Top Vatican Official for Family Life Rebukes U.S. Bishops

Pope Francis’ top official for marriage and family issues criticized his U.S. colleagues this week for their failure to engage the pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia during their meeting. His criticism comes as larger questions are raised anew about the ongoing divide between bishops in the U.S. and the pope, and what the bishops’ direction will be these next few years.

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Archbishop Kevin Farrell

Archbishop Kevin Farrell, the cardinal-designate tasked with leading the Vatican’s new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, made his remarks during the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) this week.

Farrell directly rebuked Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other bishops who have released pastoral guidelines on the exhortation, without broader consultation, telling Catholic News Service:

“I think that it would have been wiser to wait for the gathering of the conference of bishops where all the bishops of the United States or all the bishops of a country would sit down and discuss these things. . .[to ensure] an approach that would not cause as much division among bishops and dioceses, and misunderstandings.”

Farrell said that even though bishops must respond to their local contexts, “they need to be open to listening to the Holy Spirit and open to what the bishops of the world” discussed during the Synod on the Family. Asked specifically about Chaput’s restrictive guidelines, which, among other sanctions, ban gay and lesbian people in relationships from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to some Catholics, Farrell said:

” ‘I don’t share the view of what Archbishop Chaput did, no. . .I think there are all kinds of different circumstances and situations that we have to look at — each case as it is presented to us.

” ‘I think that is what our Holy Father is speaking about, is when we talk about accompanying, it is not a decision that is made irrespective of the couple.’ “

Farrell said the church cannot be “closing the doors before we even listen to the circumstances and the people,” but must rather say the church will work and walk with couples outside a heteronormative framework “to bring them into full communion.”

There was almost no other mention of Amoris Laetitia during the USCCB meeting which concluded yesterday, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Incoming Conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, confirmed in a press conference that no national conversation or Conference initiative was planned for implementing the exhortation’s vision. He assured reporters that conversations and local programs were, however, happening.

An ad hoc committee headed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia compiled a four-and-a-half page report on such diocesan-level responses, in which he includes, as a resource, his own highly-criticized guidelines.  The report will receive no formal attention during the meeting, said Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, a member of the Communications Committee.

At a recent speech delivered at the University of Notre Dame, Chaput presented a vision of the church which is very much at odds with Pope Francis’ more expansive vision. He told attendees they should “never be afraid of a smaller, lighter church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness,” reported the National Catholic Reporter. Chaput continued:

” ‘Losing people who are members of the church in name only is an imaginary loss. . .It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight.’ “

Chaput targeted Democratic politicians for, in part, their support of LGBT rights, suggesting that Vice President Joe Biden and others were “cowards” promoting “silent apostasy.” He praised now President-elect Donald Trump’s “gift for twisting the knife in America’s leadership elite and their spirit of entitlement, embodied in the person of Hillary Clinton.” Chaput also subtly attacked Islam, the accompaniment model for ministry preferred by Pope Francis, and even just being inclusive which he said was “not just lying but an act of betrayal and violence” if church teaching is not first upheld firmly.

Pope Francis himself provided a message to the USCCB meeting via video message which emphasized his more expansive vision for the church. Though ostensibly about the Fifth National Hispanic Pastoral Encuentro beginning January 2017, the pope’s words are applicable broadly for the Conference’s work if only the bishops would hear them. The pope said, in part:

“Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges.  The Church in America, as elsewhere, is called to “go out” from its comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion. Communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope.”

Observers of the USCCB have noted for several years how distant mostU.S. bishops are from the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, championing opposition to abortion and LGBT rights above a more consistent ethic of life and the pastoral accompaniment of Catholics. Michael Sean Winters commented in the National Catholic Reporter about the Conference’s failed religious liberty campaign:

“In his update to the body on the work of the ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, Archbishop William Lori said they were making a difference. Are they? The centerpiece of their campaign, the ‘Fortnight for Freedom,’ garners little attention. In the popular press, religious liberty is now usually accompanied by scare quotes. In the popular mind, the cause of religious liberty is linked to discrimination against gays and lesbians, and not without reason. If that will be the faultline for religious freedom litigation in the years ahead, I shudder at the prospects for religious freedom.”

It is less clear what message the election of Cardinal DiNardo as USCCB president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as vice president sends about this divide between Rome and Baltimore. As Bondings 2.0 noted yesterday, they are more moderate choices from the given slate of candidates but they are certainly not positive voices for LGBT people.

But DiNardo told Crux that the election of a bishop who oversees a largely immigrant diocese and a bishop who is Hispanic, might be sending a message that the U.S. church stands with immigrant communities under a Trump administration. If this is true, we can hope it suggests a shift in the Conference away from its fixation on stopping LGBT rights to a much-needed focus on defending vulnerable populations who are far less safe than they were November 7.

Finally, activists have shown they will not stop pushing the USCCB on gender and sexuality issues. Earlier this week, DignityUSA members held a vigil outside the Conference to remember victims of the Orlando massacre this past June and call on bishops to use proper language for LGBT people. Elsewhere, former Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois raised a banner during the opening Mass, calling on the bishops to stop persecuting gay people. Bridget Mary Meehan described the action on her personal blog, writing:

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Rev. Roy Bourgeois protests U.S. bishops treatment of gays, and he is joined by Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a Roman Catholic Woman Priest, who supported women’s ordination.

“[Roy’s face] looked angelic. He felt led by the Spirit, he said, to proclaim the message on his banner to the leaders of the US Church: ‘Bishops, Stop Persecuting Gays.’ He said he had to pull himself and the banner away from a security guard before making his way to the altar. There he bowed down and kissed it before holding up the banner to the bishops and turning it to the people of God. Then, he said, two priests tried to pull the banner away from him and he felt like they attacked him. He was surprised because they were priests. He had expected them to just allow him to walk out.”

From the Vatican (via Farrell) and the pews, it seems bishops in the U.S. are being asked to be more faithful to their office as shepherds and less eager to be politicians whose actions are corrosive to both ecclesial unity and people’s wellbeing.

Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will explore further responses which Catholic bishops have offered to Amoris Laetitia beyond the United States.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 17, 2016

 

How USCCB Leadership Candidates Have Approached LGBT Issues

UPDATE:  The election results are in:  Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston was elected president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles was elected vice president. It looks like the bishops chose the most moderate leaders from the slate of ten described below.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elects its new leadership for the next three years this morning, and will discuss as well its strategic plan for implementing priorities adopted last November. Each time the USCCB has met since Pope Francis’ election in 2014, observers have wondered when U.S. bishops would come around to the pope’s more pastoral vision for the church. Today’s post focuses in on the slate of ten presidential/vice-presidential candidates and their record on LGBT issues.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond
Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is considered among the more pastoral candidates, including his approach to LGBT communities. In 2013, he announced a new outreach initiative in the archdiocese, and apologized to the LGBT community for the Church’s silence in 1973 when 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar. Aymond encouraged Catholic parishes to maintain affiliations with the Boy Scouts after the organization accepted openly gay leaders in 2015. That same year, the archbishop personally apologized to a gay man denied Communion at his parent’s funeral. Aymond was a candidate in the last USCCB election at which point he told the media, “I think that there are really people who believe, unfortunately, that the church is against people who are [gay and lesbian] or we don’t honor or give dignity to people who are of same sex orientation, and that is not true.”

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Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia just last month called for a “smaller, lighter” church of those he deems orthodox, and he issued pastoral guidelines this summer barring several categories of people from public ministry. One gay man has already been banned from being a lector under these guidelines, and other church workers have been sanctioned in the archdiocese in recent years. Chaput is no fan of Pope Francis and was a detractor of the Synod on the Family, along with ejecting LGBT groups from holding workshops on Catholic property during the 2015 World Meeting of Families. He is noted for ejecting children with same-gender parents access from Catholic school and voicing the antipathy of right-wing Catholics towards Pope Francis’ more welcoming style, even as a Villanova University study (in his own archdiocese) identified LGBT issues as a leading cause of declining Church attendance.

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Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was elected by his peers in the Conference to participate in the 2015 Synod on the Family. While there, he was among thirteen cardinals who signed a letter to Pope Francis essentially criticizing the pope’s handling of the 2014 synodal assembly. The Associated Press reported that DiNardo commented on Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment by saying it is really just what would be said about anyone. Last year, the cardinal opposed changes to the USCCB’s document on elections which had been criticized for its fixation on opposing marriage equality and a handful of other issues.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez
Archbishop José Gomez

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles is a leading Hispanic Catholic figure and presides over one of the US’ largest archdioceses.  Gomez opposed the teaching of LGBT history in California state education and signed onto a letter by several bishops opposing the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it now includes ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes.

Archbishop William Lori
Archbishop William Lori

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore criticized President Barack Obama’s executive order in 2014 to protect LGBT employees from discrimination. Lori led the USCCB’s religious liberty efforts, including the “Fortnight for Freedom,” which claimed the Catholic Church’s freedom was being attacked in part because of expanding LGBT equality. After moving to Baltimore, he opposed marriage equality in Maryland. He initially tried to downplay Pope Francis’ gay-friendly comments, but, in a hopeful sign, he said he will now rethink statements on LGBT and other controversial matters to see if they truly bring people to the Gospel.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron
Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit has compared breaking up same-gender relationships to the Exodus where Moses led the Hebrews to freedom. In 2015, he attempted to ban Catholics who support marriage equality from Communion. His comments prompted outcry from Catholic parents in Michigan, and from Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (links here and here) and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. He also banned Fortunate Families from using church property because of their speaker, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry.

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Archbishop Thomas Wenski

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami criticized Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year for officiating at a same-gender wedding, and has been quite critical of LGBT rights. This summer, Wenski even so far as to attack publicly his brother bishop, Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, for saying the church’s rhetoric had a role in the Orlando massacre. After marriage equality became legal in 2015, Wenski warned church workers in a letter that they would lose their jobs if they supported LGBT equality. Previously, Wenski wrote a letter to Catholics in which he opposed marriage equality by saying that it would open  up the path to polygamy.  Prior to being made archbishop of Miami, he was bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he closed down a well-established diocesan ministry to lesbian and gay people.

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Archbishop John Wester

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe has a more moderate record than most other candidates when it comes to LGBT issues. Last year, he supported non-discrimination legislation in Utah (where he was formerly bishop). Wester said the law  “honored the rights of both the LGBT community as well as the religious community. It allowed us to have our beliefs in the public square and to have people in the LGBT community not being discriminated against in such basic things as housing and employment. We felt it was in line with our Catholic social teaching.”

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City criticized a court ruling that legalized marriage equality in Oklahoma in 2014. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville has no strong record on LGBT issues.

Essentially unrepresented on the slate of presidential candidates are any true “Francis Bishops,” like Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, who will be made a cardinal later this month, or Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life commented to the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘There are bishops who recognize the pope’s pastoral approach and priorities are exactly what’s needed to begin recalibrating the church’s voice in the public square. . .Other bishops seem more comfortable doubling down on an approach that hasn’t been successful at inspiring people.’ “

Later today, the USCCB will also consider a strategic plan for its priorities adopted last November. These priorities were criticized by observers and even some bishops for not reflecting Pope Francis’ vision for the church. Archbishop Joseph Tobin, who was recently appointed to lead the Newark Archdiocese and who will be elevated to the College of Cardinals later this month, was among the critics. He said while there are no real problems with the priorities, they did not reflect the “newness that Pope Francis is bringing to the church universal.”

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese said it was “too late and too embarrassing” to revise the priorities, but suggested that a resolution endorsing Pope Francis’ major documents — Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si, and Amoris Laetitia — as guidelines for their strategic plan would help. The bishops need to practice “more dialogue, more pastoral sensitivity, and more compassion,” said Reese who also commented in the National Catholic Reporter:

“Such a resolution would put a different spin on the meaning of ‘evangelization’ and ‘marriage and family’ in the USCCB priorities. It would mean that evangelization programs in the U.S. should reflect in content and tone Evangelii Gaudium. It would mean that programs on marriage and family should reflect the content and tone of Amoris Laetitia. All old programs and policies would have to be reexamined to see if they reflect these documents. . .How the church approaches and accompanies divorced Catholics, gays, and those who disagree with the bishops would therefore have to change.”

Failing to shift their work will only perpetuate the harm already done. Michael Sean Winters wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

“The conference has continued to make their priority a crusade for religious freedom that has damaged the brand in ways their enemies could not do. . .They have since wedded the fight for religious liberty to efforts to discriminate against LGBT Americans, further damaging the cause by associating it with bigotry and alienating millions of young Catholics in the process.”

Winters concluded by asking whether the bishops would follow Pope Francis or “continue to let their actions and views be informed by the Catholic alt-right?”, and continued:

“No one should be sanguine about the [bishops’] antipathy towards Pope Francis. Electing culture warriors to leadership of the conference is a direct refutation of the guidance offered by Pope Francis and we all know it.”

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that many bishops in the United States are still clearly opposed to the vision of a church that is inclusive and merciful so frequently promoted by Pope Francis. For bishops like Charles Chaput and Allen Vigneron, when it comes to LGBT people this opposition to the pope’s outreach is doubly true.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 14, 2016

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

 

New Guidelines Ban LGBT People from Parish Ministries

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Archbishop Charles Chaput

In new guidelines, Philadelphia’s archbishop has banned people in same-gender relationships from pastoral or liturgical roles.

Archbishop Charles Chaput’s guidelines are a response to Amoris LaetitiaPope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on family, and the synodal process preceding the exhortation’s April publication. The guidelines, which became effective July 1, instruct church ministers involved with marriage and family life, or the church’s sacramental life on handling Catholics in diverse family arrangements.  In addition to restrictions on same-gender couples, the guidelines also tell pastors not to distribute communion to couples who are divorced and civilly remarried, as well as couples who are cohabitating.

(For New Ways Ministry’s response to the guidelines, click here.)

Addressing the pastoral care of people in same-gender relationships, Chaput wrote that pastors must prudentially judge an appropriate response to couples who “present themselves openly in a parish.” He continued:

“But two persons in an active, public same-sex relationship, no matter how sincere, offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community. Such a relationship cannot be accepted into the life of the parish without undermining the faith of the community, most notably the children.

“Finally, those living openly same-sex lifestyles should not hold positions of responsibility in a parish, nor should they carry out any liturgical ministry or function.”

Under a section titled “For persons who experience same-sex attraction,” Chaput said lesbian, bisexual, and gay Catholics should “struggle to live chastely” and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently.

Michael Rocks, president of Dignity/Philadelphia, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was “not surprised” by Chaput issuing such harsh guidelines, but questioned them nonetheless:

” ‘But I wonder how they tell if straight people are following the sexual rules of the church. . .How do they tell if the president of the parish council isn’t into child pornography or having a sexual relationship?’ “

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, said that instead of acknowledging the fullness of marriage and family, “in Philadelphia, it is all about the genitalia.” He continued:

“So intent are prelates like Archbishop Chaput in refusing to think there is anything really worth discussing here, they wish to shut down and foreclose the pope’s obvious invitation to discussion and adult decision making. . .

“When Archbishop Chaput gets to the situation of gay and lesbian Catholics, he declines to even show the simple respect of referring to gays and lesbians as they refer to themselves, adopting the awkward, and rude, circumlocution “those who experience same sex attraction. . .When such respect is seen to coincide with even the tiniest possibility that an opportunity to denounce homosexual relations as sinful will be missed, too many prelates follow Archbishop Chaput and decline the respect and seize the opportunity.”

Archbishop Chaput acknowledged part of the guidelines as a “hard teaching,” but insisted on these guidelines in the archdiocese. His record on LGBT issues had been already quite troubling before these guidelines were announced. He previously ejected LGBT organizations from hosting programs at a Catholic parish, and he warned LGBT Catholics against protesting ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Locally, he implemented a morality pledge for parents of Catholic schoolchildren that includes non-support of LGBT equality, dismissed the concerns of a Catholic mother with gay sons, and said he was “very grateful” lesbian educator Margie Winters had been fired by the Sisters of Mercy. This list of problematic statements and actions against LGBT people goes on.

Even with this record, banning Catholics in loving, fruitful same-gender relationships from all parish and liturgical ministries is notable. This exclusionary stance not only harms LGBT people and their families, but hinders the church’s mission too by depriving it of the many gifts and talents that faithful LGBT people offer the People of God.

Unfortunately, the archbishop’s merciless stance may not be limited to Philadelphia. Chaput, who participated in the 2015 General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, was appointed by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz to head a working group tasked with “furthering the reception and implementation of” Amoris Laetitia. He chairs, too, the Conference’s Committee on Family Life, and was elected to the Synod of Bishops’ 12-member permanent council.

–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

Fr. James Martin: Respecting Transgender People “Fairly Simple Thing to Do”

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Jesuit Fr. James Martin again affirmed LGBT inclusion, saying transgender people using restrooms according to their gender identity “seems a fairly simple thing to do.” Meanwhile, U.S. bishops intensified their criticism of expanding transgender equality.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Martin was asked about the federal government’s new directive mandating transgender students be allowed to use gender-segregated facilities, like restrooms and locker rooms, according to their gender identity. Martin responded:

“I don’t know a whole lot about that issue, but I would say that I don’t understand the problem with letting transgender people use bathrooms that they feel comfortable in. Personally, I think it’s overblown and that people’s responses are really strange. I don’t know that much about transgender people but that’s all the more reason for us to try and treat them with dignity.

“I thought the comment from Attorney General Lynch was beautiful, that we are with you, we’re going to try to help you. Just as the church needs to treat gay and lesbians with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ which is in the catechism, it should be the same with transgender people. And letting them use the bathroom seems a fairly simple thing to do.”

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and on Catholic Education, called the federal directive “deeply disturbing” in a statement. They said the directive failed to balance “legitimate concerns about privacy and security” and “short-circuits” ongoing conversations about gender. Malone and Lucas quoted Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia which says youth must “accept their own body as it was created.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, pushed back against the bishops’ statement and their use of Pope Francis to justify discrimination:

“We believe, as do many Catholics, that our transgender kin reflect the immensity and diversity of God’s creativity. They challenge us to humbly re-examine traditional beliefs about sex, gender, identity, and human relationships, and to acknowledge the limitations of our current understanding in these areas. We urge the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to engage in dialogue with transgender youth and adults, as well as their families, so they can better understand the pastoral and practical needs of these communities.”

Fr. Martin also commented on Pope Francis’ impact on LGBT issues  generally. Martin said it is “hard to overstate the impact” that Francis’ papacy has had in welcoming LGBT people. But the Jesuit priest criticized the institutional church for not providing more outreach to LGBT people, and offered three points to enhance pastoral care and improve ecclesial inclusion:

“First, by listening to their experience. Usually LGBT people are preached at instead of listened to. Second, by going out [of] their way to make them feel welcome. Third, by including them in leadership positions as anybody else would be, as Eucharistic ministers and lectors and things like that. But the first thing is listening to them. What is their experience?”

What is readily apparent from these Catholic responses to the federal directive protecting transgender students in public schools is who has listened to and come to know LGBT people–and who has not. Too many bishops have not asked themselves nor informed their ministry with the question proposed by Martin, “What are the experiences of LGBT people?” Pope Francis’ own deficiencies on matters of gender and sexuality, readily apparent in Amoris Laetitia, seem to stem from a failure to ask this question more publicly and proactively.

LGBT non-discrimination protections, for students and for everyone else, can be readily defended using Catholic teaching. But personal stories and relationships are perhaps more powerful sources for our theology and our advocacy today. So before another top Vatican official condemns trans identities as “demonic” or more U.S. bishops keep opposing LGBT civil rights, perhaps a pause for listening and for dialogue would be an appropriate next step. After that, respecting LGBT people should easily become a “fairly simple thing to do.”

–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