Bishops Criticize Vice President Joe Biden for Officiating Same-Gender Marriage

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Tweet from Vice President Biden of the wedding ceremony

Vice President Joe Biden has been criticized by U.S. bishops for officiating at a same-gender wedding last week.

On Friday afternoon, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  (USCCB) published a blog post about public officials who officiate at same-gender marriages. Written by three bishops, the post does not mention the Vice President by name but, given the post’s timing, he is most likely one of its targets.

The bishops who authored the post are Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB president; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. They wrote:

“When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”

The bishops said that faithful witness “will only grow more challenging in the years to come,” alluding to their claims that expanded LGBT rights threaten their religious liberty. They cited both Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia and the pontiff’s address to the U.S. Congress last fall to support their negative position on same-gender marriage. When it comes to marriage equality, it seems some U.S. bishops are willing to reverse their general silence about Francis to use the popular pontiff in their opposition to LGBT rights.

Conservative Catholics have criticized Biden as well, reported Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter. The Lepanto Institute, an ultra-conservative watchdog group, wrote letter to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. asking whether Biden has  excommunicated himself by his action.  Yet, Edward Peters, a conservative canonist, acknowledged that canon law does not provide for excommunication in such a case.  Peters did suggest, however, that he thought that there are grounds to deny Communion to the Vice President.  So far, Wuerl has not responded, at least publicly, to either charge.

Last Monday, Biden officiated his first wedding, conducted for White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie. The Vice President, who is Catholic, has a long record of supporting LGBT rights and is credited with pushing President Barack Obama to endorse marriage equality.

Marriage equality is an irreversible given in the United States now. Why do the bishops keep expending their energy and resources fighting this new reality which protects families and expands love? Their opposition to LGBT rights is well-known, as is their public feud with the Obama administration. It is unclear what impact the bishops had hoped for with this blog post–especially since it seems that they took a swipe at the Vice President without directly confronting him. These bishops need to read a little more of Pope Francis’ writings, and reflect a little more on his witness of living out a church that is “home for all.”

I would point them specifically to Amoris Laetitia’s line that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them. Like many Catholics who affirm LGBT people and their relationships, Biden seems to have properly formed his conscience and then acted upon it by choosing to officiate this wedding ceremony. And like so many other Catholics, he is witnessing to God’s expansive and ever-present love.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

After Orlando, Bishops Should Cancel Fortnight for Freedom

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Catholics protesting the original Fortnight for Freedom in 2012.

When it comes to the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Catholics have not only responded to this horror, but to the failings of many church leaders to be in solidarity with LGBT communities. A handful of bishops identified the victims as LGBT people, but the vast majority including the Vatican could not even utter the word “gay” in their statements.

Today begins the U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign. While it is ostensibly focused on religious liberty, in reality this now-annual campaign promotes such freedom at the expense of the rights of LGBT people and others. In view of their failings in responding to Orlando last week, the bishops should cancel the Fortnight and instead use the time to reflect on how they might reconcile with LGBT people in the church and in society.

The bishops could begin by thinking about Micheal Sean Winters’ questions posed to them ahead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) spring meeting held in California last week. He wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

“Do you see that referring to gay people as ‘people who experience same sex attraction’ is not only a clunky and bizarre phrasing, in the wake of the attacks Sunday morning, it was offensive? Do you see that it seems you are afraid to mention the word, as if saying it were a kind of communicable disease? Does such a reluctance reflect the respect and dignity for the human person the Church celebrates?

“Do you think it is polite to refer to people in the manner that they refer to themselves? Do you still call Presbyterians and Lutherans heretics? Would you appreciate being called papists? Idolators? Does your hesitancy reflect concern about certain theories about LGBT issues you have been sold by some conservative groups and, if so, is this reluctance to call gay people gay not an example of putting ideology before people which the pope has denounced as the source of great evil and many barriers and injustices in our world?”

Winters asked, too, about whether bishops’ conflicts about their own sexual identities “helped or hindered” their relations with LGBT people. Robert Mickens in the National Catholic Reporter  followed a similar line of questioning. On LGBT people, Mickens wrote, church teaching and most church leaders “put us in closets and do all they can to keep us there.” He suggested the roots of these problems reside in priests’ own homophobia:

“Closeted homosexuality among the clergy — especially in the hierarchy — is one of the most serious pathologies that continues to hamper our ordained ministers from being prophetic leaders.”

Mickens called gay priests who acknowledge their sexual identity but remain closeted “truly heroic men.” These priests and male religious are the “first and most tragic victims of a faulty and hurtful teaching” because they not only must hide themselves but must represent the very church causing that harm. Some of these priests and religious leave active ministry, while others remain to serve the people of God. Then Mickens identified the real problem as those priests and religious who are “homosexually oriented but refuse to admit this even to themselves.” He wrote:

“In this way, they unwittingly inflict their own unacknowledged suffering and pathology on others by mercilessly preaching a rigid morality and insisting on a strict adherence to the letter of every ecclesiastical law. . .These are the tightly buttoned-up types, in every sense of the word. And so many of them tend to find their identity in the traditionalist wing of the church.”

Vatican actions, including letters from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a 2005 instruction designed to bar gay men from seminary, have forced church ministers deeper into their closets. Mickens noted that the failings of many bishops to even note it was an LGBT nightclub targeted in Orlando “clearly attest that they fear even mentioning gay people.”

When closeted church leaders’ internal struggles are externalized as anti-LGBT actions, such decisions are too often acceptable in the bishops’ eyes. The Fortnight for Freedom’s skewed vision, the divisions it causes, and the aspersions it casts against Catholics who support LGBT equality, become normalized at the USCCB. Bishops’ failure to respond pastorally or even honestly after a massacre of LGBT people should almost be expected in such a stifling atmosphere.

Noting that today is “a time of increased danger to LGBTQ people (and those thought to be LGBTQ.),” theologian Lisa Fullam wrote on Commonweal’s  blog that “Queer Lives Matter.” The social reality therefore demands an improved and positive response from Catholic leaders, a response called for with renewed urgency after Orlando.  Fullam writes:

“The Orlando shooter was not Catholic. Nor does any reputable voice of Catholic leadership justify the killing of LBGT people, as, sadly, some ‘Christians’ have. While racism still afflicts our Church, our doctrine is not to blame, at least not any more–we still have much work to do, certainly, but no current Church teaching upholds racial or ethnic discrimination on theological grounds. Not so homophobia, which does still afflict both doctrine and practice in Catholicism.”

Many Catholics are advising the bishops on how they could have respond better to Orlando, and Bondings 2.0 will highlight some of these suggestions tomorrow. But for now, Fullam offers a strong call to action. She elucidated Catholic sources for anti-LGBT prejudices, including the harsh language in church teaching and the epidemic of firing of LGBT church workers, before concluding:

“In the wake of Orlando, where racist homophobia killed 49 Americans and terrorized millions of LGBTQ people, especially queer people of color, it is time for the Church–the people of God, all of us–to step away from language that fuels distrust and disdain of sexual minorities. It is time for us to exercise positive solidarity with LGBTQ people. As with racism, it is not enough to renounce overtly homophobic acts, but rather we must recognize and stand against the structures of social sin that drive them. As Bishop Lynch observed, the Catholic faith is not innocent on this score. Instead, our churches must be safe places for LGBTQ people (and especially clergy, who are largely silenced about their sexuality) to be ‘out,’ and our institutions must be secure places to work. . .And please–if there is a Pride parade coming up near you, go out and stand with the LGBTQ community. Come and mourn and celebrate, come thumb your nose at the forces of sin and death that only love can overcome. In the wake of this most recent explosion of savage racist homophobia, we must all stand together as children of the same God.”

After Orlando, church leaders should, at the very least, be silent if they are unable to express true solidarity with the victims of the Pulse nightclub, their loved ones, and the LGBT communities worldwide suffering after this attack. Cancelling the Fortnight for Freedom would be a humble and penitent step towards reconciliation with those Catholics and people in society who have been harmed by the bishops’ politicking. It would be an overdue but honest recognition that those young people gunned down in Orlando were lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer children of God, wonderfully made and worth celebrating. And it would be a healthy and welcome recognition that the bishops’ campaign against civil rights has perpetuated the homophobia and transphobia which not only caused the Orlando massacre, but causes daily suffering for LGBT people and their families.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Bishops’ Employment Action Against Editor Has Troubling Consequences for U.S. Church

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Tony Spence

More than sixty church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008, but the recent news of Tony Spence’s departure from Catholic News Service(CNS) gained wider attention in Catholic media because of his high-profile position.

Spence was director and editor-in-chief of CNS, which is owned by the USCCB. His forced resignation has chilling implications for church workers and for the bishops’ conference. It raises troubling questions for the U.S. church primarily because the USCCB responded so swiftly and completely to accusations leveled against Spence by several small right-wing Catholic groups. The alleged offenses for which Tony Spence was fired are sending tweets about LGBT news stories.  For example, in one tweet he described a story about transgender Catholics sharing their stories as “fascinating.” In another, he called anti-LGBT laws in places like Mississippi and North Carolina “stupid.”

Robert Mickens, writing in Commonweal, said the Spence situation was “further enabling homophobic and hate-mongering heretic hungers” on the church’s right wing.  Mickens said the USCCB caved to the extremist attacks on Spence, and without warning, asked for his resignation, despite his sterling professional record which includes being an advisor to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Small organizations like these accusers, some consisting of a single person, have targeted LGBT church workers before and now even attack those Catholics who dare to comment on LGBT issues.

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter, calling the firing “regrettable in the extreme,” echoed the reality that such actions only encourage extremist behavior. He wrote:

“[T]he USCCB has become in thrall to right-wing activists whose ability to weigh competing values is skewed or worse. The bishops have been ill-served, and many of them know it, but no one has taken the lead in seeking to change it. The conference is losing staff faster than the Titanic lost passengers. Now, they will range themselves among that sliver of conservative opinion that believes they must fight and die on the hill of opposition to LGBT rights. Someone should tell them that the country passed that hill five miles back.”

Patricia Miller, writing for Religion Dispatches, said Spence’s firing should not be surprising because it is in keeping bishops’ actions nationally, which have included the monitoring of church workers’ social media profiles:

“Across the country, conservative Catholic bishops have pushed employees of Catholic institutions to sign what are in effect loyalty oaths that promise to monitor the Twitter accounts and Facebook pages of employees of Catholic institutions. . .the bishops’ strategy appears to be ever-tighter wagon-circling, and Spence was definitely on the outside of the circle.”

The Spence situation will also impact CNS. Mickens asserts that conservatives at USCCB have sought to change the news service into “a propaganda wing for the conference’s numerous culture war battles.” He explained:

“But Spence struggled to protect the independence that is written into the news agency’s statutes—one of the features that has made Catholic News Service such a good, reliable, and credible source of church news and analysis.

“But like just about everything else the reactionary leaders at the U.S. bishops’ conference touch these days, it looks like they are determined to ruin this too.”

Winters agreed that CNS would become “worthless” if it loses editorial independence.

Winters looked deeper than the standard claim that Spence was forced out for posting tweets opposing LGBT discrimination. He suggested the USCCB, unable to back down from the religious liberty narrative, is shifting away from contraception issues related to the Affordable Care Act to issues of LGBT civil rights. To support this idea, Winters commented:

“No one likes to admit it, but the Church’s theology related to gays and lesbians is inadequate. For two thousand years, the working assumption was that gays and lesbians were behaving in an aberrational manner but, in recent years, most people have come to accept that being gay is not a choice to act in a certain way, but is constitutional for that person. We have not yet wrestled with that fact, and the changed moral framework it requires, adequately. . .

“I fear, too, that the same psychology at the conference that led them to fire Spence would frustrate any effort to find a compromise formula on the issue of LGBT rights. Unlike the fight over the contraception mandate. . .this time the bishops should start with the theology and let the legal strategy flow from that.”

