The Heavy – Handed CDF, Contradicting Pope Francis.

In his widely celebrated Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis touched on a wide range of important subjects in Catholic teaching – but notably had nothing at all to say about gay marriage, or on the wider subjects of sexual ethics or same – sex relationships in general. The only explanation for this remarkable omission on so topical a subject, is a clue in the opening section, where he notes that he has not attempted to discuss everything of importance, because some things need further study. Later, he suggested that the subject of homosexuality should be referred to the Pontifical Academy for Science, or that for Social Science. Throughout his papacy, he has consistently promoted openness and free discussion, and his hand – picked choice as leader of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, has stated unequivocally that the Church needs full and frank discussion, without fear, and without taboos, of the controversial issues facing the Church – including gay marriage, abortion, communion after divorce, remarriage, and more. The pope has also urged far greater decentralization of the church, proposing that as far as possible, disputes within the Church should be settled at local level, by national bishops, and not in Rome.
evangelii gaudium
Cardinal Gerhard Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has clearly not got the message.
Instead, he continues in the same style as his predecessor at the CDF, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI, in clamping down hard on any perceived deviation from his interpretation of the rules. In the latest example of many, he has interfered directly in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, instructing Archbishop Cushley to refuse permission for the respected Catholic theologian Tine Beattie to speak on church property.
Tina Beattie
In his letter, seen by The Tablet, the archbishop wrote: “Professor Beattie is known to have frequently called into question the Church’s teaching. I would therefore ask you to cancel this event, as it may not proceed or be publicised on any Church property in this archdiocese.”
The archbishop also uses the letter – dated 11 July but only released this week – to rebuke the association for organising a talk by theologian Joe Fitzpatrick, who has written a book critiquing original sin and seeking to make Genesis compatible with evolution
What is particularly disturbing here, is that this claim that she has “frequently called into question the Church’s teaching” is entirely unsubstantiated. Professor Beattie herself emphatically denies the charge. In previous instances where she was similarly prevented from speaking, also at the behest of the CDF (under the previous pope), the reason appeared to have been the open letter that she signed a few years ago on the subject of gay marriage. That letter however, was not arguing specifically in favour of gay marriage, but simply for the right of Catholics to disagree in conscience on the matter. That primacy of conscience is deeply embedded in Catholic teaching, and should not be seen as controversial.
Professor Beattie, a director of The Tablet, wrote to Archbishop Cushley expressing her concern about his decision in a letter dated 2 September – she has yet to receive a reply. “You say that I am ‘known to have frequently called into question the Church’s teaching’. Known by whom, in what context and with reference to which of my published works?” she wrote. “Never in my published writings or talks have questioned any of the doctrinal mysteries of the Catholic faith. On the contrary, I have consistently argued in defence of even the most frequently challenged doctrines of the Church.” On gay unions, Professor Beattie said that she signed the letter at a time when Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop Cushley’s predecessor, was one of the “most vociferous opponents of same-sex marriage” and that she believes that Catholics could enter a “more reasoned and nuanced public dialogue” about the matter than the hierarchy allowed.

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When a Priest DEMANDS that a Couple Divorce!

Cardinal Damasceno Assis of Aparecida has claimed that the church has always supported stable same – sex relationships. At the level of teaching, there may be some degree of truth in that. At the level of practice, its a different matter entirely. Here’s yet another tragic example of how some priests and bishops continue to persecute same – sex couples. How can the church be a “field hospital for the wounded” when it continues to inflict the wounds, itself? How can a priest encourage, and even demand, that a married couple divorce?

Priest removes gay couple from volunteer posts in Lewistown Catholic church

On Aug. 6, four days after the Rev. Samuel Spiering arrived as the new administrator of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lewistown, he met with parishioner Paul Huff to ask him if he and his partner, Tom Wojtowick, had gotten married.

After Huff confirmed the fact, the priest asked to meet with the two men the next day. At that second meeting, Spiering dismissed the pair from their volunteer posts in the church and told them they could no longer receive Communion, a sacrament at the core of a believer’s faith.

Wojtowick and Huff were stunned and stung by the action. It sprang from the Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and its belief that homosexual behavior is a sin.

Bishop Michael Warfel

After a conference call between the couple, the priest, and the bishop, there appeared to be some agreement on a compromise – but the priest insisted that the couple divorce!

Wojtowick and Huff talked with Spiering and Warfel and other diocesan officials in a conference call on Aug. 25. Out of that, Wojtowick said, came an agreement that Wojtowick and Spiering would write a restoration statement, that in part, would support the concept of marriage between a man and a woman, which Wojtowick and Huff were willing to do.

