Why doesn’t Pope Francis seem to fully “get it” when it comes to LGBT issues?
Kaya Oakes, writing at Religion Dispatches, tried to answer this knotty question. She believes that those who hoped the pope would become a “staunch LGBTQ ally in three years of papacy were probably setting their sights too high.” Instead, she has a theory to explain his contradictory messages:
“The pope and the Catholic church are both on a learning curve, scrambling to keep up with the larger social acceptance of LGBTQ people in many Western nations. Francis is, after all, a 79-year-old Argentine, and sometimes his ideas about gender reflect his complexresponses to the pervasive machismo of the Latin American culture in which he was raised. . . .
“As with many members of his generation, his struggle to understand the realities of LGBTQ life has been one of small steps forward, large steps back.”
Oakes also attributes the pope’s more open, dialogic style to his training as a Jesuit:
“. . . [Many Jesuits also train in spiritual direction, which is a guided one-on-one conversation about faith. Jesuits often teach and write in addition to working in pastoral ministry during their formation, all practices that involve a fair amount of back and forth with people from all over the Catholic spectrum. Rather than ‘either/or,’ Jesuits like to talk about ‘both/and,’ another invitation to dialogue.
“With that background as a Jesuit, it’s no wonder that the pope often follows broader sweeping statements about gender and sexuality with pastoral stories.”
This dichotomy of being socially/sexually conservative on one hand, and open to discussion and dialogue on the other creates confusion when trying to figure out where the pope stands on LGBT issues. Oakes used the recent example of the pope’s remarks about “gender ideology” in a speech, which were followed up two days later by a call for more pastoral understanding for LGBT people. She commented:
“. . .[I]t would seem that Pope Francis was trying to have it both ways: condemning the ‘ideological colonization’ of children supposedly being taught they can choose their gender (rather than trying to understand how some people are born feeling trapped in the wrong one), and also putting the emphasis yet again on the Jesuitical notions of dialogue and accompaniment.”
Oakes also cites Fr. James Martin, SJ, who explained Pope Francis’ comments from a non-USA perspective:
“Martin . . . emphasized how much Francis is trying to speak to a global church. ‘Imagine reading this [in the Global South] and even parts of Europe where a bishop or a priest may be antipathetic to LGBT people,’ where for more conservative clergy, this emphasis on walking with LGBTQ people ‘is quite a challenge.’ “
But Oakes comes down on the side of cutting the pope some slack, noting that he is way ahead of his predecessors on LGBT issues. She concludes her essay by positing a very important choice fo our church has to make:
“We will either learn to walk with one another, or we will be forced by dogma to condemn one another. That is the choice both we and the pope have to make.”
Oakes’ essay is a good reminder that we can’t just take Pope Francis’ message from the surface of his words, but there is a need to look at context, influences, and even intended audiences.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 24, 2016
One of the strongest pro-gay voices to emerge at the synod in October 2014 was Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and a member of Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisers. Time and again during the meeting in Rome last year, Marx made several statements which indicated that he is eager for a more welcoming and open approach to lesbian and gay people in the Church.
America magazine’s website has just published an interview with Cardinal Marx, conducted by Luke Hansen, S.J.,a former associate editor of America, and a student at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, California. The interview was done following Marx’s delivery of the Roger W. Heyns Lecture at Stanford University, California, on January 15th. It’s an amazing document, and I strongly recommend reading it in the entirety to get a fuller sense of Cardinal Marx’s mind. You can access it by clicking here.
I’ve excerpted the sections from the interview which deal with lesbian and gay issues, and have offered some commentary, too.
Marx was asked to comment on his statement during the synod that he had to admit that there was value in “the case of two homosexuals who have been living together for 35 years and taking care of each other, even in the last phases of their lives.” Hansen asked him “What have you learned from these relationships and does it have any bearing on sexual ethics today?”
