U.S. Bishops Back “Inclusion Act,” Which Seeks to Exclude LGBT Adoptive Parents

Attempting to redefine what inclusion means, the U.S. bishops endorsed the U.S. House of Representatives’ “Inclusion Act,” which aims to protect social services agencies who exclude same-gender couples from being foster or adoptive parents. Crux reported:

“Three bishops, in a joint letter to the measure’s sponsor, voiced their support of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would permit social service agencies to refuse on religious grounds to provide adoption or foster services for households headed by same-sex couples.”

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USCCB headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The three church leaders behind the letter–Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore;  and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska–are the respective chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Religious Liberty;and the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

Bishops claim the Act, if passed, would advance religious liberty by ending “unjust discrimination” against those providers who deny services to people based on the agency’s religious and moral beliefs. The bishops also claimed:

“‘Women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose from a diversity of adoption agencies, including those that share the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions.'”

Controversies about adoption rights have increased in the last decade as more jurisdictions legalize same-gender couples’ rights to marriage or civil unions. In the U.S., Catholic Charities and other church-related agencies have stopped providing adoption services in Massachusetts, Illinois, and the District of Columbia because as government-funded organizations they could not exclude LGBT clients.

Church institutions elsewhere have followed a similar pattern despite more supportive stances held by Catholics in the pews. The Missionary Sisters of Charity, the community which Mother Teresa founded, stopped facilitating adoptions in 2015 because they feared single gay people would become parents. Scotland’s St. Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society successfully attained the right to discriminate against LGBT clients. And, according to an unconfirmed report from one of Malta’s bishops, Pope Francis was “shocked” in 2014 to find out that same-gender couples could be granted adoption rights in the island nation.

[Editor’s note: a follow-up post on Bondings 2.0 later this week will dig deeper into the intricacies in these issues by exploring a story from Australia about Catholic parents, LGBT rights, and adoption.]

Given the U.S. political environment, including Judge Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court, it is uncertain whether the so-called Inclusion Act will succeed. But even if the legislation fails, there is a larger issue for Catholics at play. We must not allow the rich concept of inclusion, a defining value of Jesus’ ministry, to be hijacked by church officials for their LGBT-negative agenda.

Real inclusion, in the law and in the church, would recognize that the greater good is for children to be in loving homes, and for families to be strengthened by the protections and assistance which the State can offer. Those ideals are deeply rooted in the Catholic social tradition. It is from these places from which we should be the basis of Catholic adoption policy.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 18, 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.

 

Openly Gay Prime Minister and His Husband Welcomed at Vatican

Luxembourg’s openly gay prime minister and his husband were welcomed at the Vatican recently, a potentially hopeful sign that church officials will increasingly respect people in same-gender civil marriages.

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Prime Minister Bettel, center, with his husband, Destenay, and Archbishop Gänswein.

Archbishop Georg  Gänswein greeted Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and his husband, Gauthier Destenay, as they arrived to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European Union. Pink News reported:

“The gay couple joined other heads of government from across Europe for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome [which founded what would become the European Union]. . .Pope Francis then held a meeting with the leaders, including Prime Minister Bettel, in the Vatican, marking the anniversary.

“Despite the unusual circumstances – Mr. Bettel is the only openly gay leader in the world – Vatican bosses opted for the usual protocol around heads of government and their spouses.”

That it was Gänswein who welcomed them is also notable as he was given a Vatican position by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whom he still serves as the former pope’s personal secretary.

Luxembourg legalized marriage equality in 2014, a move Bettel oversaw in a country where 67% of the population remains Catholic.  In 2015, the couple married shortly after the new law went into effect. About their treatment at the Vatican, Prime Minister Bettel tweeted:

“It was a great pleasure and honour for me and Gauthier to be welcomed by the leader of the Catholic church. XB”

Welcoming an openly gay politician is another chapter in the confusing story of  whether and how the Vatican and other Catholic institutions will treat LGBT people, including those people in same-gender marriages.

