Category Archives: Pastoral Ministry

LGBT Pastoral Outreach in Middlesbrough Diocese

As one example of how Pope Francis’ emphasis in Amoris Laetitia on “accompanying” gay and lesbian Catholics, together with his example of a more sensitive tone in pastoral care, comes news of a new initiative from Bishop Terence Drainey in Middlesbrough diocese. This is described in an article in the diocesan newspaper, Middlesbrough Catholic Voice, written by Fr Tony Lester, O.Carm.

Bishop Terence Drainey

Fr Lester was well known to London lesbian and gay Catholics of what were the Soho Masses, as a firm supporter of the congregation, and from time to time was a celebrant at our Masses when he could get down from his regular work in York.

In his article, Fr Lester notes that this is a direct response to Pope Francis’ lead during the Year of Mercy and his writing in “The Joy of the Gospel”.

Below is a section of the article, specifically referring to the motivation for the initiative, and how the it is planned to get it off he ground. (The full text may be read at the diocesan newspaper, Middlesbrough Diocesan Catholic Voice

It doesn’t take much imagination to have a sense of some of the very real wounds people who identify as LGBT and their parents and families might be living with. The bishop wishes to reach out to help heal those wounds. Is this going to be some kind of alternative Church? No. Our diocese has many groups and associations that focus on particular needs. The normal place of belonging for all their participants is the parish. This will be no different. Does it somehow go against the Church’s teaching? No. In taking this step, the teaching of the Church is not being changed in any way. Instead, other important aspects of Church teaching are coming to the fore and taking their proper place.

Father Tony Lester, O.Carm.

This is an important reminder that far from being somehow in conflict with Catholic teaching, inclusion and welcome for LGBT people is in fact required. This was confirmed at the 2014 Assembly of the Bishops’ Synod on Marriage and Family, when a clear majority, just short of two thirds of those present, voted in favour of a motion that lesbian and gay Catholics should be welcome in church.

The challenge for Middlesbrough, as for other dioceses and parishes, will be in determining just  how this “outreach” will develop, and  what form the resultant pastoral support will take.

Related Posts:

 

Cardinal O’Connor and LGBT Catholics

UK press reports are currently replete with reports and obituaries for Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, who died this week. Inevitably, I’ve  been reflecting on my own (indirect) connections with the man.

Before his appointment to Westminster, he was bishop of Arundel & Brighton – which just happens (now) to be my own diocese. That is personal to a degree, even though this was before I moved into the area. My partner though has been here a lot longer, and from him I have heard stories of Bishop O’Connors local actions (and inaction).

Where I have direct, personal knowledge, comes from my involvement with what were then known colloquially and informally as the “Soho Masses”. Shortly after I was named as a member of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, we had a letter from the cardinal, inviting us to a meeting “as soon as possible”, with his representative, to discuss a possible move to a Catholic parish. This was a major surprise: my understanding at that point, was that we had at a number of points, written to him to discuss the status of our regular, bi-monthly Masses held the Anglican parish – because we had been unable to find a Catholic parish willing to do so. Yet (I understand), he had simply failed to reply to those letters. Instead, he had set up a separate series of bi-monthly Masses, on the same day as ours and so in direct competition with us, in the King’s Cross area. (For the record: those of us who had been attending regularly at St Anne’s saw the new arrangements at King Cross as provocative. Those who attended them, saw them as immensely valuable).

Nevertheless, we accepted the cardinal’s invitation to “a meeting” – which became an extended series of meetings. at which I was privileged to attend. These were constructive, and culminated in an agreement that in future, our Masses “with a special welcome for  LGBT Catholics, their families and friends” would be hosted at the Catholic parish of the Assumption and St Gregory, in Warwick St, Piccadilly. At the conclusion of these discussions, Cardinal O’Connor released a public statement expressing his desire that these Masses should be “pastoral, not campaigning”, and that in the course of our ministry, we should proclaim Catholic teaching, “without ambiguity, and in full”.

Within our group representing the LGBT group from St Anne’s, we declined to sign the cardinal’s statement. I personally argued strongly (and others agreed) that both of these expectations were false dichotomies. Based on my experience under apartheid South Africa, I knew only too well that in matters of injustice, the “pastoral” can require campaigning against unjust laws and practice – and the pastoral, in terms of simply ministering to the oppressed, can be an effective form of campaigning. Similarly, it is simply impossible to present Catholic teaching on homosexuality “in full” but without ambiguity, for the simple reason that the full teaching, including that on personal conscience, the sensus fideii, and on opposition to discrimination, itself raises ambiguities and contradictions with its more directly sexual rules on same-sex relationships and on related genital acts.

The result was that the discussions finally ended without any undertaking from us to comply with the expectations expressed in the cardinal’s statement. We transferred from St Anne’s to Warwick Street under Cardinal O’Connor’s patronage, but with only minimal changes to our method of operating, or to our liturgies. Thereafter, the Masses continued to flourish, with a continuing growth in attendance: from an average of about 50 people a time at St Anne’s, this grew at Warwick Street to something like a hundred – roughtly double what it had been.

While we disagreed with the cardinal on his presentation of the move, nevertheless its important to record that his legacy on LGBT Catholics included facilitating an ultimately productive move from an Anglican parish, to a full participation and inclusion in the Catholic parish of the Assumption and St Gregory.

For myself, it was reflecting on the importance of “pastoral” outreach to LGBT Catholics, that inevitably includes a measure of campaigning, and the need to present church teaching on homosexuality “in full”, that was an important part of leading me to begin this blog.

Update: For some useful background on the initiative to move the Soho Masses from St Anne’s to the Catholic parish of the Assumption and St Gregory, see the Times obituary, which  includes this paragraph:

In Rome he walked with an extra spring to his step. And, unlike Hume, he understood how to manage the Vatican. When enraged by Rome, Cardinal Hume often threatened to fly out and confront the curia. In contrast, Murphy-O’Connor would offer to tackle brewing problems himself at the first hint of trouble. He did so notably when Masses were being held for gay Catholics in Soho in an Anglican Church. Some campaigned against the Masses, claiming that they went against Church teaching. Murphy-O’Connor spoke to the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog. Its prefect, Cardinal William Levada, a native of San Francisco, was not unfamiliar with such questions. A solution – that the Masses be moved to a Catholic church and a statement issued saying that no Church teaching was being opposed – was promptly reached.

 Related Posts:

What Really Happens at the Soho Masses?

A Tribute to the (London) Soho Masses Congregation

Politics, Sin, and the Soho Masses

Epiphany: Soho Masses Community Celebrate the Feast of Coming Out

London’s Archbishop Ends Masses in Soho for LGBT Catholics; Ministry Continues at Jesuit Parish

A World Meeting of (Queer) Families?

In Dublin next year, there is an intriguing opportunity opening up for LGBT Catholics. Are our advocacy groups paying attention?

For the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, USA based LGBT groups and their allies attempted to secure formal accreditation. Philadelphia however, is the seat of archconservative Archbishop Chaput, and they were deliberately excluded. In spite of this, the coalition established an informal, non-accredited presence, and did some great work making the case for acceptance and inclusion church, of queer families.

For Dublin 2018, circumstances have changed, dramatically.   Continue reading A World Meeting of (Queer) Families?

LGBT Catholics: Global Conference Invitation

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:

Continue reading LGBT Catholics: Global Conference Invitation

Meeting Kryzsyzstof Charamsa

“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.

LGBT Christians’ Annual Conference, Pride parade in Gdansk, Poland.

European Forum at Gdansk Equality March, 2017

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.

LGBT Catholic Group Gains Archbishop’s Support

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.

 

Dutch Bishop to Host Cathedral Gay Pride Service.

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.”

 

EU Christians at Equality March, Gdansk (Poland)

On Saturday May 27th,  I was privileged to join the Gdansk “Equality March”, which I attended as part of the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian Groups, meeting here for their annual conference, “Forwards in Solidarity”.
This experience was quite different to London’s Pride Parade, in so many ways. First, it was definitely not a heavenly commercialised “Pride Parade”, so familiar in large Western cities.  Far from being besieged by vendors selling rainbow merchandise, organisers were giving away small rainbow flags. Nor were there any signs of corporate sponsorship: Poland is a long way from being sufficiently inclusive to make such sponsorship an attractive corporate investment.  With involvement in LGBT issues more of a risk than an opportunity, business (large and small) stayed away, leaving the heart of the event what (I’m told) London Pride was in the beginning, and many activists would like to see it again – very much a political event, drawing attention to ourselves, and demanding equality.
It was also much tamer: I saw only two drag queens, and no leathermen of bare-chested musclemen, that some opponents of Pride seem to think characterise all Pride Parades. Instead, there were just very ordinary people, mostly in very ordinary clothes, some carrying banners and rainbow flags.
It was also, not surprisingly, very much smaller the big city Western pride – but had a huge riot police presence – at least a hundred of them, armed (variously with truncheons pistols and rifles), wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying plexiglass riot shields and big round protective riot helmets. All very formidable. There were also additional conventional police on what appeared to be traffic control, some very well-muscled obviously plain-clothes police, a large convoy of assorted police vehicles on the ground, and a police helicopter above, keeping an eagle eye open for any sign of trouble.
We’d been promised police protection for fear of aggression from the crowds, which was very funny, because there were no crowds to speak of. There was on organised bunch of protesters with placards, but they were very much hemmed in by police, who outnumbered them something like 10/1. Still, I’m quite certain that if there had been no police presence, there could well have been more opposition, some of whom could well have turned violent. As it is, the worst we had to endure was some obvious anger and rude gestures from a handful of onlookers.  As a South African who lived through forty years of apartheid, and more in the aftermath, I’m never comfortable with too many armed police around. Today was an exception – for the first time, I actually felt grateful to have so many clearly armed police in plain sight.
The protesters were there, claiming to represent “Christian” values in this very Christian country. This however fails to see that the Christian Gospels are implacably opposed to exclusion in any form, and insist instead that “all are welcome in God’s house”. That is why we were there – as Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians from right across Europe, from Wales to Russia, and from Sicily to Norway, to show solidarity with the LGBT people of Gdansk in their pursuit of full equality and inclusion, in society and in the Church.
This will have been clear to onlookers, from the rainbow flags we waved – on which we had drawn black crosses, from religious slogans on some of our t-shirts, from the clerical collars worn by participating clergy – and especially from the sight of a bishop of the United Ecumenical Catholic Church, resplendent in episcopal purple, dashingly set off by a rainbow stole.

Gay Marriage, Malta: Catholic Bishops Stand Aside

Malta is considering the introduction of gay marriage, and some people in this traditionally Catholic country are strongly opposed. “Maltese Catholics United for the Faith” have published a full page newspaper advertisement denouncing same-sex marriage. This is consistent with the pattern in so many other Catholic countries and states which have introduced marriage equality. Usually, the bishops have endorsed these campaigns against, or even sponsored them.

Not in Malta. Instead, they have issued a statement explicitly distancing the archdiocese from the campaign.

The Archdiocese of Malta categorically states that, while respecting the right of freedom of expression of every person or any other entity, it is not in any way involved with the propoganda by the Maltese Catholics United for the Faith.

The Archdiocese of Malta conveys the teaching of the Church without resorting to any other name, and encourages everyone to fulfil their duty responsibly on the 3rd June, as outlined by the Bishops of Malta and Gozo in their Pastoral Letter for the General Elections 2017.

The advice to voters contained in that pastoral letter is remarkably restrained, Instead of weighing in on the specifics of the issues, it refers in much broader terms to the responsibilities of voters, and the importance of choosing people of wisdom and integrity. It urges voters to exercise their consciences in this decision – and to embrace the “ethical values we believe in.” The closest that the letter comes to specifying those values is to name “the protection of human life from its conception to its natural end”

This is a clear reference to abortion, and in so many previous instances, this would have been automatically followed by a reference to “the sanctity of marriage”. Not in Malta. Instead, the statement continues with the value of “respect for the dignity of each person”.

Coupled with the earlier insistence on conscience, LGBT Catholics and their allies may read this as permission from the Archdiocese to support marriage equality.