Same-Gender Love “Not a Natural Condition,” Says Vatican Official

A senior Vatican official who defended the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics has said such openness does not apply to same-gender relationships, which he said were “not a natural condition.”

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Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, made his comments in a recent interview with Crux.

The cardinal sparked headlines earlier this month for publishing a booklet in which he defended Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Crux reported further:

“Asked if this interpretation applies also to gay couples who live together, some civilly married too, Coccopalmerio said that it’s ‘clearly’ not the same situation because for Church teaching and doctrine, ‘it’s not a natural condition. We can accept them, welcome them, accept their decision, but it’s not [the same].'”

The booklet, titled The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’, was offered as a “simplification” against claims by more traditionalist Catholics that there was doctrinal confusion, Coccopalmerio said. Though not released in any formal capacity, his comments are especially noteworthy because the Pontifical Council he oversees is charged with interpreting church documents. He is also a member of both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Apostolic Signatura.

Coccopalmerio’s reasoning is worth a closer consideration given his tenuous claim that same-gender couples can not be included in his communion idea. In the booklet, the cardinal explained the conditions under which a Catholic in a “non-legitimate” heterosexual relationship could receive Communion: the person is “conscious of the wrongness of the situation, has the desire to change it but can’t because it would hurt innocent people, such as the children,” and has consulted a priest and/or bishop to find a “common solution” through dialogue. America reported on a case study offered by the cardinal:

“He cited as an example the case of a woman who is free to marry according to church law and decides to enter into a stable relationship and lives with a married man, whose wife had left him with three young children. In such a case, he explained, ‘the children would now consider her their mother and for the man, she is his life,’ as she means everything to him. If she eventually recognizes the problem with her situation and decides to leave, then her husband and children will find themselves in great difficulty. But the cardinal said, ‘If this woman concludes “I cannot leave. I cannot do such harm to them,” then this situation, where she wants to change but cannot change, opens the possibility of admissions to the sacraments.’

“In such a situation, the cardinal said, there is the recognition of sin and the sincere desire to change but also the impossibility of making it happen. In this situation, he would tell her, ‘remain in this situation, and I absolve you.’ While he said that he has never had to refuse absolution to anyone, the cardinal nevertheless insisted that ‘one cannot give absolution except to persons who are repentant and desire or want to change their situation, even if they cannot put their desire into practice now because that would harm innocent persons.’ In this way, he said, ‘the doctrine is safeguarded but takes account of the impossibility.’

Coccopalmerio also said that ideally such a couple should live without sexual intimacy, but also noted that Amoris Laetitia referenced Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, where it is acknowledged that lack of such intimacy could deeply harm relationships. It may be impossible, he admitted, for couples in “non-legitimate” situations to practice complete abstinence. He ultimately affirmed the necessity of Catholics in these situations to make a conscience decision.

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I explained his reasoning in such detail above because as I read the interview, I wondered why his reasoning about Catholics who are divorced and remarried cannot, in his estimation, apply to Catholics in same-gender relationships. If his positions are accepted and engaged, then shouldn’t same-gender couples be able to receive Communion after consulting a priest, making penance, and following their consciences, even if they remain in such situations? Granted, given the Magisterium’s present articulations of church doctrine, there are differences between the two groups, but appeals to conscience make no such distinctions. Every person is mandated to follow the decisions of a properly formed conscience.

The reason for Coccopalmerio’s dissonance is his statement about same-gender relationships as “not a natural condition.” Such a statement reveals inadequate knowledge about sexuality, and likely an unfamiliarity with the lives of LGB people. He appears unable to imagine same-gender relationships as loving and generative, and worse yet, he seems to imply LGB people have less moral agency than their heterosexual peers.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio is not the first, and sadly will not be the last, church leader to hold such errant views about sexuality. But I find his remarks particularly disheartening. When news of his booklet first broke, I was glad to see a Vatican official so willing to practice the mercy and respect for conscience called for by Pope Francis. That he could not extend that willingness to include LGBT people greatly undercuts his message. I pray his eyes will be opened to that natural and divine spark found and mixed-gender and same-gender relationships alike.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 24, 2017

Vatican Wants to Hear from Youth for 2018 Synod

In 2014, there was great excitement when the Vatican announced that in preparation for the extraordinary synod on the family,  it would be sending out a questionnaire to local bishops to solicit opinions and perspectives from the people in their dioceses.

In the U.S., at least, the excitement soon fizzled when it soon became apparent that many bishops were not distributing the survey broadly, but instead, some handpicked responders.  In 2015, with a similar Vatican questionnaire, there was wider distribution, but still pockets of reluctance on the part of some bishops to really listen to what people were saying about family, marriage, children, sexuality, gender.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with young people at World Youth Day in 2013.

As the Vatican prepares for the 2018 synod on youth, officials in Rome have decided to bypass the bishops in terms of soliciting the opinions specifically from youth in the Church.  Instead of distributing a survey or questionnaire for bishops to disseminate, the Vatican has set up a website for youth to speak their minds directly to Vatican officials. The website, http://www.sinodogiovani.va, (Translation: “youth synod”) will not be live until March 1, 2017.

Robert Mickens, a longtime Vatican observer, reported in his “Letter from Rome” column posted on the Commonweal website:

“Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, head of the Rome-based secretariat that coordinates the Synod’s activities, told journalists on Friday that his office was launching a website in March that will allow youngsters to honestly raise questions and share their views about life and faith inside the Catholic church.

“He said their input—in addition to a questionnaire sent to bishops and heads of religious orders—would then form a substantial part of the working document (instrumentum laboris) that will frame the discussions when Pope Francis convenes the XV General Assembly of the Synod in October 2018 around the topic, ‘Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.’ “

In a letter addressed to youth, released when the website was announced, Pope Francis encouraged their participation in the electronic forum, stating:

“A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls. St. Benedict urged the abbots to consult, even the young, before any important decision, because ‘the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.’ (Rule of St. Benedict, III, 3).”

Why is this development important for LGBT issues?

First, a number of observers had commented that during the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, the data collection and summarization was potentially and very probably biased toward what local bishops wanted to hear.   Since the questionnaire was distributed by bishops, and then the answers collected and summarized by the same officials, people’s voices were filtered. Such filtering would be the case even from the most open-minded bishops because filtering is inevitable when collating and summarizing responses.

Second, as survey after survey has shown, young Catholics, here in the U.S. and in many nations abroad, take LGBT equality and justice much more seriously than older generations and church officials.  By allowing youth to speak for themselves directly to the Vatican, the likelihood that there will be strong voices for greater acceptance of and advocacy for LGBT people will surely come through loud and clear.   Not to mention that youth have a much different attitude toward sexuality and gender generally than Church leaders typically do.

Mickens notes that the Vatican may be in for an earful, but that this might be exactly what they want.  He commented:

“Giving such a prominent voice to the young people themselves (which the Vatican identifies as between ages sixteen and twenty-nine) could open up a can of worms. In fact, the internet initiative has the potential of soliciting a whole range of opinions and criticism that the church’s pastors may not want or be prepared to hear.

“But, no doubt, that’s what the pope wants. And he may see the younger generation as a resource and ally in bringing change to a church that too often seems stuck in stale formulas from a bygone period that no longer have meaning for contemporary people.”

According to the plans for the synod so far, young people will also participate as auditors, similar to the way married lay people participated at the synods on the family.  Unfortunately, during the family syonds, there were no voices that disagreed with church teaching allowed to speak. At the 2015 synod, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago commented on this absence, stating that he thought church leaders would have gained from hearing differing perspectives.  He explained:

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

It looks like the Vatican may be more open to hearing these diverse voices for the 2018 synod.  If they don’t take these voices seriously, at least giving them an open airing, the synod on youth will simply fall flat as an evangelizing moment.  The Vatican has taken steps in the way of openness to young people’s ideas. Let’s hope and pray that they continue in this direction. And let’s hope and pray that Catholic youth will participate robustly in this exciting project.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 21, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Pope Francis: An LGBT Year in Review

During his annual pre-Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia last week, Pope Francis sharply criticized Vatican officials for opposing his efforts at ecclesial reform. Some prelates, he said, possessed a “malevolent resistance. . .[that] sprouts from twisted minds and presents itself when the devil inspires bad intentions.”

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Pope Francis at the Christmas liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica

The National Catholic Reporter reported that Francis said such resistance “finds refuge in tradition, in appearances, in formality, in the known, or in the desire to make everything personal without distinguishing between act, actor, and action.”

These remarks are, perhaps, the pope’s most strident acknowledgment that his efforts at reform and renewal are extremely unwelcome by some church leaders. And Francis continued, “It is necessary to reiterate with force that the reform is not an end in itself but is a process of growth and most of all, conversion.”

But what has reform and renewal meant for Pope Francis when it comes to LGBT issues? Are the pope and the entire church experiencing growth and conversion? Or is Pope Francis himself part of a resistance to greater gender and sexual inclusion? Today’s post reviews what the pope has and has not done on LGBT issues in 2016.

The year began with the release of a book-length interview with the pope entitled The Name of God is Mercy. In it, Francis expanded on his now famous 2013 “Who am I to judge” remark. He said lesbian and gay people are, before all else, people with wholeness and dignity who must be welcomed. He importantly offered no condemnation or moral evaluation in regard to sexual ethics, which would have almost certainly been included by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Later in January, in a speech to the Roman Rota, Pope Francis said “there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union.” Some observers understood these remarks as an intervention to the debate over civil unions going on in Italy at the time. Other observers said the remarks were more about divorced Catholics and annulments, and noted that Francis did not directly intervene in Italian politics about “non-negotiable values” as his predecessors had done.

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Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

In February, Pope Francis issued a statement with Russian Patriarch Kirill, after their historic meeting, that strongly condemned marriage equality. The leaders said they “regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as [marriage]” and that marriage was “being banished from the public conscience.”

In April, Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) following the two-year process of the Synods on the Family. The exhortation offered some hope, but not much joy for LGBT people and their families, who were largely left out of the document. To read Bondings 2.0’s ongoing coverage about the exhortation, including many reactions and analyses, click here.

In June, Pope Francis called for the church to apologize to lesbian and gay people. He said “the Church must not only ask forgiveness from the gay person who is offended, but she must also ask for forgiveness from the poor too, from women who are exploited, from children who are exploited for labour.” A parish in Australia held a precedent-setting liturgy of forgiveness in response to the pope’s remarks.

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Pope Francis

In July, in a private meeting with Poland’s bishops during his Apostolic Visit there, Pope Francis claimed,  that children were being taught in schools they could choose a gender. He also endorsed remarks by Benedict XVI who said the present era was an “epoch of sin against God the creator.” LGBT advocates pushed back strongly against these comments when they became public a few weeks after the meeting.

In September, the pope weighed in on Mexico’s highly contentious debate over marriage equality, saying during the Angelus one Sunday that he joined the country’s bishops in their efforts “in favor of the family and of life, which at this time require special pastoral and cultural attention worldwide.” Bishops in Mexico have claimed persecution by the state (though these comments must be interpreted in the context of the actual and quite violent persecution against the church in the early 20th century)” and have supported “ex-gay” therapy.

In October, Pope Francis spoke about LGBT issues during one of his in-flight interviews, comments which received mixed reactions from LGBT advocates. First, the pope responded to a question about how he would care pastorally for a person who is gender dysphoric. Francis shared that he had “accompanied people with homosexual tendencies,” even since being elected pope. He also spoke about meeting a transgender man, Diego Neria Lejárraga, in 2015. In his response, the pope used the man’s correct pronouns and said at one point, “He that was her but is he.”

But these more positive remarks also included Francis’ joke that the press should not report “the Pope blesses transgenders.” He criticized as well undefined concepts of gender theory and ideological colonization, and told the strange anecdote of a father who found out his child was being told in school that gender could be chosen. The day before these comments while speaking to clergy in Georgia, Pope Francis had decried the “world war to destroy marriage.

