Just last week it was Cardinal Schonborn saying to an Irish conference in preparation for the World Meeting of Families, that all families need protecting – including queer families. Also last week, another senior cardinal effectively acknowledged in a newspaper interview, that gay marriage is not a major issue for the Catholic Church.
In a remarkable and groundbreaking statement, a prominent Catholic cardinal has acknowledged that protecting and strengthening “the family” can include protecting those headed by same-sex couples.
The Catholic Church is doing whatever it can to strengthen the family, including families often considered nontraditional, said Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, the theologian who reviewed Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family.
“Favoring the family does not mean disfavoring other forms of life — even those living in a same-sex partnership need their families,” the cardinal said during a visit to Ireland, which next year hosts the World Meeting of Families.
Catholicnews,com (emphasis added)
For lesbian and gay Catholics, this is immensely significant, for several reasons.
Cardinal Schonborn is clearly close to Pope Francis, and has his respect, as shown by his prominent role in presenting the pope’s Apostolic Exortation “Amoris Laetitia (The joy of Love)”, following the Catholic bishops’ synod assembly on marriage and family.
On lesbian and gay inclusion in church, he has often been among the first to articulate positions which later became commonplace. Several years ago, he was the first senior cardinal to suggest that the time had come to stop focusing on homosexual genital acts, and to look instead at the quality of the relationships. At the time, there was speculation that he would be promptly rebuked by Pope Benedict XVI. When that did not happen, a series of other bishops quickly echoed Schonborn’s thoughts on this. Later, he further developed his thinking, by extending to support for legal recognition of loving and committed same-sex relationships, in civil unions. This new statement takes it one step further, in implicit recognition that in some countries (eg Ireland, where he was speaking). these legally sanctioned unions could include civil marriage. Given his track record of anticipating Church thinking, we should expect more bishops to start talking about respect for different types of families – including those headed by same-sex couples.
“Today, everybody can get married,” he said, but acknowledged “so many choose not to get married.” He suggested that the number of so-called irregular situations has increased enormously because the “framework of society has changed so much.”
Schonborn was in Ireland to address a conference, “Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family.” In his remarks, he also noted that there have been times when large sections of the population (servants, for example) where not permitted to marry. Against this background, the Irish slogan “marriage for all” is just the logical extension of a long-term historical trend. Next year, Ireland will host the World Meeting of Families. It can be expected that with the “framework of society” having changed so markedly in the country, much of the discussion at the World Meeting of Families will at least consider all families.
Back in October 2015, I was in Rome for the foundation conference of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, timed to coincide with the Synod of Bishops gathering on marriage and family. At that conference, a steering committee was elected to create a permanent foundation for the new body. That work has now been completed: the next conference will now take place in Germany, later this year. Read the details in this invitation letter, from the co-chairs Ruby Almeida and Michael Brinkschröder:
In the UK, 62% of Catholics now say that same-sex relationships are “not at all wrong”.
This finding, from the authoritative, annual British Social Attitudes Survey for 2017, is particularly dramatic when viewed over the long term, the thirty years from 1986 and 2016. This transformation in attitudes applies to all Christians, but especially to Catholics, for whom moral acceptance of same-sex relationships rose from just 9% 30 years ago, to 62% in 2016.
“The Church Needs a Stonewall Revolution”
At last month’s Gdansk conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, one of the highlights for me was a workshop by Krysztof Charamsa. This began on a strictly personal high. On entering the room, he went around and personally greeted everyone present, shaking them by the hand. By virtue of my seating, I was the last person he got to, next door to Martin Pendergast (whom he already knew). He first greeted me as “Terry”, reading my conference label, but then when Martin introduced me as “Terry Weldon”, his eyes grew wide. “Terry Weldon?” he repeated, and instead of just a simple handshake, gave me a great bearhug, saying “thank you, thank you”. (I’m not in fact sure what it was he was thanking more for, but whatever the reason, the simple fact gave me a substantial high. In my view, it is he that deserves the thanks, from all lgbt Catholics).
I’d love to report in detail on the content of his address, but alas I cannot – he began by specifically asking that it not be published, which I must respect. I think I can however, report some of the bare bones, and how his words have impacted my own thinking. Some of the talk repeated material widely reported from earlier interviews, such as his view that the process of coming out was a profoundly liberating, theological process. Also notable was the observation that for all the improvements in tone and supportive pastoral care under Francis’ papacy, the fact remains that the harsh elements of doctrine promulgated by the Pope John Paul II/Cardinal Ratzinger partnership remain unrefuted as part of the formal magisterium. Indeed, if strictly adhered to as it stands, much of this formal body of doctrine would make the current improvements in pastoral care impossible. For this reason, he concluded that the Catholic Church needs its own Stonewall moment.
It can of course be argued that by the nature of his personal journey, he is still carrying a great deal of anger directed at the Church, to the extent that he is exaggerating the harm and ignoring the good in the present state of the Church and its response to LGBT people. It is also true that one response to the harmful elements in the formal magisterium is to point out that there are different levels of Church teaching, not all equally important, and that these sexual matters are less important than might appear at face value. We must also acknowledge that some of the important shifts in pastoral care are in fact required by Amoris Laetitia, with its emphasis on conscience, discernment and accompaniment, and that given its status as an “apostolic exhortation”, Amoris Laetitia is itself contributing to and developing the magisterium.
But still. I was left with two key take aways for my own thinking. On the one hand, I was reminded of where I was when I first began blogging about lesbian and gay Catholics: taken as a whole, Catholic teaching is riddled with inherent contradictions and ambiguities. It is as wrong to assume that to conform with Church teaching lesbian and gay Catholics must simply renounce all same-sex relationships, as it is to reject the whole of Church teaching as inherently unsound. The fact is that even in the standard formal documents, there is some supportive material which needs to be more widely known and understood – along with harmful, unsound material that needs to be vigorously challenged.
On the other hand, as I was listening, my mind constantly wandered to the image embedded in Fr James Martin’s book on the Church and LGBT Catholics – “Building a Bridge”.
Any bridge connects two opposite ends. When I first began writing about Catholic teaching, I was mostly concerned with pointing out what was wrong, and how it was contradicted by things like science, history and public opinion. Later, as things began to improve, I tended to concentrate on highlighting signs of that improvement, and the more supportive elements in the magisterium.
The bridge however, requires a balance between both. To reach out to LGBT Catholics, there is a need to show them that there is a welcoming and supportive side to the Church, in doctrine as well as on the ground. But to the Church, it is also important to act as a critical friend, pointing out to those who can not yet see it, the countless ways in which elements in doctrine and practice are both deeply harmful, and unsupported by sound evidence.
Over several days at the end of May, LGBT Christians from across Europe gathered in Gdansk, Poland for the 36th Annual Conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. “Forwards in Solidarity” was the theme and Free People in Free Countries was the challenge and call.
The European Forum includes over 50 groups, with some 140 lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and other participants from 21 European countries present at the 2017 Conference. These included people from Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical, Reformed and Orthodox traditions. Observers attended from ENORB (European Network on Religion & Belief), GIN (Global Interfaith Network), and ILGA (International Lesbian & Gay Association).
In a European social context of increasing fragmentation, nationalistic and conservative political developments, the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups takes a prophetic stance in the face of oppression and discrimination within and beyond church structures. Gathering in the birthplace of the Solidarność trade union movement, was another powerfully prophetic sign.
Pointing to the 2016 campaign “Let’s give each other a Sign of Peace”, mounted by the Polish Christian network, Faith & Rainbow (Wiara i Tęcza) along with the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), the Forum’s Co-President, Wielie Elhorst said:
Posters with two hands reaching for each other, one with a rainbow bracelet, the other with rosary beads, were spread throughout the country … It was a courageous effort to make clear to the people of Poland that they need to take further steps in solidarity, to work for a society that is truly inclusive and that gives all the opportunity to participate in equality in all domains of life, to adopt laws that protect and support people to freely follow their sexual orientation and their own gender identity, without fear. How can a hand that is offered as a Sign of Peace be rejected, especially by the representatives of the churches? Rejecting the hand that is offered in Peace is rejecting people’s humanity, rejecting them as your neighbour.
The Conference included powerful testimonies from former Solidarity activist and, trans Orthodox believer, Ms. Ewa Hołuszko, and Krzysztof Charamsa, Catholic priest, previously Assistant Secretary to the International Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who ”came out” as gay and partnered in October 2015. Ms. Hołuszko spoke of the centrality of her faith both in her political struggles and her ”erasure” from Polish social prominence, following her transition. Charamsa called for a Stonewall revolution of LGBTQI visibility within Catholic Church structures.
The Conference culminated with participants joining Gdansk’s largest ever Pride Parade on, 27 May, attended by over 5,000 people, and launched for the first time by the Mayor of Gdansk. Neo-fascists picketed the Parade but were held back by a massive protective police presence, preventing violence.
Once again, the outrage at so-called “Lifesite” News reveals some good news for LGBT Catholics, this time from Malta.
First, read the outrage at Lifesite, that first alerted me to the real story:
A homosexual group that campaigns for the Catholic Church to accept homosexual “marriage,” sodomy, and adoption of children by same-sex couples has been given a free pass to operate unofficially in the Catholic Archdiocese of Malta run by Archbishop Charles Scicluna.
The “homosexual” group referred to is Drachma, which has long interested me for its strong profile and achievements in a moderately small country. Ignore the offensive reference to “sodomy”, and the support for same-sex marriage and adoption are in fact supported by many mainstream Catholics, across Europe and the Americas. The real interest here, is that they have been given what Lifesite calls a “free pass to operate unofficially in the Catholic Archdiocese of Malta”.
This does not amount to direct, explicit support by formal endorsement: that lies some way in the future. What it does represent, is a clear policy of non-interference amounting to an indirect, implicit endorsement, including some gestures by the Archbishop Scicluna personally. The clearest such demonstration of support came in 2014, when he presided at a Mass in support of IDAHOT – the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Last year (2016), when Drachma presented Archbishop Scicluna with a copy of their book about parents of LGBT children titled “Our Children”, the Archbishop called the book a “tool to help parents of LGBTI children” – and so it is. Drachma has an impressive record in its work providing pastoral support for LGBT Catholics, and their strong parents’ group is a crucially important part of that work.
Lifesite quotes with horror an extract from a February 2016 interview with Drachma co-ordinator Chris Vella with One News Malta. Lifesite, with its reflex homophobia, may well be horrified, but others more rooted in reality will see nothing to object to in this simple statement of the truth of what it is to be a gay man, even in the Catholic Church:
“I believe that my sexuality as a homosexual person, bisexual, and all the other sexualities that you can mention, are all normal and natural. That is, if my nature is homosexual, if my nature is bisexual, if my nature is transsexual, that is my nature and in that way I can love,” he said.
“I have my nature as a homosexual man, I must love in that way, and I can only, to put it like that, live love in a complete way when I live my love, my bisexual, homosexual love, in that way,” he added.
How times of changed, in terms of pastoral care, under the papacy of Francis. Back in 2010, I reported on how a Dutch parish priest refused to give communion to a gay parishioner who had been elected “carnival prince” for Pink Saturday – the Dutch equivalent of British or American “Pride”. (That decision was later overturned after intervention of the bishop).
This year, that same parish priest has gone way, way further than simply agreeing to give communion to gay activists: he has successfully negotiated with the bishop to have Pink Saturday celebrated with an ecumenical service in the town’s cathedral, with the bishop himself attending.
Here’s the core of the announcement, from the Pink Saturday website in Dutch, with my own English translation below:
Alle geloven nemen deel aan de Roze Viering op Roze Zaterdag 2017 in Den Bosch, maar plebaan Van Rossem is de gastheer. Hij opent op 24 juni de deuren van de Sint-Janskathedraal voor de LHBT-gemeenschap. Dat gebeurt met volledige instemming van de bisschop, die ook bij de gebedsdienst aanwezig zal zijn om zijn zegen te geven. Daarmee wordt geschiedenis geschreven: het is de eerste keer dat een Nederlandse bisschop dat doet.
(Male and female pastors of different denominations will share in the Pink Celebration service on Pink Saturday 2017 in Den Bosch, but Fr Van Rossem will be the lead celebrant. He will open the doors of St. John’s Cathedral on the 24th of June 2017 to the LGBT community. This takes place with the full consent bishop, who will also be present at the prayer service to give his blessing. This will be an historic occasion: the first time a Dutch bishop does so).
I’m particularly interested in the contrasting statements ‘made by Fr van Rossum, then and now, as reported by Lifestyle News :
At the time (of the 2010 refusal of communion), the cathedral’s parish priest, Geertjan van Rossum, made a public statement reminding the faithful that only people who observe the Ten Commandments are admitted to Holy Communion: “Proper living out of sexuality is part of that,” he said, triggering the angry departure of the gay activists.
And now, on announcing the Pink Saturday cathedral service:
“Ours is a hospitable town where all citizens should be able to live with dignity and we should not make each other’s lives sour, and that is why personally, but also in the name of our Catholic parish, we want to support this initiative,” Father van Rossum said. “We want to have a nice town for all its inhabitants and all its guests. As a Christian and as a believer, I also know there are Christians and believers who belong to the LGBT community and who also want to be involved with the community of the faithful. So as a priest, together with the cathedral parish, we also want to be involved with Pink Saturday, and also with the ecumenical celebration.”