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:
At Bondings 2.0, Francis DeBernardo has reported on a new manual produced for the English bishops on combating homophobia in Catholic schools. In his headline to the post, DeBernardo describes this manual as a “gift to the church” (and so it is).
A new manual for Catholic school teachers in England and Wales on how to combat homophobia and biphobia has caused a bit of a minor controversy based on its origin, perhaps because the document offers strong practical advice on how to stop and prevent bullying of sexual minority students.
As one who has (twice) participated in Stonewall training to combat HBT (homophobic/biphobic/transphobic) bullying in English schools, I can confirm that much of this material is not just “similar” to the Stonewall material – it’s identical to some of what was used in Stonewall’s own training. Some other material consists of direct quotes from Stonewall publications in the public domain.
The desire to combat bullying is in fact clearly required by Catholic teaching, which insists on the obligation to oppose “violence or malice, whether in speech or in action”. It is for this reason that Quest (the British association for LGBT Catholics) has partnered with Stonewall to deliver their well-established training to Catholic schools, funded by the UK government Department of Education. What is helpful in this document from the Bishops, is that it provides useful faith-based material which will be helpful in adapting the standard Stonewall material, to make it more directly relevant to Catholic schools.
What I find particularly striking about this initiative, is that deliberately or not, the English bishops have in effect entered an informal partnership with Stonewall. Not long ago, there were widespread perceptions (on both sides of the divide) that Stonewall and the churches were necessarily in opposition to each other. From Stonewall’s side, under the leadership of the current CE Ruth Hunt, Stonewall is actively promoting alliances with faith-based LGBT groups. Now it seems that Catholic bishops too, are seeing value in Stonewall’s work to combat homophobia and bullying.
The critics said that portions of the document are very similar to anti-bullying materials produced by Stonewall and lgbtyouth Scotland, two leading UK LGBT equality organizations. Stonewall denied any involvement but said their materials are public and they’d be glad if their ideas were used by others.
What is most remarkable about this “controversy” is that the criticism seems intended to discredit what is a fine document on how to educate Catholic students about respecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.
It is extraordinary that some, who would certainly see themselves as “faithful” Catholics, should be so critical of an initiative by their bishops, that is so clearly in accordance with established Catholic teaching in opposition to “violence or malice, in speech or action”. The only possible explanation must be that the critics are so obsessed with their opposition to “homosexuality”, that they are unable to see or accept those elements of Catholic teaching that are in fact inclusive and welcoming.
We, on the other hand, must welcome this initiative of the Catholic bishops – with a single reservation. While this document is strong on the importance of combating homophobic bullying, it is completely silent on the increasingly pressing issue of transphobic bullying.
There is abundant evidence that homophobia kills, directly (as in hate crime murders) and indirectly (as in driving the victims to suicide). As with all forms of hatred, what begin as thoughtless or careless language acquired at school, can mutate into something much more serious in later life. Conversely, good habits acquired when young, can prepare people for sound, healthy attitudes and behaviour as adults. This is why for several years, Stonewall has been running an established, highly effective program in schools, training staff in the importance of countering homophobia in school, and giving them tools and resources to do so effectively.
Further, the evidence from Stonewall’s schools research is that in general, pupils and staff believe that the problems are greater in faith schools than in their secular counterparts. For Catholics, this is a sad indictment on the failure of some schools (not all) to properly apply standard Church teaching, which is clear the obligation that “all forms of violence or malice, in speech or in action”, must be opposed. Teaching also insists that homosexual persons must be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”.
This is why I and three other members of Quest met with Stonewall in London today, for the first of two day’s training in how to take the standard Stonewall training on countering homophobia, into faith schools specifically. Tomorrow, we will be back to continue the training. Next week, three more Quest members will do the same training with Stonewall in Manchester.
By March, we expect to begin visiting schools, delivering the training to those at the coalface.
It’s been a long day, and I have no more time to write more about this, tonight (it’ll be an early start to my day tomorrow, for an early train up to London for a 9am start). Later, I’ll report in more detail, on just why the program is needed, on the evidence that faith schools in general are under-performing in this area, how the program works, and on why Catholic schools in particular have a clear pastoral obligation to oppose homophobia vigorously – and to support lgbt pupils themselves.
