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

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

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Archbishop Kevin Farrell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Facing Violence, LGBT People Deserve Human Rights Support from Vatican

A new report powerfully revealed the scope and intensity of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination that exist in the world. The realities of suffering and abuse necessitate renewed solidarity from Catholics, including human rights advocacy by the Vatican.

1421581520765-cachedZeid Raad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the U.N. report shows “pervasive violent abuse, harassment and discrimination” across the globe. The Guardian reported:

“The report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council circulated on Monday cites the murder of transsexual women in Uruguay and of black lesbian women in South Africa, and the killing of a gay man in Chile by neo-Nazis who carved swastikas into his body. In February 2015, it said, photos appeared to show several men, allegedly accused of homosexual acts, being pushed off a building to their deaths in Syria by militants of the so-called Islamic State extremist group.

“Brazil reported 310 documented murders in 2012 ‘in which homophobia or transphobia was a motive’, it said. The trans murder monitoring project, which collects reports of homicides of transgender people, lists 1,612 murders in 62 countries between 2008 and 2014. And the inter-American commission on human rights reported 594 hate-related killings of LGBT people in the 25 countries of the Organisation of American States between January 2013 and March 2014, it said.”

Non-lethal violence and other forms of discrimination were cited elsewhere, including the United States where hate crimes based on sexual orientation rank second among crimes against protected classes. More than 75 nations criminalize LGBT people and/or their relationships, including some where being convicted of same-gender sexual activity is punishable by death.

Catholic teaching clearly rejects discrimination–and, even more so, violence–against LGBT people, a point affirmed in a recent statement from the Network of Reform Movements. More than 40 Catholics from ten countries released that statement condemning all forms of violence and discrimination against LGBT people which said, per the Network’s press release:

“We, the representative of an international network of priest groups and reform organizations assembled in Chicago 2016, affirm that the dignity of the human person is clearly expressed in the Gospels and the social justice teachings of our Church. It is this dignity that should be the foundation of a truly Catholic response to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and their families.

“We, therefore, commit ourselves to stand against violence in all its forms-physical, emotional, spiritual and temporal—toward LGBT people.  We encourage the Church’s leaders and individual members to make the same commitment.”

The mid-October meeting in Chicago was sponsored by FutureChurch, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, and Voice of the Faithful. Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA  participated in the meeting. Representatives of lay and clergy organizations came from Argentina, Ireland, Slovakia, and elsewhere. The meeting’s purposes was for different reform organizations to come together for honest conversation about experiences and objectives, and see where collaboration might be possible or prudent, reported the National Catholic Reporter

Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery of the Association of Catholic Priests, an Irish reform group, credited Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, who suggested the resolution, as the central figure in the statement’s publication. He wrote on his blog:

“[Jeannine] was, as is her style, gently but persistently pushing the topic of LGBT people in the Church, and a resolution was drawn up calling for the Church to respect the dignity of every person, no matter what their sexual orientation, and in that way setting an example that might help reduce the violence and discrimination which is still prevalent in many parts of the world.”

Gramick commented:

 “We are pleased that the entire group felt it could support LGBT peoples with the . . .  statement.”

Elsewhere, Jesuit Fr. James Martin condemned discrimination and violence in his recent lecture at New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award ceremony:

“Church leaders also need to stand for their L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters when they are persecuted. In many parts of the world, L.G.B.T. persons are liable, again in the words of the catechism, to appalling incidents of ‘unjust discrimination’—to prejudice, to violence and even to murder. In some countries, you can be jailed for being gay or having same-sex relations and murdered for being a gay leader. In those countries the institutional church has a moral duty to stand up for their brothers and sisters, publicly. Remember, the catechism says ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ must be avoided. Helping someone, standing up for someone when they are being beaten, is part of compassion. It is part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Catholics have previously asked Pope Francis to condemn the criminalization of homosexuality through #PopeSpeakOut, but he has refrained from doing so, even during his apostolic voyage to three African nations with troubled LGBT human rights records. This silence was deemed a “missed opportunity” by LGBT advocates in Uganda. Elsewhere in the world, bishops have refused to defend LGBT people’s human rights. Bishops in Malawi even advocated re-criminalizing homosexuality in their pastoral letter for the Year of Mercy.

Even if Pope Francis cannot or will not offer positive words in defense of LGBT people, the Vatican could use its diplomatic efforts to ensure the human rights of these communities are defended and advanced. There are many, many issues between silence and marriage equality where common ground could be found.

