Pope Francis on LGBT Issues Is Out of Sync with Amoris Laetitia’s Overall Message, Say Theologians

May 25, 2016
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Francis Clooney

Last week, Bondings 2.0 highlighted young theologians critical of the perceived dismissal of LGBT Catholics by Pope Francis in his latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.  These young scholars were also dismayed by liberal commentators who seem intent on preserving the narrative of progress for the pope’s administration. Today, we highlight theologians who have focused on the exhortation’s inconsistencies when it comes to LGBT issues.

Jesuit Fr. Francis Clooney of Harvard Divinity School offered three points in America about Pope Francis’ treatment of same-gender marriages, concluding with an appeal for Pope Francis to rewrite”in his own hand, from his own heart”paragraph 251 which condemns same-gender marriages quite harshly.

Why does Clooney reach that conclusion? First, the priest noted the “rather formal, one might say cold tone” of paragraph 251 especially as it contrasts with paragraph 250’s rejection of anti-LGBT discrimination. Clooney observed that paragraph 251 extensively quotes the 2015 Synod report, which cited heavily a 2003 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that is itself based in the Catechism. The Jesuit priest wrote:

” ‘I think [Francis] would have spoken differently had he spoken in his own voice. . .If the pope had written about gay marriage in his own voice, I don’t think No. 251 would have been the result. If some men and women, struggling for love, stability and family, choose to enter a gay marriage, might this not be a similar, analogous ‘this agonizing and painful decision’ [to procure an abortion] that merits the pope’s compassion, rather than the cold assertion made in No. 251?”

Clooney cited his own experiences which challenge paragraph 251’s assertion that same-gender relationships are not “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan.”About witnessing same-gender marriages in his life, the priest wrote:

“No relation is perfect, I am sure, but in these marriages I most often observe: honest, open, mature love; commitment, often over many years; fidelity and loyalty to one another, for richer or poorer, in health and in sickness; Christian faith, lived out in a deep human relationship; and, in several cases, great devotion to raising children. I am edified by these relationships, these marriages. . .

“[I]t should be evident to anyone with their eyes open, that gay marriage is in many ways similar to marriage as is esteemed by the church, and that analogies abound, including those I have mentioned. It is hard to see how or why Pope Francis might think that gay marriage could be entirely dissimilar and equivocally unlike heterosexual marriage. It is hard to see why Pope Francis, even if quoting quotes from other documents, would be willing to say that the marriage of a gay couple is entirely outside God’s plan. Is there anything or anyone outside God’s mercy and compassion?”

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Daniel Maguire

In a commentary at Consortium News, theologian Daniel Maguire of Marquette University said the pope “should be embarrassed by the significant failings” of Amoris Laetitia.

Maguire denied the exhortation is “a retreat from rule-centered church teaching,” highlighting instead areas like marriage equality and contraception where Pope Francis’ respect for conscience becomes invalidated by his own words. The pope “waxes rhapsodic on the beauty and personal enrichment offered by marriage,” calling it ideal love, but Maguire also pointed out:

“And now the rub! This magnificent experience is reserved by God and the Catholic hierarchy only for heterosexuals. It’s beyond the reach of gays who love one another. The document should have been called The Joy of Heterosexual Love. . .

“Is it that all LGBT persons are too ‘selfish, calculating and petty?’ Are they so deficient in their humanity as to be incapable of this achievement of human love. Is the Pope suggesting in a new nasty way that all these persons are ‘queer’ and ‘deviant.’ Is that why heterosexuals have seven sacraments but gays only have six since marriage is beyond their reach? That is theologically queer. Do we see here the old brutal prejudice wrapped in the language of love, pastoral concern, and pity?”

This evaluation of LGBT people’s relationships is, in Maguire’s words, “cruel” and abandons the pope’s previous attitude of non-judgement. Divesting LGBT matters from broader appeals to conscience is a tremendous weakness of the pope’s document, Maguire noted, but the theologian remained hopeful, noting in his commentary’s conclusion:

“Catholicism has a splendid, but well hidden, theory of conscience. . .Some 30 years ago, I spoke to a Dignity group of Catholic gays. I explained Probabilism, reading from old Catholic moral theology books, and applied it to same sex unions. In the light of that, I said, ‘your loves are not only good they are holy and full of grace.’