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Pope Francis

As much as Pope Francis himself has weighed in on LGBT issues himself, his name has been invoked by other Catholics in their own comments.

In October, Providence’s Bishop Thomas Tobin said Francis would support the firing of gay music director Michael Templeton. And a Vatican official tweeted that the pope was saddened to find out two former nuns had entered a civil union in Italy, an unconfirmed judgment based solely on the pope’s facial expressions.

Most recently, in December, it was reported that Pope Francis had approved a document on priesthood that reaffirmed a 2005 ban on gay men entering the priesthood.

In a larger trend this year, bishops appear to have been encouraged by Pope Francis’ criticism of  “gender theory” and “ideological colonization” in the context of LGBT issues. You can read several examples of such statements by bishops by clicking here.

But Pope Francis has also been invoked by many LGBT Catholics and allies in work to build a more inclusive church and seek equal rights.

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Yayo Grassi at New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award ceremony.

Yayo Grassi, a former student of the pope’s who remains close with Francis, shared a positive appraisal during New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award Ceremony in October. Following an address by Jesuit Fr. James Martin, Grassi, whose meeting with Pope Francis during his visit to the United States made headlines, said that in Argentina, as Cardinal Bergoglio, the pope disavowed harsh comments against marriage equality attributed to him as misrepresentations by the media. He had actually been writing to nuns in private correspondence to ask them not to use harsh rhetoric. Grassi also said the pope stated:,”In my pastoral work, there is no place for homophobia.

But as much as Pope Francis has said and as much as others have invoked him, there are glaring silences for which any analysis must account. When Pope Francis visited Poland for World Youth Day this summer, a group of Catholic parents with LGBT children asked him to speak against widespread homophobia still present in their society, including violence targeting gay people.  He did not. And the pope has still remained silent about criminalization laws targeting LGBT people, even when church leaders like Malawi’s bishops strongly support such policies.

As you reflect on Pope Francis and LGBT issues, here are a few posts from the past year to read which discuss general papal trends:

Examining the Two Faces of Pope Francis on LGBT Issues” by Vernon Smith

For LGBT Rights, Is Pope Francis a Partisan or Not?” by Robert Shine

Putting Pope Francis’ ‘Ideology of Gender’ Comments in Context” by Cristina Traina

Exploring Pope Francis’ Mixed Messages on LGBT Issues” by Francis DeBernardo

Finally, I offer a concluding note from my own consideration of Pope Francis. More and more, I read his treatment of LGBT issues within the wider context of his papacy and his vision. Pope Francis is clearly limited in his understandings of gender and sexuality, likely stemming from both his own lack of knowledge, and by relying on advisors at the Vatican with a more conservative agenda.

As many have observed, Pope Francis’ actions often speak far louder than his words. These movements to return to Jesus, in their firm commitment to more fully and fervently living out Christian discipleship, can only help the cause of LGBT equality in the long term. None of these positives, however, excuses or lessens the harmful impact of his LGBT negative comments in which he does real damage to people’s lives.

Most importantly for me, Francis has been far more faithful than his immediate predecessors to the teachings of Vatican II. He prioritizes a church of mercy and welcome, a church foremost committed to justice for marginalized and vulnerable people, and a church where honest conversation is practiced to strengthen the faithful’s unity amid tremendous diversity. This vision was present in his Christmas homily, in which he speaks about the honored place of people on the margins:

“The mystery of Christmas, which is light and joy, questions and unsettles us, because it is at once both a mystery of hope and of sadness.  It bears within itself the taste of sadness, inasmuch as love is not received, and life discarded.  This happened to Joseph and Mary, who found the doors closed, and placed Jesus in a manger, “because there was no place for them in the inn” (v. 7).  Jesus was born rejected by some and regarded by many others with indifference. . .

“The shepherds grasped this in that night.  They were among the marginalized of those times.  But no one is marginalized in the sight of God and it was precisely they who were invited to the Nativity.”