Finally, and most basically, Winters reminded the bishops that, on seeking to restrict LGBT rights, “[t]hey will lose” and “deserve to lose.” People in the U.S. generally disagree that religious liberty is under attack, and Catholics readily question whether the bishops’ advocacy has crossed the threshold from genuine political participation to partisan campaigning.

In her Religion Dispatches essay, Miller stated the same idea in a different way:

“Spence’s firing, and the lack of respect for both freedom of the press and individual conscience it reflects, shows just how transactional the bishops’ relationship with fundamental American freedoms really is.”

The Spence fiasco raises serious questions for the for the U.S. church. Does the USCCB find that simply listening to Catholics’ lived experiences, something so forcefully witnessed to by Pope Francis, a threatening proposition? Does the USCCB totally reject opposition to discrimination against marginalized communities, an undeniable principle in Catholic social thought? Is an accomplished veteran journalist and Vatican advisor, celebrated by his peers on both accounts, so readily expended to appease extremist Catholic elements?

Without a statement from the USCCB about the Spence situation and the issues that it raises, it seems that the U.S. bishops are answering “yes” to these questions. And to that, U.S. Catholics must respond with a very clear no.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? U.K. Bishops Open Dialogue; U.S. Bishops Should Do the Same

“WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?” is  Bondings 2.0’s series on how Catholics–the hierarchy and laity–can prepare for the Synod on Marriage and Family that will take place at the Vatican in October 2015. If you would like to consider contributing a post to this series, please click here

The news of a slate of mostly conservative bishops being elected to represent the U.S. church at the synod on marriage and the family in Rome next October was disappointing.  However, across the Atlantic, news about the synod preparatory plans of the bishops of England and Wales are much more optimistic.

The Tablet reports that these British bishops are going to “launch a wide-ranging consultation of parishes and clergy ahead of next year’s Synod on the Family.”  The article reports:

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“Following their biannual plenary meeting in Leeds this week, the bishops would like a period of spiritual reflection in each parish and, separately, to hear the experiences of clergy on the main “pastoral challenges” they encounter with families.

“Speaking at a press conference on Friday Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that material would be sent out to parishes and clergy after Christmas. The period of reflection should go on until June or July of next year ahead of the synod in October 2015.

“ ‘It is not so much a request for opinions as a request for testimony,’ Cardinal Vincent Nichols said at the bishops’ conference offices in London.

“ ‘You will recall that the two great features of the synod in October was on the one hand for it to give a resounding trumpet call in support of marriage and stability of family life, and on the other hand express and strengthen the pastoral response of the Church in a wide variety of difficult and pressurised situations. We hope the material we prepare will find that same balance.’ ”

Nichols also made a point of saying that the results of such discussions should be made public.  When a synod organizer sent a questionnaire to bishops last year to disseminate to the laity, the Vatican asked that the results not be made public.

Such an open discussion is what is needed here in the United States, and it was exactly that kind of discussion that Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups that work for LGBT equality, asked of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) last week.  Coalition members–Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry–sent a letter to the conference last week in which they asked the bishops the following:

Equally Blessed Logo“To prepare for this upcoming event, we urge each of you to initiate a wide conversation with Catholics in your dioceses on marriage, sexuality, and family life, so that so that you can better understand how these realities are experienced by people of faith who actively work to discern how to follow God’s Will.  Since LGBT issues figured so prominently in this past October’s sessions, and since no openly LGBT person provided testimony at these events, it will be necessary to initiate those conversations with LGBT Catholics and their families, in particular. . . .

“Now is the time for bishops in the U.S. to replicate Pope Francis’ process on the local level by opening up a conversation on marriage, family, and sexuality. Many Catholics, especially LGBT people and their families, have waited decades for such an opportunity, and have been heartened by the fact that this year’s synod opened up this much needed discussion.”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo, writing for the Equally Blessed coalition, posted an essay on Advocate.com explaining the importance of such a dialogue:

“Since LGBT issues caused so much discussion and disagreement, it will be especially important for U.S. bishops to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. This synod showed that there were a majority of bishops who were willing to recognize that lesbian and gay people “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” in the words of an early draft report. Similarly, that same report noted that the “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” that same-sex partners offer one another “constitutes a precious support” in the couple’s life. It’s important for U.S. bishops to explore these ideas, and the best way of doing so is to listen intently to those closest to these issues. . . .

“The synod’s free and open discussion among bishops must be replicated in local churches. The Catholic laity are an educated and insightful resource. More importantly, they are the true experts on the topics of marriage, family, and sexual expression, since they are the people who live these realities every day, not the bishops. While Catholics develop their theology from scripture, tradition, and nature, they also develop it from examining the lived experience of people of faith. What leader of any organization would want to ignore the perspectives of the people who know an issue because they live it? . . .

“Last year a number of bishops complained that they could not gather input from laity because they only had two months to do so. Now they have 11 months, which is plenty of time to circulate surveys, hold listening sessions, meet with leaders, and post response forms on diocesan websites. When the bishops want to get a message out about opposing some legislative or judicial measure, they do not seem to lack in creativity in using all sorts of media to alert Catholics. Let’s see them use the same creativity to gather opinions on these matters.”

The U.S. bishops need to be encouraged to open such a dialogue, therefore we urge you to write to your local bishop and ask him for such a possibility.  Use some of the arguments and language from this blog post, the Equally Blessed letter, or the Advocate.com essay to make your point.  You can even start the dialogue yourself by sharing your personal story with your bishop so that he can see the faith lives of LGBT people and families, and also see the situations, positive and negative, that they encounter in their local churches.

#BishopsListen model sign. A blank form can be downloaded from the Equally Blessed website.

Equally Blessed is also promoting a Facebook  and Twitter campaign to encourage people to contact their local bishops.  Here’s how it works:

“Take a photo with a #BishopsListen sign to ask your local bishop to listen to families like yours. Then post your photo on facebook or twitter with the hashtag #bishopslisten, or email your photo to coordinator@equally-blessed.org.”

You can read more about the campaign by clicking here.

The U.S. bishops need to follow the example of the U.K. bishops.  But it is probably going to take the encouragement of the laity to get them to do so.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related posts

Queering the Church:  “For English Catholics, a ‘Request for Testimony’ ”

Bondings 2.0: “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Writing Letters to Our Bishops

 

 

Bishops’ Meeting Spotlights Tensions About Pope Francis and LGBT Issues

Though the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Baltimore this week has not produced anything substantial in terms of policy, the news coming from that gathering focused on the split reaction that bishops have had to Pope Francis’ call for a more open church.

Of course, not all bishops fear the pope’s new approach.  In fact, some seem to be emulating his style, as I will point out later in this post.  First, I’d like to examine the tension that appears to exist in the bishops’ conference with regard to Pope Francis. Such an examination may be fruitful because the same dynamic of tension exists in the discussion of LGBT issues in the church.

New York Times article entitled “U.S. Bishops Struggle to Follow Lead of Francis” contained quotations from two different bishops which showed, I think, some of the underlying assumptions that guide responses to Francis.

Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich

Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich, who will soon lead the archdiocese of Chicago said:

“The pope is saying some very challenging things for people. He’s not saying, this is the law and you follow it and you get to heaven. He’s saying we have to do something about our world today that’s suffering, people are being excluded, neglected. We have a responsibility, and he’s calling people to task.”

But a few paragraphs later, the former archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, had a totally opposite evaluation of the pope:

Cardinal Francis George

“He says wonderful things, but he doesn’t put them together all the time, so you’re left at times puzzling over what his intention is. What he says is clear enough, but what does he want us to do?”

Those two quotations sum up a lot for me.  While Cupich emphasized that the pope is not ordering people to follow rules, George’s response is a question which asks the pope to provide the bishops with definite direction.  To me, that distinction underlines a difference in the church between people who are more comfortable with discussion and discernment versus those who are more comfortable with authority and obedience.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters estimates that “As many as half of the bishops are those who simply do not understand what Pope Francis is trying to achieve.”  He thinks 25% “are genuinely enthusiastic about Pope Francis,” and another 25% are “digging in, resisting the pope, hoping it will all blow over quickly.”