“When speaking about sexual ethics, perhaps we must not begin with sleeping together, but with love, fidelity and the search for a life-long relationship. I am astonished that most of our young people, and also Catholic homosexuals who are practicing, want a relationship that lasts forever. The doctrine of the church is not so strange for people. It is true.”
Though he acknowledges that the Church officially does not equate heterosexual and homosexual relationships, Marx affirms lesbian and gay committed couples:
“The church says that a gay relationship is not on the same level as a relationship between a man and a woman. That is clear. But when they are faithful, when they are engaged for the poor, when they are working, it is not possible to say, ‘Everything you do, because you are a homosexual, is negative.’ That must be said, and I have heard no critic. It is not possible to see a person from only one point of view, without seeing the whole situation of a person. That is very important for sexual ethics.”
His answer brings to mind the terrible scourge of firings of LGBT people from Catholic institutions over the past few years. Marx’s way of
thinking points to an approach which examines a person’s entire life, not just their sexuality, when determining a moral evaluation of them. In particular, his comments remind me of Colleen Simon, who by all accounts was an effective and compassionate social justice minister who ran a food pantry at a parish, yet was fired when it became inadvertently public that she had married her female partner.
Marx’s answer to another question touches on another tragic trend here in the U.S. church: the denial of communion to lesbian and gay people. In answering a question about both divorced/remarried and lesbian/gay people, Marx sees sacramental withholding as a terribly wrong pastoral strategy:
“The Eucharist and reconciliation are necessary for people. We say to some people, ‘You will never be reconciled until your death.’ That is impossible to believe when you see the situations. I could give examples. In the spirit of ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ we have to see how the Eucharist is medicine for the people, to help the people. We must look for ways for people to receive the Eucharist. It is not about finding ways to keep them out! We must find ways to welcome them. We have to use our imagination in asking, ‘Can we do something?’ Perhaps it is not possible in some situations. That is not the question. The focus must be on how to welcome people.”
While clearly advocating for greater openness to lesbian and gay people and relationships, it is important to note that Marx, while progressive, is not ready to challenge the teachings of the Church regarding marriage and sexual relationships. In answer to a question about Belgium Bishop Johan Bonny’s call for the Church to bless committed lesbian and gay relationships, Marx answered:
“I said in the synod that Paul VI had a great vision in ‘Humanae Vitae.’ The relationship between a man and a woman is very important. The sexual relationship in a faithful relationship is founded on the connection of procreation, giving love, sexuality and openness to life. Paul VI believed that this connection would be destroyed. He was right; see all the questions of reproductive medicine and so on. We cannot exclude this great model of sexuality, and say, ‘We have diversity,’ or ‘Everybody has the right to….’ The great meaning of sexuality is the relationship between a man and a woman and the openness to give life. I have also previously mentioned the question of accompanying people, to see what people are doing in their lives and in their personal situation.”
This answer gives us an insight not only into the mind of Cardinal Marx, but, I think, into the mind of Pope Francis. Neither, it seems, are willing to call for a change to the church’s doctrine on sexuality, but both seem eager to allow for two dynamics which may, eventually, have an impact on changing doctrine: pastoral outreach in the form of welcome and accompaniment; greater discussion and dialogue on these matters. At one point in the interview, Marx says the following about theological discussion:
“I have the impression that we have a lot of work to do in the theological field, not only related to the question of divorce, but also the theology of marriage. I am astonished that some can say, “Everything is clear” on this topic. Things are not clear. It is not about church doctrine being determined by modern times. It is a question of aggiornamento, to say it in a way that the people can understand, and to always adapt our doctrine to the Gospel, to theology, in order to find in a new way the sense of what Jesus said, the meaning of the tradition of the church and of theology and so on. There is a lot to do.”
And in another spot, he discusses pastoral outreach:
“It is best to read ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’ Some people say, ‘We don’t know what the pope is really wanting.’ I say, ‘Read the text.’ It does not give magical answers to complex questions, but rather it conveys the path of the Spirit, the way of evangelization, being close to the people, close to the poor, close to those who have failed, close to the sinners, not a narcissistic church, not a church of fear. There is a new, free impulse to go out. Some worry about what will happen.”
Marx seems to agree with Pope Francis in one other way: both are cautionary that the 2015 will not bring about change in the church’s doctrine. Marx declares that the synod is more of a deliberative exercise than a decision-making body:
“It is very important that the synod does not have the spirit of ‘all or nothing.’ It is not a good way. The synod cannot have winners and losers. That is not the spirit of the synod. The spirit of the synod is to find a way together, not to say, ‘How can I find a way to bring my position through?’ Rather: ‘How can I understand the other position, and how can we together find a new position?’ That is the spirit of the synod.
“Therefore it is very important that we are working on these questions. I hope that the pope will inspire this synod. The synod cannot decide; only a council or pope can decide. These questions must also be understood in a broader context. The task is to help the people to live. It is not, according to ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ about how we can defend the truth. It is about helping people to find the truth. That is important.”
While Marx may be technically correct about the synod, let’s not downplay the tremendous public relations effect that a synod can have. Last October’s extraordinary synod may not have made any decisions, but it did reveal that there are several voices in the hierarchy who did not agree with John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s approach to lesbian/gay people, and other questions about marriage and family.
Cardinal Marx and Pope Francis are not where we might like them to be on lesbian and gay issues, but there openness to pastoral care and greater discussion could pave the way for greater changes down the road.
Yesterday, May 17th, was the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. In Italy, at least 11 of the prayer vigils for this day to show opposition to oppression against sexual and gender minorities were hosted by Catholic parishes, including at least one basilica. In this most Catholic of nations, it seems, some people take seriously the church’s teaching condemning discrimination, prejudice, and violence against LGBT people.
Catholic support for this important church teaching is relatively minor among the Catholic hierarchy here in the United States. Our leaders here tend to ignore the fact that the church teaches that lesbian and gay people must be accepted with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” While they may often express that sentiment in words, they are less likely to take any action whatsoever to show that they truly accept that teaching. Instead, they tend to focus only on the church’s sexual teachings.
Jesuit Father James Martin, a well-known writer and lecturer, examines this dilemma in a column in America magazine this week. His essay is well-worth reading in full, and you can do so by clicking here. In this blog post, I will comment on some excerpts from the essay.
Martin tries to explain to his audience why so many gay and lesbian people feel that the Catholic Church hates them. He states:
“Let me suggest a reason beyond the fact that many gays and lesbians disagree with church teaching on homosexual acts: only rarely do opponents of same-sex marriage say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin. The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, ‘We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.’ Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, ‘We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.’ With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.”
I agree with him, and I would go even a little further: no other group in the church is discussed primarily in terms of sex as gay and lesbian people are. I would imagine that in terms of sheer power of sexual urgency and desire, adolescents and young adults are probably the people most interested in sexual activity out of the entire human population. Yet, church leaders do not always refer to sexual temptation when they discuss or welcome young people to the church, as they do with gay and lesbian people. The focus of youth ministry in dioceses and parishes is not on sexual behavior, as some dioceses and parishes would like gay and lesbian outreach to be. Young people’s concerns are not shunned or ignored because it might seem to give the indication that church leaders are approving of non-marital sexual activity, yet that is routinely done to gay and lesbian people. Indeed, the highest office of the church offers World Youth Day to let young people know that they are welcome in the Church. Where is World LGBT Day?
In addition to being thought of primarily as sinners, lesbian and gay people resent that they are thought of primarily as sexual, as if no other aspect of their life mattered, and as if that was the primary factor defining their lives.
Martin offers the gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) as a model for how church leaders can approach gay and lesbian people. He analyzes the important features of this story about Jesus welcoming a much reviled tax collector:
“Notice that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus even before the man has promised to do anything. That is, Jesus loves him first, by offering to dine with him, a powerful sign of welcome in that time. Jesus does not say, ‘Zacchaeus, you’re a sinful person because you’re gouging people with taxes collected for the oppressive occupying power, but even though you’re a public sinner, I love you anyway.’ He simply loves him—first.