“A number of them were in tears. They loved the Church and did not want their deep love of another to separate them from it.”

Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia has been praised for its compassionate style and reaffirmation of the primacy of conscience. He signaled a new welcome for marginalized Catholics who are divorced and remarried, or who use artificial contraception. But on LGBT matters, the exhortation seems conflicted, at best.  Clooney and Maguire clearly identify sources in experience and in tradition that will enable Catholics to develop LGBT Catholic thought in a manner that is actually consistent with Pope Francis’ calls for mercy and the respect of conscience. Pope Francis should pay attention to these critiques for the next time he writes on LGBT issues.

You can read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Amoris Laetitia and reactions to it by clicking hereYou can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Can LGBT Issues Be Included at San Diego’s Diocesan Synod?

May 22, 2016
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Bishop Robert McElroy

Following Pope Francis’ lead, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego has called a diocesan synod on marriage. We need to ask: can LGBT issues be included in this synod’s agenda?

Bishop McElroy announced the synod, planned for October 28-29, 2016, in “Embracing the Joy of Love,” his pastoral message responding to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Lay Catholics will be the majority of participants, with each of the diocese’s 100 parishes represented. Discussion groups which include local theologians will meet in the preceding months to further flesh out the agenda in advance

McElroy hopes the two-day synod will hopefully unfold into “a biannual, theme-driven event” to allow for spiritual renewal and lay input in diocesan governance, reported AmericaThe magazine noted this may be “the first such structured diocesan-wide response” to Amoris Laetitia in the world.

According to the National Catholic ReporterMcElroy outlined five challenges for the synod to address, hoping the synod will produce action points for each topic . He identified the following challenges: witnessing to a Catholic vision of marriage; forming a culture of invitation to unmarried couples; nurturing children; ministry to those persons who are divorced; bringing spiritual depth to family life in its various forms.

Though they have not been mentioned in the preparatory material so far, LGBT issues could easily be included in this agenda on marriage and family. For instance, when discussing the need to welcome unmarried couples, Bishop McElroy said the church “should not ignore the love, sacrifice and commitment which is reflected in so many of these relationships which differ from marriage” so as not to alienate people. For those couples who live together or who have entered civil marriages, the church’s pastoral outreach should be one “which reflects love more than judgment, which affirms the beautiful elements of love already present in the lives of such couples” even while upholding a heteronormative understanding of marriage.  Clearly, these areas include lesbian and gay couples, too.

Elsewhere in his message, Bishop McElroy exhorted priests to accompany people in the formation of their consciences rather than dictate decisions, stressed the problem of young adults’ rapid disengagement from the life of the church, and called for parishes to enhance their spiritual nourishment of families. Each of the areas McElroy addressed could easily include LGBT people and their families in the deliberations.

Appointed in 2015, Bishop McElroy represents an emerging generation of “Francis Bishops” whose pastoral sensitivity and emphasis on social justice set them apart from their predecessors. McElroy, who was a parish priest for fifteen years before assuming a position as auxiliary bishop, strongly approved of Pope Francis’ rebuke of U.S. bishops’ partisanship during the papal visit last fall. He called for the U.S. bishops’ document on political engagement to be scrapped last November because it was, in his estimation, “gravely hobbled” by its overemphasis on issues like marriage equality.

Even if LGBT issues do not come up, a synodal approach itself is noteworthy. Such an approach may advance LGBT equality even if such issues are not explicitly discussed. Bishop McElroy’s decision to convene a diocesan synod is quite significant wrote Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter:

“Synodality, as Pope Francis said at the last two synods on the family, is more than a different process, it is a different attitude. It requires listening as well as pontificating. It demands dialogue, not rote recitations of statements arrived at in advance of the kind that characterized synods before Francis. Synodality only works if those participating exhibit a certain humility about their own claims on the truth, a willingness to let the truth capture them rather than the other way round.”

For far too long, many church leaders have refused to listen to or dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. Their approach lacked humility, instead employing a harshness against those Catholics who disagreed with the hierarchy’s teachings on sexuality and gender.

Bishop McElroy is charting a divergent course, one exhibiting greater humility and compassion than many of his peers. Given his record and willingness to listen in the upcoming synod process, McElroy would likely welcome the inclusion of LGBT issues in this or another synod perhaps. Coupled with the Holy Spirit’s movements, a more synodal church could break down barriers to and build bridges for LGBT equality.

Catholics in San Diego are encouraged to write to the bishop and request meetings to share their stories and their convictions around LGBT issues. In the five months before San Diego’s synod convenes, there will be multiple opportunities in the discussion groups and other listening mechanisms to raise LGBT concerns. Local Catholics should ask themselves “What is God asking of our church now?” which is the question the bishop posed about discernment.  If they listen to the ways God speaks through people’s lives, they will surely find that LGBT pastoral care and inclusion are important concerns for the church in San Diego and that they should be addressed either in this synod or at another similar meeting in the very near future.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are Already Absent LGBT Voices Being Further Silenced in Conversations About ‘Amoris Laetitia’?

May 17, 2016

 

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Craig Ford

Have Catholics’ analyses of Amoris Laetitia, the recently published exhortation on family by Pope Francis, been dismissive of LGBT communities’ reaction and concerns?

Craig Ford, a theology doctoral student at Boston College, claimed on the blog Catholic Moral Theology that liberal Catholics who are not LGBT have too often jettisoned queer and transgender concerns to uphold a belief that Pope Francis is bringing progress to the Church.

“[Q]ueer relationships seem to be beside the point,” Ford wrote in post that not only challenges his academic colleagues in theology but other Catholics who identify as LGBT advocates and allies. Ford noted that when liberal Catholic pundits comment on homosexuality and related issues in the document, these pundits frequently suggest:

“[LGBT people’s] disappointment with respect to development of doctrine on these issues should be tempered by our understanding of Francis’ goals, or by an understanding of Francis’ style, or by the overall context of Francis’ papacy. . .This sort of reaction to issues involving queer persons is positively insulting, particularly when it comes from queer persons’ strongest allies: presumably straight, well-meaning, liberal theologians.”

Dismissing LGBT concerns in this way has helped liberal theologians uphold the idea that there is an “arc of a progressive future towards which Francis is (hopefully) steering the church,” Ford asserted. Such a reading of Amoris Laetitia allows a heterosexist view  drawn from Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, employed by Pope Francis in the new document, to pass unchallenged in liberal analyses. Ford also wrote that reactions from people who are otherwise quite supportive of LGBT equality have suppressed Amoris Laetitia’s problematic treatment of gender identity. He continued:

“[Liberals] decided not to critique Francis’ deployment of what is used to malign the entire field of gender studies—the term ‘gender ideology’. Instead, we sit by with great hope and expectation while Francis and other bishops continue to shame and marginalize the beautiful existences of trans- and genderqueer persons [Ford cited AL section 56 as evidence].”

Ford wondered why liberal theologians who are not queer or trans have allowed Amoris Laetitia’s clear failure on LGBT issues to be treated less critically. In a critique applicable to all LGBT allies, Ford challenged his colleagues in academic theology:

“The entire point of the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable is to remind all Christians that, among others, the concerns of queer persons are never beside the point.”

Sadly, not only this latest apostolic exhortation but the entire synodal process preceding it have too often treated LGBT people and their experiences of family as “beside the point.” No LGBT Catholics addressed the assemblies, and access to pre-synodal questionnaires were quite limited globally, further restricting LGBT Catholics’ input.

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Annie Selak

Annie Selak, also a theology doctoral student at Boston College, is curious about the missing voices in Amoris Laetitia and what impact greater input from these voices, like LGBT Catholics, might have had. She wrote in the blog Political Theology Today:

“There are many statements and examples in Amoris Laetitia that are not incorrect, but rather miss the mark in fully capturing the realities faced by families. . .voices from people who experience the lifestyles under discussion would enrich the document, and thus add to the robust teaching of the church. What might it look like for church documents to include voices of people throughout the world, most especially those marginalized whose voices are too often excluded?”

Selak proposed the integration of narrative (or story-telling) into church documents as “one way of rooting theology in lived experience and representing a diverse range of voices” and continued:

“The potential use of narrative in church teaching would not be an example of universalizing a particular instance, but rather a method that emphasizes the continued revelation of God in the lives of the people. . .A greater incorporation of voices through narrative can serve to enhance our experience of God’s continued revelation and build connections in the global church.”

If LGBT Catholics themselves addressed the synods, what impact would they have had in the outcome of those meetings and in the ensuing papal document? How would Amoris Laetitia‘s disappointing, even dismissive, approach to LGBT issues be different if Pope Francis had listened more closely to the marginalized persons of the church he leads? What if the stories of LGBT people and their families had been embedded in Amoris Laetitia’s lengthy reflections on family life?

One U.S. prelate, Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich has stated that he would have liked to hear the voices of LGBT people at the synod.  At a synod press conference, Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo asked Cupich if he felt it would have been better if the bishops heard these voices during their meetings.  Cupich’s reply:

“Yes, it may have been.  I know that myself, when I did the consultation in my diocese, I did have those voices as part of my consultation, and put that in my report, and so maybe that’s the way they were represented.  But I do think that we could benefit from  the actual voices of people who feel marginalized rather than having them filtered through the voices of other representatives or the bishops.  There is something important about that, I have found personally.”

These are questions that liberal and progressive Catholics should be careful not to ignore. If the document is to be a starting point for LGBT issues, an idea Bondings 2.0 explored a few weeks ago, then the first steps must be to include LGBT concerns as central in our analysis and to include more LGBT voices moving forward.

What do you think? Have LGBT voices been further excluded and even silenced by the reactions and commentaries of liberal Catholics? How can LGBT narratives be more included in the church’s reflections on family? You can leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

You can read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Amoris Laetitia and reactions to it by clicking hereYou can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Can “Amoris Laetitia” Be a Starting Point for Progress on LGBT Issues?

April 23, 2016

screen_shot_2016-04-06_at_17-46-45-1-255x400“The apostolic exhortation is not just the last step of a long process. It is going to be another starting point.”

These words are from Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor of the influential Civiltà Cattolica, commenting on Pope Francis’ exhortation about the family, Amoris Laetitia.

The exhortation has been a disappointment to many in terms of LGBT issues, with some commentators saying that it offers a stale, cursory, and at times condemnatory treatment of these topics. How then, can Amoris Laetitia, become a starting point for LGBT equality that leads to progress and not simply more of the same? I offer two thoughts.

First, the exhortation’s deficiencies must be admitted and addressed. Notably absent in the document, and the Synod deliberations preceding it, are the lives and experiences of LGBT people. Michael Bayly of The Wild Reed, citing the many testimonies which LGBT faithful have offered before, wrote:

“Do I expect the Vatican to share these types of testimonies, word-for-word, in official church documents? No. But I do expect those who claim to be leaders and teachers within our Catholic tradition to be open and responsive to the transforming presence of God within all people’s relational lives (including the lives of LGBTQ people) and to be committed to ensuring that our statements of collective wisdom (i.e., our church teachings) actually reflect the diverse nature of the beautiful gift of sexuality. . .Is that too much to ask?”

Sr. Christine Schenk added similar criticism in the National Catholic Reporter, writing:

“The most distressing aspect of Amoris Laetitia is that it fails to incorporate the experiences of LGBT Catholics who also live deeply loving, holy and committed family lives. . .Instead of pastorally validating that great goodness exists in these relationships, the exhortation simply repeats condemnations of same-sex unions and adoptions by same-sex couples.”

Schenk said LGBT people are “among the most committed of Catholics” and “wrote the book about how to love and stay with a church whose hierarchy would often prefer that they go away.”

Second, LGBT advocates must be wary of how others in the church may use Pope Francis’ emphases on conscience and decentralization. Writer Kaya Oakes suggested in Foreign Policy that these emphases could potentially backfire:

“Handing this measure of flexibility to the clergy is a risky way of bringing about reform. The clergy are, after all, as diverse in their opinions about family life as the people they serve. . .It could, theoretically, also cause local church leaders to act more independently and harshly toward LGBT Catholics as a result of that independence — as the bishops in Malawi recently did when they denounced the government for failing to imprison LGBT citizens.”

More generally, Peter Steinfels wrote in Commonweal about the threat that mercy misused could pose to reform and renewal in the church:

“It is hard to say this, but the availability of mercy can be a tool of the powerful, an excuse for not reforming unjust laws or harsh practices, an alibi for skirting uncomfortable questions, a sop for those injured, a safety valve for discontent. Granting mercy can be an exercise in domination, a means for officeholders to demonstrate their power. This is not the mercy of God, not the mercy of love.”

Many Catholics, myself included, are still undertaking slow and thorough readings of Amoris Laetitia, as Pope Francis has advocated. With time and discussion, its wisdom and its failings will become clearer, as will its implications. But there is one clear starting point from which Catholics can begin right now. It is pointed out by Quest, a UK organization for LGB Catholics, in their statement:

“Everything that Pope Francis has said to change the criteria for moral judgements, and in challenging the competence of others to pass judgement in the first place, our people have been saying, for years. Buried in the lengthy text, are many other details of established but neglected doctrine that too, our people have been saying for years. . .The challenge now, is to continue saying these things, louder and more insistently than ever, but for the first time, with authoritative papal backing.”

Your faithful bloggers have been buried by reactions to and analyses of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ exhortation on family. And they keep coming and we will keep reporting. But what is important for LGBT Catholics and advocates to remember amid this buzz about the exhortation is that our stories, our faith journeys, our witnesses must continue to be shared. There is no starting point from Amoris Laetitia on LGBT issues in the church without all of us contributing to the conversation and keeping institutions accountable.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Theologians: Catholics Have “Civil Rights Imperative” to Seek LGBT Protections

April 22, 2016
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Todd A. Salzman

Two theologians from Creighton University have called for Catholics to support LGBT non-discrimination protections in a new essay published in the National Catholic Reporter. In it, they specifically target the ill-founded opposition of U.S. bishops to such protections.

Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler provide an in-depth response to Catholic bishops’ repeated claims at local, state, and federal levels that expanding LGBT protections will infringe on religious liberty. The theologians disprove these claims and conclude further:

“[L]egislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination is a civil rights imperative that the Catholic church is obligated to support in a pluralist society.”

How did they arrive at this conclusion?

Salzman and Lawler begin by noting just how many controversies there presently are over LGBT protections, and that the bishops’ engagement thus far has been inadequate. The theologians identify the bishops’ 2012 statement on religious liberty, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” as a key reason for the bishops’ present failings, and they critique it on three major points.

First, Salzman and Lawler address the bishops’ treatment of secularism and relativism, which they identify as “the basis for both the bishops’ claims that religious freedom is under attack and for their resistance to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA].” This concern has deep roots in the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but is not well understood or engaged by the magisterium, the theologians assert.

Salzman and Lawler point out theological implications of new sociological data.  Specifically, they cite the facts that 73% of U.S. Catholics support LGBT protections and that there is “a growing disconnect between what the Catholic faithful believe about sexual morality and official Catholic moral teaching,”

One implication is that what the bishops call “relativism” is actually “differing perspectives with respect to the definition of human dignity and to what norms facilitate or frustrate its attainment.” Another implication is that sociological data helps to discern the sensus fidelium. About these implications, Salzman and Lawler conclude:

“To present official Catholic teaching on sexual ethical issues as if it were the only morally legitimate perspective, to use that teaching to claim violation of religious liberty if and when legislation conflicts with it, and to discount those Catholic perspectives that disagree with official teaching as manifestations of relativism discount also the rich diversity of the Catholic tradition and the contemporary sensus fidelium.”

Such a dismissal by church leaders threatens ecclesial and societal peace and thereby the common good, which is the theologians’ next area of critique against the U.S. bishops. About the common good, the theologians ask:

“How are we to realize the common good in the public realm, given pluralism within and without the church? What is the church’s proper role for engaging with the public realm to promote its vision of the common good?”

They also question how civil legislation relates to morality, and how to understand this dynamic in a pluralistic society, which Salzman and Lawler called “a hugely complex endeavor.” There are questions of prioritizing competing goods:

“Which is a higher value, respecting human dignity and ensuring non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, or attempting to block or repeal legislation that might allow homosexual actions the church deems immoral?”

