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.
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.
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.
Much has changed for LGBT Catholics since I first began this site, nearly nine years ago. In the institutional church under Pope Francis’ leadership, there’s been a marked shift to a more pastoral tone, to replace the harsh rhetoric under Pope Benedict XVI. At the Bishops’ Synod on Marriage and Family, even some conservative bishops acknowledged that the time has come to discard the “disordered” language in official teaching, some others even expressed apologies for the past harsh treatment of our community. In many Catholic countries, laws have been enacted to recognise same-sex marriage or civil unions. In response, an increasing number of bishops have come to recognise the value of legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples, even if not yet for full marriage. Under the radar, a much smaller number of bishops and other clergy are coming to support church blessings for these couples, to celebrate their civil marriages or civil unions.
Formal doctrine has not yet changed substantially, but there was some welcome movement in in Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia” from the previous hard-line insistence on “objectively sinful” acts, to an emphasis instead on pastoral accompaniment, discernment, the “interior forum”, and respect for personal conscience. There was even some veiled suggestion that for innately homosexual persons, what is “objectively” sinful viewed in the abstract, may well be subjectively good, in the personal context – a point that goes right back to St Thomas Acquinas, as described by the French Dominican theologian Professor Alain Thomasett SJContinue reading LGBT Catholics’ Prophetic Responsibility→
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.
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:
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.
GALA ND/SMC, the LGBT alumni group for the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, will be sponsoring a“Pilgrimage of Mercy” to celebrate and recognize LGBT faithful Catholics in the United States.
The pilgrimage is inspired by Pope Francis declaration last fall, “We are in the midst of anExtraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Catholic faith”, decreed Pope Francis, during which we are to be “merciful like the Father” and perform acts of mercy and forgiveness to all.
I’ve been expecting this for some time – I just didn’t think it would come quite so quickly, even though it is desperately overdue.
Pope Francis: Catholic Church should apologize to gay people and others it has marginalized
Pope Francis says gays — and all the other people the church has marginalized, such as the poor and the exploited — deserve an apology.Francis was asked Sunday en route home from Armenia if he agreed with one of his top advisors, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who told a conference in Dublin in the days after the deadly Orlando gay club attack that the church owes an apology to gays for having marginalized them.
Francis responded with a variation of his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment and a repetition of church teaching that gays must not be discriminated against but treated with respect.
He said some politicized behaviors of the homosexual community can be condemned for being “a bit offensive for others.” But he said: “Someone who has this condition, who has good will and is searching for God, who are we to judge?”
Simply because there have now been a series of papal apologies to a wide range of groups previously attacked or persecuted by the Catholic authorities. Pope Benedict XVI apologised to Muslims for the Crusades, Pope Francis apologised to the indigenous people of South America for “ideological colonialism” (but not the the ideological colonialism in sexual and gender norms), and more recently to Protestants. LGBT people were at the back of the queue, but their turn had to come eventually. There are other examples too, which I do not now have time to enumerate.
As others have noted, a simple apology for “harm” is not enough, on its own. There needs to be an admission of how the harm was done, and how it is inextricably linked to core sexual doctrine. We also know from the theology of the sacrament of reconciliation, that simple confessing of sins is not enough to merit full forgiveness, unless it is accompanied by appropriate restitution for the harm done. In this context, restitution to those individuals already harmed is impossible – but restitution to the community would be possible, if it included an admission that the harm is a direct result of grievously disordered sexual doctrines, which need urgent reconsideration.
Now however, is not the time to carp. Let us first, offer profound thanks that Pope Francis has gone where none of his predecessors could – he’s asked of the entire Catholic community, “Who are WE to judge?”
This alone will enrage his many detractors on the orthotoxic Catholic right to height not previously seen. Let us for now, recognise his remarkable first step – and postpone for a later date, consideration in more depth, of what issurely required next.
In my first post after the news of the Orlando massacre, I asked “How have Catholic Bishops Responded?”, then followed up with an update on how at least some were acknowledging that this was a hate crime, and that some of Catholic language and pastoral practice may have contributed to hatred and violence. For Quest, I have since added a reflection asking how Quest members should be responding – and included some specific suggestions. The question though is equally applicable to all LGBT Catholics, irrespective of location or group membership – and the suggestions too, may be relevant to others.
Here follows the post, as it appears at the Quest website:
In the days immediately after the news broke of the Orlando gay nightclub massacre, I noted at Queering the Church that the responses by Catholic bishops, and even by Pope Francis, did not include any recognition that this was not just a crime of violence by an Islamist jihadist, but was specifically targeted at gay men. This was a clear act of violence against homosexuals – which Church teaching declares unequivocally that Catholics should condemn.