This afternoon, I was up in London, talking to the staff of St Bonaventure’s Catholic secondary school about “The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support Lesbian and Gay Pupils”. Part of the headteacher’s regular program for staff continuing professional development, this kicked off the school’s annual commitment to LGBT History Month.
I met the head,teacher, Paul Halliwell, at Stonewall’s Education Day last October, where he was a panellist in the Faith breakout group. Stonewall’s Dominic Arnall introduced him with glowing praise for the work that he has already done to promote LGBT inclusion in his Catholic school, St Bonaventure’s in Forest Gate Newham – and his leadership with other schools in the area. I was delighted to accept his invitation to bring a specifically Catholic dimension to his valuable work on LGBT protection and safeguarding.
In Spain, there is an ugly and escalating row between the Cardinal Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, and lgbt activists. Speaking “in defence of the family”, the cardinal spoke of threats to the family, coming from “actions of the gay empire, of ideas such as radical feminism, or the most insidious of all, gender theory”. A coalition of LGBT and feminist groups, interpreting this as an inflammatory attack, have. have responded by laying a formal complaint with the police against Cardinal Cañizares. The row has since escalated further, as described by Francis DeBenardo at Bondings 2.0.
Meanwhile, a similar row has developed in Sardinia, where a parish priest, don Massimiliano Pusceddu, has been accused of inciting murder of homosexuals, for a homily which quoted selectively from Romans 1:
“L’uomo ha iniziato ad accoppiarsi con l’uomo e la donna con la donna, così Dio li ha abbandonati a passioni infami. Sono colmi di ingiustizia, omicidio, malignità e sono nemici di Dio. Pur conoscendo il giudizio di Dio, cioè che gli autori di tali cose meritano la morte, non solo le commettono, ma anche approvano chi le fa”
(based on Romans 1, verses 26, 27 and 32)
In the aftermath of last week’s Orlando massacre, Italian LGBT groups have seen this as an obvious incitement to murder, and have laid charges with the police. The priest on the other hand, sees this as simply proclaiming the “prophetic” words of St Paul.
In both Valencia and Sardinia, both sides have a degree of right on their side – and both are making a tragic mistake. Catholic teaching about its response to LGBT people is clear – homosexuals are to be treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion”. LGBT Catholics would be well advised to respond in kind in dealing with the words of Catholic priests and bishops.
There is much that is wrong with Don Pusceddu’s presentation of the text in Romans, but the most heinous is its total lack of sensitivity to how it will be read by LGBT people as an incitement to murder – just as it has been interpreted. Conversely, LGBT people need to be sensitive to his own interpretation of his actions, as a simple proclamation of the biblical message, as required by his priestly ministry.
Writing about the situation in Valencia, Francis DeBenardo says
There is plenty of blame to go around here, and both sides share in it.
The lesson of Orlando that strong rhetoric can lead to strong and violent responses is one that both sides in this case need to learn before it is too late.
Exactly the same can be said, with respect to Sardinia.
the Waterloo Catholic District School Board asked all students and staff to wear purple shirts and for school flags to fly at half mast on Thursday as a way to “stand up to homophobia and all hate crimes” and to be in “solidarity with all LGBTQ persons.”
Lifesite portrayed this as an attempt to foist support for the “gay lifestyle” on the school, implying that this is in conflict with their responsibility as Catholic schools. Pointedly, they quote the lines from the Catechism that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law”.
What they pointedly ignore, is that the school board’s action has nothing to do with support for the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that is), and is instead about opposition to gay hatred – as required by established Church teaching.
It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.
(CDF, Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986 – also known as “HomosexualitatisProblema”, and to lgbt activists as the infamous “Hallowe’en Letter”)
What saddens me particularly about Lifesite News, is that much as they would like to think of themselves as defending and promoting Catholic orthodoxy, they are nothing of the kind. Their only concern is to push their own particular, narrow interpretation of that teaching, and will not tolerate any disagreement. This was abundantly proven to me this morning, when I attempted to respond to their piece with a simple comment pointing out the CDF statement on opposition to violence, as quoted above. However, I was met with a note,
The only conceivable reason why I should have been blocked by them, is that they know I disagree with their own gravely disordered presentation of Catholic teaching.
