Cardinal Schönborn Says Church Must Meet All Families Where They Are

A top cardinal has endorsed the idea that the church support all families, including those not considered traditional by the Magisterium’s standard.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna made his remarks while attending a conference in Ireland entitled, “Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family.” He told journalists, per The Catholic Herald: 

“Favouring the family does not mean disfavouring other forms of life – even those living in a same-sex partnership need their families. . .[Family is] the survival network of the future [and] will remain forever the basis of every society.”

Before the conference held in the city of Limerick, Schönborn addressed the idea of family as it relates specifically to Ireland, reported The Independent:

“‘Ireland is synonymous with family, a country that traditionally has had family at its core. . Second unions, divorce, same-sex unions; these are all part of a new narrative around the family in Ireland. So there is a lot of change and the church must show mercy in the context of that change. It must be willing to meet families where they are today.

“‘Ultimately, and this is certainly the case with Ireland, for all the crises in the institution of marriage the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people.'”

Schönborn added that “the weakening of family” threatens society and, as such, “Reinvigorating family is perhaps our great mission today.”

Schönborn’s comments are grounded in his understanding of moral theology. He expounded on this topic during his Irish visit, and Crux quoted the cardinal as saying, “Moral theology stands on two feet: Principles, and then the prudential steps to apply them to reality.” The report continued:

“The problem, he said, was that conscience came often to be seen merely as “the transposition of the Church’s teaching into acts” but in fact “the work of conscience is to discover that God’s law is not a foreign law imposed on me but the discovery that God’s will for me is what is best for me. But this must be an interior discovery.”

“He was ‘deeply moved’ when he read the famous paragraph 37 of Amoris, which complains that too often the Church fails to make room for the consciences of the faithful, and that the task of the Church is to ‘form consciences, not replace them.’

That meant understanding that people operated within constraints. . .’The bonum possibile in moral theology is an important concept that has been so often neglected,’ said Schönborn, adding: ‘What is the possible good that a person or a couple can achieve in difficult circumstances?'”

Grounding his remarks in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the cardinal summarized the document’s message as “marriage and family are possible today,” and said it was noteworthy that even when “everybody can get married. . .so many choose not to get married.”

About pastoral care to families, Schönborn said the reception of Amoris Laetitia is “a long process.” He criticized both rigorists and laxists “who have rapid, clear answers.” Accompaniment, the cardinal said citing St. Gregory the Great, “is an art and it needs training.” Indeed, he admitted the Synod on the Family and Amoris Laetitia were not a set of rules that would be applicable in all cases.

What is refreshing about Cardinal Schönborn’s remarks in Ireland is his willingness to admit reality, and then do theology from it amid life’s messiness rather than dictate from idealized models. Being the child of divorced parents likely helps his more merciful understanding of so-called irregular families. His desire to seek the good that is possible in all situations, including same-gender relationships, is too rare among church leaders.

Schönborn’s visit comes a year before Ireland hosts the 2018 World Meeting of Families, which could be accompanied by a papal visit. There may be no more fitting backdrop for the Catholic Church to consider family than Irish society, given its rapid changes, but this will only be true if church leaders are honest about the realities around them.

Hopefully, the next World Meeting of Families takes up Schönborn’s approach, and focuses on how the church can support all families instead of just those which fit the strict parameters of the Magisterium.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 21, 2017

Cardinal: Focus on Church’s Failure to Defend Gay Rights, Not Marriage Equality

In contrast to many Catholic leaders, a ranking German cardinal has said the church should be more concerned with the way lesbian and gay people are discriminated against than with marriage equality.

e81c5-kardinal-reinhard-marx
Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who heads the German Bishops’ Conference, made his remarks in an interview with Augsburger Allgemeine , a major Bavarian newspaper.

Marx rejected conservative church voices who have claimed that marriage equality will have dire social consequences in Germany after legislators approved lit earlier this month. While upholding the Magisterium’s heteronormative teaching on marriage, Marx chided critics, according to La Croix:

“‘[It is worth recalling] that the Church has not exactly been a trailblazer as far as the rights of homosexuals are concerned. We must express our regret that we did nothing to oppose homosexuals from being prosecuted. The law (which made homosexuality a crime) was not rescinded until 1994 (in Germany) and we, as a Church, did not concern ourselves with it.'”

Marx, who is a close advisor of Pope Francis, also commented on the key distinction between church and state, as it relates to lawmaking:

“‘The Christian position is one thing. It’s another thing to ask if I can make all the Christian moral concepts (state) laws. . .Whoever fails to understand that the one does not automatically lead to the other, has not understood the essence of modern society.'”

