Vatican’s ‘Defeat for Humanity’ Statement Shows Church Officials Have Not Learned from the Irish Example

May 28, 2015

Reactions to Ireland’s historic referendum vote to establish same-gender marriage in that nation have brought responses from around the globe.  The latest reaction came from the Vatican Secretary of State who said it was “Not a defeat for Christian principles, it was a defeat for humanity.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin

Religion News Service noted that Cardinal Pietro Parolin made this comment while speaking on Vatican Radio, and that he also noted “The Church must take account of this reality, but in the sense of reinforcing its commitment to evangelization.”

This reaction from a high Vatican official differed from those of someone closer to Ireland, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who had stated that he thought the Church needed to consider the views of young people on this and other issues:

“I think really the church needs to do a reality check right across the board, to look at the areas in which we’re doing well and see have we drifted away completely from young people.”

Martin also acknowledged that gay and lesbian people would see the new legal option “enriching as the way they live”–a far cry from calling it a threat to humanity.

Parolin’s remarks seem to be part of a shift from the more positive rhetoric that Pope Francis had been employing in regard to LGBT issues. More recently, however, Pope Francis has made it clear that he opposes marriage equality initiatives. His speech at a Vatican-sponsored conference on “sexual complementarity” last fall, and an address about marriage and family during his visit to the Philippines are two examples. Yet, as a Guardian analysis of Parolin’s remarks pointed out:

“Parolin differed from the pope in one respect: the Argentinian pontiff has also used the phrase ‘defeat for humanity,’ but he was talking about war, not the legalisation of gay marriage.”

The heightened rhetoric of Parolin, though, is not only harmful because it is so harsh, but because it shows that Vatican officials have not yet absorbed the lesson of Ireland.  Throughout this past week, commentators have remarked on the significant change that this vote represents.  Even Archbishop Diarmuid Martin referred to it as a “social revolution.”

For instance, the Irish victory has emboldened other nations to go forward, with leaders in Italy and Germany calling for  similar votes.  In Germany, though many in the ruling Christian Democratic Union party  and the Green party are calling for marriage equality, Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken against it. Following Ireland’s example, Greenland’s parliament voted to adopt Danish laws on marriage equality.  The Irish victory has re-introduced the topic of marriage equality into Australia’s parliament. While Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister opposes the discussion, Bill Shorter, an opposition leader asked:

“If the Irish people can vote in favour of marriage equality, the question has to be asked, what is Tony Abbott’s problem with it?”

Indeed, Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist, has pointed out something that we have noted on this blog for a long time:  that Catholic people and Catholic nations have been in the forefront of the LGBT equality movement around the globe.  In speaking of Irish and other Catholic voters, Bruni said:

“They aren’t sloughing off their Catholicism — not exactly, not entirely. An overwhelming majority of them still identify as Catholic. But they’re incorporating religion into their lives in a manner less rooted in Rome.

“We journalists too often use ‘the Catholic Church’ as a synonym for the pope, the cardinals and teachings that have the Vatican’s stamp of approval.

“But in Europe and the Americas in particular, the church is much more fluid than that. It harbors spiritually inclined people paying primary obeisance to their own consciences, their own senses of social justice. That impulse and tradition are as Catholic as any others.”

With such momentum underway on the part of many nations and Catholic populations, Parolin’s extreme language will only continue to alienate people from Catholicism. It seems that he hasn’t learned that such language only pushes people further away. In Ireland, Fr. Brendan Hoban, a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in that country, observed that strong opposition messages from the bishops there worked against the hierachy’s goal.  Hoban stated in an Irish Times article:

“It was clear from the beginning that the bishops’ decision in policy terms to campaign for a blunt No vote was alienating even the most conservative of Irish Catholics. . . . [The referendum results highlighted] the gap between the church and a significant number of its people… It is so out of tune with the needs of the people.”

In the same article, Fr. Tony Flannery, another co-founder of ACP observed how the bishops’ strategy was not only a political, but a pastoral mistake. He said:

“[T]he day of doctrinaire Catholicism is over in this country. The people are no longer willing to listen to speeches and sermons on morality from the church.

“What was ‘particularly sad was to see the bishops in total opposition to a mass movement of the younger generation.’