So, what are your thoughts about Pope Francis? Do you evaluate him more positively or more negatively as 2016 concludes? What are your hopes for the pope and the church for 2017? Let us know in the “Comments” section below.

Be sure to vote for the Best and Worst Catholic LGBT News of 2016. You can vote by clicking here. Voting closes at 5:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time on Thursday, December 29th.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 27, 2016

 

Did the Vatican Ban Gay Priests or Not?

Since the publication of the Vatican Congregation for Priests’ “The Gift of Priestly Vocation” a few weeks ago, most commentators have noted that the document reaffirms a 2005 ban on the ordination of gay men.  Yet Fr. Louis Cameli, a theologian, wrote an article in L’Osservatore Romanothe Vatican newspaper, this past week in which he says the Vatican document does not issue a blanket ban on gay men being ordained.

[Editor’s note:  Fr. Cameli’s text was originally published in Italian.  An English language translation of his article can be found at the end of an America magazine article which reported on the publication of Fr. Cameli’s thoughts.]

Fr. Cameli believes that the text’s language is nuanced and needs interpretation.   I believe the problem with the Vatican document is that the language is not nuanced, but sloppy, and thus, dangerous.  The problem is not one of subtlety, The authors use terms that are incorrect or that have vague definitions.

For Fr. Cameli, the key language from the 2005 document, which is quoted in this latest text, reads:

“. . . [T]he Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question [‘persons with homosexual tendencies’], cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’ Such persons find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”

The theologian argues that of the three criteria mentioned–practicing homosexuality, possessing deep-seated homosexual tendencies, supporting ‘gay culture–the first and third are clear-cut, with the second one needing some deeper interpretation.

As for the first,  Fr. Cameli notes that since celibacy is required of priests, sexual activity is not permitted.  But the text does not speak of sexual activity but of men who “practice homosexuality.”

But, what does it mean to “practice homosexuality.”  Obviously, the Vatican and Fr. Cameli are using this term to mean sexual activity.  They do not realize that “homosexuality” refers to many more characteristics than sexual activity.  “Homosexuality” also refers to one’s sexual orientation, regardless of whether one acts sexually. Sexuality, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, refers to a variety of factors in a person:  emotions, desires, fantasies, interactions, as well as physical actions.  Being homosexual also involves a large number of social stigmas and pressures to be overcome. So, when is a person considered to be “practicing” homosexuality?  The Vatican document takes this broad term and gives it a narrow definition of  referring to sexual activity.

As for supporting ‘gay culture,’ Fr. Cameli interprets this phrase to mean “an environment and a movement that advocates moral stances at variance with Church teaching.” But this definition is not explicit in the document and does not conform to the way that ordinary people understand “supporting ‘gay culture.”  The mere fact that the Vatican document puts “gay culture” in quotation marks indicates their negative evaluation of the concept.

In fact, gay culture has a lot in common with church teaching:  the values of being true to oneself, of being courageous, of listening to the voice of God within a person, of loving and living as a full human being, and many more aspects.  In such instances, Church leaders should definitely want priests to support gay culture.

The question of what “support” of gay culture entails is also problematic When a pastoral minister reaches out to a gay person, is that support of gay culture?  When a person supports the equality of an LGBT person before the law, is that grounds to deny a person admission to seminary? If a person speaks out against LGBT youth being bullied, would that prevent this person from being ordained?

The Vatican’s imprecise use of language in this document is as dangerous and harmful as the imprecision of the term “objective disorder” to refer to homosexual orientation.  More and more bishops are requesting such language be retired by the Church because of it is misleading and causes negative effects.  Yet, we see that style continues in this latest document.

As for the second criteria, Fr. Cameli acknowledges that the Vatican’s phrase “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” is vague, but he offers four examples of men to whom it might apply:  1) men who consider “being gay” the central factor of their identity; 2) men who are obsessed or preoccupied with their homosexual identity; 3) men whose sexuality creates “a blockage in one’s relational capacities,” meaning that they can’t relate to women well or who relate to men too erotically; 4) men who have a pervasive “sense of inevitability about acting on homosexual inclinations.”