They also raise the issue of whether LGBT issues are matters of public or private morality, a distinction which will have implications for how these issues relate to the common good:

” If they are about private morality, the church can both teach the possibility of just discrimination based on homosexual orientation and gender identity and can also support laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of homosexual orientation and gender identity.

“If they are about public morality, the church needs to balance its sexual teachings with teachings on nondiscrimination, and grasp the impact of pluralism on definitions of public morality.”

Salzman and Lawler explain that when marriage equality became legalized in 2015,  there needed to be “a corresponding shift in the perception of religious freedom in relation to this evolution” by the church.

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Michael G. Lawler

Finally, the theologians take up the question of just and unjust law in relation to the U.S. bishops’ document. By opposing ENDA, Salzman and Lawler write,  “the bishops’ conference has shifted its religious liberty claims from exemptions from a just law on the basis of conscience to prevention or repeal of an unjust law.”

But how the bishops’ come to define ENDA as an unjust law is flawed itself, say the theologians. Their opposition is rooted in the law’s alleged failure to differentiate between sexual orientation and sexual expression; the bishops desire an allowance of just discrimination based upon the latter. Salzman and Lawler write that the bishops should have argued for religious exemptions to discriminate against heterosexual people who use artificial contraceptives or have premarital sex, too, if that was truly their concern. Having not done so, the theologians conclude:

“The conference has not made this logical argument, which would indicate that its objection is not to immoral sexual acts but simply to homosexual orientation.

“By rejecting the federal non-discrimination legislation, the bishops’ conference is violating the common good, the protection of individual human dignity, on the basis of a generalization that homosexuals might engage in immoral sexual activity, and it is promoting unjust discrimination against even celibate homosexuals performing no homosexual acts.”

Citing Catholic moral principles, Salzman and Lawler also clarify that a moral end, such as protecting religious liberty, can never justify an immoral means, the discrimination of LGBT people, and that, according to double-effect principle:

“The direct consequence of the federal legislation is the protection of LGBT individuals against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. An indirect consequence is that homosexual persons might engage in what the bishops deem immoral homosexual acts.”

Such principles are cited to reveal why Catholic support for ENDA is not only permissible, but should be encouraged. Yet Salzman and Lawler do not stop there, writing that a “more fundamental response. . .challenges the very claim that homosexual activity is intrinsically immoral and destructive of human dignity.” They continue, acknowledging Catholics’ widespread disagreement with the bishops over matters of sexuality:

“The burden of proof is on the church to demonstrate that homosexual acts are destructive of human dignity and cannot serve'”the good of the person or society.’ So far, it has not offered a compelling argument. An unproven assertion should not be advanced as the basis for an abusive use of religious freedom aimed at preventing or repealing nondiscrimination legislation and imposing the church’s morally questionable doctrine on the broader society.”

In short, the bishops “do not have the right to impose their moral teachings legislatively in a pluralistic society.” Salzman and Lawler convincingly argue that, not only should U.S. bishops not act thus, but they and the church actually have “a civil rights imperative” to advocate for LGBT non-discrimination protections. Their essay is well argued and grounded in reality, worth reading in full which you can do here. And there is one final note with which Salzman and Lawler, and now this post, conclude:

“The bishops should be ashamed of themselves for citing Martin Luther King Jr., the genuine and undisputed ‘conscience of the state’ for civil rights, to trample on the equal civil rights of homosexual, bisexual and transgender citizens.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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


Sr. Jeannine Gramick “Extremely Disappointed” by Pope Francis’ Exhortation

April 14, 2016
Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, or The Joy of Love, continues to instigate commentaries and analysis from all over. Bondings 2.0 provides our third round-up of reactions.

You can read previous reaction posts here and here. You can read New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, said she was “extremely disappointed in these bland remarks” offered by Pope Francis in the document. Gramick continued, in a statement to the National Catholic Reporter:

“[Francis] repeats previous calls for non-discrimination without giving examples of what that discrimination entails. LGBT people are shunned, fired from their jobs, bullied, jailed, executed and assassinated.”

Speaking of Pope Francis’ comment that the Church at times can uphold an “artificial theological ideal of marriage,” Gramick asked if the church has “an artificial theological ideal that all marriages should be heterosexual?” She also commented on Amoris Laetitia as it relates to transgender issues, saying:

“The document shows no understanding of gender identity, and of the pain parents feel when their child says they want to die because they are in the wrong body. Society once thought that homosexuality was a choice; now we know that the orientation is not a choice, but a discovery that one makes about oneself. So too with gender identity. The person comes to discover that their body does not match who they really are inside. The person must follow the inner promptings of the heart.”

But Gramick noted that, as church history shows time and gain, teachings do change, and she said the pope is “laying the groundwork for this change.”

fortunate_famliliesFortunate Families (FF), a national network for Catholic parents of LGBT children, said Pope Francis’ exhortation offered “glimmers of hope,” but ultimately,  it fell short. The FF statement said:

“We feel that this document would have been even more powerful if only the Pope would specifically connect this primary teaching of conscience formation to our LGBT children, who often feel called by God to full participation, including sexual intimacy, in a committed relationship. . . Positive statements on the issues of gender expression and language based on solid scientific evidence are also lacking.”

In a related commentary, Patricia Vasilj, the Catholic mother of a gay son, wrote on the DignityUSA website:

“Our GLBTQ children are not just inconveniences. . .Our GLBTQ children deserve more than a few paragraphs in a 264 page report. You, the Church, have left many of them shattered. The Church and Faith are intertwined. When the Church turns away, they believe God has gone with it. Their Father in heaven has not left them, but one certainly can’t tell that from the tone of this treatise. I am saddened and angry that once again our children have been hurt by those who should know better.”

logo-galc-copia1The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics released a comprehensive statement, saying Amoris Laetitia “opens up new perspectives,” though these perspectives are not fully applied to LGBT issues. It concluded:

“While we appreciate this understanding of dialogue, we also invite the Church to embrace this type of dialogue herself and adopt such attitudes towards the several LGBTQI persons within the Catholic Church who also want to share with the Church their own lived faith in their sexual and gender diversity.”

we-are-church-ireland-logoIrish reform organization We Are Church Ireland said in a statement, reported by the National Catholic Reporter, that they welcomed Amoris Laetitia, but noted its recommendations were inadequate because they “did not reflect the voices of Catholic families who had no deliberative voice throughout the course of both Synods.” The statement said further:

“The one area where Pope Francis has failed to recognize is the giftedness and grace of Gay and Lesbian people both as single people and in their relationships.”

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Gina Messina-Dysert

Feminism and Religion’s Gina Messina-Dysert, a religion professor at Urusline College, Pepper Pike, Ohio, said it seemed Pope Francis “has finally read Margaret Farley’s Just Love,” but needed time to process it. Messina-Dysert added:

“Francis has called for us to begin to change our attitudes towards ‘the other’ but is still unwilling to change the man made rules of the Vatican.  He refuses to acknowledge that LGBTQ relationships are in fact just. . .it continues a highly negative tone for the LGBTQ community and does not acknowledge women’s value outside of marriage.”

HRCThe Human Rights Campaign, through a statement by Senior Vice President Mary Beth Maxwell, said it had “hoped that Pope Francis’ more open and loving message about LGBT people would translate into fuller inclusion during the Church’s Year of Mercy.”

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John Gehring

John Gehring of Faith in Public Life explained to the Gaston Gazette that this document should refocus the church’s concern for families on the real threats against them, rather than false threats like marriage equality, which church leaders so heartily attack. Gehring wrote:

“While some view family values as only a battlefield in the culture wars, the pope understands that poverty, the refugee crisis and an economy of exclusion are grave threats to families. He widens the frame in a way that should expand the debate beyond a few hot button sexual issues.”

You can read more about the content of Amoris Laetitia from Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.   You can read document excerpts related to LGBT issues by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

The Chicago Tribune, LGBT faith community voices disappointment over ‘Joy of Love’

The New York Times, “Francis’ Message Calls on Church to be Inclusive

Religion Dispatches, “Pope Francis’ Love Letter is a Lost Opportunity” by Mary Hunt


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