Many commentators on Amoris Laetitia have expressed disappointment that Pope Francis’ reminder of respect and freedom from discrimination for lesbian and gay people, was not accompanied by an explicit condemnation of the LGBT persecution found across much of Africa, or of the endorsement of criminal sanctions by some Catholic bishops.
However, at least one key African Catholic sees it differently, saying that the Pope’s words “should galvanize the Church in Africa to embrace wholeheartedly African families and their LGBT members“.
Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, SJ, is a Nigerian Jesuit currently serving in Kenya as the Provincial of the Eastern Africa Province of the Society of Jesus, a position he has held since 2009. An author, editor, and lecturer at Hekima College Jesuit School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya, Father Orobator specializes in ethics and theology in the church and religion in African society.
Writing at National Catholic Reporter on his early response to Amoris Laetitia, he admits that he had expected more, says that the exhortation is not “groundbreaking”, and adds,
I believe that there is still a long way to go before we actually make the bold steps that are long overdue with regard to critical issues such as the role of women in church, homosexual unions, reproductive rights, all of which are broached and addressed in the document.
However, LGBT Catholics in particular will welcome his admission that bold steps are long overdue with regard to homosexual unions.
Even more welcome is his expectation that African bishops will in fact take on board Francis’ words on respect and freedom from discrimination, and act to welcome LGBT Catholics in the life of the African Church. We can but hope and pray that he is right. As an African myself, I’m delighted that this is being said from within Africa, by a knowledgeable African Catholic leader. (I’m less convinced than he is though, that the African bishops will in fact take the message of inclusion on board).
African theologian responds to ‘Amoris Laetitia’
Furthermore, on a continent where at least 38 countries criminalize homosexuality, the pope’s trenchant call for respect for human dignity, avoidance of unjust discrimination, aggression, and violence, and respectful pastoral guidance [paragraph 250], should galvanize the church in Africa to embrace wholeheartedly African families and their LGBT members who have been stigmatized, marginalized, and excluded from the life of the church. Church leaders need to dissociate themselves from governments and politicians who persecute gay people, and show example of respect for their dignity. In Africa, we say the church is “family of God,” implying that it welcomes all without discrimination. The preeminent mark of this church and the world church is hospitality. Clearly, Francis is calling the church in Africa to practice what it preaches by becoming a church that welcomes all into the family without discrimination.
In one of the more interesting developments after the Synod family assembly, the Indonesian bishops have held their own, local synod to share the message of the synod with the local community – and to listen to the struggles of local families.
Of particular importance for LGBT Catholics, is that Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta, who attended the synod, stressed the clear message from the assembly that all people deserve respect – and that includes “homosexuals”.
The archbishop said that one of the main points of the synod is that all people deserve respect, forgiveness and mercy.
“The pope said many times that every individual — whoever they are: divorced couples or homosexuals — must be respected,” he told ucanews.com.
This should not be worth noting, but it undoubtedly is. Although it is clearly stated in the Catholic Catechism that homosexuals should be treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion”, this is one rule which is widely ignored by many Catholic bishops. For Indonesia, we also need to consider the context.
As an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, this is not a good place to be gay or transgender. At the national level, there is no direct criminalization, but there is also no protection from discrimination, prejudice, or outright hatred, and some discriminatory laws apply (for example, on the age of consent). At the provincial level, it is worse. Provinces have the power to outlaw homosexuality in their areas, and some have done so. In Aceh, province, gay sex can be punished with 100 lashes of the cane. Popular sentiment is hostile, often stoked by religious authorities, both Muslim and (up to now), Catholic.
That is why Archbishop Hardjoatmodjo’s reminder that homosexuals deserve respect, while totally consistent with standard Catholic teaching, is notable as one of the first concrete example of how the Synod assembly on marriage and family, could be leading to improved pastoral sensitivity to LGBT Catholics (and in the longer term, to actual changes in doctrine).
Continuing with my free translation of gay theologian Monsignor Charamsa’s interview in Religion Digital.
Do you not think that the Vatican reacted swiftly and drastically with you, while doing the same with pedophile priests?
The reaction was automatic. Legalistic and formalistic automation is the soul of the Catholic Church to one who tells the truth, even though the pope Francisco continually speaks against legalistic formalities.
It is also true that many cases of pedophile priests were and are treated in a different way, not as drastic. Pedophilia is a shame on the Catholic clergy. It is related to the sexual immaturity of its members. It is not influenced by the world, as obsessively stated by the Church . It is the result of an obsession caused by repressed sexuality, sexuality which is rejected,not accepted, .
It is also true that at various levels of the Church pedophilia continues to be protected to save face and to avoid compensation for the damage caused. I’ll give an example. Late last summer the Polish Vatican nuncio, Archbishop Wesolowskiin died in prison, after conviction by the Congregation as a pedophile. This man had a funeral that lasted ten days, between the Vatican and Poland. 10 days’ burial for a prisoner who has already been tried by an ecclesiastical court for pedophilia abuse. The funeral began with a Mass celebrated by the Pope’s closest collaborators and ended ten days later in Poland with a reading of a letter it was said that the Dominican Republic accusations of pedophilia were merely Mafia inventions . The Vatican allowed all this show, rather than thinking immediately about how to compensate the victims of that pederast bishop. Seeing all this, one can conclude that there is a pedophile lobby in the Vatican. Yes, many pedophile priests and bishops have special treatment and many continue to be free from any penalty..
In this light the Vatican’s reaction to a gay priest who tells the truth is shamefully automatic. But this is the logic of the Church: all must remain hidden “for the good of the Church”. While hidden, nothing happens. For the Church “the devil” is the priest who tells the truth, which comes to light, the coming out of the closet.
Continuing with my free translation of gay theologian Monsignor Charamsa’s interview in Religion Digital.
Do spirituality and sensitivity attract gays to the altar? Are there more homosexuals in the Church than in other social institutions?
I am personally sure that is so. Often in the past, for a gay man to be a priest was a way to hide his homosexuality and make it socially. Today, probably it is only a functional reason in homophobic and backward societies. I imagine that in my country, Poland, it is still working well. I think today it is much more common that a gay man with his sensitivity and openness to the transcendent and the divine, wants to be a priest.
And in the Curia, are there many gays? Is there really the Vatican gay lobby that is often spoken about?
In this area also I can speak only of my experience. We have no studies on the presence of homosexuals in the clergy, because it is a taboo, a topic that should not be discussed. In the Curia there are many gays. Many of them are good priests, if they are not homophobic, if they do not think only of their career, if they do not care only money and power. The problem occurs when gays have internalized homophobia. In the Catholic clergy there are many homosexuals who, repressed by their own orientation, hate those who are gay like themselves.
The other issue is the gay lobby, which I have not come across. I read something about it in Italy, but I have not had any experience. It may be that there is this lobby, as there are Italian or Polish lobbies in the Vatican. The Vatican, the heart of the Church, is a blend of power struggles, politics and money. I also think that the Vatican is itself an Italian and international lobby imposing ideas that have never been seriously studied.
Is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith particularly homophobic? And its top leader in the Congregation, Cardinal Müller?
Yes,the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the heart of a paranoid and irrational homophobia. In it there is no possibility of understanding and dialogue. It works by stereotypes.I had the impression that in the Congregation, faith in God was not promoted, we do not concern ourselves with Christology or Mariology, we only battle against gays and other sexual minorities. It is an obsession. This is our real faith: anti-gay paranoia. That’s all. It’s our favorite subject. There are meetings in which, of every three cases we discuss, two are against gays. We have invented an imaginary enemy and battle against it with all our strength. We call it “our war on gender”. There can be no discussions, we think that this gender can only promote sex changes. That is the level of paranoia which prevails in the Congregation..
Cardinal Müller has promoted all this ignorance, this extremism, this obsession among the top staff, without any reasoning. Instead of promoting studies, the Congregation is a political agency to sabotage the pontificate of Pope Francis and his synodal discussion. It is the agency that fights gender, which it doesn’t even know how to define. What is of importance is to use the word gender in ways that frighten people, no matter who has not read a single book on gender studies. Obsessive homophobia and misogyny (the real feminofobia, a hatred of women) are a drama for this congregation, whose members are not all heterosexual. As everywhere, there are homosexuals. The reality is that the Congregation hates gays, eventhough it is known that there are homosexuals among its members.