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:
“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.
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.
When Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis, it was widely acknowledged that this was largely on the grounds of his contribution to discussions inside the consistory, on the pressing need for reform of the curia. So, the world watched anxiously to see what form this reform would take – and in particular, which curial officials would remain in post, be booted out, or receive promotion. Months later, there seemed to be little change. This perception though, simply missed the point. Some years on, the perspective is rather different.
The first point to note, is that instead of rushing into a “reform” of the curia, Pope Francis’ first and most important action was simply to downgrade its simple importance. This was dramatically signalled symbolically, by taking up his personal residence outside the traditional buildings, away from the officials. Later, it was given more substantive form, in his formation of an advisory inner circle of cardinal advisors. This is where the important decisions are now taken, not in curial offices. A further sign of the diminished importance of the curia, is in the much reduced flow of published documents issuing from those offices, as compared with the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The rightful role of the curia has been restored to that of the church’s civil service, not its government. (That is not to deny that there is extensive unhappiness and resistance within the curia. That is to be expected – but matters far less, than it would have done under Francis’ predecessors).
For a useful summary of just how extensive Francis’ reform has been, taking one simple step at a time, see Pope Francis’ hard-hitting Christmas address to the leaders of the curia, reported in full at Radio Vatican. Every Christmas since taking office, in these seasonal addresses Francis has given some thoughts on what the curia should be – and what at times it is, but should not be. Continue reading Curial Reform: Softlee Softlee, Catchee Monkey
The crazies at Church Militant have been useful, this time by drawing attention to an interesting newspaper interview with the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff. What has angered them, is his claim that Pope Francis is “one of us” – that is, in sympathy with liberation theology. That should not surprise anyone: to me, it is obvious. Right from the start of his papacy, Francis has sent out signals of sympathy to both the people and ideas of the liberation theology movement. However, there’s much more of importance in this interview, some of it much more radical.
I am particularly interested in Boff’s discussion of the possibility of married priests returning to active ministry. He claims that the Brazilian bishops have already made this request to the pope, and that he (Boff) has “heard” that Francis has agreed. More interesting, is that he personally feels he does not need this papal permission to return to ministry, which he is already exercising, with the tacit approval of local bishops – some of whom may even be encouraging others to do the same.
A fun observation in the interview, is his dismissal of the objections to Amoris Laetitia by Cardinal Burke and his cronies in their “dubia”. Burke, he says, is the Vatican’s equivalent of Donald Trump. The difference though, is that he is effectively sidelined in the curia (“cold-shouldered”, if I understand correctly the German “kaltgestellt” ).
The interview report of course is in German. Fortunately, the quality of Google Translate has improved markedly since a recent major change in their technology. I include here the Google translation of the complete interview, lightly edited to improve English readability. (For the complete German language interview, see Kölner Stadt-Unzeiger)
The Brazilian Leonardo Boff, born in 1938, is the son of Italian immigrants. In 1959 he joined the Franciscan Order and studied in Germany for five years.
In the 1980s, Boff became the main representative of liberation theology, and because of his criticism of the church, he was in conflict with the Vatican and Joseph Ratzinger, his superior. After having been twice subjected to a publication ban, Boff left the Order in 1992 and laid down his priesthood.
Mr. Boff, do you like Christmas songs?
What do you think? (Sings): “Si-hil-lent night, holy night …” This is sung in every family that celebrates Christmas. With us in Brazil, this is just as much a tradition as in Germany.
Do not you see this kind of Christmas kitted up and commercialized?
This is different from country to country. Of course, Christmas has become a big business. But in all this, joy is still alive, a time of being together with the family, and in many cases also a time of faith. And as I have experienced Christmas in Germany, it is a celebration of the heart, very coherent, wonderful.
How does a faith, which speaks for Christmas of a “God of peace”, fit the dissatisfaction we experience everywhere?
The major part of faith is promise. Ernst Bloc*h says: “Real genesis is not at the beginning, but at the end, and it only starts to begin when society and existence become radical.” The joy of Christmas lies in this promise: The earth and the people are not condemned, it always goes on as we experience it – with all the wars, violence, fundamentalism. We are promised in faith that in the end everything will be good; That despite all the mistakes, missteps and setbacks, we are coming to a good end. The real meaning of Christmas is not that “God has become man,” but that he has come to tell us, “You men belong to me, and when you die, you will come home.”
Christmas means: God is coming to pick us up?
Yes. Incarnation means something of us is already divine, immortal. The divine lies within us. In Jesus it has been shown most clearly. But it is in all people. In an evolutive view, Jesus does not come to the world from outside, but grows out of it. Jesus is the manifestation of the divine in evolution – but not the only one. The Divine also appears in the Buddha, in Mahatma Gandhi, and other great beliefs.
This does not sound very Catholic.
Do not say that. The entire Franciscan theology of the Middle Ages conceived of Christ as part of creation, not only as the Redeemer of Debt and Sin, who comes into the world from above. Incarnation is also salvation, yes. But first and foremost it is a glorification, a deification of creation. And something else is important at Christmas. God appears in the form of a child. Not as an old man with white hair and long white beard …
Just like you …
So, if at all, I rather resemble Karl Marx. What I am concerned with is the following: If, at the end of our lives, we have to face the divine judge once before, then we are faced with a child. But a child does not condemn anyone. A child wants to play and be together with others. This side of faith must be re-emphasized.
Latin liberation theology, among whose most prominent representatives you belong, has come to new honour by Pope Francis. A rehabilitation also for you personally after the decades of fighting with Pope John Paul II and his most faithful guardian Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI?
Francis is one of us. He has made liberation theology the common property of the Church. And he has extended it. Those who speak of the poor must also speak of the earth today because it is also plundered and desecrated. “To hear the cry of the poor,” means to hear the cry of the beasts, the forests, the whole tormented creation. The whole earth cries. So, says the Pope, quoting the title of one of my books, we must at the same time hear the cry of the poor and the earth. And both must be liberated. In recent times, I myself have been very concerned with this extension of liberation theology. And this is also the fundamentally new one in “Laudato si” …
… the “eco-encyclical” of the Pope from 2015. How much Leonardo Boff is in Jorge Mario Bergoglio?
The Encyclical belongs to the Pope. But he has consulted many experts.
Has he read your books?
Even more. He asked me for material for “Laudato si”. I have given him my advice and sent some of what I have written. He also used it. Some people have told me that they had thought on reading it, “that’s Boff!” By the way, Pope Francis said to me, “Boff, please do not send the papers directly to me.”
He said: “Otherwise, the Secretariat will see them off, and I will not get them. I would like to know that the current Vatican ambassador is an old acquaintance of the Pope from his time in Buenos Aires. They have often drunk mate together. One day before the encyclical was published, the Pope had to call me to give me his thanks for my help.
But a personal meeting with the Pope is still pending?
He has sought reconciliation with the most important representatives of liberation theology, with Gustavo Gutierrez, Jon Sobrino, and also with me. I said to him, with a view to Pope Benedict and Joseph Ratzinger, “but the other one still lives!”. He did not accept this. “No,” he said, “il Papa sono io” – “the pope is me”. So we should come quietly. You see his courage and determination.
Why did it not work out with your visit?
I had an invitation and had already landed in Rome. But on that very day, just before the beginning of family synod 2015, 13 cardinals – among them the German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Congregation of the Faith – were preparing rebellion against the Pope with a letter addressed to him, which then – oh, miracle! – appeared in the newspaper. The Pope was angry and said to me, “Boff, I have no time. I have to make peace before the Synod. See you another time.”
Even with peace that has not really gone away, right?
The Pope feels the sharpness of the wind from his own ranks, especially from the USA. This cardinal Burke, Leo Burke, who has now written a letter together with your Cologne Cardinal Meisner, is the Donald Trump of the Catholic Church. (Laughs) But unlike Trump, Burke is now cold-shouldered in the Curia. Thank God. These people actually believe they should correct the pope. As if they were above the Pope. Such a thing is unusual, if not unprecedented in the church history. You can criticize the Pope, discuss with him. I have done this often enough. But that Cardinals publicly accuse the Pope of spreading theological errors or even heresies, which I think is too much. This is an affront, which the can not be done to the pope. The Pope can not be condemned, that is the teaching the Church.
With all your enthusiasm for the Pope, what about the Church reforms that many Catholics had hoped for from Francis, but where in fact still not so much has happened?
You know, as far as I understand it, the center of his interest is no longer the church, certainly not the inner church enterprise, but the survival of mankind, the future of the earth. Both are in danger, and one must ask whether Christianity can contribute to overcoming this great crisis that threatens humanity.
Francis takes care of the environment, and now his church is on the wall?
I believe there is a hierarchy of problems for him. When the earth perishes, all other problems have also settled. But as for the inner-church questions, wait a while! It was only recently that Cardinal Walter Kasper, a close confidant of the Pope, said that there would soon be great surprises.
What do you expect?
Who knows? Perhaps women deacons. Or the possibility that married priests can be used again in pastoral care. This is an explicit request from the Brazilian bishops to the Pope, especially his friend, the Brazilian Cardinal emeritus Claudio Hummes. I heard that the Pope wanted to comply with this request – initially for an experimental phase in Brazil. This country, with its 140 million Catholics, should have at least 100,000 priests. But there are only 18000. Institutionally, this is a disaster. It is no wonder that the faithful overflow with the evangelicals and Pentecostals who fill the vacuum. If the many thousands of married priests were able to exercise their office again, this would be a first step towards the improvement of the situation – and at the same time an impulse for the Catholic Church to loosen the fetters of the obligation celibacy.
If the Pope were to decide in this sense, would you, as a former Franciscan friar, take on priestly duties again?
Personally, I do not need such a decision. It would not change for me, because I am still doing what I have always done: I baptize, I bury, and when I go to a church without a priest, I celebrate the Mass together with the people.
Is it very “German” to ask: Can you do that?
So far, no bishop I know of has ever criticized or forbidden it. The bishops even rejoice and tell me: “The people have a right to the Eucharist. So keep on, in peace! “My theological teacher, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, who had died a few days ago, for example, was very open. He went so far as to bring married priests, whom he saw sitting in the bench during the Mass, to the front of the altar, and together with them celebrated the Eucharistic feast. He often did that and said. “You are still priests, and you will remain so!”
Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington in Kentucky is scheduled to speak at New Ways Ministry’s symposium April 28–30 in Chicago. The event is titled: “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”
Predictably, Lifesite “News” and the even crazier Church Militant website are apoplectic that the bishop is daring to even speak to an LGBT ministry group, misrepresenting this as “US Bishop rips Church teaching on homosexuality” (Lifesite).
As usual, much of what these orthotoxic commenters most object to, should in fact cause for celebration. Take a look at some of what Bishop Stowe actually said, as reported by these two sources:
“I think Pope Francis has signalled that we need to take another look at those things (homosexuality) and I think that Pope Francis has also given us the example, that is, the Church doctrine, the Church teaching has not changed, but the way we approach it has to be merciful,” he said.
After presenting a lengthy tirade against New Ways Ministry, Lifesite continued with this quote:
“I have come to know individuals who are associated with New Ways Ministry…and every one of them I have spoken to are genuine, sincere people of faith who are trying to reconcile their own sexual orientation with the Church that they love and that they have been raised in,” he said.
On the language of “disordered”:
“I think it’s fair to say that the language is not helpful,” he said. “We live in an age of sound bites, and to hear just that phrase is tantamount to hearing an outright rejection.”
“That can’t be the message of the gospel,” he insisted. “That was not Jesus’ approach.”
On the prospects for change in Church teaching:
He put forth the possibility that Church doctrine could change with regard to homosexuality, bringing up the example of Her evolving teaching on usury and slavery.
“Change does come over a long period of time in the way that the Church approaches a number of issues,” he said. “We cannot hide ourselves by excluding ourselves from scientific research and from the development of human knowledge.”
“I think the area where we can grow in understanding,” he continued later, “is the area of … whether homosexuality is a question of nature or nurture.”
On natural law:
When asked what it means to be merciful to practising homosexuals in respect to natural law and the purpose of sexuality, Stowe replied that natural law is only one “framework” among many that could be used to dialogue with believers and unbelievers about sexuality. He suggested that natural law has more to say about homosexual acts than Catholics might think.
“There could be a whole realm of argument [about] what does natural law actually teach us about same-sex behavior. If you find it naturally occurring in the animal world, if you find it naturally occurring among certain species, it both can be clarifying but it also raises other questions,” he said.
Notwithstanding the horror professed by Lifesite and Church Militant, there is absolutely nothing in any of this that is in any way in conflict with authoritative Church teaching. On the contrary, it is completely consistent with both the general guidelines for the Church presented by the Second Vatican Council, and the more specific, sentiments widely shared at the two Family Synods of 2014 and 2015, and the guidelines on pastoral ministry contained in the important Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”.
My life as a gay Catholic man, father, husband and Domer started many years ago being brought up in a traditional middle-class Irish Catholic family in the suburbs of Boston. Both my parents were school teachers who strongly valued hard work ethic, advanced education and bringing their children up in the Catholic religion. My life’s path was to study hard, get into a good college, get married and have children. This was not thrust upon me, just assumed. Does this sound familiar?
While attending Notre Dame back in the mid ’70s, I thoroughly enjoyed attending Mass in the basement of Alumni Hall with my dorm mates. Mass at ND was a true community event that provided time for reflection and a break from the hectic study and social schedule. I truly feel I was spoiled by that experience.
After graduating, I followed the expected path: obtained an MBA, got married, had a child and settled into a “normal” life of working hard and advancing up the corporate ladder. After about eight years of marriage, I began to suspect that something wasn’t right. After much soul searching, I realized I had to be truthful to myself and my family.
Source: The Observer