“The very people whom the church should be trying to listen to, and trying to learn a way of communicating effectively with, were the ones they were driving further away with all their pastorals in each diocese.”

Instead of ramping up the negative rhetoric, bishops and church officials should focus on another form of communication which LGBT Catholics and supporters have requested for decades: dialogue.  Indeed, that was the message of Dave Donnellan, secretary of “Gay Catholic Voice of Ireland,” the LGBT Catholic organization in the Emerald Isle.  In a statement responding to the referendum vote, Donnellan spoke of the joy the members of his organization felt, but also added:

“As gay Catholics this profound joy was, however, tinged with deep disappointment that our own Church opposed this change. Whilst Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s comment that the Catholic Church needs a ‘reality check’ was noted, if this ‘reality check’ does not involve sitting down and having a dialogue with LGBT Catholics in his own diocese then it is of little value.”

If the Irish example teaches anything, it should teach church leaders that dialogue is the answer to how to proceed regarding not only marriage equality, but all LGBT issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

(Editor’s note:  There has been so much written on the landmark Irish referendum ushering in marriage equality that it has been hard to keep up with all of it.  Expect another post in a few days with more responses and analysis.)

Related articles

New York Times: “Vatican Official Denounces Ireland’s Vote for Same-Sex Marriage”

Crux: “Vatican: Irish marriage vote was a defeat for humanity”

Gay City News: “After This, No Exile: A Gay Priest Reflects on Ireland’s Declaration of Independence”

Religion Dispatches: “Did Ireland Just Bury the Catholic Church?”

Crux: “Irish voters were not swayed by their Church”

Huffington Post: “The Irish Referendum and the Future of Catholicism”

 


World Deserves More Than Rumors About the French Ambassador to the Vatican

April 26, 2015

Two weeks ago, on April 12th, we published a post with the headline “Did the Vatican Reject France’s Openly Gay Ambassador?” which noted that the Vatican has yet to credential a new French ambassador who is openly gay. Speculation abounded around the topic, but with neither the Vatican nor the French government would make a statement about why Laurent Stefanini has yet to be approved by the Holy See.

Pope Francis

Two weeks later, we still don’t know the definitive answer, although this week there has been plenty of unconfirmed reports that Pope Francis met Stefanini and told him that he was not approved.  The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported:

” ‘There was a meeting between the Pope and Mr Stefanini,’ government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a regular briefing, confirming a report by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine but dismissing the newspaper’s assertion that his candidacy had been finally rejected during the April 18 meeting.

” ‘Nothing has changed: France has proposed a candidate and for the time being we are waiting for the Vatican’s reply after the usual discussions and review of his candidacy.’ “

The reason for Stefanini not being approved might not have anything with him, though, and may have to do with the Vatican’s displeasure with the French government for having legalized marriage equality two years ago. The Daily Mail article stated:

“Earlier this month the French Catholic daily La Croix cited an unnamed source as saying the Vatican considered it a ‘provocation’ that France’s Socialist government, which in 2013 legalised gay marriages, had proposed a homosexual for the post.”

Laurent Stefanini

Based on French news reports, The Guardian newspaper reported that the pope indeed did inform the ambassador-nominee that no approval was forthcoming:

“In a meeting over the weekend, the pontiff allegedly cited his displeasure with a controversial 2013 gay marriage law in France as part of his reason for the decision, according to the report in satirical title Le Canard Enchâiné.

“Pope Francis also allegedly said he did not appreciate the manner in which France had tried to put pressure on the Vatican by nominating a man – 55-year-old Laurent Stéfanini – who French officials knew would be controversial given the church’s views on homosexuality. The Vatican declined to comment to the Guardian about the veracity of the report or whether a meeting took place.”

Yet a Religion News Service story reported only a part of the French newspaper’s account was true:

“ “There was a meeting between the Pope and Mr Stefanini,’ government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a regular briefing, confirming a report by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine but dismissing the newspaper’s assertion that his candidacy had been finally rejected during the April 18 meeting.”

Still, a separate Religion News Service  story offered a different view of the meeting:

“Another French media report said that the unusual meeting between Stefanini and Francis — a pope rarely gets directly involved in the appointment of an ambassador — was friendly and lasted 40 minutes, and ended with the two men praying together.”

The same story also offered the following details about the nominee:

“55-year-old Stefanini is described as brilliant and a devout Roman Catholic who secured support for his candidacy from Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris. He is also a known quantity at the Vatican, having served as a top official at the French embassy to the Holy See a decade ago.”

The upshot of all these reports ends up being that it is impossible to decide which details of this story are true. Unless the Vatican and/or the French government (and Stefanini) offer more accurate and detailed information, the world cannot be sure of the truth of any of these and other reports.

The Vatican, though, has a lot more to lose than the French government about why no action has occurred.  Pope Francis’ reputation as being progressive on LGBT issues is very much at stake.  Regardless of the repercussions, though, the Vatican has a responsibility to make a statement to clarify this situation.   If they don’t then their continued silence will no doubt be interpreted as confirmation of the rumors that their unwillingness to confirm Stefanini is motivated by gay issues. Stefanini, the French government, and the rest of us deserve better from the leadership of the Catholic Church.  At the very least, we deserve to know the Vatican’s truth about the rumors that have circulated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


New Cardinals Have Mixed Records on LGBT Issues

February 15, 2015

The Vatican is busy this week, full of prelatess gathered for a consistory and the creation of twenty new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis (along with a visit from New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims!). Today, Bondings 2.0 reviews what some of all these new cardinals might mean for LGBT issues in the church.

First, Pope Francis seems to be shifting the College of Cardinals through his globally diverse appointments. These new cardinals will impact not only the next papal election, but more immediately through their increased influence in local churches. The Advocate researched the appointees, fifteen of whom will be eligible to vote in the next conclave and five who are already past the voting age of 80. While most had not spoken publicly about LGBT issues, four are on the record, though split in their approach.

Archbishop John Atcherley Dew

Most positively, Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, who heads both the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania, spoke favorably of more pastoral language regarding lesbian and gay people at last October’s synod. He wanted the language to express “hope and encouragement.” It is also worth noting he called the church’s ban on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics a “source of scandal” as early as 2005.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, who replaced Cardinal Raymond Burke as head of the Apostolic Signatura, has made ambiguous remarks about respecting conscience.  In 2013, when the Vatican criticized a 2013 European Court of Human Rights ruling protecting equality laws. Mamberti said:

“Every person, no matter what his beliefs, has, by means of his conscience, the natural capacity to distinguish good from evil and that he should act accordingly. Therein lies the true freedom.”

Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel

Among the cardinal-designates, there were two negative records identified by The Advocate. Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Ethiopia, head of the Association of Member Conferences in Eastern Africa, said in 2014:

“We strongly condemn same sex unions and other deviations that go against human nature and natural laws. We urge for the protection and defense of family at all costs as that is the beginning and pillar of human life and society.”

Archbishop Alberto Suárez Inda

In Mexico, Archbishop Alberto Suárez Inda of Morelia had the harshest comments which exhibit a pastoral deafness, saying:

“It’s one thing to tolerate conduct contrary to what is commonly accepted; it’s another to want to legitimize that which goes against nature itself… I know many cases of children and young people who are deprived of a father or a mother … because of this, they have a great emptiness and are sometimes traumatized for life.”

It is worth noting that this crop of cardinals is being celebrated for its diversity in particular, with media like The New York Times and The Washington Post leading with this fact. The direct benefits for greater LGBT welcome and acceptance are unknown, but the church’s theology and pastoral ministries always benefit from expanded and diverse participation. Indeed, many of Pope Francis’ appointees come from the Global South and possess an acute sense of caring for those on the margins and being a “voice for the voiceless.” For the most part, these are pastorally-inclined bishops in the style of Pope Francis.

This reality means that LGBT advocates have an opportunity to open cardinals’ eyes more and more to the discrimination and violence faced by sexual and gender diverse minorities, as well as the tremendous goodness and gifts these communities offer the church and the world. Touched by the Spirit and moved by mercy, this shift in ecclesial leadership could signal a moment of growing openness to creating a church that is truly, as Pope Francis wants, a “home for all.”