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Pilgrims in Rome shortly after the audience

In 2015, a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics and their families led by New Ways Ministry was given VIP seating at an audience with Pope Francis. It was reported that Archbishop Gänswein had a role in securing the tickets, and pilgrims expressed their feelings that it was moment of welcome they would never forget.

But that same year, the Holy See rejected France’s ambassador, Laurent Stéfanini, who is openly gay and married. Few answers about the rejection were offered by either the French government or the Holy See. After six months of simply waiting, France withdrew Stéfanini’s application for diplomatic credentials without an official reason given by either party.

Elsewhere, since 2008, more than 60 church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT-related issues; for many, their firing was caused by a decision to marry their same-gender partner.

This institutional confusion is, in part, due to Pope Francis’ own mixed record on LGBT issues. The pope of “Who am I to judge?” is also the pope of “there is a world war to destroy marriage.” In just over two weeks, Catholics will gather in Chicago to discuss just what to make of LGBT issues in the age of Pope Francis during New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium. There is still time to register, which you can do by clicking here.

While magisterial teaching prohibits same-gender sacramental marriage, civil law is not synonymous with church teaching. One thing Pope Francis is clear about through his many acts is that church leaders should be prioritizing radical hospitality over exclusion. Welcoming Bettel and Destenay is a good step, but to really make such inclusion palpable, it must be modeled at churches worldwide.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 11, 2017

 

Sr. Simone Campbell: Vatican Concerned with ‘Male Power,’ Not Real People

Speaking yesterday at a Vatican event for International Women’s Day, Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK sharply criticized the Catholic hierarchy for being more concerned with retaining power than the realities of people’s lives.

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Sister Simone Campbell

Campbell addressed the Voices of Faith gathering, during which Catholic women from around the world share their stories under the banner of “All Voices Count.”

In her address, the sister behind “Nuns on the Bus” and who heads a national Catholic social justice lobbying group, referenced the resignation of clergy abuse survivor Marie Collins from Pope Francis’ commission addressing the church’s sexual abuse crisis. Campbell commented, according to Crux:

“‘The institution and the structure is frightened of change. . .These men worry more about the form and the institution than about real people. . . [Collins was blocked] by men. Isn’t this the real problem within the church?’

“‘The effort to keep the church from stopping this sort of thing is shocking. . .It is about male power and male image, not people’s stories. The real trouble is they have defined their power as spiritual leadership and they don’t have a clue about spiritual life.’

“‘Most of the guys who run this place haven’t dealt with an ordinary human being who’s been abused, an ordinary woman or a boy who has been abused. . .If you don’t deal with the people you don’t have your heart broken open. The bureaucracy is so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.'”

Pointing out  the absence of any senior Curial officials at the women’s gathering, Campbell said she was unsure “if it’s a slap in the face or evidence of how much power they think we have.” That Campbell was invited at all is noteworthy, given NETWORK, the lobbying and education organization she leads, was one of the identified factors in the Vatican’s 2012 doctrinal investigation of U.S. women religious.

Though not directed at LGBT equality, Campbell’s words are easily applicable to matters of gender identity and sexuality in the church. The lives and voices of LGBT people have also been discredited and silenced by the Magisterium, whose present articulation of the Tradition is deeply tainted by patriarchy and homophobia.

Campbell provided a strong explanation for the hierarchical disconnect: the failure and/or inability of many clergy to have healthy relationships with those who are not like themselves. In her words, they are “so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.” Even in more forward-leaning gatherings formally sanctioned by the Vatican, like this Voices of Faith event yesterday or the Synod on the Family process, openly LGBT people have not been invited to share their stories.

But perhaps church leaders are right to be afraid of listening to the stories of people they marginalize, for these experiences possess a radical transformative power. The person who is “Other” makes a claim on the listener, compelling them to act for the good of that person to whom they have listened. Indeed, Maltese Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo has admitted it was meetings with the Catholic parents of LGBT children which helped shift his thinking on LGBT topics, and prompted him to make a speech at the Synod on the Family calling for greater LGBT inclusion.

