Jesuit Political Analyst Suggests Compromise in the LGBT Religious Liberty Debate

Has the Republican electoral victory in the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives ushered in a new moment in the debate about religious liberty and LGBT rights?  Jesuit Father Thomas Reese thinks so.  In a blog post for The National Catholic Reporter, Reese, who has been serving as the chair of the Obama administration’s U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, makes the case that the new national mood means that it is now “Time for compromise on gay rights and religious freedom,” the title of the essay.

Reese says that the days of thinking of the debate as a “zero-sum game where no compromise is possible” should end.  He describes the current political context of the debate:

Father Thomas Reese, SJ
Father Thomas Reese, SJ

“The Republican sweep should give gay activists pause. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, it is unlikely there will be any more gay-friendly legislation or regulations. While Trump does not appear to be a homophobe, he is appointing to his administration people who would like to roll back gains of the gay community, and his judicial appointees will undoubtedly look askance on expanding gay rights. Although he will not press for a reversal on gay rights, he will probably sign any religious liberty legislation he gets from the Republican Congress. . . .

“The best the gays can hope for is a retention of the status quo. But it is just as likely that they will see roll back in some areas. Will this encourage the gay community to compromise or will it make them dig in for a longer fight?”

And religious liberty advocates might be tempted to view the new mood as a total success for their perspective, but Reese cautions that this kind of thinking would be a mistake:

“The danger is that they will see [the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the success of Republican candidates] as a total rejection of the gay agenda and an opportunity to reassert their power. But it would be a dangerous mistake if they overreached.

“They should remember those polls that show growing sympathy for gays, especially among young people. In addition, the business community has been willing to use its economic power to push states like Indiana to reverse religious freedom legislation if it is seen as anti-gay.

“Nor should they forget that Donald Trump says that same-sex marriage is here to stay. He even spoke of protecting LGBTQ citizens in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, a first for a Republican nominee. While Congress and his administration will be filled with people who have opposed gay rights, this opposition is not a priority with Trump. And if history continues to repeat itself, the Democrats will be back in the White House in four or eight years.”

Reese surmises that this atmosphere which is fragile to both sides’ goals “presents the country with an ideal opportunity to discuss compromise.”  Reese’s vision of one possible compromise is as follows:

“In broad strokes, it would see an extension of nondiscriminatory laws to cover gays while providing limited exemptions for religious believers and institutions. People could no longer be discriminated against in employment, housing, and public accommodation based on their sexual identity or orientation, but church institutions would retain the right to employ and serve on the basis of their faith claims.”

Reese sees the following benefits for the gay community in such a compromise:

“They get national legislation outlawing discrimination in all but a few instances of employment, housing, and public accommodation. Most of the pie is better than nothing. In addition, they get to appear gracious in victory, knowing that the real challenge is not getting legislation passed but winning over most people to a recognition that gays should be treated with respect. As long as they are seen as attacking religion, they will meet opposition from people for whom religion is a central part of their lives.”

Religious leaders would gain the following:

“More certainty about what is legal or illegal. The ability to run their institutions according to their beliefs without state interference or the fear of being sued. Clear exemptions that protect their institutional freedom. An end to being portrayed as homophobic.”

Reese’s proposal has its appeal, but it has its flaws, too.  For one thing, he sees the debate as much more black-and-white than it actually is.   We are not in a situation of gays on one side and religious people on the other.   What about all the LGBT people who themselves are religious and who want their faith institutions protected?  What about the many religious people who see religious freedom as primarily protecting religious people and their consciences, and not just institutions?  The reality of the debate is a lot more complex than two totally separate, opposing camps.

Related to this idea of complexity is the situation of LGBT people being fired from employment or dismissed from volunteer opportunities with religious institutions.  Reese does not really address that important question in his essay.

Second, he sees religious people as motivated by conscience and faith, and the LGBT community motivated by achieving political reform.  That is why he urges the LGBT community to engage in a pragmatic compromise so that they can achieve some, if not all, of their goals.  He blames the inability to compromise on LGBT leaders, not the grassroots:

“Most gays would accept these exemptions, but sadly the activists are not interested in compromise.”

While it is certainly true that leaders and the grassroots don’t often share the same opinions (Catholic bishops and lay people are an excellent example), in the case of LGBT rights vs. religious liberty advocates, I think that the leaders and grassroots are on the same page.

From the perspective of LGBT people, especially those at the grassroots, the issue is not one of mere pragmatism, but one of being legally and politically considered as second-class.  The debate for LGBT people is as much a matter of closely-held principles (such as human dignity) as it is for the religious liberty advocates.

A third problem with the argument Reese lays out is that he seems to minimize the details of what compromises might involve. He states:

“”The details of the compromise need to be negotiated, and the results might be different in different localities. How small should be the family businesses that are exempted? What about an individual employee who has a conscience problem? What if there is no alternative business or employee available to the gay person? For florists and bakeries, should the exemption only cover same-sex weddings and not other purchases? Should exemptions for religious institutions cover all employees, including janitors, or only those considered “ministers” and teachers of religion? Can issues like bathrooms and locker rooms for transgender persons be postponed for a later day?”

These details are important, and involve some very important practical concerns as well as principles.  Compromising on many of them could mean allowing for discriminatory practices to still exist.

A final weakness of Reese’s argument is that the definition of religious liberty is not something that should be dictated by leaders of religious institutions alone.  If religious liberty laws are going to allow exemptions for secular businesses run by religious leaders, then that already is an admission that religion is not just a matter of institutional concern, but personal concern, too.  So, religious liberty proposals need to take into account the religious concerns of LGBT people and their supporters, too.

Despite my critique of Reese’s argument, I think he is sincere in his efforts to try to resolve this debate in a way that allows LGBT people to gain steps toward equality.  He is certainly not motivated by homophobia, but more from a desire to see LGBT people win some political gains during what promises to be a difficult four years. The overall weakness of his essay is that it doesn’t take the LGBT perspective seriously enough to see what values, as well as practicalities, are at stake for them, or how they view the issue.

Fr. Reese has been a strong supporter of LGBT equality.  You can read about a number of his previous statements about LGBT issues by clicking here.  I thank him for using his powerful voice to advocate for LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 5, 2016

 

 

Fr. James Martin, LGBT Groups, Others React to Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love”

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 5.29.58 PM.pngYesterday’s release of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family whose title translates as The Joy of Love, has provoked a tremendous amount of news reports and commentaries that will surely continue as this more than two-hundred page text is digested further.

Today, Bondings 2.0 provides an initial round-up of reactions as they relate to LGBT issues. You can read LGBT-related excerpts from Amoris Laetitia by clicking here.  You can read New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

Fr. James Martin, S.J. tweeted that Amoris Laetitia offered a welcome to LGBT people and set issues around sexuality and gender within a global context, saying, in two separate tweets:

“To LGBT friends: Pope says ‘before all else’ you are respected, and inveighs against violence against you–a huge challenge to Africa, e.g.”

“Good to remember that #AmorisLaetitia is addressed to the whole world. So his comments on LGBT people are challenging to many cultures.”

Martin also highlighted the renewed emphasis on conscience present in the document. You can read Martin’s “10 Takeaways from Amoris Laetitia” in America.

Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, a coalition of Call to Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry, expressed disappointment in its statement:

“While the Pope acknowledges the complicated issues facing Catholics on the margins. . .[he] ultimately reinforces existing harmful church teaching that characterizes LGBTQI people as unable to reflect the fullness of God’s plan for humanity. Specifically, the Pope continues to condemn same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex parents, and he refuses to acknowledge the complexities of gender identity.”

duddyburke
Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said many had “hoped for much more” and continued in a statement:

“While the Pope acknowledges the Church has been too rigid in other areas, there is no repentance when it comes to LGBT people. We need to see changes in teaching and practice before we can move forward. . .Clearly, Church officials, up to and including Pope Francis, still have little idea of the reality of LGBT people’s faith, lives, and family situations.”