A full listing of the cardinal-designates is available here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Marriage Conference Can Endanger the Good Will Pope Francis Has Built

November 4, 2014

Any good will from gay and lesbian people that was won because of the open discussions at the recent extraordinary synod on marriage and the family will evaporate quickly if events like the one announced yesterday become the order of the day. The Vatican revealed that a major interfaith conference on complementarity in marriage will take place there on November 17-19 of this year.  The meeting is sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity are co-sponsors.

According to a Catholic News Service article on the America magazine website, the conference, entitled “Complementarity of Man and Woman,” will feature

“more than 30 speakers representing 23 countries and various Christian churches, as well as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Sikhism.”

Pope Francis will give an opening address at the meeting, and we will need  to listen closely to his remarks to see how strongly he defends the church’s traditional view of marriage, the place of complementarity in marriage, and what he might say about same-gender couples.  His remarks in the past on this topic have refreshingly avoided the harsh rhetoric against marriage equality that his predecessors frequently employed.  Speaking at a conference focused on such a pointed topic as complementarity will mean that his rhetoric needs to be very sophisticated if he wants to maintain his otherwise welcoming overtures to lesbian and gay people.  If his praise for complementarity becomes exclusive, he endangers the good will he has built up with LGBT Catholics over the past year and a half.

Of course, in and of itself, a conference on finding ways to support heterosexual marriage is not a bad idea.  But focusing on complementarity, and holding it up as the only ideal for intimate relationships, places same-gender relationships in an inferior position. Moreover, complementarity has been widely criticized as a sexist idea since it reinforces traditional gender roles which put women in inferior positions.  Support heterosexual couples in their marital commitments:  Yes.  Support complementarity as a goal and requirement of marriage: No.

Crux.com’s Inés San Martín explained how “complementarity” is a loaded term in contemporary church discussions:

“Complementarity comes up frequently in Catholic circles as part of the intellectual basis for opposing same-sex marriage, on the grounds that the natural differences between men and women reflect the divine plan for marriage as a union between the two sexes. Given that many of the flash points at the synod revolved around homosexuality and marriage, the agenda for the looming conference seems destined to bring them back to the fore.

“Complementarity has also been invoked by recent popes to defend the Church’s ban on women priests, on the grounds that men and women play different but equally important roles in Catholicism.”

But what makes this conference particularly disappointing is that Vatican leaders have invited representatives from other faiths to come and present their views on marriage, yet the Catholic hierarchy has yet to have a public and serious discussion with members of their own church who have views on marriage which differ from the traditional heterosexual model.   A Religion News Service story on The National Catholic Reporter website described the background of some of those who are invited:

“. . . [T]he conference will include Muslim and Jewish representatives, as well as American leading evangelicals like megachurch pastor Rick Warren and Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore.Organizers say the new conference will show that while the Catholic hierarchy is split on how to address contemporary challenges to marriage and family life, the church can nonetheless seek common ground with religious leaders outside the Vatican. . . .

” ‘I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelical Protestants believe about marriage and the gospel, especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled,’ said Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. . . .

“The conference will include Wael Farouq, a Muslim and president of the Tawasul Cultural Center in Cairo; Henry B. Eyring, an top-ranking apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Manmohan Singh of the World Sikh Council.”

The Catholic News Service story detailed more of the participants:

“. . . Mercy Sister Prudence Allen, former chair of the philosophy department at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, whom Pope Francis named to the International Theological Commission in September.

“Other notable speakers will include Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, and Anglican Bishops N.T. Wright and Michael Nazir-Ali.”

Crux.com also mentioned two more participants: Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers, a doctoral fellow in African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, and Johann Christoph Arnold, a pastor with the Bruderhof Communities.

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, who will host the September 2015 World Meeting of Families, will also be a speaker.  After the synod, Chaput had commented on that meeting, stating: “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion.”   Given his strong opposition to the synod’s more open discussions, it makes one wonder if this event will be used to repudiate any of the more positive messages that came out of  the bishops’ discussions last month.

Conference organizers say that the conference’s purpose is to

“examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.”

Helen Alvare, a Catholic commentator known for her conservative positions, is the spokesperson for the event, and she told Crux.com that she sees the meeting is being very much in line with Pope Francis’ call for wide discussion:

“For Alvare, the exchange is an answer to Pope Francis’ call to ‘look, listen, face reality, [and] get people from around the world to tell us their situation.’

“ ‘I know I’m not seeing things,’ she said. ‘With his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and his final speech at the synod, he’s telling us to open the dialogue. Solidarity between religions and cultures is possible.’ “

If Pope Francis truly wants to open the dialogue, he should host a Vatican meeting to listen to and interact with LGBT Catholics and other advocates of marriage equality to hear their points of view.  Hosting a conference for those who agree with the church’s traditional view of marriage is not something new and it is not something needed.  Vatican officials, and the world, have heard that position over and over and over.  Opening the dialogue would occur if the all points of view were heard.  And solidarity with conservative religious leaders is less important than solidarity with LGBT Catholics and their supporters, who have been asking for a dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy for decades now.

At the conclusion of the conference, participants will issue a “Declaration on Marriage.”  Key to this document will be how it describes and evaluates same-gender couples and marriage equality laws.  Even though the Vatican is not ready to recognize same-gender couples, they should still be able to find a way to support heterosexual couples without relying on devaluing lesbian/gay relationships, or promoting sexist notions of complementarity.

Pope Francis, known for outreach and reconciliation, may have his work cut out for himself after this conference is over.  His best option is to give equal time to at least Catholic advocates who are working to ensure that all couples and families that are based on loving relationships are recognized and blessed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Christianity Today: Pope Francis Wants To Know What Rick Warren, Russell Moore, N. T. Wright Think about Marriage”

 

 

 

 


And Yet . . .

October 19, 2014

I was a teenager when the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would have made gender equality the law of the land, was defeated.  The outcome was difficult to accept because after a strong campaign for passage of the amendment, it ended in a narrow defeat.   I always remember the lead sentence of a magazine article, which, summed up the mixed emotions of coming so close, but ultimately being defeated, by using only two words:  “And yet.”

“And yet” is exactly how I feel this weekend, after a week of anticipating that the synod of bishops would do the right thing and approve its draft statements which were so welcoming of lesbian and gay people.  Certainly, the final negative outcome was disappointing. And yet.

And yet, the welcoming statements in the final report only lost acceptance by a handful of votes that would have been needed to achieve the required 2/3rds majority.  Similarly, the votes for the more restrictive language,which was approved, did so also only by the most narrow of margins, showing significant opposition to this approach.

And yet, we caught a rare glimpse of the fact that there are many bishops who are speaking out for changes in the ways that the Church approach LGBT people.

And yet, we witnessed an unprecedented week where discussion and disagreement among the hierarchy was evident in the media.

And yet, we saw how ready and willing Catholic people are to accept changes in the Church on a variety of marriage, family, and sexuality issues.

And yet, we have a pope who seems willing to push for a more inclusive and welcoming Church.

John Allen, a veteran Vatican observer, commented on the closeness of the votes in a Crux.com article which looked at how the final report addressed the issues of homosexuality and divorce/remarriage:

“Paragraphs on those two points were the only items that failed to receive a two-thirds majority of the Synod of Bishops in voting on its final document. While there’s no magic to the two-thirds threshold in this sort of Vatican ballot, the results clearly reflect a divided hierarchy on both issues.

“Despite considerably more cautious language, both items drew significant ‘no’ votes: The paragraph on gays and lesbians had a vote of 118-62 and that on the divorced and remarried drew 104 in favor and 74 opposed.

 “A Vatican spokesman said that means they did not reflect ‘a strong consensus of the entire synod.’ ”
Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter summarized Pope Francis’ final address to the synod, in which he stressed his oft-repeated message of inclusive welcome:

“Referencing a talk he gave the synod when it began its work Oct. 6, Francis said ‘it was necessary to live … with tranquility and also with interior peace because the synod takes place with Peter and under Peter and the presence of the pope is the guarantee for all.’

” ‘The task of the pope is to guarantee the unity of the church; to remind pastors that their first duty is to feed the flock — feed the flock — that the Lord has entrusted to them and try to search to welcome — with fatherhood and mercy and without false fears –the lost sheep,’ he said.

“Then, saying, ‘I made a mistake,’ Francis corrected himself: ‘I said welcome. Go find them!’ ”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Those of us who advocate for LGBT equality in the Church can be glad that we heard words this week from Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx that change in the Church is obviously something that can happen.  The National Catholic Reporter carried some of his comments:

“Addressing a key question raised by the Synod of Bishops on the family, a German cardinal said Friday that church doctrine can change over time.

“The church’s doctrine, Cardinal Reinhard Marx said, ‘doesn’t depend on the spirit of time but can develop over time.’

” ‘Saying that the doctrine will never change is a restrictive view of things,’ Marx said at a Vatican press conference Friday.

” ‘The core of the Catholic church remains the Gospel, but have we discovered everything?’ he asked. ‘This is what I doubt.'”

Marx was specific about LGBT issues, too:

“Marx said: ‘homosexuals are not condemned by the church for their sexual orientation.’

“Making a difference between gay couples who have monogamous relationships for decades and gay persons who are promiscuous, Marx continued: ‘I cannot simply say that everything is black or everything is white.’

” ‘We cannot say that since you are homosexual, you cannot experience the Gospel,’ Marx said. ‘This is impossible to me.’ “

Vatican Radio summarized other points made by Cardinal Marx, under a headline that “Pope Is Seeking Input to Take Church Forward” :

“Cardinal Marx from Munich noted that in Germany many committed Catholics are asking how the Church can be more inclusive of those who are divorced and remarried or living in homosexual relationships. Exclusion is not the language of the Church, he said, insisting that Catholics must move away from a ‘black and white…all or nothing’ vocabulary. While there are significantly different perspectives at the Synod, according to a bishops’ cultural experiences or personal encounters, the cardinal said Pope Francis is seeking input that can take the Church forward, open new doors and discover new possibilities for bringing the Gospel to men and women today. The Pope did not invite us to two Synods, he remarked with a smile,  to hear us simply repeat what we’ve always been saying!”

As with many situations in life, we can choose between looking at the glass as half-empty or half full.  A half-empty approach to the news of the final report might focus only on the fact that the positive messages on gay and lesbian people did not get approved.  But a CNN.com headline shows a half-full perspective.  The headline reads:  “Catholics bishops: No agreement on gays and lesbians.”    Similarly, a New York Times article on the report carried this headline:  “No Consensus at Vatican as Synod Ends.”

This perspective highlights the fact that though traditionalists may have had the votes in this round, the experience of the synod points to the fact of significant disagreement on how to approach LGBT issues.  That’s a hopeful point.

On Friday, October 17th, the day before the report was issued, The New York Times editorialized about the experience of the synod, and they offered this hopeful conclusion to their opinions:

“The synod did not call for doctrinal changes on birth control. But it said — perhaps in a euphemistic effort to seem less than absolute on the subject — that what is required is ‘a realistic language that is able to start from listening to people.’

“Beyond specific issues, a welcome tone of conciliation and outreach defined the synod report, as in the recognition that gay Catholics yearn for ‘a welcoming home’ in the church. In this and other ways, the synod marks a hopeful beginning of what undoubtedly will be a difficult but fascinating worldwide debate on the future of the modern church.”

Even with Saturday’s disappointment, it is still important to remember that we have already seen a “fascinating worldwide debate on the future of the modern church,” and that it will very likely only become more fascinating in the coming months .

Galileo

Today, we say “And yet.”  But, as we look toward next year’s synod, we can say, “And yet, possibly. . . .”

I’m reminded this weekend of another famous “And yet” statement.  When Galileo was forced under the threat of execution to deny his claim that the earth moved around the sun, and not the other way around, it is said that immediately after his recanting, he whispered under his breath about the earth, “Eppur si muove.” “And yet, it moves.”  May we all have the fortitude and confidence of Galileo as we continue on with this important discussion in the Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Religion News Service:  “Catholic bishops narrowly reject a wider welcome to gays, divorced Catholics.”

New York Times: “What Is a Catholic Family?

 


Synod Final Report Disappoints, But Significant Progress Is Made In the Process

October 18, 2014

The synod on marriage and family has released its final report.  You can read it by clicking here, though, so far, it has only been released in Italian. (Try Google Translate or another translation program.)  The passages on lesbian and gay issues are numbers 55 and 56.

The following is the statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, responding to the final report of the synod on marriage and the family:

The synod’s final report significantly backtracks on LGBT issues from the draft released earlier this week, but the synod’s process and openness to discussion provides hope for further development down the road, particularly at next year’s synod, where the make-up of the participants will be larger and more diverse, including many more pastorally-oriented bishops.

It’s very disappointing that the Synod’s final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included.  Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples. Additionally, their further comment about supposed “international pressure” to accept same-gender marriage selfishly views the hierarchy as the victims, not LGBT people who receive unjust and oppressive treatment by governments, church, families, and society.

Pastoral care should focus on for LGBT people as total human beings, many of whom have suffered significant alienation and personal harm, and not just as sexual beings.  Pastoral care should also focus on the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Church, something that the earlier draft highlighted.

One major error the bishops made in the final report was to quote the Vatican’s 2003 document condemning same-gender marriage, which referred to adoption by gay and lesbian couples as a form of “violence” toward the children.  Such language is pastorally harmful and destructive to any welcome to lesbian and gay people.

It’s important, however, to keep two things in mind.  First, the paragraphs on homosexuality which did not receive the required 2/3rds vote, and which were more welcoming of LGBT people, failed by only a handful of votes, indicating significant support from a majority of bishops. Second, this report is not the final word, but as a Vatican spokesperson explained, it is still a working document which will be discussed in the coming year.

What was good about this two-week long meeting?  The real value of this synod is that it has started the discussion among the hierarchy on LGBT issues which has been going on for decades among the lay people and theologians in the Church.  The bishops began to catch up, and I don’t think that the discussion will stop here, but will only continue, with more promising outcomes for LGBT people and their families in the future.

It is not surprising that the paragraphs on lesbian and gay people proved to be among the most controversial of the synod’s proceedings.  The paragraphs on homosexuality were among those that received the lowest affirmative votes.  This result shows that there is still much to be examined and explored on LGBT issues in the Church.  Let’s hope and pray that at next year’s synod, the bishops will invite lesbian and gay people and couples to give their personal testimonies, so that the bishops can learn first-hand about their experiences of faith and love.

More importantly, though this synod revealed that there are some strong voices for LGBT equality and for change in church teaching, something which was not known clearly before the meeting.  Now that these voices have been bold enough to speak, more bishops who think like them will surely follow their example.  The biggest problem in the Church up to this point has not been lack of support among the hierarchy on LGBT issues, but lack of courage for those bishops to speak out what they truly think.  The silence has ended.  Nothing will be the same.

Between now and next year’s synod, the discussion in the Catholic Church–at all levels–on LGBT issues, as well as other issues of family and sexuality, will be more open and robust than it has ever been.  That is a very good thing!

New Ways Ministry is a 37-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the wider Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


SYNOD: We Can Hope for Some Change, But Let’s Hope It’s More Courageous Than Nigerian Archbishop

October 9, 2014

ROME, Italy–This has certainly been an exciting week for the Catholic Church!  Sometimes, I have to pinch myself to make sure that what I am reading is really happening.  For many decades Catholics have been calling on the hierarchy to at least have a dialogue about sexuality, marriage, and family issues, and it seems that the dialogue has begun.  No doubt, it is imperfect.  There are certainly not the dialogue members that need to be there–especially LGBT people and their families.  But it is a first step, and that is good.

Of course, I have to also be on guard against getting caught up in some of the sensational headlines, tweets, and Facebook posts that I have seen.  Many people, including press representatives, seem caught up in the euphoria of the moment and are heralding changes in Catholic teaching, when such is not the case.  We have indeed seen an important opening in the discussion these last few days, with bishops sharing their ideas about marriage and family, and listening to at least some of the laity on this matter.  We haven’t seen discussion like that among church leaders at all in my lifetime–and I’m in my mid-50s.  But the beginning of a discussion does not equal change.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

According to Vatican Radio, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of London, England, welcomed the new atmosphere of discussion:

“Cardinal Nichols pointed out it’s too early to draw any conclusions from these first sessions, yet it does seem clear that this first Synod of Francis’ pontificate is shaping up for a much more honest and down-to-earth discussion than most bishops have experienced here in the Vatican over recent decades.”

One thing, perhaps that we can hope for, is a change in language.  On Tuesday, at a press briefing, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica told reporters that bishops had discussed language about sexuality used in church discourse:

“Language such as ‘living in sin,’ ‘intrinsically disordered,’ or ‘contraceptive mentality’ are not necessarily words that invite people to draw closer to Christ and the Church.”

So many Catholics have been asking for almost 30 years for the terms “intrinsically disordered” and “objective disorder,” which refer primarily to homosexuality, to be changed.  Terencce Weldon, at Queering The Church, commented:

“For lesbian and gay people, this is nothing new, but it is something that the bishops needed to hear. Indeed, even some of those who are already aware of the harmful effects and warning against them, may not realize the depth of the damage that is done. They may understand that it is one of the factors that turns many our community away from the Catholic Church, as noted in the press briefing – but do they understand that it is also quite literally, destructive of lives, especially young lives?”

There was also a glimmer that there may be openness to recognizing value in relationships that are not legally or ecclesiastically considered “married.”  According to Vatican Radio:

“Fr Lombardi used an analogy from the Second Vatican Council which led to profound changes in the Catholic Church’s relations with other Christians and people of other religious traditions. During the Council, bishops agreed that while the fullness of Christ’s Church “subsists” only in the Catholic Church, important elements of truth and holiness also exist in other churches and faith communities. In a similar way, he said, valid and important elements of true love and holiness can also exist in a relationship that does not conform to the full vision of an ideal Catholic marriage.”

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama

On Wednesday, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria, offered the following explanation of what the synod might and might not do. The National Catholic Reporter quotes his reflections at a press conference:

“What we are trying to examine is the pastoral approach that could be done differently. The doctrines remain the same. We are not going to invent new doctrines … or suppress doctrines that the church has practiced for years.”

Kaigama is probably right, but that doesn’t mean that doctrine won’t eventually change.  In the church, a change in pastoral practice usually leads toward a change in doctrine, and not the other way around.

Kaigama himself showed the possibility of change.  On Wednesday, he told a synod press briefing that the Catholic Church in his country did not support the law applying harsh penalties to people convicted of homosexuality.  This is a reversal of his opinions at the time the law was being enacted.  The Tablet reports Kaigama’s statements:

“ ‘We are not supporting the criminalisation of people with different sexual orientations,’ Archbishop Kaigama stressed. ‘We would defend any person with homosexual orientation who is being harassed, who is being imprisoned, who is being punished.’

“He added: ‘The Government may want to punish them – we don’t. In fact we will tell the Government to stop punishing those with different orientations.’ ”

This is a surprising change given that some months back the news about his stance was much different:

From Bondings 2.0, on March 7, 2014, quoting a Religion News Service story:

 “In a January letter on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for his ‘courageous and wise decision’ in signing the legislation. Kaigama said it would protect Nigeria ‘against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices.’ “

From Bondings 2.0, on February 13, 2014, quoting an Advocate.com story:

“Ignatius Kaigama, archbishop of the Middle Belt region of Jos, told SaharaTV that Catholic bishops in Nigeria ‘thank God that this bill was passed,’ and in a letter sent to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, called the law ‘a courageous one and a clear indication of the ability of our great country to stand shoulders high in the protection of our Nigerian and African most valued cultures of the institution of marriage.’ ”

At the synod press conference, Kaigama defended his record, saying that he only meant to support the law’s opposition to marriage for same-gender couples.  The Tablet reports:

“. . . the archbishop said the Church only supported the elements of the law that set out that marriage is between a man and a woman. He added that there had been a “gross misinterpretation” of this by the media.”

Perhaps that is true, but the archbishop must take responsibility for the fact that in a volatile political debate, his supposedly nuanced comments are insufficient and ineffective.  Why didn’t he speak out clearly and strongly against the portions of the bill that imposed harsh penalties for orientation?  If indeed he did not support the bill in its entirety, why did he only praise the parts he liked and not condemn the parts he did not like?  This example shows how silence on the part of church leaders is often complicity in the homophobia which fuels repression and violence.

The synod will surely hold many more surprises.  Let’s hope that most of them are more edifying than the much delayed “clarification”of the Nigerian archbishop.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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