I would agree with Fr. Cameli that such men would not be suitable candidates for the priesthood.  However, I do not see how the term “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” can be interpreted to apply to the types of men that Fr. Cameli suggests it does.  To most people, “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” would mean the presence of a homosexual orientation, plain and simple.  It does not refer to problems with one’s sexuality.

The cause for the mental and emotional reactions Fr. Cameli describes is not “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”  Instead, such behavior reflects certain men’s lack of maturity in integrating their sexuality into their personality.  These problems can exist in heterosexual priests, as well as homosexual priests.  They are not the exclusive province of homosexuality.

This lack of precision in language raises a question: why doesn’t the Vatican use the term “homosexual orientation”?  Why doesn’t the Vatican state its concern with men whose sexuality is not maturely integrated into their personality, regardless of their orientation?  That would have made this document so much clearer.

If the Vatican did not want to ban gay men from the priesthood, why didn’t they say so in clearer terms?   What gay man reading this document will think that the Vatican welcomes him?

Instead, the Vatican used specifically vague and misleading language that is not understood by the rest of the world.  That is the main fault with this document.  Fr. Cameli blames the media for too blunt an interpretation of this document.  I disagree.  The blame lies with Vatican officials who continue to use antiquated, uninformed language.  They should know better.  For over 40 years, bishops, theologians, pastoral ministers, and lay people have been calling for church officials to use more accurate language about homosexuality.

If church leaders continue to use inaccurate language about homosexuality, the only things that one can surmise from such behavior is that they do not understand the subject they are discussing or they are content with promoting a negative evaluation of LGBT people.  Neither alternative is responsible.

If you would like to show your support for gay priests, you can sign New Ways Ministry’ statement “The Gift of Gay Priests’ Vocations” by clicking here. This statement is a wonderful way to let Catholic leaders know that Catholic lay people welcome and support the gay priests in their midst.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 21, 2016

 

Theologian: Gay Priests Must Have Their “Stonewall Moment”

Following initial reactions last week to the Vatican’s new document reaffirming a 2005 ban on gay men entering the priesthood, several Catholics have offered more extended reflections. You can find initial reactions here and New Ways Ministry’s response here.

charamsastonewallTheologian Lisa Fullam called for gay priests to have a “Stonewall Moment.” She disagreed with Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese’s recommendation that a “reputable survey” be undertaken to determine how many gay men are in the priesthood. (You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of Reese’s piece by clicking here, and you can read Fullam’s piece at Commonweal by clicking here.)

Fullam acknowledged that there are a significant number of gay priests, but challenged Reese’s idea for a survey:

“. . . [T]he central issue should not be how many such men serve as priests. The issue should be that what is said about them is not true. And a survey won’t correct a lie. What is needed is for gay priests to have a Stonewall moment. They need to speak up for themselves. Their colleagues, ordained and otherwise, need to stand with them. They need to come out of the closet, or nothing will change.”

(Fullam will be a plenary speaker on sexual ethics at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,”  April 28-30, 2017, Chicago. Among the many focus sessions at the symposium will be one on gay men in the priesthood and religious life, led by an openly gay priest.)

Fullam provided five reasons why gay priests should have their “Stonewall Moment,” beginning with the recognition that “what is said about them is a slander.” About the document’s suggestion that gay men are inhibited from correctly relating to people and their presence may cause “negative consequences,” Fullam wrote:

“And what are the ‘negative consequences’ we are warned of? Thinking that gay people are decent, hard-working, loving children of God like the rest of us? And that some are called to service in the Church, like the rest of us? . . . It is an act of thuggery to out people against their will; gay priests need to stand up for their own vocations and those of other gay priests.”

Fullam said that gay priests are currently invisible, yet it is because of out and visible LGBTQ people that society’s perceptions and opinions have changed. Unless gay priests begin coming out in greater numbers, they will “still be regarded as a question about a shadowy minority we think we do not know.” Fullam acknowledges that, for many, there is a fear that if a gay priest comes out there will be sanctions. But she remarked:

“It is also the case that there is a drastic shortage of priests in the Church at present, so this seems unlikely, at least if lots of gay priests come out. With any luck, their straight brothers would stand with them. If they do not, were they really their brothers in the first place? Myself, I have little sympathy for those who fear defrocking as a dire punishment–what does that say about all the other non-ordained ministers in the Church? Yes–coming out makes gay priests vulnerable. Aren’t we about to celebrate the birth of God into the human community in the most vulnerable possible form? So, like the angel said, “Fear not.” And gay priests should know: your friends, your allies, your colleagues, your parishioners, your families, we’ve all got your backs.”

Fullam also pushed back against priests who claim that their religious communities are open, even if they are publicly closeted. Fullam’s final reason for a “Stonewall Moment” about gay priests looked outward beyond the clergy:

“It’s not only about you. . .there are also queer kids in the Church who hear how important the Church leadership thinks it is to keep folks like them out of leadership. They might even buy that line about ‘objectively disordered,’ and, unless they’ve read a fair amount of Thomas Aquinas, might think it means they’re broken and unloveable, doomed to loneliness and despair. Even in these times of increased acceptance of gay people in our society, queer kids have an increased risk of being bullied, beaten up, thrown out of their homes, and even of attempting and completing suicide. Is that enough?”

Acknowledging the discomfort or risks involved in openly discussing one’s sexuality, Fullam said that until gay priests come out in greater numbers:

“Church leaders–some of them closeted, sometimes self-loathing, homosexually-oriented men themselves–will continue to utter the slander that affects not just ordained gay men and seminarians, but every LGBTQ person in the Church.”

Worth noting in Fullam’s piece are the two positive developments in “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation” that she identified. The document “bears the stamp of Francis in a good way” as it speaks of priests as “missionary disciples. . .’with the smell of the sheep'” bringing mercy to God’s people. Priests in this model are “constantly needing an integrated formation.” And the document, she points out, moderates “the clerical triumphalism of John Paul II.”  Both of these developments, if taken seriously, could have positive effects for LGBT ministry.

Another perspective on the Vatican statement controversy comes from Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, who wrote an essay for Advocate.com. She opined:

“The pope’s endorsement of this document sends a clear signal to those of us in the LGBTQI and ally community who follow church politics. Despite the pope’s tendency to say reasonable things about us in unscripted moments, when he is acting for the institution of the church, he shows no willingness to disrupt the status quo. This means that those who saw the Franciscan papacy as a time when official Catholic teaching on gender identity and sexual orientation might be changed are likely to be deeply disappointed.”

Duddy-Burke also identified church leaders’ failure to “accept the wide variety of human expression and relationships has far-reaching implications,” which affect matters like education and healthcare,” and which put “countless people at risk of violence, imprisonment, mental and physical health problems, social isolation, and increased poverty.”

Finally, Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter used the Vatican’s document on priesthood as a springboard to discuss some broader ideas about Pope Francis and LGBT issues. But of the document, Manson wrote:

“Though the Vatican leaves to the imagination what precisely the “so-called ‘gay culture’ [sic] might be, the guidelines suggest that gay seminarians who act like straight guys, conceal their sexualities, repress their sexual desires, and oppose any campaign for LGBT rights might be given a small window of clerical opportunity. . .If the church does have ‘profound respect’ for these men, it has a twisted way of showing it.”

Manson said that Pope Francis, who reportedly approved the document actually signed by another Vatican official, may have “intended to use his message to critique ‘worldly and rigid priests,'” but instead he amplified the homophobia and misogyny present in the church.

The call for gay priests to have their “Stonewall Moment” is similar to former Vatican official Krzysztof Charamsa’s call for the Catholic Church to have its own Stonewall. Charamsa, who had been a priest and theologian at the Vatican, came out just days before the Synod on the Family began in 2015.

If you would like to show your support for gay priests, you can sign New Ways Ministry’ statement “The Gift of Gay Priests’ Vocations” by clicking hereThis statement is a wonderful way to let Catholic leaders know that Catholic lay people welcome and support the gay priests in their midst.

–Robert Shine, December 19, 2016, New Ways Ministry

Let’s Find Out the Real Number of Gay Priests in the Church

“It is time for the bishops to commission a reputable survey to determine what percent of their priests are gay. They should also do a survey to determine the reaction of their flock to the reality of gay priests.”

That’s one of the conclusions that Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, columnist for The National Catholic Reporter has come to after hearing about the Vatican’s reaffirmation of a ban on gay priests.  He explained his position in a blog post entitled “Yes, there are lots of good gay priests”

Reese was forthright in his condemnation of the Vatican document, noting:

“The idea that gays cannot be good priests is stupid, demeaning, unjust, and contrary to the facts. I know many very good priests who are gay, and I suspect even more good priests I know are gay.”

The fact that the Vatican continues to issues statements against gay priests (Pope Benedict XVI had issued one in 2005) creates an unhealthy atmosphere in the Church.  Reese explains that the existence of such negative instructions cause seminarians and priests “to lie about their sexuality — not a healthy thing, especially with your spiritual director.”  He continues:

“In an era when seminarians are being encouraged to live more healthy emotional lives, they should not be forced to lie about who they are. In such seminaries, the faculty and administrators either play inquisitor or turn a blind eye to sexual orientation. As a consequence, some psychologists evaluating candidates for the priesthood refuse to list sexual orientation in their reports, lest it be found by someone and used against the man.

“Like the military of old, the seminary and priestly culture becomes one of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ “

One of the real problems the Church faces in regards to gay priests is knowing just how many there are in the priesthood.  As someone who has traveled in church circles for most of my adult life, and who, for the past 22 years has spoken with clergy all over the country, anecdotal evidence convinces me that the number is at least 50% and most likely much more.  I say this not based on the number of priests that I have met who are gay, but from reports from priests, both gay and straight, and both pro-gay and anti-gay, who tell me what their estimates are based on their knowledge of local clergy.

Father Thomas Reese, SJ
Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Reese notes that bishops have often been opposed to finding out the actual number of gay priests:

“Before he died, I asked the sociologist Dean Hoge, who had done numerous surveys of priests, and he said that the bishops would never allow him to ask the question in any of his surveys. The bishops did not want to know, or they were afraid of the numbers being publicized in the media.”

But there are a wide variety of other motivations for keeping the lid on the phenomenon of gay priests.  Reese explains:

“Bishops and religious superiors continue to advise gay priests and religious to stay in the closet. Some fear too much publicity about gay priests will drive away heterosexual vocations, but today it is more likely that heterosexual young people will be driven away by homophobic prejudice. Others fear that gay priests will be shunned by their parishioners or looked upon with suspicion because gays have been falsely blamed for the sexual abuse crisis. And in today’s world, such priests and religious would likely be attacked in right-wing media, including social media. “

All of this leads Reese to call for a reputable survey to find out both the number of gay priests, and Catholic lay people’s acceptance of them.   While I don’t have a good answer for the first question, I think I have a pretty good idea of what the answer to the second question might be. Having spoken with scores of gay priests over the last two decades,  a number of whom are out to their congregations, not one has ever told me that the response has been negative.  Yes, one or two parishioners might have a

Having spoken with scores of gay priests over the last two decades,  a number of whom are out to their congregations, not one has ever told me that the response has been negative.  Yes, one or two parishioners might have a problem and might leave the parish, but the overwhelming response has been acceptance and love.  And this is from priests who serve in various parts of the country in an amazingly diverse set of parishes.  And the number of supportive Catholics will continue to expand as greater acceptance of LGBT people continues to rise in the future.

You can show your support for gay priests by signing New Ways Ministry’ statement “The Gift of Gay Priests’ Vocations” by clicking here,  reading the statement, and signing your name.  This statement is a wonderful way to let Catholic leaders know that Catholic lay people welcome and support the gay priests in their midst.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 12, 2016

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.

bishop-brian-farrell
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:

roy-bourgeois-at-usccb
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