Vatican diplomats have been central in efforts for justice and reconciliation in the world, such as facilitating development projects and aiding peace negotiations in the Great Lakes Region of Africa or in Colombia. The Holy See is influential as a Permanent Observer at the United Nations. The Vatican has no defensible reason not to expand its defense of human rights and promotion of the common good to LGBT people. And there are millions, indeed tens of millions of good reasons, why the Vatican should act–because every LGBT person’s life that is under attack is a good reason. Every person is a good reason. The United Nations’ new report is a poignant reminder of just how much the Catholic Church can and should be doing for LGBT human rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 2, 2016

 

 

 

Newly-Named Cardinal Comments on LGBT Church Worker Firings

A U.S. bishop who will be made a cardinal in late November has spoken publicly about the pattern in recent years of LGBT church workers firings.

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Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis was interviewed by Michael O’Loughlin of America after being named last week as one of thirteen new cardinals. Asked how the church should respond to LGBT church workers, especially those employees in same-gender marriages, Tobin was skeptical that any national employment policy could be developed. He advocated dealing with church workers on a case-by-case basis:

” ‘If I have someone who is a teacher, I think that’s a little different than someone who is a [chief financial officer]. . .I would want to speak with the person about it, and ask, “Do you find any sort of dissonance within yourself teaching faithfully what the church teaches and the choices you make in your life?” ‘ “

Archbishop Tobin commented, too, on his episcopal colleagues and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which will vote on new leadership and priorities at their fall plenary in November. The archbishop said bishops in the U.S. need to communicate better and follow the pope in valuing “discernment in a synodal way,” continuing:

“[We should] develop a spirit of discernment among us, reading the signs of the times and places in the light of the faith, and being able to talk about that and asking ourselves, what is God’s will? Where is God opening a door?”

For three years, the USCCB has defied the pastoral agenda of Pope Francis with little attention to the signs of the times on LGBT rights and many other issues. But Tobin affirmed the pope, with whom he is acquainted from the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, and said Francis is calling in Amoris Laetitia for the church to elevate “a way of thinking of what it means to follow or lead a life of discipleship today.”

Two other notable points came up in the America interview.

First, the archbishop said today’s church officials in Rome had a deeper “appreciation and gratitude” for women religious in the U.S.  Tobin had been secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life when dual interventions–one a doctrinal investigation of  the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and one an apostolic visitation of U.S. women’s religious communities–began in 2012.

Tobin defended the sisters, and he was promoted horizontally out of Rome to Indianapolis. The questions these investigations provoked, however, meant the church “understood in a more profound way, just what an important, critical role sisters play.”

Second, Tobin affirmed the need for ministry at the margins when speaking about his own religious identity. Ordained a Redemptorist priest, and later elected superior general, Tobin said the community’s mission is “always like to look on the other side of the tracks and care for people that maybe the church isn’t able to care for.” He said further:

“Our founder spoke of the most abandoned poor and that can take different form in different areas. The way I hear it, and the way I would speak of it when I was superior general, was basically we must go where the church isn’t able to go.”

By all accounts, Archbishop Tobin seems to practice the pastorally-oriented leadership so desired by Pope Francis. His recognition that the church must be present at the margins, and his affirmation of women religious, who have been present there, could indicate a more pastoral approach on LGBT issues.

That is why his comments on LGBT church workers are puzzling to me. While he affirms the need to interact with every employee in a charitable way, including a conversation, the case-by-case solution he proposes does not actually protect LGBT church workers and their families from discrimination.

When it comes to employment, such provisional solutions are almost never adequate. For every Archbishop Tobin in Indianapolis who is pastorally shepherding God’s people, there is a Bishop Tobin in Providence whose firing of a gay music director has forced many more parishioners to question their relationship to the church. . Lacking explicit non-discrimination policies and demonstrated support programs, church institutions remain dangerous workplaces when one’s livelihood depends on the bishop’s whim.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues’ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 20, 2016

Pope Francis Says Accompanying LGBT People is “What Jesus Would Do Today”

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 3, 2016

Pope Francis twice opined on LGBT issues during his Apostolic Journey to Georgia and Azerbaijan over the weekend.

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Pope Francis during in-flight press conference

Interviewed during the return flight to Rome on Sunday, Pope Francis was asked about his repeated criticisms of gender theory and what his pastoral response to gender dysphoric persons might be.

Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter asked the pope what he would say to “someone who has struggled with their sexuality for years and feels that there is truly a problem of biology, that his aspect doesn’t correspond to what he or she feels is their sexual identity?”

In his response, Pope Francis called for the church to accompany people as they discern moral decisions in their own circumstances. The pope said that even as pope he had “accompanied people with homosexual tendencies,” adding:

“I have accompanied people with homosexual tendencies, I have also met homosexual persons, accompanied them, brought them closer to the Lord, as an apostle, and I have never abandoned them. People must be accompanied as Jesus accompanies them, when a person who has this condition arrives before Jesus, Jesus surely doesn’t tell them ‘go away because you are homosexual.'”

Pope Francis also shared his perspective on a meeting he had last year with Diego Neria Lejárraga, a transgender man from Spain who had written to the pope. According to the National Catholic Reporter:

“‘[Neria] is a young woman who suffered much because she felt like a young man,’ the pope explained. ‘She felt like a young man, but she was physically a young woman.’

“The woman, Francis said, had undergone gender reassignment surgery and had then married a woman. ‘He wrote me a letter saying that, for him, it would be a consolation to come [see me] with his wife,’ the pope said, clarifying: ‘He that was her but is he.'”

The pope explained how Neria Lejárraga was mistreated by a younger priest, who would yell that the transgender man would be going to Hell, while an older priest invited him to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and of Eucharist. Francis commented:

“Life is life and things must be taken as they come. Sin is sin. And tendencies or hormonal imbalances have many problems and we must be careful not to say that everything is the same. Let’s go party. No, that no, but in every case I accept it, I accompany it, I study it, I discern it and I integrate it. This is what Jesus would do today!”

Francis added that the press should not report “the Pope sanctifies transgenders.” He added, “It’s moral problem. It’s a human problem and it must be resolved always. . .with the mercy of God, with the truth. . .always with an open heart.”

The pope also criticized again the ambiguous concepts of gender theory and ideological colonization, saying:

“What I said is that wickedness which today is done in the indoctrination of gender theory. . .a French father told me that he was speaking with his children at the table, he and his wife were Catholics, ‘rosewater Catholics,’ but Catholics! And he asked his 10-year-old son: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’- ‘a girl.’ The father realized that at school they were teaching him gender theory, and this is against the natural things. One thing is that a person has this tendency, this condition and even changes their sex, but it’s another thing to teach this in line in schools in order to change the mentality. This is what I call ideological colonization.”

This criticism followed similar remarks earlier in the weekend trip, in which he said gender theory was “a great enemy to marriage today.” Francis continued in remarks to clergy, religious, and pastoral workers in Georgia:

“Today there is a world war to destroy marriage. Today there are ideological colonisations which destroy, not with weapons, but with ideas.  Therefore, there is a need to defend ourselves from ideological colonisations.”

Bondings 2.0 will provide updates this week, including reactions from Catholics, as they occur. Worth remembering as the remarks of the pope and his responders are interpreted and received are words from the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to summarize this most recent Apostolic Journey: “Don’t turn differences into sources of conflict, but of mutual enrichment.”

Vatican’s Sex Ed Curriculum Gets Low Grade for LGBT Topics

A curriculum for youth sex education has been released by the Vatican, and while it provides a more holistic approach to sexuality, some glaring omissions make it dangerous material for LGBT young people.

For heterosexual cisgender* young people, the Vatican’s new sex education curriculum, entitled The Meeting Point: Course of Affective Sexual Education for Young People,” offers healthy approaches and guidelines for personal integration and development.  Absent from this document, however, is any mention of similar guidelines that will help  lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth understand their own unique and holy experiences of sexuality and gender. [*Editor’s note:  “cisgender” refers to people whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.]

If this program is used in schools and parishes, it will send a damaging message of silence and invisibility to LGBT youth at very vulnerable points in their lives.  The material sends the message that they are not considered by the church, not welcome, and, worst of all, that they do not even exist.

Because the curriculum assumes heterosexuality as the only valid form of love, and because it assumes that gender is definitively binary and assigned to individuals based on sex (male/female), this material will instill shame, fear, and self-hatred in LGBT young people who are taught from it.   Such negative feelings lead to depression, anxiety, addiction, self-harm, and, tragically, even suicide.

Some examples of the deficiencies in the document include:

In suggestions to the religious education teacher, the document includes the following statements:

  • “The step before falling in love is feeling attracted to a person of the opposite sex.”
  • “Choosing our boyfriend/girlfriend. This is another step in which they have to mature, opening themselves up to what is most difficult – to that which is different -, discovering reciprocity and heterosexuality.”
  • ‘Two ways of existing as a person: The body and soul constitute the unified corporeal-spiritual totality that is the human person. But this totality necessarily exists in the form of a man or of a woman. There is no other possibility than this for the existence of the human person. . . .Our very anatomical traits, as an objective expression of this masculinity or femininity, are endowed with an objectively transcendent significance: they are called to be a visible manifestation of the person.”
  • “The duality of the sexes affirms the axiological meaning of sexuality: man is for woman, woman is for man, and parents are for their children . The sexual difference indicates this reciprocal complementarity, and is oriented toward communication: toward feeling, expressing and living out human love, opening oneself to a greater fulfillment.”

Additionally, the document incorrectly refers to “pansexualism” as occurring when “happiness becomes confused with the greatest amount and duration of pleasures.” In the scientific community, the word refers to “the belief that a sexual instinct drives all human behavior.” With regard to an identity, “pansexual” describes “the sexual attraction, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people regardless of their sex or gender identity.”

What makes this curriculum even more disappointing is that there are actually some good, broad approaches to other aspects of sexuality which would be good for LGBT young people to apply to their lives.  The document discusses areas including the idea that sexuality is far more than sexual activity, the various dimensions of human relationships, the importance of respecting the human dignity of others and of self,  the ways to integrate emotions into one’s life, the proper exercise of freedom, the importance of developing healthy relationships, the place of morality in making decisions about relationships, and many others.  These are lessons important to all young people.  However, since the material has a bias for heterosexuality and the gender binary, it is likely that these valuable messages will not get through to LGBT youth, who will likely feel themselves excluded from this conversation.

Likewise heterosexual and cisgender youth also lose if LGBT issues are not included, as they are deprived of a wealth of information about human development.  Such information could most readily be of use to this group if students if they have an LGBT friend or relative.

The fact that several secular sex education experts have praised it, and that a number of ultra-conservative Catholics have condemned it, may be the best evidence that there are some good ideas in this new approach.  For instance, Cleveland.com reported:

Seattle’s Tina Schermer Sellers, author of an upcoming book titled “Sex, God & the Conservative Church – Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy,” praised the new curriculum’s departure from teachings that were “ineffective and often hurtful,” including scare tactics, and presentation of God as unforgiving, unloving and damning.

Sellers said programs that couple sex education with a framework of values – as the new Vatican program does – help young people “make better sexual choices, get involved sexually later and have more satisfying sexual lives later in life.”

Indeed, it is commendable that there are no explicit condemnations of LGBT people in this curriculum.  Such would not have been the case even five years ago. This development shows that the Church is changing.  But, LGBT Catholics and their allies cannot be satisfied simply with the absence of condemnations. And our church’s leaders need to recognize the damage done by avoiding LGBT people in discussions of gender and sexuality.  In many places around the globe, these issues are discussed daily in mass media and ordinary conversation.  Young people, in particular, are acutely aware of these realities.  The silence about LGBT issues in this curriculum will speak loudly–and negatively–to young people.

If the Vatican wants to truly be comprehensive in their approach to sexuality, which this curriculum is one step towards being, Church leaders need to be pro-active in humanely addressing the experiences, lives, and relationships of LGBT people, and to affirm their holiness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

Global Pulse:  Vatican launches sex ed website

Cruxnow.com: “Vatican issues its own sex ed guidelines

 

 

 

 

Are Debates over Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” a Healthy or Harmful Sign?

pope-francis-amoris-laetitiaThree months after its release, how to interpret and implement Amoris Laetitia remains one of the most contested issues in the Catholic church today. But this ongoing dialogue, and at times intense debate, could itself be very welcome news.

The Vatican recently defended Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family through two of its affiliated publications, according to Crux.

Earlier this week, historian Rocco Buttiglione wrote a front page column in L’Osservatore Romano responding to the exhortation’s critics who claim it is not a magisterial document and that it diverges from tradition.

Elsewhere, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna gave an interview to La Civilta Cattolica in which he said Amoris Laetitia  is not merely consistent with but evolves doctrine on family issues.

Critics have included Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, and  Cardinal Raymond Burke, who said the exhortation was a “personal” document from the pope. Several dozen Catholics wrote a letter to 218 church leaders asking for Pope Francis to “respond to the dangers to Catholic faith and morals” which they perceive in the document. Their names have finally been made public by the National Catholic Reporter.

Much of the debate has centered around whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should be admitted to Communion. The larger debates, however, are about establishing this document as part of the magisterium and, therefore, the assent that is due to it from Catholics.  Additionally, the practical ways the document should impact pastoral care and church disciplines is also a major issue.

Theologian Massimo Faggioli said the present divide around Amoris Laetitia is between those Catholics whose “constrained view” leads them to focus on church law and discipline, and those Catholics who focus on a “renewed emphasis on conscience” as new theological and pastoral questions arise. Writing in Commonweal, Faggioli reflected on the differences in ecclesial reception between Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, and Pope Francis’ exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. He noted, in particular, the way which bishops have responded to these two documents.

After Humanae Vitae, a document equally if not more controversial because it retained the magisterium’s ban on artificial contraception, bishops engaged with one another and high level officials, and even questioned it publicly. Collective responses were issued by episcopal conferences and theologians, and the debates have not yet ceased. In my opinion, this experience is largely what caused Pope John II and Pope Benedict XVI to suppress dialogue in the church and to tie episcopal appointments to matters of sexuality for thirty-some years.

After Amoris Laetitia, Faggioli wrote, the situation is quite different. Instead, there is an “episcopal, magisterial individualism” by which each bishop responds to the document almost in isolation and without collegial discourse among their regional and national peers. Faggioli concluded:

“It is clear by now that a culture of discussion and discernment must be rebuilt among the episcopal leadership of the Catholic Church, starting from the national and continental bishops’ conferences. The reception of The Joy of Love requires a true commitment to a collegial and synodal church, not just mere affect.”

Differences now being expressed about Amoris Laetitia may be the first fruits of a new period in the church, a return to episcopal debates publicly played out.  Thomas Groome, a Boston College theology professor, made this point in his response to Amoris Laetitia, telling The Guardian

” ‘The fact that he’s [Pope Francis] allowing us to talk about these things is a breakthrough. . .It was presumed it was already decided and anybody that was raising this was obviously contrary to the church.’ “

Catholic publications have repeatedly picked up on this theme of Pope Francis inviting dialogue and difference. The National Catholic Reporter‘s editors wrote:

“Francis offers the Catholic community two challenges: To live as a community with parrhesia, speaking and listening to one another with courage and humility, and then to translate the openness of papal actions and documents into pastoral discourse and compassionate action in the parishes.”

The Tablet editorial highlighted the shift to a dialogue in their headline: “Power of conscience puts laity at centre of change.”  They further editorialized:

“It would be right to describe the publication of Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis as a minor earthquake, though one preceded by plenty of warning tremors. And while the Catholic Church’s foundations may have been shaken, the walls and roof are still standing. Francis was well aware when he was elected Pope that the basic weakness in the Church’s mission to evangelise was its reputation as a stern and unforgiving teacher in the field of sexual and marital ethics, something that touches people’s lives most intimately. Put simply, it did not sound like the gentle voice of a loving mother. Francis had to respect as far as possible the content of the teaching. But he could change the one thing that may matter more than content for ordinary Catholics – its tone.”

The editors of Commonweal responded:

“This is not a recommendation of laxity or relativism. It is a recognition of human complexity and an endorsement of subsidiarity, a principle not restricted to politics. Only (properly trained) local pastors can be familiar enough with the members of their flock to undertake the kind of ‘practical discernment’ necessary to apply the church’s rules without deepening the wounds caused by divorce or abandoning the already abandoned.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said the flourishing of open and honest discussions in the church is an “unintended, but very welcome” aspect of Francis’ papacy. She wrote in The Huffington Post:

“[Pope Francis’] acceptance, even encouragement, of the expression of divergent opinions represents a dramatic shift in tone from a pontiff. . .After nearly 30 years during which agreement with official Church teaching seemed monolithic among Catholic leadership, having these differences of opinion out in the open is a very hopeful sign. Now we can acknowledge that, just as there is diversity among lay Catholics in views of LGBTQ people, the same is true of those responsible for developing and implementing Church policy. While those willing to question current teaching and practice still represent a minority of Church leaders, their voices are being heard, and it is likely that others may join them in the months ahead. This could help shift the focus from the utterings of Pope Francis to a recognition that there is a community of leaders responsible for Catholic teaching and policy. And as more and more Catholics, grassroots and leadership alike, stand up for the civil and ecclesial rights of LGBTQ people and families, the cultural and political identity of Catholicism as firmly opposing gay and transgender rights will quickly crumble, further weakening efforts to maintain oppressive structures.”

While it is clear that the dialogue and debate are now happening, what is less clear is what the impact will be. Some bishops, like Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn or Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, have welcomed the document wholeheartedly. Others, like the critics mentioned above or Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, will be obstructionist. For the rest of the faithful, this renewed dialogue and debate in the church is largely welcomed, but this path will require far more engagement from all Catholics to discern how Amoris Laetitia should impact the life of the church, especially when it comes to LGBT people and others marginalized in the church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Cardinal Schönborn: “Amoris Laetitia” Evolves Catholic Doctrine on Family Life

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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, right, holding Amoris Laetitia when it was announced in April

A top cardinal who was closely connected to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, has again affirmed the exhortation’s authoritative status, and said it evolves understandings and expressions of Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a Dominican, made these remarks and others in an extensive interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro of the Vatican-reviewed Italian journal, La Civita Cattolica. Excerpts, available here, have been translated into English.

Amoris Laetitia is “the great text of moral theology” the church has awaited since Vatican II, America quoted Schönborn as saying. It is moving the church from ” ‘a defensive pastoral style in which evil becomes an obsession’ toward one that focuses on recognizing the value of encouraging what is good.” Asked about the exhortation’s authority and the exhortation’s relation to Catholic doctrine–in light of criticisms that it is a minor document, or even only the pope’s opinion, as Cardinal Raymond Burke claimed–Schönborn said:

“It is obvious that this is an act of the magisterium. . .I have no doubt that it must be said that this is a pontifical document of great quality, an authentic teaching of sacra doctrina, which leads us back to the contemporary relevance of the Word of God. . .

“In this sphere of human realities, the Holy Father has fundamentally renewed the discourse of the Church – certainly along the lines of Evangelii gaudium, but also of Gaudium et spes, which presents doctrinal principles and reflections on human beings today that are in a continuous evolution. There is a profound openness to accept reality.”

Schönborn said Pope Francis rejected doctrine which is “abstract pronouncements that are separated from the subject who lives,” saying the exhortation’s “bedrock” is understanding that families are not ideals but rather are journeying. He continued:

“The complexity of family situations, which goes far beyond what was customary in our Western societies even a few decades ago, has made it necessary to look in a more nuanced way at the complexity of these situations. To a greater degree than in the past, the objective situation of a person does not tell us everything about that person in relation to God and in relation to the Church. This evolution compels us urgently to rethink what we meant when we spoke of objective situations of sin. And this implicitly entails a homogeneous evolution in the understanding and in the expression of the doctrine.”

In short, Schönborn clarified, “There is no general norm that can cover all the particular cases.”

Other bishops have affirmed Amoris Laetitia‘s authority as they consider how it should be implemented. Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, Malta, called church ministers to exercise “cautious discernment and respect” when encountering people in irregular situations, reported the Independent. Naming LGBT Catholics in civil unions, Grech said:

“Our pastoral activity should be based on four actions – accepting, accompanying, discerning and integrating. The Pope tells us it is important that we help divorced people who are in a new relationship to feel part of the church, that they are not excommunicated or regarded as such, because they also form part of the ecclesiastical communion.”

Grech, whose record on LGBT issues is generally positive, encouraged church ministers not to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “torture chamber.” Instead, he said the church must engage people as people, not situations, and to “[be] mindful of the language you use.”

Yet despite Schönborn and others’ insistence that Amoris Laetitia represents a development of doctrine, especially in its respect for the complexities of family life today, not all bishops have treated it as such.

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on new guidelines from Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput establishing general norms in the archdiocese that ban LGBT people from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to Catholics in non-traditional families. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on these guidelines here.

Debates about Amoris Laetitia will certainly continue for months, if not years. What is important for LGBT Catholics and their advocates, however, is the growing admission by church leaders that doctrine can and has developed when it comes to family life. Opponents of same-gender sexual activity, relationships, and marriage equality frequently say church teaching is unchanging. But Cardinal Schönborn’s interview makes clear such a view is false, and that beyond the clear pastoral recommendations there are doctrinal implications, too. His voice possesses tremendous weight. He was the spokesperson at the April press conference that made Amoris Laetitia available to the public.  He appeared alongside a married Italian couple and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri, the Synod of Bishops’ secretary general.  In the 1990s,  Schönborn oversaw publication of the most recent edition of the Catechism.

The progressive changes sought by many Catholics on gender and sexuality issues were not accomplished in or by Amoris Laetitia. And Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines are evidence the document can and will be misinterpreted by church leaders who wish to suppress pastoral and doctrinal evolution. But there is tremendous hope in the reality that a growing number of church leaders are admitting change is possible, and even needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry