The Paulist Fathers have issued a statement in support of Fr James Martin SJ, after a vicious conservative social media campaign led to the withdrawal of an invitation to speak to Theological College on the subject of “Encountering Jesus”.
Of particular interest to me, is a specific statement on the importance of his work encouraging dialogue in LGBT pastoral ministry, and deploring homophobia and intolerance.
We support Fr Jim Martin’s vision to engage the Church pastoral practice on the care of our LGBT brothers and sisters, as exemplified in his book.He chose to write on a subject that should unite all Christians: the human dignity of every person. Yet, for some, this book’s call for the simple act of love and respect is perceived as a slippery slope towards heresy and damnation. From our reading of the book, this is simply not the case.
Moreover, this incident exposes the ugliness of homophobia and intolerance in our church and society that is in desperate nee of reconciliation and healing.
The full text of the statement may be read at this tweet by Fr Martin:
In a notable contribution to a document on LGBT discrimination and belief for the UN Human Rights Commission, Krzysztof Charamsa lays out all the ways in which the Catholic Church actively discriminates against LGBTI Catholics. It’s not comfortable reading.
One of the key points in my own thinking about the Catholic Church and queer Catholics, came when I heard Charamsa speak at the 2019 conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups in Gdansk. Like many others, I’ve been delighted by the notable change in pastoral tone coming from the church, ever since Pope Francis took on the see of Rome. Charamsa’s talk in Gdansk however, was a sobering reminder that notwithstanding the changes in pastoral tone, core doctrines remain unchanged – and these can be extremely damaging, even dangerous, to the emotional, spiritual and even physical health of LGBT Catholics.
There are many strands to the dangerous Vatican doctrines. In his paper for the UN Human Rights Commission, he discusses in detail just one – the problem of discrimination. It is true, as he points out, that doctrine dictates its opposition to discrimination against homosexuals – but immediately qualifies that, to mean only “unjust” discrimination. What they term “just” discrimination, it turns out, includes just about all the forms of discrimination that civil law in many Western countries, aims to eliminate. This then becomes the rationale for the Vatican’s opposition to anti-discrimination in civil law.
Worse, for LGBT Catholics, is how the formulation of “just” discrimination does not only accept, but even mandates, active discrimination in the Church’s own practice. Most egregious of these of course, is Pope Benedict’s statement against the ordination of gay priests – a prohibition more recently endorsed even by Pope Francis. However, there are other, more insidious forms of discrimination, that many LGBT Catholic will not even be aware of.
For instance, there’s a clearly stated prohibition on offering premises for LGBTIQ persons to publicly pray and to form groups in the Church. Charamsa describes this prohibition:
The most eloquent expression of this fight against pastoral assistance is the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church: Homosexualitatis problema (October 1, 1986: thirty years ago!) which has effectively forbidden the pastoral care of homosexual persons. According to this document, the Vatican and local Bishops eliminate every Catholic organized pastoral care for gays, which had been done in respect for human dignity and scientific knowledge about sexual orientation.
A further prohibition that will be a surprise to many LGBT Catholics, one against even coming out and publicly affirming a gay or trans identity. This may not be as directly stated, but is implied in the argument that non-discrimination laws are not necessary – because discrimination can be avoided by simply remaining in the closet. All the evidence is that for one who has a natural same-sex orientation, acknowledging and coming to terms with this, is a path to emotional and affective maturity and growth. Several notable writers on spirituality, state that in the same way, coming out is a process even of spiritual growth. Conversely, staying in the closet and refusing to come out, is harmful to mental and emotional health – one of the many ways that Vatican doctrine is realistically described as dangerous.
Then there one further form of discrimination that I too was not aware of. This is what Charamsa describes as “the prohibition of serious and objective studies about LGBTIQ minorities in the theological field”. In effect, this is really two different forms of academic discrimination – in the fields of theology, but also of science.
In the last half-century the scientific and interdisciplinary progress about homosexuality can be consider the “Copernican revolution” in the human knowledge about LGBTIQ questions. This progress, with its hypothesis and thesis, should be investigated by the theology and by the Church for understanding the development and confronting it with theological/doctrinal position about homosexuality. This real, objective and serious confrontation was made impossible in the Church of Wojtyła and Ratzinger, and nothing has been changed by Pope Francis.
Some of these “prohibitions” will surprise many, because in some areas at least, they are clearly flouted. There are an increasing number of parishes and dioceses with strong, vibrant programs of lgbt inclusion in the life of the church, with various forms of LGBT support groups, retreats, and worship services – even including support for participation in gay pride celebrations. Many bishops, and some cardinals, endorse the value of coming out for LGBT people. However, these helpful practices are conducted not in compliance with standard doctrine, but in direct contravention of them.
The upside, which leaves me a little less disturbed by these harmful doctrines than Charamsa, is that for most people, it is pastoral practice on the ground that is more important than abstract doctrine. It is frequently pastoral practice that leads to changes in doctrine, and not the other way around. The simple fact that so many effective programs of LGBT pastoral support exist, and are growing, implies that in the long run, doctrine will inevitably change.
However, this does not change the fact that harmful doctrines are still in place. As long as they are, they will provide justification for those opponents of LGBT people, when they refuse sound support, or actively promote discrimination or outright homophobia.
Krzysztof Charamsa deserves thanks for so clearly reminding us of the problem that still remains.
All Inclusive Ministries (“AIM”) is a “welcoming, safe, and affirming Catholic community.a Based at Our Lady of Lourdes’ Parish in Toronto, Canada. At their blog,José Antonio Sánchez has written a piece on “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” which pretty much sums up the way I feel about it.
Even when well – intentioned, that’s not the way it’s heard by those for whom it’s intended;
There’s little point in selectively quoting biblical verses. We’ve probably studied them, in depth and in context, far more closely than our critics have done, and with good reason: we really need to understand them, fully.
Asking us to “follow Jesus” rings hollow, coming from those who appear to have missed the overriding message of the Gospels, of unconditional love and radical inclusion for all, and especially those most marginalized.
However, the call to follow Jesus is inherently sound. The problem for those critics, is that doing so is unlikely to lead us to where they expect. When I first considered returning to the Church twenty something years ago,and discussed my many reservations with a one – time student friend who had since become a Jesuit and parish priest, his advice was simple: Don’t make assumptions. Faith is a matter of experience, not of the intellect. Take God on trust, and see what happens.
I took that advice. My subsequent faith journey, including several years close engagement with Ignatian spirituality, spiritual direction and a most extraordinarily intense 6 day Ignatian directed retreat, has left me with an absolute conviction that it’s our critics that have got it simply wrong. There are great dangers in irresponsible sexual behaviour, but those apply equally to LGBT and heterosexual, cisgendered people. The Catholic Church and some others may draw discriminatory distinctions in guidelines for for sexual behaviour, but God doesn’t.
As Sanchez notes in the opening of his post,
There’s a common misconception that as Christians we are responsible for the state of a person’s eternal soul, including those of LGBT individuals. We think that it’s our responsibility to outreach, evangelize, judge, convince, and convert them. We believe that their success or failure is directly correlated to our efforts in their lives.
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting what’s best for others, or with guiding them to what we believe Jesus wants for their lives, we have to recognize that their spiritual well-being is ultimately not under our control. We play a role, but it is ultimately between them and God, and nourishing that relationship between God and LGBT individuals should be our priority.
Crux reports that at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ mid-year assembly in St. Louis, there’s been some questioning whether their priorities reflect those of Pope Francis.
Archbishop Blase Cupich noted the effort US bishops have made on behalf of “individual employers, secular employers,” with religious objections to some laws. He argued Church leaders should give equal ranking to changing US immigration policy in their planning for the years ahead.
But Archbishop Lori explained that actually, the bishops really are helping the poor – by opposing gay marriage.
Archbishop William Lori, who spearheads the bishops’ religious freedom advocacy, said in an interview he found the discussion Thursday “helpful.” Lori said there is a link between religious liberty and the Church’s mission on behalf of the poor. If the US Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage in its ruling this month, Lori said the Church’s social service agencies, which employ thousands of workers and provide them benefits, may not be able to continue operating if they are compelled to recognize same-sex couples.
“In the crosshairs is the ability of the Church to serve,” Lori said. “We need the freedom to do this according to our teachings.”