In a Religion News Service article by David Gibson, church observer Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia blog, described the distinction between the bishops’ camps using different language:

“The prelates know they can’t go back to the way things were, said Palmo, who was covering the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which runs through Thursday.

“But, he said, they are still trying to figure out how to adapt Francis’ flexible pastoral style to their local situations. ‘When you come from an institutional mindset,’ as Palmo said many American bishops do, ‘that’s going to create some apprehension.’ ”

Many of the news reports seem to focus on the fact that many of the U.S. bishops fall into the “authority and obedience” camp.  But other reports have been sprinkled with quotations showing that some bishops are following Pope Francis’ lead.

Bishop Thomas Tobin

For instance,  Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, who a few weeks ago referred to the synod as “rather Protestant,” and who has been a strong opponent of marriage equality, seemed to acknowledge past errors in pastoral practice.  Michael O’Loughlin of CruxNow.com, interviewed Tobin at the meeting :

“As for his letter condemning same-sex marriage, Tobin acknowledged that gay Catholics seek ‘a sense of welcoming’ in the Church. He said that he believes the Church is open to them, but ‘have we always expressed that very clearly? I’m not so sure.’ ”

In a second article, O’Loughlin of CruxNow.com reported on Archbishop Joseph Kurtz’ presidential address to the conference:

“Kurtz defended the pope’s emerging “culture of encounter,” with its emphasis on mercy over judgment, embracing those not living in accord with Church teaching, and more directly assisting the poor and disadvantaged. He likened Francis’ philosophy to his own visits to the homes of parishioners when he was a pastor.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

“ ‘When I’d come to someone’s home, I wouldn’t start by telling them how I’d rearrange their furniture. In the same way, I wouldn’t begin by giving them a list of rules to follow. . . .’

“ ‘I would then invite them to follow Christ, and I’d offer to accompany them as we, together, follow the Gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way,’ he said. ‘Such an approach isn’t in opposition to Church teachings; it’s an affirmation of them. . . .’

“Notably absent from the address was a direct condemnation of same-sex marriage or even talk of threats to marriage, discussion of which had become a mainstay of the bishops’ group under Kurtz’ predecessor, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan.”

Kurtz did seem to be playing both sides of the coin, however, since in the same address he also heavily praised “St. John Paul II’s remarkable vision of marriage and family life as developed in his theology of the body.”

And Peter Smith, reporting for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazettenoted:

“Bishops, however, maintained they would continue opposition to legalized same-sex marriage and linked the issue to their outspoken campaign for religious liberty, which they say is being challenged by gay-rights legislation.”

As I mentioned, this same dynamic exists in the debate about LGBT issues in the church.  Should we be a church of welcome or of rules? Which is more important:  “discussion and discernment” or “authority and obedience”?  “A flexible pastoral style” or “an institutional mindset”?  A ministry of accompaniment or Theology of the Body?

It comes down to a simple dichotomy that Catholics have been noting for decades regarding LGBT issues:  social justice or sexual ethics?  Which of these moral traditions should govern how the Church approaches LGBT persons?  Pope Francis has elevated that distinction to the front and center of the church’s discussion on marriage, sexuality, and the family.

I hope and pray for a Church where social justice and concern for individuals is primary. I will watch with continued interest to see how this debate, now amplified, will play out.

This year’s bishops’ meeting may not have delivered anything memorable in terms of statements or policies, but it sure did help to make apparent this important tension in our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

Is it Possible for Bishops to Move Away from Marriage Equality Opposition?

Last week’s appearance of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) March in Washington, DC, inspired several journalists to look more closely at the relationship between the Catholic hierarchy and anti-marriage equality groups.

While we’ve noted before that there is a growing trend in the church of some church leaders speaking favorably of lesbian and gay couples, the road to full acceptance still is a long one.  Some of the new insights that these journalists have expressed show that a new relationship between Catholic leaders and the issue of marriage equality, while a challenge, is possible.

The challenge comes from some of the “strange bedfellows” that some bishops are connecting with, politically speaking.  Jeremy Hooper, at the Human Rights Campaign’s NOM Exposed blog, points out that in addition to Cordileone’s appearance at the rally, he also continues working behind the scenes with NOM leaders.   He was listed as a host of a recent strategy meeting in Princeton, New Jersey, with several of NOM’s top leaders and associates.

Will this continued association with NOM continue? The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters says that it shouldn’t.  In a recent column, he questioned Cordileone’s involvement at the rally because he sees NOM as  “dedicated to a strategy that is not only counter-productive, which is bad enough, but a strategy that is profoundly un-Christian.”

Winters offers evidence of NOM’s role in stirring up anti-gay legislation aborad as a major reason Cordileone should not have participated in the event:

“Their president, Brian Brown, spent time strategizing in Russia, encouraging that country’s parliament to enact harsh anti-gay laws that do not reflect the kind of love Archbishop Cordileone called for in his speech yesterday. The Uganda parliamentarian, David Bahati, who authored that country’s truly draconian anti-gay laws acknowledges the influence of U.S.-based groups in encouraging him and helping him, including the shadowy ‘Fellowship.’

“NOM’s stateside efforts are not much better. They are smart enough to know that promoting a law that would call for killing gays is a non-starter. But, they apparently are not smart enough to recognize that the great threats to marriage in our day have nothing to do with what gays do. Among the great threats to marriage is a hook-up culture that is to human love what laissez-faire economics is to the world of commerce and finance, a libertarianism in action which, like all that flows from that ‘poisoned spring,’ as Pope Pius XI termed it, devastates the Gospel.”

Winters concludes with a warning to bishops about how they need to shape their future rhetoric and action on the question of marriage:

“Finally, if the leaders of the Church are to become credible again on the issue of marriage, they cannot simultaneously insist that they are not motivated by anti-gay bigotry and then give speeches at rallies organized by bigots. This is not guilt by association. It is recognizing that such participation is a counter-witness to the Gospel. Archbishop Cordileone’s comments about loving those who do not share the Church’s teachings on marriage are, I am sure, sincere, but he betrays his own words when he demonstrates common cause with the architects of draconian laws that seek to deny the human dignity of gays and lesbians. This is obvious to the rest of us. One wonders why it was not obvious to +Cordileone.”

Pope Francis

The role that Pope Francis is playing in the bishops’ rhetoric on marriage equality and other issues is also an important factor that needs to be considered.  U.S. Catholic’s Scott Alessi notes the ambiguity and ambivalence that seems to characterize the U.S. bishops’ desire to follow Francis’ lead in taking a softer tone in regard to marriage equality and LGBT issues.  Noting that some headlines about the recent United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting proclaimed concord with Pope Francis, while others asserted a striking difference between the bishops and the pontiff,  Alessi writes:

“As is often the case with such things, the reality is somewhere in the middle. The bishops are a large and diverse group, and I don’t think anyone realistically could have anticipated a radical shift in the conference’s overall agenda. Some bishops have surely been taking the pope’s words to heart and thinking about how that impacts their work, while others are much less concerned with what’s being said in Rome than they are with what is happening in their own backyard.”

U.S. News and World Report published an insightful essay with a title that explains the confusion surrounding the “Francis factor”:  “When It Comes to Same-Sex Marriage, Both Sides Claim Pope Francis.”     On the pro-marraige equality side, the article quotes Michael Sherrad, executive director of Faithful America:

“Pope Francis has powerfully inspired countless Catholics and other Christians to a new vision for how the church can be compassionate. Unfortunately too many – not all, but too many – of the bishops in the United States and their conservative activist allies have really flouted what Pope Francis has had to say about gay and lesbian people.”

On the anti-marriage equality side, the writer quotes Chris Plant,  regional director of NOM:

“[Plant says that] Pope Francis’s tone is in line with the approach he sees his organization taking on the issue. ‘He is focusing on the fact that our dialogue ought to be civil,’ Plant says. ‘We absolutely ask for it to be a civil.’ ”

The U.S. News and World Report article also quoted a seasoned Catholic Church observer, noting the pope’s influence on the debate:

“ ‘I think he wants to move a little bit beyond the culture wars, at least certainly key issues in the culture wars,’ says Rev. Thomas P. Rausch, a Jesuit priest and a professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. ‘He can’t simply change the church’s teachings – the whole church has to be involved in that. But he can change the way that the church is perceived in terms of the range of issues it addresses. And I suspect that is what he wants to do.’ “

In a recent interview with Faith in Public Life’s John Gehring, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, former president of the USCCB and archbishop emeritus of Galveston-Houston, Texas, offered words of wisdom for how Pope Francis’ more compassionate approach can succeed:

“We have to take what he is saying seriously. We need bishops who reflect his style, and laypeople have to be involved so that this Francis era is not just a passing moment but salt and light for our church for many years to come.”

What I like about Fiorenza’s remarks is that he reminds us that if the more compassionate approach is to come about, it depends on lay people, as much as on bishops.  We need to remind ourselves of this reality when the going gets tough.  A new relationship between marriage equality and Catholic leadership is possible–but we’re the ones who have to help it along.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

Praying for All Marriages During National Marriage Week

LoveIsLoveToday is “National Marriage Day,” part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Marriage Week which spans from last Friday through next Friday, St. Valentine’s Day.

While the bishops have asked Catholics to participate in support of their anti-marriage equality campaign, other Catholics are affirming the goodness of marriage — and that means all marriages, which deserve equal recognition and dignity.

The Equally Blessed coalition, which consists of  Call to ActionFortunate FamiliesDignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry, has released a statement further explaining these events:

“The National Marriage Week campaign’s limited scope creates an unwelcoming Church for the thousands of US Catholics in same-sex marriages who live their lives as shining examples of love in the face of discrimination. By encouraging local parishes to observe ‘National Marriage Day’ during Sunday mass, the bishops are once again using the liturgy as a weapon to further alienate LGBT Catholics and their supporters.

“This campaign only serves to show how out of touch the bishops are with the values of everyday Catholics. While the bishops continue to abuse their power by pouring money and effort into thinly veiled anti-equality campaigns like National Marriage Week, the majority of US Catholics continue to support equality for LGBT families. Catholics know that all marriages based on love and respect are sacred and we implore the bishops to follow the laity’s lead and cease this attack on LGBT families.”

Equally Blessed, has prepared a “Prayer for All Marriages” which LGBT-affirming Catholics are being asked to pray today and throughout the week with their family, parishes, and local communities. You’re encouraged to show your support through stories and photos of how you have prayed and emailing these to coordinator@equally-blessed.org. You can find more resources by clicking here and the prayer is provided below:

Loving God, 
You who created each of us in Your own image 
and who called us together in community, 
 
We give You thanks for the gift of marriage 
and for the many couples 
whose love and commitment to each other reminds us 
of Your never-ending love for humanity. 
 
We thank You for all the different types of marriages in our world: 
young couples beginning a life together, 
 as well as couples celebrating decades of love, 
re-married couples and those who found each other later in life, 
couples whose marriages are recognized by our state and our Church, 
and same-sex couples who are denied that recognition 
but who continue to bravely model love and commitment in the face of discrimination. 
 
We thank You for the many kinds of families 
 that are strengthened by these marriages: 
families of biological children and adopted children, 
blended families and families of choice, 
as well as couples without children who work together 
 to nurture communities of love and justice. 
 
This week, as many are observing National Marriage Week, 
we ask You to pour Your blessings onto every marriage 
regardless of gender or sexual orientation. 
Make each marriage one of love, respect and peace. 
Guide each couple as they strive to be an example of your love in the world 
and surround them with family and friends 
 who honor and celebrate their commitment. 
 
Help us support marriage and family in all of its diversity 
and guide us as we speak out against oppression in our Church. 
Lead us toward the day when all loving unions will be seen as sacred 
and all couples will have the support and recognition of their faith communities. 
 
We pray this in the name of Jesus, who called us to love one another as we love You, 
Amen

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry