Pope Francis Calling on African Bishops to Oppose LGBT Discrimination, Says Theologian

April 18, 2016
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Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator

More than a week after Pope Francis released Amoris Laetitia, his apostolic exhortation on family, new insights and analyses continue to be published.

Today, Bondings 2.o highlights several noteworthy contributions from theologians. Foremost among these is a Jesuit priest’s assertion that the document calls for change from African bishops who may support, or at least do not oppose, the criminalization of homosexuality.

Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J., a theologian based in Kenya, told the National Catholic Reporter  that the document was neither revolutionary nor disappointing. Applying Amoris Laetitia to an African context, Orobator said the document forcefully rejected LGBT discrimination, and should shake up the continent’s sometimes prejudiced episcopacy:

“Furthermore, on a continent where at least 38 countries criminalize homosexuality, the pope’s trenchant call for respect for human dignity, avoidance of unjust discrimination, aggression, and violence, and respectful pastoral guidance [paragraph 250], should galvanize the church in Africa to embrace wholeheartedly African families and their LGBT members who have been stigmatized, marginalized, and excluded from the life of the church. Church leaders need to dissociate themselves from governments and politicians who persecute gay people, and show example of respect for their dignity. In Africa, we say the church is “family of God,” implying that it welcomes all without discrimination. The preeminent mark of this church and the world church is hospitality. Clearly, Francis is calling the church in Africa to practice what it preaches by becoming a church that welcomes all into the family without discrimination.”

Orobator added that the document showed there was “long way to go before we actually make the bold steps that are long overdue” when it comes to sexual ethics and gender justice. But it is a “pastoral turn” and “much needed guide for the African church.” Orobator explained:

“In other words, the realization that the first task of the church is not merely to squabble over contested moral issues. . .We need to respect the diverse and complex reality of people’s situation — and avoid sweeping generalizations, hasty judgments, and damming labels.”

Many theologians did not comment specifically on LGBT issues, which received scant attention in the document, but these scholars’ insights about how Amoris Laetitia affects theology and pastoral praxis are easily applicable to LGBT issues despite Pope Francis’ omission of providing such applications.

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Massimo Faggioli

Massimo Faggioli of the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote in Commonweal, that the pope offered “almost complete silence” on homosexuality. Critical of the distance which has developed between the hierarchy’s teachings and theologians’ contributions, Faggioli suggested a manner by which Amoris Laetitia will impact the church, and help LGBT issues to move forward:

“Pope Francis has issued an exhortation that represents the first attempt by a pope to demonstrate how the episcopal collegiality of Vatican II is supposed to work. Relying heavily on the final synod reports of 2014 and 2015, the document takes into account the real and divisive debates that took place at the synod on the issues of family, marriage and divorce, and homosexuality.”

There were no clear victories on controversial issues, said Faggioli, but Pope Francis’ pastoral and practical way of engaging such issues is an “undeniable” change. In a separate article on Il Sismografo Faggioli, noted that part of this change was the pope’s contributions to building “a very inclusive ecclesiology.” This ecclesiology, or theology of the church, echoes Vatican II and Francis’ Latin American context in seeking a church which is synodal, collegial, and humble.

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Emily Reimer-Barry

Calling the document “wonderfully complicated,” Emily Reimer-Barry of the University of San Diego, writing at Catholic Moral Theology, said Amoris Laetitia was Pope Francis’ invitation to Catholics to live an adult faith:

“My overall take-away is that Pope Francis is saying it is time for lay people to discern their deepest values and take responsibility for living them out; we need to see church teaching for what it is—a complicated messy (even imperfect) tradition trying to form people to make healthy choices that are good for society. So this document becomes a celebration of conscience and a rejection of a legalistic paradigm.”

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Fr. James Bretzke

Instead of a church imposing laws, people of faith are asked to first know God’s love and then figure out how God invites them to respond in authentic ways. How one responds to God’s love is directly related one of the document’s foremost themes: conscience. Fr. James Bretzke, S.J. of Boston College noted in America that references to conscience doubled from the Synod’s 2015 final report. He continued:

“Though the word ‘conscience’ appears only 20 times in the Italian version of the exhortation, what the pope has given us is what I would call a “thick description” of what following a formed and informed conscience looks like in the concrete. While Pope Francis clearly believes there are few, if any, simple ‘recipes’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ concrete, absolute norms, neither does he fear that the attempt to discern what God is asking of us is impossible to find and put into practice.”

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David Cloutier

David Cloutier of Mount St. Mary’s University also commented on Amoris Laetitia‘s complexity, asking readers to engage these complexities rather than being satisfied with easy answers. He wrote in Commonweal:

“Yes, this document is ambiguous. Perhaps we as a Church can sense the opportunities possible if we live into that ambiguity, rather than prematurely close it down in one direction or the other.”

Cloutier’s call for the church to engage ambiguity, if applied to the lives, needs, and gifts of LGBT people, could be quite an opening. This insight is particularly true in regions where being openly gay or transgender still endangers one’s life. But since Catholic bishops sometimes support laws for LGBT people to be excluded and even jailed, the ambiguity could be used to continue church oppression of LGBT people.  For example, bishops in Malawi used a pastoral letter on mercy to call for LGBT people to be jailed. Such oppression will happen if bishops and pastoral agents reject Pope Francis’ wider call for mercy and  inclusion.  As general as this call is in the document, it could advance equality in the church.

How this document will be used to shape theology and pastoral practice around issues of sexual and gender identity remains uncertain. Despite initial disappointments, theologians seem to suggest there could be positive results if Catholics engage the text and set out to help transform their own lives and local communities.

You can read previous Amoris Laetitia reaction posts herehere,  and here. You can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Sydney Archdiocese In Marriage Equality Brouhaha Concerning Supportive Businesses

April 15, 2016
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Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P.

Reports have surfaced that the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, may have threatened to withdraw from businesses supportive of marriage equality, which is not yet legalized in that nation.  Actions by both Telstra, a telecommunications company, and the archdiocese seem to point toward some sort of agreement between the two entities regarding the upcoming marriage equality plebiscite. Mashable reported:

“According to The Australian, Archdiocese of Sydney business manager Michael Digges approached a number of companies who had given permission for their logo to be used in a newspaper advertisement in support of marriage equality in May 2015. . .He suggested the church could withdraw business from participating companies, including Telstra , which reportedly serves Catholic schools around Australia.”

Digges’ letter said corporations were “overstepping their purpose” in speaking publicly on this issue, and such acts should be “strongly resisted.” A further report from Business Insider claims former Telstra Chairwoman Catherine Livingstone met with Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher in October. Reporter Harry Tucker stated:

“The pair, who have both known each other for years, eventually came to a compromise. As part of that, Telstra would keep its logo on the Australian Marriage Equality page, but it would stop publicly campaigning around the issue.”

Telstra said there would be not further corporate involvement in the pro-equality campaign, other than their being listed as a supporter of the group Australian Marriage Equality.  Whether this decisiono is due to the Archdiocese’s letter is unconfirmed. For their part, Digges and the Archdiocese have denied any pressure was implied in the letter to businesses with whom the church partners.

LGBT advocates have been questioning church leaders’ precise role, if any, in Telstra’s backing away from seeking LGBT equality. The company’s customers, and Australians generally, have reacted quite negatively to this move. Shelley Argent, a mother and spokesperson for PFLAG, said the company was wrong, and the church “should be ashamed they’re even asking this,” reported the Herald Sun. Other customers said they may cancel their Telstra contacts over the matter.

Marriage equality is stalled in Australia’s Parliament despite 70% approval nationally and the support of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition leader Bill Shorten, who are both Catholic. Turnbull is holding fast to a plebiscite proposed by his predecessor Tony Abbot, another Catholic. Shorten recently called on Turnbull to hold the vote during the recalled parliament that begins this week.

Australians have criticized the plebiscite, promised by year’s end, as unnecessary since the overwhelming majority of Australians support marriage equality. Those critics include Fr. Frank Brennan, S.J., a law professor, who released on Facebook a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Turnbull. Brennan, writing against the plebiscite, explained some of the legal and political procedural complications:

“When the plebiscite vote is carried in favour of same sex marriage, as I am confident it will be, there will still be a need for our Parliament to legislate complex provisions protecting religious freedom and expanding the freedom to marry. It’s only a parliament, not a plebiscite, which can legislate the complex details of equality and the protection of all rights, including the right to religious freedom.”

