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”

Advocate.com: “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

 


SYNOD: Theologian Argues for Bishops to Bless Same-Gender Marriages

September 30, 2014

Although there is a lot of excitement about the upcoming Vatican synod on marriage and family life, that hope is a little dampened by the fact that only bishops will be participating in the sessions.  While it is true that bishops were encouraged to consult their laity about various topics, including pastoral care of families headed by same-gender couples, not all bishops did so, and those that did sometimes interpreted negative evaluations to church teaching as being caused by poor catechesis and communication.  That is simply not the case.  For many, many Catholics, their criticism of church teaching on divorce, contraception, same-gender relationships, comes from their lived experience of faith, and many years of study and reflection.

Sister Margaret Farley

One Catholic theologian who has influenced many Catholics’ thinking on sexuality is Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School.  We’ve reported on Sister Farley’s work before, and even have a summary of her framework for sexual ethics outlined on another blog page.

Recently, The Tablet featured an essay by Farley in their series which is looking ahead to the synod.  She used this opportunity to argue that there is no good reason to limit marriage only to heterosexual couples.  She begins her argument with an historical assessment:

“For so long as the Catholic tradition considered sex as justified only when it is intended for the procreation of children and for so long as gender complementarity was seen as the only natural context for sex, there was, of course, no room for any positive valuation of homosexual relationships.

“In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, these foundations of sexual ethics began to be questioned. New biblical, theological and historical studies of the roots of moral norms, new understandings of sexuality itself and new shifts in economic and social life all contributed to major developments even in Catholic ethics. The dominant historical motifs all underwent significant changes. The idea that the procreation of children is the sole justification of sexual activity is gone (the shift is visible in the documents of Vatican II, in Humanae Vitae and subsequent church teaching). The view of sexuality as fundamentally disordered is also pretty much gone from Catholic thought. Although moral theologians still underline the potential of sex for sinfulness (as in sex abuse, rape, exploitation, adultery and so forth), the preoccupation with its destructive power that used to dominate Catholic discussion of sex has been seriously modified.

“Rigid stereotypes of male/female complementarity have also been softened: gender equality, the mutuality of sexual relationships, an appreciation of shared possibilities and responsibilities now appear in middle-of-the-road Catholic theologies of marriage and family, as well as in official church documents and papal teaching.”

Her analysis of the role of gender in marriage discussions as compared to other discussions is a key to her argument.  She summarizes the traditional view, and then points out an important inconsistency:

“Sex is natural and good in itself in loving heterosexual relations, but sex once again becomes a thing of danger and disorder in gay and lesbian relationships. We are careful not to make sharp distinctions between male and female roles when we talk about the education of girls, career opportunities for women, and shared parenting, but fundamental gender difference suddenly reappears when critics take aim at an acceptance of same-sex relations. “

Farley moves away from a definition of marriage as being primarily a procreative institution, and she notes that theologians are moving toward a definition that stresses relationship:

“Many theologians see the mutual consent of the partners in the form of a covenant or binding contract as the core reality of marriage, and ‘marital’ commitment as a special sort of covenant or commitment. It includes a commitment to love and to accept being loved – with a love that is sexual but not only sexual. It is an exclusive commitment. And it is a commitment to a framework for living and loving, to a permanent blending of loves, a weaving of a fabric of life together, that embraces both moments of powerful intensity and the ‘everydayness’ of life.”

With new understandings of gender in the theological world, we can recognize that gender is not an essential factor in a marriage union.  Farley explains:

“For many, marriage is understood as between two persons, two equal persons. For each person, the gender of the other matters. But for the institution and sacrament of marriage, it need not matter. In a world where it would not matter whether persons were gay or straight, marriage would still be as important as it is today. Indeed, it might finally be as important as it should be.”

The real sacramentality of marriage, argues Farley, comes not from gender differentiation, procreation, or ritual, but in the ordinary living out of the commitment two people make to one another:

“The marital sacrament is in the event of covenanting, of ‘marrying,’ but is also in the life that continues from there. The grace of committed love – shaped and grounded in faith – is not all at once. The story of commitments is in their beginnings and in their end. But it is the ‘in between’ that counts the most. Like our lives in every respect, love has a past, a present and a future. The meaning of the past is in the present, and the meaning of the present will be revealed more fully only in the future. Time is within us. Hence, the Sacrament of Marriage is in the everyday, in the choices to ratify commitments, the efforts to grow in patience, understanding, forgiveness and the ‘little by little’ of welcoming love.