“The story of Zacchaeus illustrates an important difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus. For John the Baptist, conversion came first, then communion. First you repent of your sins; then you are welcomed into the community. For Jesus, the opposite was more often the case; first, Jesus welcomed the person, and conversion followed. It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving.
“This is the kind of welcome that LGBT people want from the church. It is the kind of welcome that all people want from the church. LGBT people want this kind of welcome not because they are a special category of sinners, but, because they are, like most people, average, garden-variety sinners. Pope Francis illustrated this profound human reality last September during his groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit magazine. When asked who Jorge Bergoglio is, the pope answered, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
Martin concludes with some tips about how the church can show its love for gay and lesbian people more deeply:
“First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ.”
While, yes, I agree with Martin here, there is also a sense of regret upon reading the passage because for the past two years we have been witnessing dismissals of LGBT people from church employment, a total devaluing of their gifts and personhood. Yes, this type of welcome is urgently needed, not just for a positive message, but to correct the terribly negative message that firings have sent.
It’s important, too, that LGBT people’s spiritual gifts are also acknowledged and affirmed. The particular journeys that LGBT people go on to accept, affirm, and announce their identities to others often results in incredible spiritual gifts that are not as readily attained by others. For instance, their journeys often provide them with a strong sense about telling the truth, a deep reservoir of courage to stand up to fear and rejection, a profound sense of God’s love, and a new respect for the primacy of their consciences. Amazing gifts that they can offer to the rest of the church!
As Fr. Martin concludes, they are indeed an important part of the Body of Christ.
Pope Francis’ comments on accepting gay priests has rocked the Catholic world, yet even progressive Catholics disagree on the import of his statement. Was it just a change of tone, not substance? Was it too little, too late? Will he follow through with action or was this statement just for show?
Various commentators took different approaches to the statement. Here’s a sampling of some of their thoughts.
Here at New Ways Ministry, we welcomed the statement, seeing it as a sign of hopeful things to come:
“Pope Francis’ statement on accepting and respecting gay priests is a clear sign that this pope will be taking a more conciliatory approach to LGBT issues than his immediate predecessors have done.
“Unlike John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who approached LGBT topics through the lens of sexuality and sin, Pope Francis is signaling a new direction which is based on the Catholic principles of human dignity, respect, and social integration. Benedict had issued an instruction to bishops not to accept gay candidates for the seminary, a policy that was being considered under John Paul’s papacy. Both previous papacies were noted for their virulent opposition against LGBT issues.
“Some will say that Francis’ statement is not enough, that he still refers to sins of homosexuals, but I think the important thing is the question of emphasis. Even if he doesn’t drop the sin language, this is still a major step forward, and one that can pave the way for further advancements down the road. Change in the church is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Though this statement is not the change which many of us hope for, that is, the full equality of LGBT people in our church, it is a necessary first step toward that change. Most importantly, it shows that Pope Francis is open to dialogue on this matter, and not simply follow the harmful obstinacy of his predecessors.”
Noted author and commentator Jesuit Father James Martin, had total praise for the pope’s comments, noticing an important linguistic development:
“To my mind, Pope Francis’s brief comment on gays reveals great mercy. That mercy, of course, comes from Jesus Christ. And we can never have enough of it. The Pope’s remarks also are in line with the Catechism, which teaches that gays should be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’ But gays were not the only group to be shown mercy in the Pope’s brief in-flight interview. The Pope also asked for greater compassion for divorced and remarried Catholics, a group that has long felt marginalized in the church, and called for a “deeper theology” on the role of women in the church. Today Pope Francis has, once again, lived out the Gospel message of compassion for everyone.
“The lesser-noticed change in the Pope’ revolutionary words during his in-flight interview was, at least according to the translation in the Italian-language ‘Vatican Insider,’ the use of the word ‘gay,’ which is traditionally not used by popes, bishops or Vatican officials. This is a sea change.”
“Pope Francis today uttered some of the most encouraging words a pontiff has ever spoken about gay and lesbian people. In doing so, he has set a great example for Catholics everywhere.
“The pope has rejected the harsh language of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for a compassionate approach and a pastoral tone. Lesbians and gays are no longer a “threat to civilization,” rather they are people of faith and good will.
“Catholic leaders who continue to belittle gays and lesbians can no longer claim that their inflammatory remarks represent the sentiments of the pope.”
“. . . Francis may have become the first pope in history to offer a ‘who am I to judge’ response to a question about gay and lesbian people. . . “
But Clarke also urged caution, while at the same time noting the importance of the papal shift:
“His words certainly signal a shift in tone from Rome on gay and lesbians; will they also mean a change in current policies regarding, for instance, gay men in the priesthood?
“His citation of current catechism on the treatment of gay and lesbian people was not revolutionary in any sense; what startles may be the spectacle of a pope saying anything out loud on the matter and stressing the importance of church teaching on the human dignity of gay and lesbian people.
“Francis was also asked why he did not spend much time speaking about abortion or gay marriage during his trip (church teaching is already clear, he said) and about the difficulties of divorced and remarried Catholics. ‘I believe this is a time of mercy, a change of epoch,’ the pope said. He said the group of eight cardinals tasked with reform will explore the issue of whether divorcees can receive Communion.”
“I’ve joined the chorus of those praising this truly palpable breath of fresh air in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is welcomed change in style. How will his bishops here in the US react, especially to the comments about not judging gays, finding roles for women, and welcoming back the marginalized? The Pope, it seems, will lead by example. Will his bishops follow? What concrete steps will Catholic leaders take to change the atmosphere of the church?
“A friend IM’ed this morning, asking if this news was a big step for the church. Yes and no, I said. Yes, it’s certainly huge that a pope has spoken about gays in a nonjudgmental, loving way. The pope’s words may inspire others to alter their own speech and behavior. No, because we wait for change, for signs that this is indeed more than an off the cuff remark. But for now, I’ll stick with yes. Yes, this is hope, and hope is huge.”
“If he didn’t mean to suggest a new Catholic teaching on homosexuality, should he have plainly said so? Would that have been in keeping with his image in some quarters as being bluntly honest? Or does he believe that a little dose of mixed signals is justified in order to ease the bitterness that has been swirling around the issue? . . .
“It’s too early in the papacy to know for sure, but worth noting perhaps that the same patina of double speak characterizes the major issues Francis addresses. Is he the “repair the crisis” pope who sees his mission as reviving church spirits before unloading some concrete, contentious re-designs, or a public relations pope whose effort is to recast the profile of Catholicism without following through on vague suggestions that things will substantially change? . . .
“A lot of what the appealing and intriguing pope said could be seen as a plea to keep young people — any Catholics — from crossing the street to the Pentecostal churches known for their warm embrace, empowering of lay people and live-wire worship. While genuine ecumenism is out of fashion and was nowhere to be seen, neither did the pope directly bash the Pentecostal rivals. But the signs of distress over massive defections could be heard in his urgent appeals to wavering Catholics to ‘stay home.’ On that there was no ambiguity.”
Writing personally, William Lindsey, who blogs at Bilgrimage.blogspot.com, felt that the pope’s words did not make up for the years of pain inflicted by church leaders:
“. . . I’m critically aware that for many Catholics, including many LGBT Catholics, the conversation about these matters has now moved light-years beyond the question of whether “homosexuals” . . . . should be included, welcomed, and treated with respect. And so I wonder how we can have a meaningful and honest conversation about these matters, if we pick up this conversation at the point of the pope’s comments and don’t acknowledge what many Catholics have been saying and thinking about these matters for a long time now.
“And there’s also this: for many of us, the actual experience of dealing with fellow Catholics and Catholic leaders who have been intent–quite precisely–for decades now on judging and marginalizing us solely because we’re gay results in a kind of deafness that makes us unable to hear Francis’s liberating, gospel-centered words with much hope or joy at all. Because we’re now so beaten up from our encounter with our church, its leaders, and many of our fellow Catholics, that we’re inured to hopelessness.
“Scars stand between us and our ability to receive a loving embrace from the community that has created those scars across our human lives. Scars cover our ears and make us unable to hear a liberating, hopeful, and joyful message from the community that has created those scars.”
Terence Weldon, at QueeringTheChurch.com, notes that Francis is providing an emphasis that is much needed in church discussions on LGBT issues:
“Today, he has delivered some thoughts which are more explicitly favourable, insisting that gays should be integrated into society, must not be marginalized or discriminated against, and should be welcomed into the priesthood. Welcome words indeed. There is in fact absolutely nothing new in this – it’s all absolutely standard, orthodox Catholic doctrine, which contains two parts. There is a compassionate side, directing that we should be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and protected from unjust discrimination, and from violence or malice, in words or in deeds. Then there’s the harsh side, denying absolutely any hope of physical expression of our loves in genital acts. The problem has been that many bishops, and the previous two popes, have ignored or directly flouted the compassionate parts of teaching, focusing exclusively on the harshest bits. Francis is not in any way signalling a shift in actual teaching – but he is introducing some sorely needed balance. That alone is welcome.”
Last month, we reported on Catholic faith communities marching in LGBT Pride marches in Portland, Oregon and the Baltimore-Washington, DC region. We’ve recently learned of several more demonstrations of Catholic support of Pride events in three more U.S. events.
Thanks to blogger Michael Bayly of The Wild Reed, we learned about a Seattle, Washington pastor who announced in his parish newsletter “Why Am I In the Parade?” Father John D. Whitney, SJ, of St. Joseph’s parish, Seattle, introduced the explanation of his participation by referring to Acts 10: 28:
“You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean.”
This passage occurs in the story of St. Peter visiting the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Fr. Whitney explicates the meaning:
“The head of the apostles is called to testify that God’s grace is greater than the members of the Church can hope or imagine, and that their understanding of the Church must continue to develop as the mystery of God’s redemptive love continues to be revealed in all of nature and in every culture. What surprises Peter, what will become a starting point for Paul, and what continues to challenge the Church even today is how vast the mercy of God is, a mercy that denies the notion that anything which is human can be profane; a mercy that encompasses every human heart, every aspect of human nature.”
Fr. Whitney reminded parishioners of the parish’s participation in last year’s Pride parade and what that meant to them:
“Last year, for the first time, members of the St. Joseph community marched in the Pride Parade to indicate our solidarity with and respect for our homosexual sisters and brothers. Like Peter entering the house of Cornelius, it was a moment that would be considered unlawful and scandalous to those who see members of this community as profane or unclean; yet, for me, and I believe for others who chose to be present in this march, it was a moment of grace, when we could witness the power of the Holy Spirit moving in this community, so often alienated from the Church of Christ.”
Fr. Whitney closes the essay with an eloquent expression of why he chose to march this year:
This year, I am going to the Pride Parade again, and I have supported St. Joseph’s presence in it, as well. I have done so not out of opposition to anyone; but, rather, in support of the sisters and brothers of our community who seek to live faithfully in the way that God has made them and the Spirit has called them. I am going to support the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the friends and companions of our gay and lesbian parishioners, who have pride in their daughters and sons and
who long to have them feel loved and welcomed at the table of Christ and in the body of the Church. I am going to evangelize, to bear witness, by my presence and, if needed, by my words, that the Catholic Church, founded by Christ, is not a place of hatred and rejection; but a communion of loved sinners called in humility to grow and learn through the grace of the Holy Spirit. I am going to the parade because I want to enter the house of Cornelius, where I have already seen the signs of the Spirit;
because I want those in whose very nature is God’s blessing, to know that Christ longs for them with mercy and with love, asking them not to hide or reject their natural identity, but to see in that identity a way home to God.
