Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, the theological ethicist who wrote Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, said the church has “not gone far enough” on gender equality because “we still hear the cries of women, through the centuries and today.”
Farley’s comments are readily applicable to the movement for LGBT equality, too. After receiving the Catholic Theological Society of America’s (CTSA) Ann O’Hara Graff Memorial Award earlier this month, she told the gathered women theologians:
“Ideas oppress and repress. . .When the church’s secondary teachings cause sickness and death, there is something wrong with that teaching. . .Just as cultural practices may have been fine until they kill people, so the church’s teachings may have been fine, even harmless, until they kill people.”
Farley’s scholarship has greatly advanced efforts to expose and transform oppressive church teachings on sexuality and gender. For her efforts, Farley was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012.
I wrote on Bondings 2.0 in April that, even more than ten years after her book was first published, Just Love is still a radical textthat challenges Catholics to reorient our church’s teachings and practices on sexuality towards justice. At CTSA’s 2017 meeting, Sr. Farley has once again spoke with precision and prophetic clarity about how Catholic theology can, should, and must serve better the people of God.
You can read a full report on Sr. Farley’s reception of the CTSA award at the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.
1) A ranking church official in Zimbabwe has affirmed LGBT-negative comments made by the country’s aging dictator, Robert Mugabe, a Catholic. The Archdiocese of Bulawayo’s vicar general, Fr. Hlakanipha Dube, said the church was grateful for the government’s support of limiting marriage to heterosexual couples only, according to Chronicle. In 2015, Mugabe told the United Nations in 2015: “We are not gays. . .Same-sex marriages have no place in Africa. Such behaviour is worse than pigs and dogs.”
2) A spring newsletter from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association highlighted its new partnership with Egale Canada Human Rights Trust to help teachers in Catholic schools be more supportive of gender diverse students. These efforts include an awareness project, “Drawing the Line – Against Transphobic Violence,” and LGBTQ training workshops for teachers.
3) A teacher in India was allegedly fired because he is gay, a charge officials at St. Joseph’s Autonomous College (a high school) deny. The teacher, Ashley Tellis, said the school’s principal told him students “were disturbed by my ‘personal opinions.” The principal, Victor Lobo, claimed Tellis was fired for breach of contract, reported The New Indian Express.
4) A controversial bishop in Switzerland who has made anti-gay comments in the past has resigned on the occasion of his 75th birthday. In 2015, Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur cited Scripture passages that suggest lesbian and gay people should be executed, and said a priest who blessed a lesbian couple should resign.
5) The Vatican has named Fr. James Martin, S.J. as a consultor to its Secretariat for Communications, a department newly created under Pope Francis. Martin authored the forthcoming book, Building A Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, based on his address upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in October 2016.
6) Marking the National Weekend of Prayer for Transgender Justice last month, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, wrote a piece in The Huffington Postabout why she supports the cause as a lesbian Catholic.
Earlier this week, Pope Francis gave a surprise TED Talk on “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone.” The pope covered many topics in the seventeen-minute address, including appeals for inclusion and love. Francis said “we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone,” and continued:
“How wonderful would it beif the growth of scientific and technological innovationwould come along with more equality and social inclusion.How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets,to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.How wonderful would it be if solidarity,this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word,were not simply reduced to social work,and became, instead, the default attitudein political, economic and scientific choices,as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.”
Pope Francis also called for a “revolution of tenderness,” which is “the love that comes close and becomes real.” He explained what this revolution will require of people:
“In order to do good,we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. . .Yes, love does require a creative, concreteand ingenious attitude.Good intentions and conventional formulas,so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough.Let us help each other, all together, to rememberthat the other is not a statistic or a number.The other has a face.The ‘you’ is always a real presence,a person to take care of.”
LGBT Catholics, their loved ones, and allies may experience a dissonance reading these words. Pope Francis’ mixed record on issues of gender and sexuality may weaken his strong call for inclusion. But this address could also be the foundation from which Catholics can build greater inclusion of LGBT people. Catholics, especially church leaders should apply the pope’s principles to the ways they approach LGBT people and topics.
Is Pope Francis’ call for inclusion and equality harmful or helpful? What would you like to see from him on LGBT issues? Leave your reactions in the “Comments” section below.
This weekend, Catholics are gathering in Chicago for New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Today’s post reflects on Sister Margaret Farley’s groundbreaking work, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Farley, whose justice-oriented sexual ethic has greatly advanced the conversation on LGBT issues in the church, addressed Symposia in 1992, 1997, and 2007. She also received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in 2002.
Unsurprisingly, the 2010 Notification that Margaret Farley received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about her book, Just Love, missed not only the forest for the trees; it missed the trees for the minutiae of their bark.
Far from engaging Farley’s vision, intentionally laid out as she weaves tradition with contemporary knowledge, the Notification issued is a poor, proof-texted engagement. But a reader more receptive to Farley’s work easily sees not only the forest, but the horizon to which this theological giant is leading, and gratefully joins the path towards it.
Questions of sexuality and gender have progressed rapidly in the decade or so since Just Love was published. Yet Farley’s insights, deeply drawn from her first section on traditions, still speak to new and emerging issues. [To read a summary of Just Love’s ethical principles, click here.]
One example of these issues is the Synod on the Family. The synod process made clear how inexperienced many Catholic bishops are at negotiating cross-cultural ethics.The Synod also raised an old question in a new way: In a truly global church, can the Vatican really pronounce on universal norms beyond the most fundamental of principles? In other words, are issues of family life, sexuality, and society today too complex and diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach?
Emerging churches, particularly in Africa, have resisted more permissive stances on sexuality with claims of “ideological colonization,” a term notably used by Francis, the church’s first pope from the Global South. Farley identifies the troubling dynamic driving many such claims: sexual control has been central to Western colonization and postcolonial regions are still grappling with this damaging legacy. Acknowledging these traumas is absent from magisterial discourse today, even as theologians have welcomed such necessary dialogue through international conferences such as Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church.
Another emerging issue is gender and its relation to sexuality, now hotly contested in many contexts due to the expansion of transgender rights. Farley’s technical treatment of intersex and trans identities needs some updating given new research in this area, but, more significantly, she remains open to the realities of such persons, writing that “[n]o one ought to pass judgement on any configurations of gender [emphasis added].” This outward-looking stance paired with compassion means her larger points retain their integrity.
No statement of Farley’s is more relevant for today, when “gender wars” are rapidly and harmfully intensifying, than when she observes that “[g]ender wars would cease if we saw that we are not ‘opposite’ sexes but persons with somewhat different (but, in fact, very similar!) bodies.” Farley’s sexual ethic, with its roots in justice, is wonderful for slowly shifting the conversation beyond a primary concern with whom one has physical intimacy (raising questions of sexual and/or gender identity) to a primary concern about how one has sexual intimacy (raising questions of bodies, abilities, pleasures, and participants).
Finally, though Just Love can and should speak to many emerging questions, conversations about consent could benefit greatly from her just sex framework. To the detriment of healthy sexual relationships, consent has been reduced to saying “no,” or under affirmative consent thinking, the absence of an active and enthusiastic “yes.” While such models are being used to educate youth and young adults, particularly in higher education, as correctives against society’s historical failure to address sexual violence, they are not adequate.
Despite their good intent, such models are actually doing harm because they employ a mechanical understanding of sexual acts that excludes context and relationality. Farley is clear that free consent and respect for bodily autonomy are minimal norms for just sex, but she is equally clear that sexual justice means more. She insists that sexual acts cannot be separated from the contexts in which they happen, and the foremost context is relationality. Incorporating Farley’s theory of sexual justice into understandings of consent would both help curb sexual violence and promote healthier relationships.
Ten years on, it is clear that Just Love’s relevance has only grown, and that Christian ethical reflection has yet to receive fully its wisdom. Farley’s writing is precise and thorough, reflecting the years she spent laying the foundations for her sexual ethic. Behind her clear argumentation are complex layers of meaning with which the reader must repeatedly grapple. Her closing section on contexts for just love, addressing matters like same-gender relationships and persons who are divorced and/or remarried, is really the springboard Farley provides for Christians to employ her framework in their own research, contexts, and lives.
But what may be most clear of all is that Vatican’s fears were, in one way, fully warranted. Just Love is a truly radical text, which, received more and more fully by Christians, has and will continue to alter radically our lives and the life of our churches. It lays before us a road to full equality for LGBT people, one recognizing the beauty of diverse sexual and gender identities, the goodness of same-gender sexual intimacy, and the gift that every family is to our church.
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. Cruxreported:
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.