“All of this is true, or can be true, of same-sex marriages, as of all marriages. These same-sex marriages include imagining and making a world in which unjust discrimination ceases to exist. Their journeys perhaps require the courage to refuse to be outsiders, or to let ignorance and irrational bigotry threaten the hope for a better world. For this, they can hope in sacramental grace, and (because grace is not an automatic track to or guarantee of fuller life) they can work with this grace.”

Farley’s analysis provides a most Catholic evaluation of what is essential in marriage, and reflects the ways in which humankind has grown into a more equal and just view of persons, gender, and relationships.  It would be great if the bishops in synod could hear her analysis so that they could take this very holy and healthy view of relationships into consideration as they deliberate about pastoral care in the areas of marriage, sexuality, and family.

If you are a subscriber to The Tablet,  you can read the entire essay by Sister Margaret Farley by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


New Australian Archbishop Needs to Replace “Logic” With a Dose of Reality

September 24, 2014

The headline in Australia’s Star-Gazette newspaper was intriguing:  “No place for bigotry against gays in Catholic Church, says Sydney’s new archbishop.”  I was ready for some really good news, but my hope was dashed somewhat when I read the story.  I didn’t need to read very far.  The first sentence hurt enough:

“Sydney’s next top Catholic has told the Star Observer he will not stand for homophobia in the church, but he stopped short of distancing himself from comments made two years ago when he said same sex marriage would lead to polygamy.”

Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher

It might seem that Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher is a lot better than his predecessor, Cardinal George Pell, who in 2011, according to the newspaper, “compared homosexuality to the ‘flaw’ in a carpet maker’s otherwise perfect carpet.”  It is not so much Farmatta’s opposition to marriage equality which is so surprising or outrageous, but the way that he argues the case is disrespectful to gay and lesbian couples.

In a 2012 essay on same-sex marriage, Fisher raised the specter that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples will bring about polygamy:

“Now the social engineers have their sights set on removing the ‘man and woman’ part of marriage as well. All that will be left is marriage as an emotional union: it’s enough, as they say, that people love each other. But if marriage is just about feelings and promises, it obviously can’t be limited to a man and a woman: two men or two women might love each other. But on the same logic so might more than two.”

But he didn’t stop there, and he also predicted other travesties:

“If polygamy is irresistible on the ‘all that matters is that they love each other’ line, so is marriage between siblings or between a parents and their (adult) child. Once again this is not just ‘slippery slope’ pessimism: it simply reflects the fact that the advocates of SSM [same-sex marriage] give no account of marriage that would exclude such intimate partnerships from being deemed marriages. Only marriage understood as the kind of comprehensive union I have outlined can resist such ‘morphing.’ “

The simplest answer to this illogical thinking is:  “No one is asking for polygamous or incestuous relationships to be recognized.”   The marriage equality movement arose because there is a natural equality between the love that a gay or lesbian couple share and the love of a heterosexual couple.  The social goods from such love are also the same in both types of couples.  No one is saying the same thing about polygamous or incestuous relationships.  To make the comparison is not a logical argument, but fear-mongering.

But where the archbishop-elect’s line of thinking is most disrespectful by the fact that he sees the advent of marriage equality as a result of the sexual revolution, and not as a question of justice and liberation, as more and more Catholics have begun to see it. Embedded in this line of thinking is that all that matters to gay and lesbian people is to have their sexual relationship recognized.  That is simply not the case.  What they want recognized and protected is their love and commitment to one another, so that their partnership, which might include a family, can develop strongly, can protect their emotional and personal needs, and can contribute to the common good.

The Star-Gazette news article quoted Fisher’s statement on abhorring discrimination:

“Fisher added that he would not tolerate discrimination: ‘The Catholic Church teaches that God is love and that all He has created is good, God loves everyone and there is no place for hatred and bigotry in His Church towards people with same sex attraction.’ ”

Yet, in this very statement he shows, again, disrespect by using the term “same sex attraction” and not “gay and lesbian” which is how the overwhelming majority of such people identify.   If he wants to show that he is concerned about this community, the first thing he should do is to respect their self-identification.  Even Pope Francis uses the word “gay.”

Fisher, like many other members of the hierarchy, needs to learn that if he really wants to welcome LGBT people to the church, he needs to become more knowledgeable about their lives, the nature of their relationships, and about the real forms of injustice and inequality that they experience.  Too often such bishops think that they are being “compassionate,” when in fact, they are being unjust.

Fisher needs to replace his “logic” with a dose of reality.  His first line of business as archbishop should be to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics to learn about their faith journeys and their gifts.  I don’t think that someone like him is unreformable, but I think he needs to see how his “logical” arguments are, in fact, pastorally and personally harmful.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


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