Brennan also said the plebiscite would be “a waste of time” and “unleash torrents of hate on the gay and lesbian community.” Fr. Brennan’s projections seem likely given the Australian bishops’ heavily-criticized approach to opposing marriage equality, which has included using schoolchildren as messengers for an anti-equality pamphlet and using hyperbolic language about same-gender marriages.  Given Archbishop Fisher’s own negative record on LGBT issues and this recent incident between the Archdiocese and Telstra, it seems more than likely that any vote would negatively impact LGBT people.  Beyond the financial and political costs, it is time for church leaders to think foremost of the pastoral costs in mounting a hopeless campaign which aims only at causing further harm and division in an already wounded church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 



Pope Francis Makes Strong Statement Opposing Marriage Equality

January 24, 2016

In what may be his most explicit rejection of the legitimacy of same-gender marriage, Pope Francis rejected the notion that any new forms of legal unions for couples can be accepted,

In a speech to the Roman Rota, the Vatican tribunal which judges, among other things, marriage annulment requests, the pope said that the recent two synods on the family

“told the world that there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union”.

Pope Francis

Ansa.it reported the news, noting that the pope elaborated on his comments:

“The Church continues to propose marriage in its essentials – offspring, good of the couple, unity, indissolubility, sacramentality – not as ideal only for a few – notwithstanding modern models centered on the ephemeral and the transient – but as a reality that can be experienced by all the baptized faithful.”

PinkNews.co.uk reported that he also said:

“The family, founded on indissoluble matrimony that unites and allows procreation, is part of God’s dream and that of his Church for the salvation of humanity.”

As noted by several journalists, what makes the pontiff’s comments even more significant is that they come just as the Italian parliament is debating a bill to allow civil unions for lesbian and gay couples.

John Allen, writing at Crux, agreed that the timing of the pope’s speech in relation to the Italian bill is significant, but he also noted that it could also show that Francis will not be liberalizing rules about annulments or communion for divorced/remarried Catholics.

Allen wrote:

“The pope’s comments also suggested an important dose of perspective on his recent reform of the annulment process, intended to make it faster, easier to navigate, and cheaper. In effect, Francis seemed to be saying that what he wants is a more user-friendly system, but not necessarily a looser one.”

After reviewing the main points of the speech, Allen commented:

‘. . . .it does not suggest a pope who finds the present discipline on marriage unrealistic, or one who believes that the grounds for annulling a marriage need to be significantly expanded.”

While the pope has opposed political initiatives for same-gender marriage (he spoke out specifically on the matter when it was being discussed in Slovakia and Slovenia),  his latest statement may be his most specific statement on the matter as a theological topic.

Is this latest speech an indication that the pope will take a more conservative approach to LGBT issues in his anticipated response to the synods on family?  Clearly, it indicates that he will not be supporting marriage equality as a political or ecclesial option.  But that was never something that anyone expected from his synod response.  In discussing LGBT issues, the synods did not touch on the definition of marriage in the Church’s discourse, so it was unlikely that there would be any progress in that regard in the pope’s response.

But the synods did talk about pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people and their families. I think there is a good chance that Pope Francis will be generous in regard to pastoral ministry for LGBT people.  Almost all of his previous statements on pastoral ministry indicate that he sees it as an important step for church leaders to take.  Moreover, his personal witness, such as meeting with his former student who is in a committed gay relationship, indicates that he could very much encourage church leaders to follow his example.  Pope Francis’ actions often speak louder than his words.

His clear statement against marriage equality in the midst of a political debate about civil unions in Italy, however, is very disappointing.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

 

The Guardian: “Pope Francis defends ‘traditional’ marriage ahead of Italy civil unions vote”


Married Gay Catholics Chosen as “Persons of the Year”

December 29, 2015
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Michael DeLeon and Greg Bourke

Married gay Catholics Greg Bourke and Michael DeLe­on were chosen as Persons of the Year by the National Catholic Reporter for their role in the U.S. Supreme Court case which led to marriage equality’s legalization across the nation last June.

Bourke and DeLeon were plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that marriage rights should be extended to lesbian and gay couples.

NCR‘s editors said this ruling was among the “truly important, history-changing events, events that will touch future generations intimately and profoundly.” Catholic responses have ranged from some bishops who decried the decision, to some bishops made welcoming statements to lesbian and gay people, to exuberant LGBT advocates who had worked for years for this outcome. But whatever the response, the legal question of marriage equality is now a settled matter in the U.S.

What is less settled are how cultures and churches are changing as people in same-gender marriages become more well-known. The editorial cited theologian Lisa Fullam’s response to the Obergefell ruling, which in her estimation strongly echoed Catholic teachings on marriage. Fullam said church leaders should “take note of the powerful spirit of love and commit­ment vivifying lesbian and gay marriages as well as straight marriages.” Eventually, “acceptance will replace fear,” but until then the editorial continued:

“Today, we address a more fundamental issue: How will we as a church live with our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters? We are past the time of ‘love the sinner’ platitudes.”

Bourke and DeLeon, who are Catholic, are “emblematic” of these challenges in the Catholic Church. By their existence as a married same-gender couple who practice their faith, “they force us to ask not how will we live out a hypothetical situ­ation, but how will we live with Greg and Michael.” Current answers by the church are, in the editors’ words, “confused, uneven and often cruel” and LGBT Catholics deserve better.

Indeed, the couple’s involvement challenging Kentucky’s marriage equality ban came out of Greg Bourke’s expulsion as a local Boy Scout leader because the troop was hosted by a Catholic parish. Bourke remains barred from leadership despite the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to accept gay leaders because Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville refused to accept that decision.

NCR’s editors further highlighted the discrimination faced by LGBT church workers, writing:

“Bourke and DeLeon are lucky in that they are only parishioners and volunteers. Their livelihoods do not depend on the institutional church. In 2015, at least 10 church employees in the United States lost their jobs because of sexual orientation. . .In most cases, their orientation and even their partners were known by the community. They expe­rienced no difficulties until they entered civil mar­riages.”

Church workers’ rights are, as this blog noted yesterday, a preeminent issue with which Catholic communities must grapple in 2016, the Year of Mercy. The editorial noted that even Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, who repeatedly calls for LGBT Catholics’ consciences to be respected, is facing two discrimination claims from terminated church workers.

The Catholic Church’s response to marriage equality’s ongoing expansion is troublesome. The presence of sexual and gender diverse Catholics in the Church requires that we review pastoral ministry, employment policies, doctrinal teachings, and deeply rooted identities . Their lives and their love demands of Catholics that our faith communities abide by the principles we preach and that our church universal lives with greater fidelity to the Gospels.

I have to add that, in and of itself, it is significant that the leading U.S. Catholic newspaper chose a married gay couple as their Persons of the Year in 2015. This was a year with few comparisons for U.S. Catholics, which included major events like the papal visit in September, and the Synod on the Family in October. That the National Catholic Reporter chose lay Catholics who remain, in many ways, on the margins of our church is a positive step towards a less hierarchical and more inclusive church.

Greg Bourke, Michael DeLeon, and the many, many faithful LGBT Catholics who bear witness to the true sanctity of marriage are hopeful signs for the coming year! It is so good that they have been recognized so prominently.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Slovenia Rejects Marriage Equality with Pope Francis’ Blessing

December 22, 2015
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Pope Francis

Slovenians rejected equal marriage and adoption rights for same-gender couples in Sunday’s national referendum, an outcome encouraged by Pope Francis who opined on the vote last week.

63.5% of voters rejected the marriage equality law approved by Parliament last March, which had defined civil marriage as the union of two adults and equalized adoption rights reported the Associated Press. LGBT opponents acted quickly to the law’s passage, with a church-supported group called “Children Are At Stake” gathering nearly 40,000 signatures to file for the referendum. Slovenia is 60% Catholic, and it remains conservative on LGBT issues despite being more socially progressive than other post-Soviet nations.

LGBT-negative voices received a boost from Pope Francis during his Wednesday audience the week before Slovenia’s referendum. According to The New Civil Rights Movement, Francis told the general audience which included Slovenian pilgrims:

“I wish to encourage all Slovenians, especially those in public capacity, to preserve the family as the basic unit of society.”

This is not Pope Francis’ first time using a general audience to weigh in on marriage equality. In February, the pontiff endorsed an effort in Slovakia to ban equal marriage and adoption rights, as well as parental consent laws regarding sexual education in schools. In that case, the vote failed.

The pope’s interventions raise at least two issues for me.

First, Pope Francis’ language was similar in both appeals by focusing on the family as the “basic unit” or “vital cell” of society. Like many LGBT advocates, I agree with this sentiment, and I believe strengthening families is key for the common good. Strengthening this basic unit is precisely what expanding family law to include same-gender couples and their children does. Denying equal rights only undermines families. Pope Francis may be relying upon debunked sociological data frequently employed by anti-LGBT voices. Regardless, it appears he needs to update his understanding of LGBT families today (which have been noticeably absent from the institutional church’s ongoing reflections about family life in the last two years).

Second, why is Pope Francis endorsing political campaigns in Slovenia and Slovakia while foregoing similar interventions elsewhere. Certainly, the pope must contextualize his remarks. But he said nothing about marriage equality during his visit to the U.S., despite the bishops’ likely desires that he condemn Obergfell.  Moreover, he avoided LGBT criminalization completely when in Kenya and Uganda recently. Such selective remarks may be coincidence, but they may also reveal Pope Francis to be appeasing different audiences when it comes to LGBT issues. Preaching mercy to some audiences while simultaneously encouraging other audiences to deny equal rights is disingenuous at best.

Legislators with the United Left party in Slovenia said the referendum is merely a setback, with MP Violeta Tomic saying, “Sooner or later the law will be accepted.” In the meantime, LGBT Slovenians will remain second-class citizens without access to marriage or adoption rights, due in part to Pope Francis’ intervention against equality. This is not a hopeful start for the Year of Mercy in terms of LGBT human rights and the pope.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Church Sign About Jesus’ Two Dads Draws Anti-Gay Critics

December 14, 2015
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Sign outside Ss. Columba-Brigid Church

“Jesus had 2 dads and He turned out just fine” read a Catholic church’s sign which has drawn criticism from those concerned it could promote acceptance of gay parents.

Saints Columba-Brigid Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York, intended for the sign to be a message of welcome to children with a father and stepfather, according to the pastor, Fr. Roy T. Herberger. He found it in a Google search for “funny church signs” and hoped this particular message would welcome those in non-traditional families.

Having spent nearly five decades in ministry, Herberger has encountered many children made to feel less worthy because of their family structure. He told the Buffalo News:

” ‘My only purpose was to say, “Look, hang in there. People understand what you’re going through. Don’t give up on yourself.” ‘ “

Herberger said he was thinking specifically of children in the parish with both a father and a stepfather, and in other non-traditional family groupings. He explained to Yahoo! News, speaking of his inclusive message in signs and in homilies, that:

” ‘They are a challenge to be more open to the teachings of Christ. . .his openness, his acceptance, his love. . .That sometimes gets covered over by church traditions, rules, and regulations.’ “

Buffalo’s Bishop Richard Malone mandated the sign’s removal after claiming that he received critical calls from “around the world.” Despite the pastor’s explanation of his intention for the sign, Malone said the possibility that this inclusive message “be misunderstood and even perceived in a heretical way” necessitated its removal.

Parishioners have generally supported Fr. Herberger, who said the only complaints he received were from outside the parish because those inside know his intentions. Margaret McGrath, a parishioner who directs the church’s Family Resource and Advocacy Center, said the priest was both the “true spirit of the Catholic Church” and “Pope Francis among us.” Buffalo News reported:

“Herberger recently gave a homily encouraging the church’s flock to be accepting of all loving relationships, McGrath said, and she saw the sign as an extension of that pulpit message.”

Petra Fontanez, a parishioner who was a single mother, said she does not always feel accepted in church settings, but this message helped her feel welcome.

This incident is, sadly, another incident where a highly vocal minority attempts to stymie local Catholics’ efforts towards mercy and inclusion. The truism “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” comes to mind. Everything, it seems to LGBT-negative activists, is tied to their negative narrative about LGBT families.

Whether the sign refers to same-gender parents or stepparents or grandparents really doesn’t matteer. Nontraditional families, rather than nuclear families,are increasingly normative. Fr. Herberger’s decision to reach out to the margins of his own parish is pastorally wise and in keeping with Pope Francis’ desires for the church in this Year of Mercy.

The sign in dispute is funny and welcoming, but it also reveals a deeper truth. Jesus was born into a most nontraditional family. When the church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family in a few weeks, a reminder that it is love which defines family, Fr. Herberger should consider what message about family to include on the church’s sign. I suggest he do a repeat: “Jesus had 2 dads and He turned out just fine.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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