Fr. Whitney was one of about a dozen Seattle Archdiocese parishes who last year chose not to collect signatures to put the state’s marriage equality law up for a referendum.
MINNEAPOLIS and ST. PAUL
Also on The Wild Reed, Michael Bayly also wrote up an account of the Pride Festival in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, describing Catholic participation at the event. Though last year Bayly organized “Catholics for Marriage Equality” in the state, this year, the group edited its name to “Catholics Celebrating Marriage Equality,” reflecting that the state recently adopted a marriage law for gay and lesbian couples and the Supreme Court’s recent decisions.
Similarly, Dick Bernard, who blogs for the Twin Cities Daily Planet, reflected on the role of Catholics in the state’s marriage equality debates. He noted that on the day of the Pride Festival, his parish, the Basilica of St. Paul, prayed “for respect for all people [including their] sexuality.”
NEW YORK CITY
Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will be familiar with the case of Nicholas Coppola, the New York parish volunteer dismissed from his ministries because he married his partner, David.
Congratulations to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for voting to allow openly gay scouts in their troops! Let’s continue to pray that this experience will pave the way for also allowing openly gay scout leaders to be accepted by the organization. The same Catholic principles of justice and human dignity apply in both cases.
So far there has been no official Catholic response to the Boy Scouts’ decision. Last week, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) said that it was taking a wait and see approach to the decision, and would issue a statement after the vote. Bishop Robert Guglielmone, the U.S. bishops’ liaison to the NCCS offered a more hopeful statement this week, noting:
“With regard to a possible BSA membership change, we will continue to uphold the truths of the Church’s teaching and strive to maintain our ties with the BSA.”
Noted Catholic author Father James Martin, SJ, posted the following reaction on his Facebook page:
“As a former Cub Scout and Webelo I support the Boy Scouts’ welcoming everyone into the Scouts. As a Catholic I support the recognition of the fundamental human dignity of every person..”
Interestingly, the conservative Mormon church had already expressed support for including gay scouts, even before the vote. According to The New York Times,
“The Mormon Church has declared its support for the Boy Scouts of America’s proposal to end a longstanding ban on openly gay youths, while continuing to bar gay adult leaders.”
“The current BSA proposal constructively addresses a number of important issues that have been part of the on-going dialogue including consistent standards for all BSA partners, recognition that Scouting exists to serve and benefit youth rather than Scout leaders, a single standard of moral purity for youth in the program, and a renewed emphasis for Scouts to honor their duty to God.
“We are grateful to BSA for their careful consideration of these issues. We appreciate the positive things contained in this current proposal that will help build and strengthen the moral character and leadership skills of youth as we work together in the future.”
“About 70% of all Scout troops are run by faith-based organizations, according to the Boy Scouts of America. About 37% are Mormon, 10% Methodist and 8% Catholic.”
Kevin Kloosterman, a Mormon bishop from Illinois, reflected on his church’s support of inclusion:
“I look forward to a day when our LGBT sisters and brothers will be judged not by orientation or gender identity but on the content of their character. We still have not come to that day yet, but I do see progress. I hope my faith community and the BSA will continue to make progress towards inclusion and acceptance of our gay neighbors and loved ones, and that scouting will return to its honored tradition of developing leadership and values in all of our youth and the ban against gay leaders will be lifted.”
Wouldn’t it be great if our Catholic bishops followed the same course as the Mormons, not only tolerating the Boy Scouts’ decision, but welcoming it, and look forward to the day when Gospel justice is an active principle for all in society, including gay Boy Scouts’ leaders.
While we were in Washington State last week doing educational programs on Catholic support for marriage equality in anticipation of that state’s referendum on the issue in November, Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and I met with several pastors and parish leaders who earlier this year had refused the local archbishop’s request to use their parishes to collect signatures for petitions to put the new marriage law to a ballot test.
Our discussion was lively and encouraging. For one thing, we learned that there were many more parishes that had refused to collect signatures than had made the news accounts back in April. We knew about a handful, but it turns out there were probably close to twenty that abstained from the collection. In fact in one deanery (a geographic division) of the diocese, the pastors of all twelve parishes had met and agreed corporately not to allow signature collection.