“It was not our intent to challenge that (concept), but to have the rights of civic protections in our old age,” Wojtowick wrote.

When Spiering and Wojtowick met to write the statement, Wojtowick said the priest told him they would also have to set up a timeline for the two men to separate and divorce, which Wojtowick said he and Huff did not agree to.

 

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Catholic High School Coach Dismissed – for Homophobic Violence!

As we continue to see punitive actions against same – sex Catholic couples who choose to protect their relationships in civil marriage, it’s worth noting that there is in fact nothingin formal Church doctrine, as found in the formal Vatican documents, to bar couples from doing so. Numerous individual bishops have made clear their opposition, but this does not yet constitute magisterial authority.

On the other hand, opposition to violence or malice against gay people, in speech or in deeds, has been firmly part of Vatican doctrine for decades, articulated for example in Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter to the bishops on the pastoral care of homosexual persons (also known as his notorious “Hallowe’en letter). Yet we seldom hear of Catholics being dismissed from church employment or ministry for such very clear contraventions of church teaching – until now.

Philadelphia Catholic high school coach resigns over role in beating of gay men 

An assistant coach at a Roman Catholic high school has resigned over his role in a beating that left two gay men injured, church officials in Philadelphia said Thursday.

About a dozen young adults were linked to the 11 September encounter after police released surveillance video Tuesday and social media users mined online posts, including a group photo taken at a restaurant, to try to match the faces with names.

“Violence against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable and alien to what it means to be a Christian,” Archbishop Charles Chaput said Thursday in a statement.

via theguardian.com.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Technically, the coach (unnamed, in this report), was not dismissed, but resigned. It’s important to note however, that the church has stated that he will no longer be allowed to teach, anywhere in the diocese.

The large group included former students at Archbishop Wood, located in the Philadelphia suburb of Warminster, the archdiocese said. The part-time coach had worked at the same school but now is banned from coaching anywhere in the archdiocese, the church said.

“A key part of a Catholic education is forming students to respect the dignity of every human person whether we agree with them or not,” Chaput said. “What students do with that formation when they enter the adult world determines their own maturity and dignity, or their lack of it.”

It’s gratifying to see these sentiments from Cardinal Chaput, whose own record on respect for queer families is hardly stellar. Perhaps he’s another who is coming under the Francis effect (or discerning which way the ecclesiastical wind is blowing).

Family Synod: Another Influential, Supportive Cardinal?

Has the Catholic Church always tried to show respect for stable, same – sex partnerships? Cardinal Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, Brazil, president of the Brazil bishops’ conference, and one of three co-presidents of next month’s Family Synod, seems to think so.
Cardinal Damasceno Assis
A Brazilian, Portuguese language report at Folha de S.Paolo states that referring to the 2011 decision of the Brazilian Supreme Court which  affirmed the right same – sex couples to have their unions recognized in civil law, the Cardinal had this to say:
“It is a decision by the Supreme [Federal Court, the highest Constitutional Court in Brazil]. Of course, for the Church, it [homosexual union] cannot be equated to marriage, that is different. But, regarding respect for the stable union between these people, there is no doubt that the Church has always [sempre] been trying to do it this way“, said Damasceno Assis
The above English translation is taken from Rorate Coeli. Here’s the original Portuguese:
“É uma decisão do Supremo.  Claro que, para a igreja, não se pode equiparar a um casamento,  isso é diferente. Mas respeitar a união estável entre essas pessoas, não há dúvida de que a igreja sempre tem procurado fazer dessa maneiro”, disse Damasceno.)
Many LGBT Catholics would disagree strongly with the cardinal’s judgement that the Church has always been supportive of stable same – sex unions, especially those in Africa, who have seen some of their bishops celebrating draconian anti-gay legislation which foments hatred and violence against gay people, who dare not make public their relationships, stable or not. American gay Catholics who have been dismissed from church employment or ministry for affirming and protecting their stable relationships in civil marriage would also disagree with this .sanguine judgement
The statement however, is important, in the context of the upcoming synod on marriage and family, less for what it says about the Church in the past, as to what some senior cardinals and bishops would like it to be. Although the composition of the synod as a whole is depressing, at leadership level, there’s cause for hope. We now know that at least two of the Pope Francis’ group of eight cardinal advisers (Cardinals O’Malley and Gracias) have shown some degree of sensitivity or support for LGBT concerns, as well as a close friend and confidant of the pope (Cardinal Hummes). We can know add to that list, one of three co-presidents of the synod.
This does not mean that there will be any meaningful change coming directly out of the synod, next month. The chances of that are zero. What will happen though, is the start of more constructive, realistic discussion on these matters, which will likely lead to gradual, incremental change over time, initially in pastoral practice rather than formal doctrine.

