Tag Archives: Church reform

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I’d love to report in detail on the content of his address, but alas I cannot – he began by specifically asking that it not be published, which I must respect.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.

Curial Reform: Softlee Softlee, Catchee Monkey

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.

Pope Francis addressed the members of the Roman Curia for his annual Christmas greetings – ANSA

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

Leonardo Boff, on Pope Francis

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)

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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.

leonardo-boff

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.”

Why not?

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!”

 

Kasper says ‘Amoris’ permits Communion for divorced/remarried

Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, whose support for allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to Communion was a point of reference for the pope’s two Synods of Bishops, says Francis’s document Amoris Laetitia permits “changed pastoral practices.”

MUNICH, Germany – In a recent article for a German journal, Cardinal Walter Kasper – a protagonist for the admission of the divorced-and-civilly remarried to Holy Communion – has written that Amoris laetitia marks a “paradigm shift” that allows for a “changed pastoral practice.”
“There is leeway in the concrete elaboration of the dogmatic principles’ practical pastoral consequences,” the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity wrote in his article for the November 2016 edition of Stimmen der Zeit,, a monthly journal on Christian culture

Source: Crux 

Critique of Birth Control Ban Paves Way for Okaying Same-Gender Relationships | Bondings 2.0

Sometimes, you have to be grateful for the opposition.  They are often the best source for learning important news about positive Catholic LGBT items—though, of course, they don’t see these news items as very positive. This week, I learned about an important statement by an international group of moral theologians and physicians only because I read a news story about a group of conservative scholars who opposed the statement.  News about the progressive statement did not, at first, make big news, so it had not come to my attention until the conservative group opposed it.

The progressive statement to which I am referring is known as the Wijngaards Declaration, and its focus is to oppose the magisterial condemnation of what is referred to as “artificial contraception.”  The declaration takes its name from the Wijngaards Institute, a London-based Catholic think tank, which organized and released the statement.   The report, whose official title is “Promoting Good Health and Good Conscience: The Ethics of Using Contraceptives,” does a careful and specific critique of Humanae Vitae (HV),the 1968 encyclical which re-affirmed the magisterial opposition to couples using birth control.  A summary of the 20,000-word report can be found by clicking here (and it is very readable, so highly recommended).

While the declaration does not mention LGBT topics directly, it is important for Catholic advocates of LGBT issues to be aware of because it contains some critical theological arguments that could be used to advance the Church’s approval of same-gender relationships.

First, a little background as to how these ideas are connected.  In Catholic teaching on both birth control and same-gender relationships share an important common argument:  the magisterium’s claim that the natural order dictates that all sexual activity be open to procreation.  So birth control is not permitted because, depending on the method, it prevents the union of sperm and egg.  Likewise, homosexual relationships are not permitted because they are biologically non-procreative.

Source: Critique of Birth Control Ban Paves Way for Okaying Same-Gender Relationships | Bondings 2.0

Catholic church’s total ban on contraception challenged by scholars | National Catholic Reporter

Nearly 50 years since Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, the encyclical that rejected the use of artificial birth control, a group of prominent Catholic theologians, ethicists and physicians has produced a report reassessing and challenging the papal document.

The report, entitled, “Promoting Good Health and Good Conscience: The Ethics of Using Contraceptives,” was commissioned by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, an independent think-tank based in London.

The 20,000-word academic report, which was co-authored by 22 Catholic scholars from Australia, Colombia, Europe, India, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States, evaluates, from within the Catholic tradition, the morality of using artificial contraceptives for family planning. The authors include U.S. ethicists Michael Lawler and Christine Gudorf and African theologian Nontando Hadebe.

Source:  National Catholic Reporter

Spanish Theologians Back Gay Marriage.

A few years ago, it was German speaking theologians from Europe who hit the headlines when they signed a letter asking for far-reaching reforms on Church teaching and structure.

obispos-bandera-gay_560x280

Now, a group of mostly Spanish  language from Latin America who have asked the Synod for far more radical reforms. They ask for full LGBT equality in Church (including equal marriage), an end to the absolute ban on abortion, admission to the priesthood for married men and women, and access to communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

Here’s the groundbreaking opening section , on full LGBT inclusion: Continue reading Spanish Theologians Back Gay Marriage.

Moral Theologian: Same – Sex Couples Deserve Sexual Expression of Their Love

First, it has to be said that same-sex oriented people have the right, in their lives – and that includes, too, the fact that like all people, they are sexual beings – to be recognized.

– moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff

Eberhard Schockenhoff, Theologe und stellvertretender Vorsitzender im Deutschen Ethikrat, spricht am 19. Mai 2015 in München.
Eberhard Schockenhoff, Theologe und stellvertretender Vorsitzender im Deutschen Ethikrat, spricht am 19. Mai 2015 in München.

Finally, an influential, mainstream Catholic theologian has faced the elephant in the room. More and more cardinals, bishops and others in the Catholic church have come to accept that same – sex couples deserve to have legal recognition of their relationships. Some have said so publicly, many more now agree, but are keeping their opinions firmly to themselves. Some have said they see positive value in such civil unions, others are more reluctant, seeing them merely as something to be accepted as a lesser evil than full marriage. But in all the many observations on the subject I have seen, there’s one crucial point no-one has yet dared mention publicly: can the Church accept that couples in such same – sex legal, committed and loving relationships, may express their love sexually?

The German moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff has, in effect, answered with a clear “yes”. He’s done so not in so many words, but that is the clear implication of his words, quoted above. Continue reading Moral Theologian: Same – Sex Couples Deserve Sexual Expression of Their Love

Germany’s Largest Lay Group’s Call for Same – Sex Blessings

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, has “rebuked” the country’s largest lay group, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), for its call for a change in Church teaching.

Stefan Vesper, General Secretary of ZdK
Stefan Vesper, General Secretary of ZdK

It will be no surprise that the call has been criticized by the German bishops.   In addition to greater acceptance of divorced and remarried Catholics, the position paper calls for Church blessings for same – sex couples. What is notable, is that the call was made in the first place, that Cardinal Marx’s rebuke includes the conciliatory statement that ““necessary theological debate” and dialogue on both subjects would be helpful”, and that Marx praised the ZdK’s position paper for its many “theological and socially significant statements on the family”.

When the Family Synod was first announced and ever since, the Vatican and others have insisted that the intention was to debate and refine pastoral practice – not to change or even discuss doctrine. It’s becoming clearer than ever though, that there is a growing awareness that the need for doctrinal change will have to be seriously addresses, whether at the synod, or later. Cardinal Marx’s acknowledgement that theological dialogue with lay people is an impressive example of that.

For a report on Cardinal Marx’s response, see The Tablet News, (25th May), or for the full German text of the position paper, see the ZdK website