The bishop of Limerick, Bishop Brendan Leahy, has made explicit what has previously been implied – that gay couples must be made welcome at next year’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin.
….speaking after his diocese launched its preparation programme for WMF2018, an international event which promotes traditional Catholic teaching on marriage, Dr Leahy said the event in August 2018 in Dublin would be a missed opportunity if the Church did not embrace family in all its variety.”We are living in changing times and family too is changing,” he said.”We’ve had the referendum in favour of same-sex marriage and a lot of people voted in that referendum and all are equally welcome to join in this celebration of family.”Everyone must be made feel welcome next year. We all want to build a good family network of support in Ireland at all levels.”
For LGBT Catholics struggling with formal Catholic teaching on sex and gender, conscience is a lifeline. In this regard, it’s worth paying attention to the thoughts on the subject by Cardinal Cristoph Schonborn, who is perhaps the most influential theologian guiding the Catholic church on lgbt issues.
One the one hand, Schonborn is highly respected by both our living popes. Pope Francis invited him to present the formal launch of Amoris Laetitia to the press. He’s also close to Pope Benedict XVI as a former student, a close friend, and a regular participant in the theological “Ratzinger Schulerkreis” Benedict used to hold every summer at Castelgandolfo. He was also the general editor 25 years ago of the Catholic Catechism. His judgement matters.
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.
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna is a senior cardinal in the Catholic Church, who was often named before the last conclave as a possible “papabile”, one who could become the next pope. He is also an eminent theologian, a former pupil of Cardinal Ratzinger, who was a regular member of a select group who gathered with Pope Benedict annually for a theological summer school.
For LGBT Catholics, he is particularly notable as the first senior bishop to have noted, a few years ago, that it is high time that the Catholic church stopped obsessing about “genital acts” of gay and lesbian people, and considered instead the quality of their relationships. At the same time, he also noted the contradiction in Church practice, between exclusion from marriage those who had previously married and divorced but wished to remarry, and the reality that in the modern world, so many couples have no interest in marriage in the first place.
At the time, he was a lone voice, and many conservatives in the Church excpected an immediate slapdown. That did not happen. Instead, a series of other bishops began to take up similar themes, which have since become mainstream, now dominating news coverage of the family synods, that of 2014, and of 2015, next month.
In a notable interview with the Italian Jesuit publication, Civita Cattolica, he shared some important insights into the synod process, on marriage and family, on pastoral approaches to those in “irregular” relationships, and on gay and lesbian relationships specifically. At Bondings 2.0, Francis DeBenardo has discussed these LGBT specific passages, but the entire article is worth reading for its relevance to our concerns, even where these are not directly referenced.
I am preparing a series of posts on this interview and its implications for LGBT Catholics, in my own rather free translation. (The original is available only in Italian. When completed, I will post the entire interview in my English translation at The Queer Church Repository). The excerpt below, giving the Civita introduction, gives some of the flavour of the entire, 12 page, piece.
During the extraordinary Synod on the family, which took place 5 to 19 October 2014, I was impressed with, among others, by the intervention of Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna. We had a discussion, after his speech in the classroom, during a dinner with a mutual friend. Then he told me about his experiences as a child of a family that has experienced the divorce. His lucidity was not a merely intellectual reflection, but was the result of experience. Strolling under the colonnade of St. Peter, he told me about the absence of grandparents and uncles from Synod speeches. The family, he said, is not only wife, husband and children, but is a wide network of contacts, including some friends and not only relatives. Any divorce affects a large network of relationships, not only on a couple’s life. But it is also true that the network can withstand the impact of the split and support the most vulnerable, the children, for example.
We did not end the conversation. We continued for two subsequent meetings, after a few months, at the headquarters of Civiltà Cattolica. Once with his friend and fellow Dominican Fr Jean Miguel Garrigues, who I also interviewed for our magazine (1). And the interview finally, continued in Vienna at the Kardinal KönigHaus.The following interview is the result of these meetings, which eventually took the form of a dialogue unit. I asked the Cardinal for a reflection closely tied to his experience as a pastor. And this pastoral inspiration that gives body and breath to his words.During the extraordinary Synod on the family, which took place 5 to 19 October 2014, I was impressed with, among others, by the intervention of Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna. We had a discussion, after his speech in the classroom, during a dinner with a mutual friend. Then he told me about his experiences as a child of a family that has experienced the divorce. His lucidity was not a merely intellectual reflection, but was the result of experience. Strolling under the colonnade of St. Peter, he told me about the absence of grandparents and uncles from Synod speeches. The family, he said, is not only wife, husband and children, but is a wide network of contacts, including some friends and not only relatives. Any divorce affects a large network of relationships, not only on a couple’s life. But it is also true that the network can withstand the impact of the split and support the most vulnerable, the children, for example.
A few years ago, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn hit the headlines, saying that at a time when so many people are not bothering to get married, the Church should reconsider its approach to divorced people who do want to remarry. At the same time, he said that it was time to shift the emphasis, in responding to gay couples, from an obsession with genital acts, to consideration of the quality of the relationships. On both counts, he was ahead of the pack – and remains so. Speaking about the response of Austrican Catholics to the global survey in preparation for the synod, he has now said that the Church must adjust to the reality of co-habitation, divorce and remarriage, To which LGBT Catholics would add, and to the reality of same – sex couples – and if the “Church” should adapt, then so too should Catholic schools.