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Christian Responses to Gay Couples – Catholic and Other.

In two recent posts, Bondings 2.0 has reported on yet another two highly influential cardinals, Sean O’Malley of Boston and Claudio Hummes, retired archbishop of Sao Paolo, have demonstrated substantial sensitivity to LGBT concerns. These encouraging small steps to increasing openness by senior Catholic prelates are put into sharp context however, when compared with the giant strides made by some Protestant denominations.

O’Malley, who is one of Pope Francis’ group of eight cardinal advisers, was a panelist for a discussion about Pope Francis for the launch of the on-line magazine, “Crux”. (For a full report on the cardinals observations on a wide range of topics, see Michael O’Loughlin’s report at the Crux website). Bob Shine of New Ways provides more detailon those of particular interest to LGBT Catholics. Shine had submitted a question in advance, pertaining to the rash of dismissals of lesbian and gay Catholics from church employment, to which the cardinal responded indirectly, but sensitively, about the need to follow Francis’ example of “mercy and compassion”. Shine reports that later, in private conversation. O’Malley went further:

In a one-to-one conversation following a public speaking engagement, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley said that the firing of church workers because of LGBT issues is a situation that “needs to be rectified,” becoming the first prelate to speak against this trend.

In an earlier post at Bondings. Frank DeBenardo reported on Cardinal Claudio Hummes.

In a recent interview with the newspaper Zero Hora, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the retired archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil, gave the following answer to the reporter who asked “If Jesus were alive today, would He be in favour of gay marriage?”:

“I do not know. I make no assumptions about it. The Church as a whole should answer that. We must take care not to be raising questions as individuals, because it ends up creating more trouble to get a conclusion that is valid. I think we have to get together, listen to the people, those who are involved in the issue. It is the Church that must indicate the paths, and there must be way for everyone.”

Hummes is a close friend and confidant of the Pope, who suggested the name “Francis”, and stood beside him on the balcony of St Peter’s when he accepted the papacy. O’Malley is one of Francis’ group of eight cardinal advisors. Earlier this year, Cardinal Gracias, another of that influential group of eight gave a warm and sensitive hearing to the chair of Quest, Ruby Almeida, when she visited India. There is now a steadily expanding list of bishops and cardinals who have shown some degree of increasing openness to LGBT relationships, and it now seems that those closest to the Pope are those showing the greatest flexibility. This is still a change in rhetoric, not substance, but DeBenardo notes that beneath the surface, “something is brewing”.

As I’ve noted before, I think these statements are like “test balloons,” and the fact that now so many cardinals and bishops are making them seems to indicate that something is brewing.  I’m not sure it will be a big change, but I think it will be a step in the right direction

These are indeed encouraging signs: One cardinal “close to the pope”, and two of the eight cardinal advisors (O’Malley and Gracias) at least sympathetic to LGBT concerns – and yet. In a private, email discussion, Bill Lindsey of Bilgrimage makes a pertinent point:

“I think we have to get together, listen to the people, those who are involved in the issue. “How? Where? When? I ask myself as I read the article.

How, where, and when will church officials listen to “the people . . . who are involved in the issue”?

Contrast with Protestant denominations

Bill is absolutely right to ask “How? Where? When?” As the family synod approaches, with marriage and sex to be discussed/decided by celibate bishops and only a handful of handpicked married lay people as “auditors” to endorse their conclusions, and gay relationships barely on the agenda except i.r.o. pastoral care for our children, it’s instructive to contrast with some other denominations.
Several, in Europe and in North America, are already permitting local congregations and pastors to celebrate our relationships with either church weddings, or blessings of same – sex unions. In the UK, the United Reformed Church came within a whisker of approving a similar proposal  but failed only because church rules require absolute consensus, so that even with overwhelming support, it was blocked by just a handful of dissidents in the full assembly. In the Methodist church, which has not yet approved any change in its regulations to approve either church recognition of same – sex unions or gay clergy, several ministers have publicly declared their willingness to conduct gay weddings, in spite of these regulations. Nor is it only the traditionally progressive denominations that are changing – Baptists conducted the first British same – sex church wedding.