Since then, there have thankfully been reports of at least some bishops who have connected the dots, identified the homophobia responsible for the tragedy – and condemned it, (The bishops of St Petersburg, San Diego and Chicago are US examples. Notably, the Catholic bishops, conference of the Philippines is another).
It is not enough however, to condemn violence and lament the victims after the event. Explicit Church teaching says we must condemn violence and malice in speech as well as in action. Homophobic speech fosters hatred, hatred fosters violence, violence leads to deaths. By speaking out against gay slurs and other forms of malicious speech, we help to prevent the violence in the first place.
It is welcome therefore, that bishops who have made the connection between the Orlando massacre and gay hatred have acknowledged that there has even been some homophobia present in Church language and pastoral practice concerning gay and lesbian people, which has contributed to the problem. I welcome this, and congratulate those bishops. But that leaves a further important question for Quest: what are we to do, ourselves, to combat the homophobia that is is fostered within some sectors of the Catholic Church and its practice?
We must never forget that “the Church” is far, far more than just the bishops and priests, but includes all of us. When Catholic teaching tells us to oppose and condemn any form of violence or malice, in speech or in action, against homosexuals, that is a command to all of us, as individuals and collectively, as an organization. How have we responded up to now, to that command? How can we do so, in future? Is there room for improvement, in our response?
I suggest that historically, Quest has been primarily focussed on providing oasstoral support to our own members. The value of that was abundantly illustrated in the outcome of our “Icon of Emmaus Workshop” two years ago, and must not be underestimated. However, we have not been sufficiently attentive to looking outwards, as in fact required by a clause in our constitution, which state that among the methods we promote our primary aim (“to proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ so as to sustain and increase Christian belief among homosexual men and women”), by:
(ii) establishing and extending a dialogue between homosexual Catholics and members of the clergy through which the insights and experiences of each may gradually be interwoven and so achieve better mutual understanding both of the moral teachings of the Church and of the characteristics of its homosexual members;
Recently, we have begun to do more, in respect of both of these. Increasing these efforts still further, offers at least the possibility of more directly combating both hate speech, and physical violence against gay, lesbian and transgender people.
We already have members working with the Stonewall School Role Models program, going into Catholic schools to talk about our own experience of being Catholic and LG(B) or T. That is helpful to young people beginning to come to terms with their own orientation or gender identity – but should also contribute to breaking down stereotypes and prejudice – and hence reduce hate speech and bullying. There is more we can do in this area: Hallam diocese has invited us to meet with their safeguarding team, and we are already discussing with Stonewall ways to expand still further our activities with schools.
We have also had constructive meetings with several bishops, and are planning to meet with others. What are we saying to them? Up to now, these discussions have been mostly just to introduce them to us and to our activities, but we could do more. We could certainly include active advocacy for lgbt Catholics – and remind them of the much neglected Catholic obligation to oppose all forms of violence against homosexuals – specifically including homophobic speech, which is itself a form of violence. We could also propose to them that, as in Hallam, we could contribute to improving their safeguarding practice, to include safeguarding from homophobic bullying.
Up to now, our advocacy has concentrated on the bishops, but we should do more – and are starting to do so. In Portsmouth diocese, members of their pastoral provision team have suggested that we should be going into parishes, to talk to them about lgbt ministry. (Pope Francis’ “Amor Laetitia” states that “special attention should be paid to families with lesbian or gay members”). When we do so, we should again draw attention of parishioners, some of whom will themselves have LGBT children, or be LGB or T themselves, of the obligation to oppose homophobia. We have plans in place at the level of our national committee, to further expand our advocacy work with priests, religious congregations and laity – but there’s no need to leave this exclusively in the hands of he national committee. Our regional teams are well placed to do the same thing in parallel with national, speaking to their diocesan bishops or ocal priests and parishes. Even single Quest members could contribute alone if so inspired, in their own parishes and deaneries.
Advocacy for LGBT Catholics, and against any form of homophobia, is not limited to direct discussions with bishops, priests schools or parishes. A second clause in our Quest constitution specifies that our aim of proclaiming the Gospel is also advanced by
(iii) seeking wider opportunities, in the Catholic press and elsewhere, to promote fuller and more public discussion of the spiritual, moral, psychological and physiological issues involved;
This is an are where we have not been particularly effective, and can definitely do better.
Later this month, members of the national committee, together with regional co-ordinators and a few others, will be meeting for a weekend’s “strategy workshop”, to deliberate on our priorities for the next few years – and seek to identify funding opportunities to pay for them. I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions, but in the light of the Orlando massacre and reflections arising from it, I personally will be making a strong recommendation to the team, that those priorities should include strong attention to the fight against homophobia, and especially against homophobia in the name of religion, in both our advocacy work, and in an enhanced presence in the press and on-line media.