Call to Action said in a statement that, despite the pope’s call for clergy to “see Grace at work in all life’s complicated and complex forms,” the organization was:

“. . .deeply concerned this document results in an institutional and ecclesial status quo that does not make real substantive changes in Catholic structures and practices (e.g., an end to the unjust firings of LGBT Church Workers and discrimination against women, to name only a few examples).”

Terence Weldon
Terence Weldon

Terence Weldon of Queering the Church was similarly dissatisfied with the document’s approach to LGBT issues, but saw hopeful elements as it “created the conditions for change”:

“Closer examination however, reveals some cause for optimism, certainly in the longer term. What is not said may be more important than what is explicitly stated. Most notably, there is no reference at all to the offensive term ‘objectively disordered’, or any hint of opposition to same-sex relationships (as long as they do not claim to be “marriage”).  Although there is a forthright objection to same-sex marriage, this is not listed among the many problems and dangers that are said to threaten actual families, or even the institution of marriage itself.”

Commenting on Pope Francis’ renewed emphasis on the “internal forum,” Weldon added:

“Drawing on a passage from the great theologian Thomas Aquinas, the conclusion we may reach is that even though those who remarry after divorce, or who live openly in same-sex relationships, may appear to be living in conditions of objective sin, their particular circumstances may negate that conclusion.”

Michael Sean Winters
Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters, columnist at the National Catholic Reporter, commented on several aspects including the following point relevant for LGBT Catholics and their families:

“[T]he Holy Father does not believe the pastor, still less the magisterium, should tell people what to do, but that a pastor should accompany people so that they can discern God’s activity and calling in their own lives. The pastor encourages spiritual maturity, not memorization of a hodgepodge of canonical requirements.”

Father Thomas Reese, SJ
Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., also writing for the National Catholic Reporter, defined success for Amoris Laetitia differently than other commentators. Though he critically engaged the text’s content, he concluded:

“This is a papal document well worth the time to read and reflect on. Parts are dull; parts inspire and delight; parts will give hope; and parts will infuriate. If it brings the conversation about families out of the synodal hall and down to the parish and families themselves, then it will be a success.”

In the days to come, there will surely be many conversations at all levels of the church about how to understand Amoris Laetitia and what it means concretely in Catholics’ lives. Bondings 2.0 will be engaging these conversations and keeping our readers updated.

In the meantime, what are your first reactions to this exhortation? You can leave them in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Is Pope Francis Really as LGBT-Positive as People Originally Thought?

Pope Francis
Pope Francis
If you haven’t already done so, please answer our ten-second poll on Pope Francis’ LGBT record by clicking here

Today marks the second anniversary of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s election to the papacy and becoming Pope Francis.  From his first moments of asking the crowd in St. Peter’s Square to bless him before he blessed them, he has shown himself to be a different type of pope.  A few months after that, he changed the tone of the church’s conversation on LGBT issues with his famous question:  “Who am I to judge?”

The heady days of that first year of his papacy seem to be fading, as Pope Francis has let some of the old harsh rhetoric on LGBT issues creep into his public remarks.  We saw this with his remark about “ideological colonization” of marriage, and more recently by comparing gender theory to nuclear arms.

The advance of this kind of rhetoric makes one wonder:  Is Pope Francis really as LGBT-positive as people originally thought?

The simple answer to that is “no.”  Part of the reason for the negative assessment, though, is not due to Pope Francis, but to the overly positive hopes and expectations people had for him because of his initial statements and gestures.

The real answer, though, is a bit more complicated.  I think we need to pull back a little and see Pope Francis’ program through a wider lens. Three commentators have recently offered some helpful perspectives.

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporterhas evaluated this papacy by noting that Francis is trying to change the culture of the church.  Reese wrote the following about what he sees as Francis’ important change:

“Leadership in the church is about service, not power and prestige.

“Many observers do not recognize how revolutionary is the change in style and culture that Pope Francis is calling for. It is more important than moving around boxes on the organizational chart. The difficulty is that it requires buy-in by bishops and clergy throughout the world. There will be no ‘Francis effect’ unless hearts and attitudes are changed. Too many seminarians and young priests see themselves as correctors of lay laxity and heterodoxy rather than as companions in a pilgrimage to the Lord. . . .