Pressed on this question by the interviewer, Marx reiterated his point that the church does not “simply want to mold our opinions into laws.”  Marx explained:

““We live in an open society in which there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and non-believers. In a secular society, the state must make laws that are valid for everyone.”

The interviewer also asked whether the passage of marriage equality proved the church had lost its influence in the public realm. Marx replied:

“‘Surely Christian influence doesn’t show itself only in laws, but in the everyday values that are lived in society. It is not merely a case of our influence but of those concerns, the Gospels oblige us as Christians to carry out. . .We don’t only lobby for the Church!'”

Marx did express support for a legal appeal before the nation’s Supreme Court, but interestingly his welcome of the appeal was so that it would “be good for legal peace in Germany.” This statement could imply that he would accept whatever the Court’s ruling might be.

The German bishops’ overall response to the legalization of marriage equality has been quite nuanced, and in such a way that it is a sign of positive change in the church. In his statement on the issue, Archbishop Heiner Koch disapproved of marriage equality while recognizing a need to protect same-gender couples who exhibit “mutual responsibility and care” in their relationships.

As for Cardinal Marx, his record on LGBT issues has been somewhat ambivalent but is increasingly positive. Last year, Marx said history had treated gay people badly, such that “as church and as society we have to say sorry.” During the Synod on the Family, he was one of the leading voices for greater welcome and pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people. He has also called for a re-thinking of sexual ethics around homosexuality which takes into account the reality of people’s lives and relationships.

At the same time, including in these most recent comments, Marx has continued to advance heterosexual couples as having a “special relationship, and firmly rejected the idea that same-gender relationships could be blessed in the church.

Nonetheless, it is very good news that a church leader as high-ranking as Cardinal Marx would publicly voice what so many Catholics have lived by for years: the church’s primary treatment of LGBT issues should come not from sexual ethics, but from social justice.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 18, 2017

Dear Bishop Paprocki: An Open Letter

As we reported in yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 post, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, has issued a wide-ranging decree barring lesbian and gay couples in civil marriages from communion, pastoral leadership, being granted funerals, among other things.  The following is an open letter to Bishop Paprocki in response to that decree from New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo.  

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him.  

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

 

Dear Bishop Paprocki,

Your “Decree Regarding Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ and Related Pastoral Issues” has been received by Catholics across the nation with one of the strongest negative reactions that I have witnessed in almost 25 years of ministry with the LGBT community in the Church.

While there have been many harsh and negative statements from church leaders over the past quarter century, I think the reason that people responded so emotionally to your edict is that it addresses two very core Catholic areas:  sacramental experience and life/death issues.

bishop_thomas_j_paprocki
Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Of all the responses that I have heard and read in just the last day–and they have been numerous–the directives you issued which have wounded people most deeply are your prohibition of communion reception by married lesbian and gay people, and your denial of funeral services to the same group.  Catholics just do not understand how such regulations correlate with a Church that preaches love and inclusion.

Most Catholics are well aware that you do not support civil marriage for lesbian and gay people and respect the legal right of Churches not to marry such couples. But Catholics do not understand how this one area of disagreement can lead to such draconian measures of exclusion–especially at times of death, loss, and grief.

Despite whatever good intentions may have motivated you to issue these regulations, you need to know they will, in fact, do no pastoral good, and they will wreak much pastoral harm.  You have not singled out any other group for such negative pastoral treatment.  It seems as if you consider civil same-sex marriage to be the ultimate sin, beyond the pale of any of the countless ways that human beings do not follow church teaching.

Regardless of whatever doctrines you think you are enforcing, the effect of such enforcement will be that more and more Catholics–gay, lesbian, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, and all in-between–will leave the Church because of the negative images of LGBT people and the Catholic Church that you have communicated.  And many will never return.

What’s more, the negative messages that you sent will be heard by many young people (and some who are not so young) who are struggling with their sexual and gender identities.  They will interpret this message as one more piece of evidence that the Church and God do not love them.  That message will move them many steps closer to psychological harm, self-destructive behaviors and tragically, for some, suicide.

Many gay and lesbian couples are leading lives of heroic devotion to each other, their children, and their communities.  Many, too, are leading lives of struggles and stumbles, where they are seeking support from churches.  Those couples who are Catholic seek nourishment for their spiritual and human journeys.  They seek a community where they can share and develop their faith through education, relationship, service, and ritual. They seek Eucharist.

