to vote in a referendum.”

Donnellan’s emphasis seems to be in line with Pope Francis’ admonition that bishops should not be “obsessed” with issues like gay marriage.

Stay tuned for more on LGBT political issues in Ireland later in the week on this blog.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Irish bishops: Marriage between man, woman is matter of justice” “Irish Ad Looks to Inspire Youth to Say ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality”

To Answer “What Is Marriage Now?” Lesbian & Gay Couples Must Be Included

November 15, 2014

These days, it is rare indeed that I read an argument about marriage equality that doesn’t remind me of other arguments that I’ve read in the past.  It seems that we have kind of reached the saturation point for arguments on this issue, having discussed this topic seriously for well over a decade now.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised to read Gerald W. Schlabach’s essay, “What Is Marriage Now?  A Pauline Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” in The Christian Century this week. His essay deserves to be read in its entirety (which you can do so by clicking here), but in this blog post, I will try to highlight a few of what I think are the most insightful parts of his thinking.

Schlabach, who is a Catholic professor of moral theology at the University of Thomas in Minnesota, develops the idea that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will strengthen marriage for all couples, and will do so because such an extension of the marriage institution will help us understand what is its essence. His thesis is:

“Extending the blessings of marriage to same-sex couples by recognizing their lifelong unions fully as marriage could allow the church to speak all the more clearly to what deeply and rightly concerns those who seek to uphold the sanctity of marriage.”

He uses as his jumping off point St. Paul’s famous line about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” or as it is more commonly quoted from the King James translation “It is better to marry than to burn.”

One of the many things which make his argument unique is that he argues acknowledges the social power that marriage has in stabilizing individuals and society, as well as acknowledging the beauty of sexual expression and its importance in a couple’s overall sense of intimacy.

Schlabach doesn’t argue from the more common, progressive position of justice and equality, but states, instead:

“. . . . [S]ome of the best reasons to support same-sex marriage turn out to be deeply conservative ones. This suggests how the Pauline remark might provide the church with a framework for proclaiming a message of good news for all sides. It offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that we continue to hallow the institution of marriage as the only appropriate place for intimate sexual union. And it offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that people of same-sex orientation be allowed equal opportunity to flourish as human beings—that the covenanted bonds of sexual intimacy play just as much of a role in their lives.”

Gerald Schlabach

Schlabach’s interpretation of St. Paul’s admonition is a very insightful one, that raises the remark above a simple denigration of lust.  He looks at the key words as metaphors for deeper understandings about the power of marriage, beyond a cure for concupiscence:

“ ‘To burn’ may stand for all the ways that we human beings, left to ourselves, live only for ourselves, our own pleasures, and our own survival. By contrast, ‘to marry’ may signal the way that all of us (even those who do so in a vocation of lifelong celibacy) learn to bend our desires away from ourselves, become vulnerable to the desires of others, and bend toward the service of others.”

Schlabach upholds St. Augustine’s ideas about the three “goods” of marriage: permanence, faithfulness, and fruitfulness, yet he expands these beyond the more traditional understandings:

“Christian interpreters today may continue to see procreation and child rearing as the prototypical expression of fruitfulness, but not as the only one. Every Christian marriage should face outward in hospitality and service to others.

“Together with permanence, therefore, faithfulness has come to stand for all the ways that couples bind their lives together. Spouses do not practice faithfulness only by giving their bodies exclusively to one another in sexual intimacy, but by together changing dirty diapers and washing dirty dishes, by promising long and tiring care amid illness and aging, by offering small favors on very ordinary days.”

These new understandings of these “goods” can be easily applied to lesbian and gay couples as they are to heterosexual ones. Perhaps the most important part of his essay is in his understanding that traditional views about marriage are not for heterosexual couples only.

Schlabach takes traditionalists to task for equating homosexuality with the current licentious sexual mores of “contingency,” engaging in sex when it is convenient, like making a consumer choice.  He also challenges the progressive arguments which make marriage, in the words of writer David Brooks, seem like “a really good employee benefits plan.”

Instead the moral theology professor discerns a more important definition of marriage which is based on intimate relationship, not sexual convenience or economic advantage:

“Marriage can and should remain a covenant and a forming of the one flesh of kinship, rather than a mere contract forming a mere partnership. . . .

“Marriage will indeed be subject to endless reinvention unless we recognize it as more than a contract. Instead we should recognize and insist that marriage is the communally sealed bond of lifelong intimate mutual care between two people that creates humanity’s most basic unit of kinship, thus allowing human beings to build sustained networks of society.”

This view of marriage allows him to see the beauty and power of sexual expression, not procreation as the main force which establishes a couple’s union:

“Procreation will always be the prototypical sign of a widening kinship network. But as spouses in any healthy marriage know, including infertile ones, kinship is already being formed in tender, other-directed sexual pleasuring. Such pleasure bonds a couple by promising and rewarding all the other ways of being together in mutual care and service through days, years, and decades.”