“The pope has called for a new style of being church, a style that is pastoral and open. He has set out a new set of priorities that are rooted in the Gospel.”

Pat Perriello, another National Catholic Reporter writer, offered the following cautionary categorization of the pope:

“Francis is not a liberal reformer. He is not invested in some of the same issues that many liberals are, such as advocating for a married and female clergy. Instead, Francis is a radical gospel reformer. The reform of Francis goes deeper than a few specifics. He is saying the present structure interferes with the mission of Jesus’ church. Radical change in the way we do things is necessary if we expect to be true, authentic followers of Jesus. Each of us as individuals but especially church leaders must quit being staunch defenders of some restrictive notion of orthodoxy and embrace Jesus’ mission of love and service to all. What this means for the nuts and bolts of church structure and practice may be in question. But before visible, observable change can really occur something else has to happen.”

And John Allen, Jr., who writes for Cruxoffered the following observations about the pope to explain Francis’ inconsistencies:

“1. Francis is a Latin American.
He thus is a figure for whom the usual Western dichotomies such as left/right don’t weigh as heavily. Indeed, at times it seems he almost delights in tweaking those categories.

“2. Francis is a pastor.
He’s not an academic, meaning he’s less interested in abstract consistency than in concrete situations, trusting that there’s always a way to smooth out the intellectual rough edges.”

These three analyses show that Pope Francis and his reform program is more complicated than what meets the eye. So where does that leave those of us who have hopes for equality and justice for LGBT people in the Church?

I think that the enthusiasm that many LGBT Catholics have had for Pope Francis is understandable (I have been one of them).  But I think that our enthusiasm has to be tempered with reality of what he is actually doing, is able to do, and is not doing.

As I’ve said before, Pope Francis will not be the pope who makes the important changes that LGBT Catholics long for.  But that doesn’t mean that he is not doing something to pave the way for the future for which we pray.

I think that change in the church happens in a four-step process:

1) initial discussion of an issue

2) testing out some ideas in pastoral practice

3) theological reflection on the practice

4) change in magisterial teaching.

Part of the problem is that while many in the church have already been heavily involved in the first three steps for a long time now, the hierarchy has not.   I think that Pope Francis’ greatest contribution to LGBT issues in the church may be that he initiated the dialogue on these topics among the hierarchy who for too long have either been silent or have  repeated ill-informed statements which do not reflect current human reality.  It’s sad to say, but a good deal of the hierarchy has a lot of work to do to get themselves out of the homophobic corner into which they’ve painted themselves.  That will take time.

Fr. Reese concluded his commentary on Pope Francis’ papacy so far with a thought that I think we should all remember:

But the church is not the pope. Unless bishops, priests and laity follow his example and embrace his priorities, there will not be permanent change in the church. The temptations to clericalism and self-centeredness are too strong. We have to stop admiring the pope and start imitating him.

I’ve often said to Catholic audiences that if we want to see a more democratic church, then we have to rely less on the hierarchy for making changes, and, instead, we need to live those changes and speak out for them.  We can’t be a democratic church if we keep expecting only the hierarchy to do the leading.

A pope alone will not change the church.  It will take all of us to do that.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Was Synod 2014 a “Turning Point” or “Clash of Factions”? What Will Synod 2015 Be?

The upcoming synod on marriage and family to take place at the Vatican in 2015 was in the news this week because the discussion document was released, and bishops around the world were once again asked to consult with the laity about matters pertaining to the synod’s topic.

Pope Francis

But this week there was also a looking back towards the October 2014 synod.  At his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about the recent meeting and said that the meeting did not include a “clash of factions,” as media reports indicated.  Religion News Service provided excerpts from the pope’s comments on the past synod:

“ ‘Some of you have asked me if the synod fathers fought,’ Francis said. ‘I don’t know if they “fought,” but they spoke forcefully. This is freedom. This is just the kind of freedom that there is in the church.’