Catholics, who are often very aware of how their lives in many ways do not conform to ideals that the church has presented them, are ready and eager to welcome these lesbian and gay couples into their communities and their hearts.  No Catholic, not even the pope who famously offered the primary definition of himself as a “sinner,” is perfect.  All fall short.  All depend on grace.  The many who seek grace through membership and participation in the Catholic Church should not be denied God’s free gift.

I hope and pray that you will reflect not only on the harm that this decree will cause but also the good that can occur if you withdraw it.  Please welcome lesbian and gay families back into the Springfield Diocese’s Catholic parishes.

Sincerely,

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, June 23, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion and Diversity Bring Unity, Not Schism

I read a commentary this past weekend about the Anglican Church and marriage equality, and one of the points made has me thinking about why the Roman Catholic hierarchy has been so negative on LGBT issues.

An essay by Alf McCreary in Northern Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph responded to the Church of England General Synod’s recent rejection of a bishops’ report re-affirming marriage is only between a man and a woman.  McCreary’s evaluation of the decision is:

“. . . [T]he Church is in a no-win situation. The latest developments in the Church of England , following a three-year process that had attempted to solve this most divisive issue, merely showed how difficult it is, if not impossible, to satisfy both sides.”

McCreary steps back a bit from the Anglican debate to look, somewhat wistfully it seems, at the Roman Catholic situation in regard to marriage equality:

“This [marriage equality] is one of the most difficult issues facing mainstream churches the world over. With the exception of the Roman Catholic Church – it is still firmly against same-sex marriage and gay ordination, despite the fact that many of its clergy and laity are gay and lesbian.

“The Catholic Church’s attitude is the easier to live with. Its overwhelming opposition to LGBT issues stifles open debate, and it presents on the surface at least a united opposition to change.”

I admit that I chuckled a bit when I read these lines, thinking to myself, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  But then I wondered if maybe McCreary might be onto something.  Is the Roman Catholic hierarchy just afraid that if they open the discussion on this issue that major confusion will break out in the Church?

I have to admit that I often assume that the reason Catholic leaders won’t discuss LGBT issues is because they believe that they know all there is to know and that they are right in their position. McCreary’s essay has me wondering if perhaps another motivation might also exist:  they don’t want division in the Church, which is what is happening in many other Christian denominations, including the Anglicans, who have had the courage to open a discussion.

The synods on the family in 2014 and 2015 are examples where open discussion was finally allowed in the Church, and bishops spoke their minds.  The world did not end.

Granted, LGBT issues received short shrift at the synods, but other contentious issues like divorce/remarriage did get more comprehensive discussions.  And disagreement was enormous, but the Church, as an institution, stayed strong. No schism happened.  In fact, the unity of the Catholic Church probably was strengthened by the discussion.

If Roman Catholic bishops and Vatican leaders think that they will contain the debate on LGBT issues by not providing it an official forum, they are sadly mistaken.  The discussion is happening in all areas and levels of the Church.  It has been going on for decades, even under the previous two popes who actively tried to silence the debate.  Stifling or ignoring the discussion are the things that endanger the unity of the Church, not participating in free and robust discussion.

The universal Christian Church, born on Pentecost, was born amid a diversity of languages, not a single, authoritative one.  The power of the Catholic Church, which claims to a universal one which embraces all cultures and languages, is in its diversity, not its uniformity.

The Catholic discussion of LGBT issues is blossoming and growing. The Spirit will not be silenced. If bishops choose not to be a part of it, they will be the ones who are diminished by their absence.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 20, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

NEWS NOTES: Peru, Britain, Poland, Virginia

News NotesHere are some items that might be of interest:

  1. In the heavily Catholic nation of Peru, a recent rise in progressive activism for LGBT equality was recently met with conservative groups organizing a “March for Heterosexual Pride,” according to an article on Towelroad.comSimilarly, in protest to a new sex education and gender equality curriculum, a new group called “Don’t Mess With My Children.”  The group opposes what they call “gender ideology,” a term favored by many Catholic conservative bishops and Pope Francis.

2. The British Medical Association’s new set of staff guidelines encourages employees not to use the term “expectant mothers,” but instead should refer to “pregnant people,” according to The Telegraph. The purpose of the terminology change is to not offend transgender and intersex men who can or have been pregnant.  Bishop Philip Egan, the Roman Catholic bishop of Portsmouth, England, predicted that the new terminology would cause “great confusion and harm.”

3. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said that he did not think the predominantly Catholic nation would accept a change in the Constitution to allow for same-sex marriage, according to TheNews.pl. Duda, a member of the ruling Law and Justice party, which promotes traditional Polish values, family and Catholic traditions, stated in an interview: “I do not think that the political majority today would agree to any amendment to the Constitution in this area, water down this clause and open interpretation that marriage could also include other genders.”  Poland is one of seven nations in the 28-member European Union which bans same-sex marriage, and one of six nations in the federation which does not allow civil unions.

4. The Senate of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the U.S.A., has approved a religious liberty bill that would prevent the government from punishing religious organizations which do not allow for same-sex marriage, according to The Christian Times.  The state’s House of Delegates also approved a similar bill.  Both bills appear to be in response to the executive order issued by Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Catholic, that prohibits state contracts from being given to organizations which do not have an anti-discrimination policy protecting sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Virginia Catholic Conference called the two bills “top priority” legislation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 19, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

 

Bishops’ Opposition to Civil Unions Helps Enact Marriage Equality

As the island nation of Taiwan in southeast Asia continues its debate of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples,  one Catholic opinion leader has entered the debate encouraging Catholic bishops to withhold their opposition to the measure.

Fr. Michael Kelly, SJ, executive editor of UCAnews.com, an Asian Catholic news service, penned an essay in the international Catholic publication La Croix, entitled “Civil law has nothing to do with Catholic sacraments.” While he does not endorse marriage equality, he makes a strong case that the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to legalizing the relationships of lesbian and gay couples does nothing to dissuade people and only helps to assure that marriage equality is enacted.

Fr. Michael Kelly, SJ

Kelly begins by declaring his amazement that Catholic bishops get involved with marriage equality debates in civil society.  He explains the reason for his amazement:

” . . . [T]he issue of how a secular state defines marriage has nothing to do with bishops or what is their area of focus and responsibility – the sacrament of marriage. The sacrament is a mystery that is regulated by the church’s internal system – the Code of Canon Law.

“But it is something to which a man and a woman have access if they are Catholics or one is marrying a Catholic and the non-Catholic is happy to be married according to Catholic rites. And it may or may not have civil significance – depending on whether the state recognizes a Catholic marriage as legally binding.”

Kelly describes civil marriage as a contract which has “only the most approximate relationship to what Catholics believe the sacrament is.”  He cautions the bishops against unjustly trying to impose Catholic morality on others:

“Catholics need to be very careful about agitating to have our morality legislated for all to abide by. In some instances advocating that Catholic morality become the law of the land would be deeply unjust. For example, agitating to have Catholic morality on divorce and remarriage become law applying across society, to Catholics and non-Catholics – would rightly seen as a violation of the human rights of the wider population. . . .To impose our morality on others is a misunderstanding of the proper jurisdiction of the church and the proper jurisdiction of the state.”

This last argument is a very important one when we consider how often bishops are asking that the Church’s religious liberty be protected.  If they want to make such a request, they also have to practice the virtue of allowing others in society to practice their own liberty, religious or secular, which includes the right to marry according to their consciences and community’s standards.

Kelly examines the varieties of ways that civil and religious marriages are legally connected or disconnected in various cultures and nations.  In some countries, even heavily Catholic ones, religious and civil marriages are totally separate, with separate ceremonies required for each. In other countries, religious officiants also serve as the legal officiant for marriage. And history has shown that in some places, only officially recognized national churches were allowed to marry a couple legally.

Because of this variety, Kelly argues for pluralism:

“With such a mixed history and so much contemporary variation, why do bishops the world over make the mistake of assuming they are the keepers of the treasures of marriage? Why do they get very upset when some things proposed that will apply to the majority of people in their societies and who in Asia mostly aren’t Catholics? Redefining marriage in no way limits or restricts Catholics from acting according to Catholic teaching on marriage? What is the basis of episcopal displeasure?

“The simple answer must be they seem to think we still live in Christendom where church morality should be law. That social and political paradigm ended for secular, pluralist democracies with the French Revolution over two centuries ago. And it never happened in countries in Asia.”

He also chastises bishops for opposing civil unions, noting that their strong opposition to such an arrangement often paves the way for legalizing marriage equality–the arrangement which they oppose more!  Kelly states:

“In some parts of the world, some bishops sought to have civil unions recognized as ‘the lesser of two evils’ – the other being gay marriage. But in almost every instance, successful opposition to civil unions among same sex couples led to the more highly developed gay marriage provisions applying in many jurisdictions.”

In the past, Bondings 2.0 has posted material about Catholics from both sides of the church’s political divide arguing for the separation of definitions for sacramental and civil marriages.   You can see those posts below.  Fr. Kelly’s argument, however, is the first that I have seen which makes the point that the bishops’ opposition to these measures works counter to their intentions and, in fact, facilitates the passage of marriage equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry,  December 10, 2016

Related posts:

Bondings 2.0:  Should Civil Marriage Be Separated from Sacramental Marriage?

Bondings 2.0: Separating Civil and Sacramental Marriage–Part 1

Bondings 2.0: Separating Civil and Sacramental Marriage–Part 2

 

 

 

VP Candidate Tim Kaine Says Catholic Church Will Accept Marriage Equality

New Ways Ministry heartily thanks Vice Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine for speaking with hope about the Catholic Church’s eventual acceptance of same-gender marriage. Kaine, a practicing Catholic, spoke the truth when he said that we should “celebrate” and not “challenge” God’s “beautiful diversity of the human family.”

According to Michael O’Loughlin of America magazine, Kaine, who describes himself as “a traditional Catholic,” addressed the Human Rights Campaign gala dinner, telling them “his support for same-sex marriage is driven in part by his Catholic faith, and that he expects the church could change its views like he did.”  O’Loughlin quoted the relevant parts of Kaine’s speech, in which the politician recounted how he changed his view to come to accept marriage equality.  Starting from a position of opposition, Kaine emerged as one of the Senate’s first supporters of same-gender marriage:

Tim Kaine speaking at Human Rights Campaign dinner

“Part of that reasoning came from his lifelong Catholic faith, which teaches that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. But Kaine’s opposition to same-sex marriage was challenged by relationships with friends and pressure from his children.

” ‘I knew gay couples as friends,’ he said. ‘I knew them to be great neighbors, I knew them to be great parents to beautiful kids.’

” ‘But I had a difficult time reconciling that reality with what I knew to be true from the evidence of my own life, with the teachings of the faith that I had been raised in my whole life,’ he said.

“Kaine said his family also helped convince him to back same-sex marriage, and he became one of the first U.S. senators to lend his support to the cause.

” ‘My three children helped me see the issue of marriage equality as what it was really about, treating every family equally under the law,’ he said.

But Kaine also had to wrestle with faith questions, but he noted that he believes that the Catholic Church will eventually come to embrace marriage for lesbian and gay couples:

“Kaine, who attends a primarily African-American Catholic parish in Richmond, Virginia, acknowledged that his “unconditional support for marriage equality is at odds with the current doctrine of the church I still attend.”

” ‘But I think that’s going to change, too,’ he said to applause, invoking both the Bible and Pope Francis as reasons why he thinks the church could alter its doctrine on marriage.

” ‘I think it’s going to change because my church also teaches me about a creator in the first chapter of Genesis who surveys the entire world including mankind and said it is very good, it is very good,’ he said.

” ‘Pope Francis famously said, “Who am I to judge?” ‘ Kaine continued, referencing the pope’s 2013 comment when asked about gay priests in the church.

” ‘To that I want to add, who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family?’ Kaine asked. ‘I think we’re supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it.’ “

Kaine’s sentiments are shared by millions of Catholics across the U.S. who heartily support marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, as poll after poll continues to show, including a recent Pew Research Center poll showing 70% of U.S. Catholics support marriage equality. As Kaine’s statement illustrates, Catholics support marriage equality because they are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic. Their training in the Catholic faith has taught them to respect difference and diversity, to value love and commitment, and to support and strengthen strong family ties.

Church history has shown time and again that important changes in the Church have always arisen from the bottom to the top, and not the other way around. So, it is only a matter of time before the church hierarchy begins to accept and affirm what Catholics like Tim Kaine already know: that love is love, and that all love is holy, for God is love.

Kaine’s candid admission that his own acceptance of marriage equality has been a journey for him was a courageous statement.  His experience of knowing families headed by lesbian and gay couples helped him see that they deserved equal treatment. This pattern of acceptance has been true for many Catholics, as they come to be aware of their gay and lesbian family members, co-workers, neighbors, and friends.

Catholic bishops and other church leaders need to follow Kaine’s example by opening their eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to the experiences of lesbian and gay couples and their families. Instead of being locked in an ivory tower, Catholic bishops need to do what the rest of the country and the world has been doing for decades: dialogue with lesbian and gay people so they can see they are not an enemy to be fought, but children of God, as are all human beings.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

WJBDRadio.com: “Tim Kaine: Donald Trump Is ‘No Friend’ of LGBT Community”

RawStory.com: “Tim Kaine says Catholic Church may change same-sex marriage stance”