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.
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.
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.
An opportunity to share and discuss views and perspectives with two gay Catholic bloggers from either side of the Atlantic.
Frank DeBenardo, director of New Ways Ministry and the editor of Bondings 2.0 will be in London for a few days next month, together with Sr Jeannine Gramick, the celebrated founder of New Ways. On Monday 13th June, Frank and I will be at the Mount Street Jesuit centre, 114 Mount St, London W1K 3AY (the parish hall for the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm St) to discuss the joys and challenges of being openly both gay and Catholic.
Hosted by the Westminster LGBT Catholics Pastoral Council, refreshments will be served from 6:30pm – specifically to enable those working in London, to come on to the venue directly from work. Take this invaluable opportunity also for discussion and also to meet with Sr Jeannine and Frank.
In it’s response to Amoris Laetitia, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics expresses disappointment with a number of features, but also sees reasons for hope. Although the document has not yet opened the door to full lgbt inclusion in the Catholic Church, this could be the start of a process that could lead us there. In a striking image, they suggest that “maybe the key to the door is under the mat”.
The difficulties that they find with Amor Laetitia have been pointed out also by others. Of possibly greater importance, certainly for the longer term, are the signs of hope that they see. They welcome the fact that Pope Francis has opened up new ways for the Church to engage pastorally with the reality of its members’ lives, including all its LGBTQI people of God, and the Exhortation’s reinforcing the priority of respect for the human dignity. Continue reading Rainbow Catholics Call for LGBT “Listening Process”→
In a joint press conference on the Family Synod with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton issued an apology to the LGBT community, that this important issue had not been properly addressed. (Previously, during the synod itself, Bishop Doyle had criticised the synod for the same point).
He (Bishop Doyle) also apologised that the Synod had not had time to deal with the issue of homosexuality. “I’m very sorry for the LGBT good people who were looking to the synod for something. It was really hard for people of same sex attraction. It wasn’t blocked. There was just so much to deal with.”
It’s also worth noting that his words of apology included “LGBT good people“, echoing a recurring theme from a number of bishops.
An international group of LGBT Catholics, their families and their allies, sees reason for hope in the final report from the Bishops’ Synod Assembly on Marriage and Family. Acknowledging that there are some disappointments in the text, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics nevertheless expects that the proceedings of this assembly will lead to a fresh, more sensitive approach to pastoral care.