Scripture’s most repeated exhortation to us is to “be not afraid!” I congratulate Sr. Simone for having the courage and wisdom to speak such prophetic truth within the Vatican itself. I pray her words will resound in church leaders’ minds and hearts, so they choose to listen and to be moved by people marginalized for their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

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

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 9, 2017

 

For International Women’s Day, Sr. Jeannine Gramick on the Difficult Details of Church Reform

Today is International Women’s Day. Catholics believe that people are equal in dignity, and that no one should be discriminated against or harmed. These are principles on which all in the Church can agree. But how these principles are lived out concretely is a trickier issue, as the movements for equality in the church for women and LGBT communities have made clear.

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Sister Jeannine Gramick

New Ways Ministry’s Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, explored this challenge in a recent essay for The National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report.  She reported on her experiences at an international church reform gathering last fall in Chicago. Sr. Jeannine linked the two movements, saying lessons from efforts to ensure women’s equality can readily inform efforts for LGBT equality.

The gathering in Chicago included priests’ groups and lay organizations from about a dozen nations. She explained that the representatives have had difficulty agreeing on liturgical worship that would be consistent with the values expressed and comfortable for all attendees, The issue of women’s liturgical leadership became a sticking point. Gramick commented:

“Did [the debate about liturgy] have any implications for my particular ministry for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people? The group had easily adopted a resolution ‘to stand against violence in all its forms — physical, emotional, spiritual and temporal — toward LGBT people’ and to ‘encourage the Church’s leaders and individual members to make the same commitment.’ There were some minimal questions about this resolution but not the angst felt in discussing women’s liturgical participation.

“Was equality for women a thornier issue than equality for LGBT people? No, not really. The LGBT resolution was expressed in general terms of equality, without specific actions. The group had also called for, and agreed upon, progress on full equality for women in the church; but the proposal about women, like the one about LGBT people, was broad and did not include particular examples of equality.”

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Participants at the Chicago church reform gathering in fall 2016

Gramick acknowledged “people of good will can agree on general principles, but it is in specific applications that the rubber meets the road,” thus the challenges at the gathering of church reformers. She continued:

“At the next international conference of priests and reform organizations in 2018, when we discuss concrete actions that affirm the dignity and rights of LGBT people, I need to be prepared for similar resistance, hesitations, and concerns when these human rights and civil liberties are spelled out. . .

“I need to be patient because movement on issues requires time. Just as some who had opposed the proposition in Limerick had moved in their thinking about women’s liturgical role a year and a half later, there will be more movements in the future. I am pondering the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11: ‘God has made everything appropriate to its time.'”

It goes without saying that transforming doctrine and ecclesial practices about gender and sexuality is work that is almost immediately problematized. An event at the Vatican today for International Women’s Day illustrates this difficulty.  The Voices of Faith gathering, an annual meeting of Catholic women from across the globe, will find participants sharing their stories around the general theme of uplifting women’s dignity and human rights. But the question of women’s ordination will not be discussed, and, in previous years, speakers have explicitly rejected ordination equality. And there are no openly lesbian, queer, or trans women speaking, despite the urgent need for such voices to be heard in our church.

Equality for women and for LGBT people in the church is, to a certain extent, a unified cause. Bondings 2.0’s Editor Francis DeBernardo, explored this point in a post this past January. The participants from each movement can learn from one another, and support one another, too. Gramick concluded her piece on such lessons with these words:

“I am convinced that, as a church, we agree on the big picture. Each one of us may have specific ideas about the details in the painting: the colors to be used, the shape of objects, or the size of the canvas, but on the whole work of art we see eye-to-eye. As members of the church, we are united in our faith and belief in Christ and in our desire to follow the greatest commandment: to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.”

Let us then reflect this International Women’s Day on the ways we, as Catholic advocates for LGBT people, can be informed by and contribute to the movement for women’s equality in the church.

What do you think? Is Sr. Jeannine’s assessment correct? What lessons have you learned from other social justice movements that help LGBT equality? How can LGBT and ally communities contribute to women’s equality in the church? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the ‘Comments’ section below. 

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 7, 2017

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

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.

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