Schabach concludes his essay with advice to pastoral leaders:

“. . .[T]he church and its leaders need great pastoral wisdom to do two things simultaneously:

  • Walk back from the culture of contingency by explaining and insisting in fresh ways that God intends for active sexuality to belong uniquely to marriage.
  • Work compassionately with those who have embraced the relative fidelity of cohabitation, even if they have not yet moved to embrace a covenant of marriage or a vocation of celibacy.

“If we aim for these two goals, Christians will be better able to speak clearly and work energetically because together we’ll affirm that marriage is good—for everyone.”

His advice would be important for bishops at next year’s synod on marriage and the family to consider.

If your appetite has been whetted for a new understanding of marriage and the marriage equality debate, I strongly recommend that you read Schlabach’s essay in its entirety by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



SYNOD: Same-Gender Couples Mentioned in Synod Talk, But Not In a Very Positive Way

October 7, 2014

The issues of same-gender relationships made its debut at the Synod on Marriage and the Family on Monday in a talk by a married couple on evangelization.  And while it was exciting to see same-gender couples finally mentioned in a Vatican meeting as something other than pariahs, their statement certainly wasn’t a clear endorsement, for which we still wait, hope, and pray.

Ron and Mavis Pirola, who are the chairs of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council, were discussing the challenges of presenting church teaching to the modern world, nothing that  “We need new ways and relatable language to touch peoples’ hearts.”  According to The Vatican Insider, the couple elaborated on this idea:

“ ‘The domestic church’ represented by the family, ‘has much to offer the wider Church in its evangelizing role,’ the couple continued. ‘For example, the Church constantly faces the tension of upholding the truth while expressing compassion and mercy. Families face this tension all the time.’ The couple went on to illustrate this with an example relating to homosexuality. ‘Friends of ours were planning their Christmas family gathering when their gay son said he wanted to bring his partner home too. They fully believed in the Church’s teachings and they knew their grandchildren would see them welcome the son and his partner into the family. Their response could be summed up in three words, “He is our son.” ‘ “

The couple commented on their’ friends’ response by saying that it was

“a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond  to similar situations in their neighbourhood! The Church’s teaching role and its main mission to let the world know of God’s love.”

The welcome, yes, is very important. And it is admirable that they are encouraging parishes to welcome LGBT people as this couple weclomed their son and his partner. But it is hard to interpret what the Pirolas’ silence about the evaluation of the gay couple’s relationship is.  Does it mean that they accept the couple or that they don’t want to talk about the relationship?  It is hard to say.  The clause “the Church constantly faces the tension of upholding the truth while expressing compassion and mercy” makes me think that their intention is the latter.  When “truth,” “compassion,” “mercy” are all in the same sentence in an official church context, it usually means that the speaker does not support the idea of full equality for LGBT people and their relationships.

Ron and Mavis Pirola

The Pirolas’ follow-up example seems to support a conservative interpretation of their statements about the gay couple.  They illustrated their point with a different story, but with another condescending remark:

“A divorced friend of ours says that sometimes she doesn’t feel fully accepted in her parish. However, she turns up to Mass regularly and uncomplainingly with her children. For the rest of her parish she should be a model of courage and commitment in the face of adversity. From people like her we learn to recognize that we all carry an element of brokenness in our lives. Appreciating our own brokenness helps enormously to reduce our tendency to be judgemental of others which is such a block for evangelisation.”

The remark is condescending because it doesn’t at all take into account what the divorced women’s feelings and perception about the situation might be.  The married couple attribute positive spiritual motivations to a woman who may not be experiencing these at all.

Gay and lesbian issues were not expected to make their debut on Wednesday, when the synod addresses “Difficult Pastoral Issues,” which is where pastoral care of families headed by same-sex couples was listed.  Martin Pendergast, a British Catholic LGBT advocate has wondered how the synod will be able to discuss such pastoral care without actually having a same-sex couple or openly lesbian or gay person speak at the synod.  The inadequacy of the Pirolas’ comment shows the problem of having others speak for a group of which they are not a member.  Indeed, they were not only speaking as lesbian and gay people, but they weren’t even speaking of parents of such people, as their example came from the experience of their friends, not themselves.

When Pope Francis opened the synod he asked the bishops and cardinal to speak “boldly” and not worry about offending him.  Although the Pirolas are not members of the hierarchy, their language and examples certainly don’t fit into the category of bold speaking.  Their intervention is one small step forward in that it acknowledged how Catholic families love their LGBT members, but it is a step which also reveals how many steps our Church still has to go to reach full justice and equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



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