“In a bid to set the record straight, the pope acknowledged the extensive media coverage of the global gathering in October and likened it to ‘sports or political coverage.’

“ ‘They often spoke of two teams, pro and con, conservatives and liberals,’ the pope told thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

“ ‘There was no clash between factions … but a dialogue between the bishops, which came after a long process of preparation and now continues, for the good of the family, the church and society. It’s a process.’ ”

Jesuit commentator Father Thomas Reese had a different interpretation of the meeting.  He stated that differences of opinion clearly existed among the synod participants, making this synod very different from those in recent memory.  Reese said:

“Rather than advising the pope, these earlier synods often simply quoted the pope to himself. They were a way of bishops showing their loyalty. Francis gave the bishops freedom to speak.”

Indeed, in the document that was released this week, that landmark meeting in October was described as a pastoral “turning point” for the Church, the Associated Press noted.

Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA criticized this week’s document because of using the term “homosexual tendencies,” and because of lack of focus on families headed by gay and lesbian couples. In addition to each group’s statements, an Advocate.com article contained additional comments from the leaders of these two organizations.

 

Ryan Denson, writing at AddictingInfo.com has a different point of view, though, about the document and the upcoming synod.  He sees the identification of a “turning point” as significant, and that the Catholic Church may be on the road to becoming more open to LGBT people and those who are divorced and remarried.  Denson wrote:

“Baby steps are turning into leaps as Pope Francis and the Vatican urge the world’s bishops to be guided, not just by doctrine, but by the Pope’s compassionate message which includes a ‘turning point’ inspired by meetings at the Vatican. The new message seeks to provide better pastoral care for gays and divorcees across the globe . . . .

“[I]n other words, the Vatican is asking the bishops and other clergy members to act like Jesus, who loves and respects all, and not act like arrogant, judgmental religious zealots. Instead of focusing on outdated dogma, Pope Francis is truly teaching the Gospels, and with the ousting of several prominent homophobic priests, the Vatican is starting to realize that he means business.

“The bottom line is this: the Pope is currently facing vocal opposition from those who view the church as an exclusive club where the unsaved and unworthy are not welcomed. He wants to change this. And he has made it very obvious that he does.”

ThinkProgress.com also looked on a more positive side to the survey released.  They quoted several progressive Catholic leaders, who have a more optimistic view of the synod, the questionnaire, and the process.  Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry was one of those more optimistic voices:

“ ‘Language about tendencies is problematic,’ Shine, who oversees young adult ministries for New Ways, told ThinkProgress in an email. ‘That said, I think the intentions of reaching out to and providing pastorally for LGBT people and their families is what is really guiding this process … Pope Francis has encouraged genuine dialogue during this whole synodal process.’ ”

Other Catholic leaders said likewise:

“ ‘Regardless of the wording, the survey itself is a step in the right direction towards providing better pastoral care of LGBT people, as is the Vatican asking for wider inputs from ‘all levels’ for the 2015 synod on the family,’ Stephen Seufert, state director of the progressive Catholic group Keystone Catholics, told ThinkProgress. ‘Both the survey and the Vatican document released yesterday relating to the 2015 synod are indications of a church that wants to focus less on rigid, uncompromising doctrine and more on providing greater pastoral care.’

“James Salt, executive director of the left-leaning advocacy group Catholics United, echoed Seufert.

“ ‘The fact that they are explicitly asking this question is a sign of progress,’ he said. ‘Rather than retreating to a position of doctrine, they are reflecting the changing world that we live in.’ ”

Clearly, marriage and family are high on Pope Francis’ agenda.  This week, he announced that he will be speaking on these topics in a series of talks at his weekly general audiences at the Vatican.  Bondings 2.0 will keep an eye on important messages, especially those relating to LGBT people.

So, what do you think?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming 2015 synod?  What did you think of the document that was released this week?  Are you surprised to hear Pope Francis say that the 2014 synod was not a contentious discussion?  Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Why Did Catholic Numbers on LGBT Acceptance Dip So Much In Recent Study?