More interesting than the decisions taken, is the processes that have been followed. In all these denominations, the decisions have been preceded by intensive study, with task groups preparing full study materials, circulated in advance of the deliberative assemblies for study and discussion at local level, and exhaustive debate at assemblies or synods which have been attended by the full range of church membership – people in leadership positions, local ministers, and ordinary churchgoers alike.

The Anglican Church in the UK is a case in point. Following the Pilling report on human sexuality (in effect, a report on the appropriate response to gay sexuality), the bishops have been engaged in intensive discussions on the search for mutual understanding between differing perspectives, aided and guided by a team of facilitators. Later, this will be followed by similar regional gatherings, with clusters of dioceses coming together to debate the same issues. The guidelines specify that the composition of these discussion groups should closely match the range of views in the region, and that for these specify that for every diocese, participating delegate groups should include “more than one” LGBT person.

From a CoE media release:

10. The choice of diocesan participants will rest with the diocesan bishop. They will select participants so that, apart from the bishops, the group will be composed of equal numbers of clergy and laity and equal numbers of women and men. Diocesan bishops will normally attend conversations in regions other than their own. The aim will be for a quarter of the group to be under 40 years old. LGBTI people should be represented by more than one person in each diocesan group. The range and balance of views in the group should, as far as is possible, reflect the range and balance within the diocese itself.  

With several dioceses represented at each regional forum, this is more than mere tokenism. The contrast with the RC Family synod is stark.

 

Defang the Serpent of Homophobia: Gaze on It. (Numbers 21:4-9)

In today’s Mass, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14th September), the first reading tells the story of the Israelites and the serpents during their wandering through the desert:

On the way through the wilderness the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is neither bread nor water here; we are sick of this unsatisfying food.

At this God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.’ Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord answered him, ‘Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.’ So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

Caduceus

As LGBT Christians, we frequently have to deal with the poison of a particular kind of metaphorical serpent – that of homophobia. This may harm us in two distinct ways, by the discrimination,  bullying or violence that may result, but also more insidiously, by poisoning our minds, so that we begin to believe some of the lies and fallacies ourselves, as internalized homophobia or self – loathing. It is in dealing with this latter poison, that the story of the serpents in Numbers carries a lesson for ourselves.

The Israelites were told that if bitten by a serpent, they should gaze on its image, and they would be healed. (It is from the story that we derive the image of the caduceus, the universal symbol of medicine). In the same way, when we are injured by homophobia, gazing on it and its source can heal us not of the objective harm, but of the subjective, internal poison. Homophobia and prejudice do not arise because of any fault or illness on our part, but from ignorance or irrational fear on the side of the bigots. Recognizing and understanding this, will help us to create the antivenom we need.

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Victim 0001, the Saint of 9/11: Father Mychal Judge

The body of Mychal Judge was tagged with the designation “Victim 0001” — the first official casualty of 9/11. In the famous Shannon Stapleton/Reuters photo, he is being carried out of the lobby of the North Tower, where he had been killed by debris from the collapsing South Tower. He was a Catholic priest of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, assigned to the monastery at the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street in Manhattan. He was also a chaplain with the New York Fire Department (NYFD) and one of the first responders to the attack on the twin towers. He was a recovered alcoholic… and he was gay.”

Although some conservative Catholics deny that Fr Judge was gay, insisting that the claim is nothing but a hoax by gay activists, the truth seems clear. A number of people who knew him personally, attest that he had confided to them that he was. He was also a long term supporter of Dignity USA.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, there were numerous calls within the Catholic Church for his canonisation as a mark of his heroism on the day and a well-known life of service. This was initially supported by Cardinal Edward Egan,  New York’s archbishop at the time. However, once it began to be reported that Fr Judge was gay, Cardinal Egan withdrew his support, and the formal push for canonisation stalled.  However, less formally there have been many groups who regard him as a de facto popular saint. There have also been some claims of miracles attributed to his intercession – one of the formal requirements for canonisation.

More recently, after Pope Francis added as a criterion for sainthood, the act of saving someone from certain death, there have been renewed calls for a formal process.  At Bondings 2.0, Frank DeBenardo writes:

Fr. Judge is lovingly remembered by many as “The Saint of 9/11.” Now is the time to make that title official by working to canonize him in the church.

New Ways Ministry has been in touch with Fr. Luis Fernando Escalante who works with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  Fr. Escalante is gathering testimonies that are part of the first step toward canonization.  He needs to hear first-person accounts from people who knew Fr. Judge and whose lives were touched by his ministry.

Dignity member and professional filmmaker Brendan Fay produced a documentary about Fr Judge, called simply, “The Saint of 9/11”.