The pastors we met said they mostly had two reasons for their refusal: 1) they believed that collecting signatures would cause great divisions in the parishes; 2) many of the parishes have an explicit welcome to LGBT parishioners and their families, and they felt that collecting signatures would be a sign of inhospitality.
Response from parishioners has been universally positive about the decision not to support the signature campaign. A number of the priests said that the announcements of the decision received standing ovations from their congregations. The few parishioners who disagreed expressed their thoughts quietly and respectfully, and the priests felt that the decision helped to open up avenues of dialogue.
“Many of you may have read in the media that St. Joseph, among other parishes, has decided not to allow the gathering of signatures for Referendum 74, which aims at repealing the marriage equality bill passed by the State of Washington. This referendum is supported by the Archdiocese of Seattle, who has asked the Knights of Columbus to collect signatures at various parishes. Although many of you have offered support for the decision not to allow signature gathering here, I believe all of you deserve an explanation of the reasoning behind the decision.
“The primary reason for not allowing this petition is the nature of the worshipping assembly. Women and men of all opinions, orientations, backgrounds, and motivations are welcomed at this altar, and are encouraged to pray for wisdom and unity, even as we all work to create social policies that respect our faith and support each other. The Church should not be a place of coercion, but of discernment, as each member of the Church (as well as each citizen), decides whether a proposal such as Referendum 74 makes us more or less like the Kingdom described by Jesus. To have petitioners at the doors seems to me inappropriately coercive and contrary to the mission of the Church, especially in the Sunday assembly.”
Fr. Whitney goes on to describe why he feels the church is not the place to debate the referendum:
“Further, the nature of the piece of legislation makes it inappropriate to be brought into the context of our worship, I believe, since Referendum 74—like the marriage equality act it seeks to overturn—concerns civil marriage, not the covenant of Catholic marriage, which is a matter of faith and exists in the Church through the ministry of every couple. Although the Archbishop has the right and responsibility to speak and educate the community about legislation, I believe that this level of involvement around the issue of civil marriage is ill-considered, and risks placing the Church on the side of injustice and the denial of civil rights. Thus, I cannot in conscience allow such signature gathering at St. Joseph. I am not telling others how to vote, but I think that a Catholic, in good conscience, can oppose this referendum and should not be pressured to support it in the context of Sunday mass.”
In addition to his statement on the parish website, the pastor also posted Archbishop Peter Sartain’s letter requesting signatures, and an FAQ sheet from the Washington State Catholic Conference on why Catholics should oppose marriage equality. Fr. Whitney explained his approach:
“Finally, I want to be clear that the Archbishop empowered pastors to make the decision about whether or not to allow signature gathering, and that we are not acting in opposition to his leadership. I am committed to offering his words directly to this community, when that is requested, and to encourage all members of the community to read them respectfully and thoughtfully, as part of the formation of conscience for any Catholic. In those rare situations where I may disagree with the Archbishop’s conclusions, I do not intend to use the pulpit or bulletin to debate, since that is not the place. As I have said, I think such debates belong outside the Church.”
He closes with a hope and prayer for unity among Catholics, even those divided by the marriage equality issue:
“It is of primary importance in all this, however, that we know we can be one community, united in heart and mind, only if we believe that every person is loved by God and valued in his or her humanity. We must listen to one another with respect—to the reality of our experiences and the grace of our call, in Christ. Hearing and loving each other is the root to true discernment, for it is in this communion that the Spirit is present and the Church—the true Church, for whom Christ was crucified and to whom he gave his body and blood—made flesh.
“May we hear God in our midst and always live to do God’s will in our world.”
On the website, Fr. Whitney provided a link for people to easily respond to him and/or to the archbishop.
We need more pastors like Father Whitney who speak forthrightly and who encourage respectful dialogue among their parishioners and between parishioners and their pastoral leaders.