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.
At New Ways Ministyr’s Bondings 2.0 blog, Bob Shine has a useful review of 2016 as it affects LGBT Catholics. After a factual listing of assorted features of the year, both hopeful and disappointing, he adds:
Finally, I offer a concluding note from my own consideration of Pope Francis. More and more, I read his treatment of LGBT issues within the wider context of his papacy and his vision. Pope Francis is clearly limited in his understandings of gender and sexuality, likely stemming from both his own lack of knowledge, and by relying on advisors at the Vatican with a more conservative agenda.
As many have observed, Pope Francis’ actions often speak far louder than his words. These movements to return to Jesus, in their firm commitment to more fully and fervently living out Christian discipleship, can only help the cause of LGBT equality in the long term. None of these positives, however, excuses or lessens the harmful impact of his LGBT negative comments in which he does real damage to people’s lives.
Most importantly for me, Francis has been far more faithful than his immediate predecessors to the teachings of Vatican II. He prioritizes a church of mercy and welcome, a church foremost committed to justice for marginalized and vulnerable people, and a church where honest conversation is practiced to strengthen the faithful’s unity amid tremendous diversity.
I think Shine is absolutely correct to “read his treatment of LGBT issues within the wider context of his papacy and his vision”. Too much of the analysis of Francis and these matters, on both sides of the argument, has been hampered by looking through too narrow a prism. Stepping back to take a wider perspective is instructive. In particular, the approach at the synods and in Amoris Laetitia to those those divorced and remarried, carries much hope for LGBT Catholics, because the broad principles are the same.
In terms of actual doctrine, not much has changed – but the pastoral approach has been transformed. This is key – a distinguishing feature of his entire papacy has been a downgrading of even the importance of doctrine, with a corresponding new emphasis on the primacy of pastoral accompaniment, conscience, and discernment in the interior forum. Although there has been virtually no sign of any immediate change in doctrine, on LGBT or any other sexual issues, there have been repeated acknowledgements that doctrine can and must change over time, in response to changing conditions in the world. This is light years away from Benedict’s repeated references to “the church’s constant and unchanging tradition”.
Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington in Kentucky is scheduled to speak at New Ways Ministry’s symposium April 28–30 in Chicago. The event is titled: “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”
Predictably, Lifesite “News” and the even crazier Church Militant website are apoplectic that the bishop is daring to even speak to an LGBT ministry group, misrepresenting this as “US Bishop rips Church teaching on homosexuality” (Lifesite).
As usual, much of what these orthotoxic commenters most object to, should in fact cause for celebration. Take a look at some of what Bishop Stowe actually said, as reported by these two sources:
“I think Pope Francis has signalled that we need to take another look at those things (homosexuality) and I think that Pope Francis has also given us the example, that is, the Church doctrine, the Church teaching has not changed, but the way we approach it has to be merciful,” he said.
After presenting a lengthy tirade against New Ways Ministry, Lifesite continued with this quote:
“I have come to know individuals who are associated with New Ways Ministry…and every one of them I have spoken to are genuine, sincere people of faith who are trying to reconcile their own sexual orientation with the Church that they love and that they have been raised in,” he said.
On the language of “disordered”:
“I think it’s fair to say that the language is not helpful,” he said. “We live in an age of sound bites, and to hear just that phrase is tantamount to hearing an outright rejection.”
“That can’t be the message of the gospel,” he insisted. “That was not Jesus’ approach.”
On the prospects for change in Church teaching:
He put forth the possibility that Church doctrine could change with regard to homosexuality, bringing up the example of Her evolving teaching on usury and slavery.
“Change does come over a long period of time in the way that the Church approaches a number of issues,” he said. “We cannot hide ourselves by excluding ourselves from scientific research and from the development of human knowledge.”
“I think the area where we can grow in understanding,” he continued later, “is the area of … whether homosexuality is a question of nature or nurture.”
On natural law:
When asked what it means to be merciful to practising homosexuals in respect to natural law and the purpose of sexuality, Stowe replied that natural law is only one “framework” among many that could be used to dialogue with believers and unbelievers about sexuality. He suggested that natural law has more to say about homosexual acts than Catholics might think.
“There could be a whole realm of argument [about] what does natural law actually teach us about same-sex behavior. If you find it naturally occurring in the animal world, if you find it naturally occurring among certain species, it both can be clarifying but it also raises other questions,” he said.
Notwithstanding the horror professed by Lifesite and Church Militant, there is absolutely nothing in any of this that is in any way in conflict with authoritative Church teaching. On the contrary, it is completely consistent with both the general guidelines for the Church presented by the Second Vatican Council, and the more specific, sentiments widely shared at the two Family Synods of 2014 and 2015, and the guidelines on pastoral ministry contained in the important Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”.
When a group of Polish Catholics declared support for a gay rights campaign, their involvement was quickly condemned by the country’s bishops conference. Having raised the issue in the church, however, the group is determined to press on and ensure the atmosphere of understanding engendered by Pope Francis finds a louder echo in Poland.
“The bishops’ reaction is only a first step — what matters is that they’ve now felt it necessary to take up a position on LGBT issues,” explained Dominika Kozlowska, editor of the Catholic monthly Znak (The Sign). “The Catholics who’ve engaged in this campaign will also continue to talk about these issues in publications and discussions. Though the bishops have accused us of infringing Gospel injunctions, they’ve also said things in the process which haven’t been said in the church here before.”
The campaign, “Let’s exchange a sign of peace,” was launched in early September with nationwide billboards depicting clasped hands — one with a rainbow bracelet and the other with a Catholic rosary.
Last night (Saturday 2nd April), I was up in London, for a meeting at the Mount Street Jesuit centre, on gay priests. This was one of a series of meetings arranged by the LGBT Young(er) Adults group associated with the former Soho Masses, and now with the Farm Street parish of St Cecilia, where twice a month LGBTI Catholics are specifically welcomed, and where they serve tea and coffee after Mass for their communuity – and for any others of the congregation who want to join them. At 64, I hardly count as a young or even “younger” adult, so have not previously attended any others in the series. In fact, I was not even aware of their existence, until this specific meeting was thrown open to all who are part of the Farm Street/Westminster LGBT Catholics community, in view of its importance.
I was delighted that I made the trip, for some stimulating discussion during the formal part of the evening, and then more over coffee, with friends old and new.
The chair for the evening introduced the discussion by briefly listing some recent news headlines of gay priests who had come out as gay, and the mixed reactions they had received. There was the high profile case of the CDF theologian Msgr Krysztof Charamsa, who on the eve of the 2015 Family Synod came out as not only gay but also partnered – and was promptly fired, from his post at the CDF, and also as university lecturer in theology. There were also many less well-publicized examples of ordinary parish priests, and others. Some, like Msgr Charamsa, met immediate trouble with their superiors, others did not. Some even met direct and explicit support from their congregations.
To put this into some sort of context, we should note that on the one hand,South Africa ordained the first ever openly gay bishop some years before Gene Robinson in New Hampshire (that was Mervynn Castle, an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Cape Town). Much more recently,the same diocese appointed the first woman bishop.South Africa was also the first country, anywhere, to write LGBT protection into its constitution, the only African country to legislate for full marriage and family equality, and one of the first worldwide to do so. Institutional respect for LGBT inclusion and opposition to discrimination is now hard-wired into public discourse.
On the other hand, note that this resolution is moving “towards” inclusion, for lay Anglicans only, and does not address church weddings or even blessings for same-sex couples. This is also not surprising – respect for diversity is strong in law and in the political, business and professional classes – but there remains powerful currents of homophobia among the grass roots.
Still – progress is progress.
Religion News Service reports:
South Africa’s Anglican bishops move toward gay inclusion
South Africa’s Anglican bishops have taken an initial step toward including LGBT people as full members of their congregations with the passage of a resolution at a meeting in the Grahamstown Diocese.The resolution now goes to the Provincial Synod, the church’s top decision-making body, which meets later this year, said Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town. Show captionAnglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba leaves a Pretoria hospital where Nelson Mandela was being treated on June 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko *Editors: This photo may only be republished wtih RNS-SAFRICA-ANGLICAN, originally transmitted on Feb. 23, 2016. This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.“I believe its adoption by Provincial Synod would be an important first step signaling to the LGBT community that we … see them as welcome members,” Makgoba said in a pastoral letter dated Monday (Feb. 22).
I met this morning with my new parish priest, to tell him about my activities as openly gay activist for LGBT Catholics. I also spoke about my visit this weekend to the foundation conference of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.
A parishioner had said to me a few weeks ago that when I return, she’d be interested in hearing about it – and so would others. She suggested that I should report back to the entire parish – so I put this to the pp this morning. He has no objection in principle, but said I would need to discuss this with the member of the parish council who is responsible for adult education. In fact, I had already done so earlier – his response then was that he had no objection in principle, depending on how it was packaged, but that I would have to speak to the new parish priest.
So – the two key people I’ve spoken to have no objection in principle, and others I’ve discussed the idea with, agree it will be worth doing. On my return from Rome, I’ll have a discussion with both these two, to work out details, and how we want to present the event to the parish.
Speaking to the World Meeting of Families, Cardinal Sarah has warned that softening Christ’s teaching on marriage is heresy.
“Even members of the Church can be tempted to soften Christ’s teaching on marriage and the family,” the cardinal said. “To varying degrees, the idea would consist in placing the Magisterium in a pretty box and separating it from pastoral practice, which could evolve according to such circumstances, fashions and emphases.”
Cardinal Sarah heads the Vatican Congregation for Sacred Worship. He should take his message to his colleague in the Vatican, Cardinal Muller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who mistakes Vatican doctrine for “God’s word”.
….. he (Cardinal Muller) said that “it’s not possible” for those who have violated church doctrine with regard to divorce, homosexuality or abortion to be fully welcomed back into the church: “It’s not an academic doctrine. It’s the word of God.”