On this blog, we are always very excited to report on statistics and surveys which show that Catholic lay people’s support of LGBT people and issues continues to grow. We also like to report on the many ways that Catholic parishes are welcoming and including LGBT people as full members of their communities.  But last week, a Duke University report showed that while in most Christian denominations acceptance of LGBT people is on the rise, the only group which the study said showed a decrease is Catholicism. What gives?

An Associated Press article describes the good news and the bad news in Duke University’s National Congregations Study:

“Overall, the study found acceptance of gay and lesbian members in American congregations increased from 37 percent to 48 percent over the six-year period. Acceptance of gays and lesbians as volunteer leaders increased from 18 percent to 26 percent. . . .

“Perhaps surprisingly, given the support for gays and lesbians among Catholics in general, representatives of the Catholic churches surveyed expressed less acceptance of gay and lesbian members in 2012 than in 2006. Interview subjects were asked specifically whether openly gay or lesbian couples in committed relationships would be permitted to be full-fledged members of the congregation.

“In 2006, 74 percent of those surveyed said yes. That number decreased to 53 percent in 2012. While the decrease is large, the rate of acceptance still remains higher than that for all congregations surveyed, 48 percent.

“Asked whether the same couples would be permitted to hold any volunteer leadership position that was open to other members, 39 percent of Catholic respondents said yes in 2006 but only 26 percent said the same in 2012. That is the same as the number for all congregations surveyed.”

So, while Catholics still are more accepting than all other Christian denominations surveyed, the statistics seem to show that acceptance is dwindling.

Or is it?

The news story provided some interpretations of the data from several Catholic scholars and analysts:

“Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter, thought it might reflect the fact that younger Catholic clergy tend to be more conservative than their older counterparts. Mary Ellen Konieczny, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, suggested the change might reflect a growing emphasis by the bishops on issues of homosexuality over that period.

“Both agreed that those attitudes were not indicative of what people sitting in the pews think.

“Konieczny and others said they thought the answers might be significantly different if the same questions were asked today.

“The survey was taken ‘before Francis got into the papacy, and I believe he would have made a difference,’ said William D’Antonio, a senior fellow at Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. ‘Francis has lowered the focus on sexual matters and increased the concern for the poor and needy.’ “

A Religion News Service story adds another voice which offers similar analysis:

“The Rev. James Martin, editor at large for the Jesuit magazine America, observed, ‘During those years, U.S. bishops were much more vocal against gay marriage. It’s only been in the last year or two — since the election of Pope Francis — that the church has begun opening up on this.’ ”

The Huffington Post’s Antonia Blumeberg offers a comparative analysis for why Catholic numbers are going down while other Christian churches’ numbers are going up:

“While the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality remains seated in the somewhat vague but hopeful words of Pope Francis, ‘Who am I to judge?’, other church bodies have taken more definitive action to promote LGBT equality. In June the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in a landmark decision to allow same-sex marriages, following in the footsteps of the U.S. Episcopal Church which made the same decision two years prior.”

In an interview with London’s Daily MailMark Chaves, the author of the study, provided his own interpretation for the decline in Catholic numbers:

“Chaves suggested this may be due in part to fallout from the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church, which some associate with homosexuality.”

But, perhaps the most important reason for the change is in how the data was collected. Ned Flaherty, a writer in Boston, provided the following information:

“The National Congregation Study data were collected 2 to 2.5 years ago, in 50-minute interviews with each congregation’s key clergyperson. Roman Catholic rules, including LGBT acceptance, are set by the Vatican, regardless of local public policy. Therefore, the answers from the Roman Catholic clergy reflected Vatican rules, whereas the answers from other clergy reflected local democratic policy.

“Consequently, the very low acceptance rate for LGBT worshipers reported by Roman Catholic clergy would be very high if reported by Roman Catholic congregants.

“The survey’s apparent discrepancy arises only because the interviewers didn’t adjust the survey to accommodate the uniquely Catholic gap between what clergy dictate vs. what congregants believe. Other faiths don’t have this gap.

So, while the Catholic statistics appear sobering, there does seem to be some explanation for them, and they may not accurately paint the full picture of the Catholic community.  Still, even though the report reflects only Catholic leadership’s views,  that is evidence that there is still work to be done with Catholics, especially their leaders.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

US Catholics Praise Pope Francis in Polling and Words

Frank Bruni

Polling done by The Huffington Post and YouGov reveals that 81% of American Catholics believe Pope Francis is having a positive impact on the Church, with negative ratings in the single digits.

In answer to another question in the survey

“. . . 46 percent of U.S. Catholics think Francis’ remarks, during [his recent] interview [in America magazine], reflect a ‘good change’ in church direction, while 20 percent say his take on the issues ‘doesn’t go far enough in changing church policy.’

“Just 15 percent of Catholics said the pope strayed ‘too far from traditional church values,’ while 19 percent were unsure how they felt.”

Commentaries on Pope Francis’ interview reflect this warmness as Catholics spoke more personally and practically on how the pope is making waves. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides previews of articles that are worth reading in their entirety by clicking on the provided links.

Frank Bruni, a gay columnist in the New York Times, wrote about the pope’s humility in a piece titled, “The Pope’s Radical Whisper.” Bruni writes:

“But it wasn’t the particulars of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking message in an interview published last week that stopped me in my tracks, gave fresh hope to many embittered Catholics and caused hardened commentators to perk up.

“It was the sweetness in his timbre, the meekness of his posture. It was the revelation that a man can wear the loftiest of miters without having his head swell to fit it, and can hold an office to which the term “infallible” is often attached without forgetting his failings. In the interview, Francis called himself naïve, worried that he’d been rash in the past and made clear that the flock harbored as much wisdom as the shepherds. Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper.

“What a surprising portrait of modesty in a church that had lost touch with it.”

Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ

From the perspective of clergy, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese spoke with NPR about what Pope Francis’ words could mean for those in ministry. Many priests and religious are supportive of LGBT people, but refrain from publicly speaking out due to fear. Fr. Reese believes the pope could mean less fear and more liberation among clergy to minister as they desire:

“I think it will [shape how priests act]. I’ve, you know, heard from other priests how delighted and affirmed they are by what he is saying. I think this is going to liberate a lot of people, a lot of priests in their preaching to say the kinds of things that the pope has said. I mean, frankly, five years ago I would have been afraid to say the very things that the pope himself is saying today. So, I think this is going to liberate a lot of priests.”

Critiquing the ‘culture wars’ mentality of the American bishops that has led many Catholics to leave their parishes over LGBT equality and other issues, James Salt of Catholics United writes at Fox News about a new trend he is witnessing among progressive Catholics:

James Salt

“But with his message of love and inclusion, Francis is, hopefully, staunching this trend. With his words and actions, he is showing us how a more authentic and humble expression of our faith can inspire a culture.

“I can personally attest this fact. Speaking for myself and for many of my friends, we can say for the first time in many years that we see signs of hope from the leadership of our church…

“So this Sunday, I expect to see more faces of formerly lost sheep in the pews. I know many of my progressive friends are planning to give Sunday services a second look.”

Kate Childs-Graham
Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs Graham wondered about those very bishops’ response to Pope Francis in a Quote to Note last week, and now suggests silence on LGBT issues as a good first step for the American hierarchy in The Guardian, writing:

“All I could think was, ‘This guy gets it’. He gets what Catholics have been saying for years. He gets that Catholics don’t want our hierarchy to have limited views that don’t reflect our own. He gets why so many Catholics have been searching for the nearest exit. He gets that things need to change…

“Since Francis’ election, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops hasn’t seemed to reverse course. The bishops are still advocating against the rights of LGBT people with both money and voice…Perhaps the bishops can’t go cold turkey and they need to wean themselves off their ‘obsession’ – Francis’ word – with abortion and gay and transgender people. I’d suggest silence as a good option.”

Fr. Peter Daly

Fr. Peter Daly, who writes the column, “Parish Diary” in the National Catholic Reporter lauded Pope Francis as a fellow pastor for re-emphasizing the role of mercy, reconciliation, and healing in parishes:

“A good pastor will eventually get around to moral issues, but our first words should be good news, not rules. As Pope Francis puts it, ‘The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.’…

“The Christian life is not so much about rules as it is about relationships. It’s about a relationship with Christ and with each other. If you don’t have a relationship with someone, they won’t care if you quote the rule book to them. If you do have a relationship with someone, you probably won’t need to quote the rules. That’s what St. Paul means by the law of love…

“Pope Francis recognizes the complexity of life. People must be seen in the context of their lives. I tell the catechumens that God sees our lives as a movie, not a snapshot. It’s God’s view of the life that the church should be trying to take.

“I admired John Paul II. I respected Benedict. But I think I could love Francis.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

After SCOTUS, Shifts to State Level Struggles Begin

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC

Catholic responses to Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions around marriage equality continue from politicians, pundits, and parishioners alike. Celebrations remain fervent, but much of the commentary now speculates about the future of the marriage equality struggle focused at the state level.

Fr. Gary Meier, who recently ‘came out’ as an openly gay Catholic priest, has called on Catholics to celebrate these decisions (and more so, to celebrate the couples behind them) in The Huffington Post:

“Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church has already begun to soften their position on same-sex unions…for hope’s sake, let’s celebrate. As Catholics, we can and ought to celebrate committed relationships of love between persons. We can and ought to celebrate life-giving relationships of love, physically, emotionally and spiritually between two people. And in the words of Cardinal Christopher Schonborn, we ought to ‘respect long-term, committed relationships between people of the same gender.’ “

U.S. bishops condemned rather than celebrated on Wednesday. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who heads up the US bishops’ committee on marriage legislation, and other diocesan officials released statements. Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 reported on the response of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. These reactions wer expected, but the Supreme Court’s rulings are causing a rethink about why and how the Catholic hierarchy’s involvement will shift on marriage equality.

Scott Alessi at U.S. Catholic questions the bishops’ objections over the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 rulings as nonsensical given what was really at issue in the legal cases. When the bishops claim ‘the Court got it wrong,’ Alessi asks where exactly they erred:

“Though it is the bishops’ right, and even their duty, to proclaim the church’s teachings on marriage, religious beliefs cannot be the basis on which the Supreme Court makes a decision. In fact, the ‘truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman’ was not the question placed before the court at all.

“[United States v. Windsor] was a question of how the Constitution applies in a complex situation where the state and federal governments differ in their laws…that decision was reached without any consideration given to religious beliefs regarding marriage—just as the First Amendment’s establishment clause intended.”

Thomas Reese at the National Catholic Reporter predicts a de-centralizing effect will take place as emphasis shifts from a national campaign headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the USCCB to state-level efforts directed by local bishops. Reese breaks down three paths he sees as possible for these leaders:

“Bishops in states that have legalized gay marriage may conclude that it is politically impossible to reverse the decision in their states and therefore admit defeat and move on.

“Bishops in red states where gay marriage is not legal may judge the fight worth making because with other allies, they have a good chance of maintaining the status quo.

“The tough call will be for bishops in blue states, where polls show growing support for gay marriage. Here they must choose between fighting gay marriage or negotiating exemptions for the church as a price for their silence. No bishop wants to talk publicly about this on the national level, but in the back rooms of state legislatures, this may be the best deal that the bishops can get.”

Notably, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois, a Catholic, cited the rulings as evidence his state must pursue equal marriage rights again after a failed attempt this spring, as reported at BND.com:

” ‘Today the Supreme Court took a historic step by providing equal access to more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits for same-sex couples. Members of the Illinois House now have more than 1,100 new reasons to make marriage equality the law in Illinois…’

” ‘The opportunity to guarantee equal rights and benefits to all citizens — under both state and federal law — is one we must seize here in the Land of Lincoln without delay. Now is the time for all to put differences aside, band together and redouble our efforts to make it happen.’ “

The Supreme Court’s decisions are victories rightfully celebrated, but the state level struggles are just beginning as only 13 US states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out for Catholics, and Bondings 2.0 will update our readers with all the latest in these ongoing campaigns for legal LGBT equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry