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Posts for October, 2014

No Gifts, No Welcoming: Catholic Synod In Full Retreat on Gays in the Church

Jim Burroway

October 18th, 2014

(Note: Because this is a breaking story, this post has been updated numerous times between 12:40 p.m. and 1:20 p.m. PDT.)

The hardliners have won. The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, which has wrapped up its first session in Rome this weekend, has just approved its final Relatio Synodi in the original, official Italian. An official English translation is not yet available, but Buzzfeed provides this in-house translation:

The pastoral care of people with homosexual orientation

55. Some families live the experience of having members who are of homosexual orientation. In this regard, questions have been raised on pastoral care which is appropriate to deal with this situation by referring to what the Church teaches: “There is no basis whatsoever to assimilate or to draw even remote analogies between same-sex unions and the plan of God for marriage and the family. ” Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. “In their regard should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4).

56. It is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer the pressures in this matter and that international bodies condition financial aid to poor countries, on the institution of laws that establish the “marriage” between persons of the same sex.

This represents a complete and utter victory for the Church’s more hardliner wing, particularly the American, African, and Oceanian bishops who angrily denounced the interim Relatio for asking whether the church was capable of providing a “welcoming… fraternal space” for gay people who possess “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” That statement also acknowledged “cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners,” while also recognizing the needs of the children of gay couples.

The new statement has none of that. It recognizes nothing about gay people or their children. In fact, it doesn’t recognize gays and lesbians at all, but rather restricts itself to addressing families who “live the experience of having members who are of homosexual orientation.” Which means it’s not even meant to address us. This is not just a full reversal from Monday’s statement, it’s not even as minimally positive as the mysteriously revised English mistranslation that was issued Thursday. This is more than just a backtrack. It’s a doubling down on the part of John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s appointed English-speaking bishops, and stunning rebuke of Pope Francis’s attempts to inject a small dose of humanity into the operation of the Church.

Despite the full-on capitulation to conservative clerics, the conservative EWTN-affiliated National Catholic Register still says, “Critics, however, have said the message, published on the eve of the final day of the two-week ecclesial gathering, sends out ‘weak and ambiguous’ signals on the Church’s positions on sexual morality”:

Yet this approach has not been accepted by everyone. Speaking to the Register Saturday, Opus Dei Father Robert Gahl, professor of moral philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, said: “The Holy Father’s silence on vexing questions leaves the Church in suspense.” He added that this suspense “is intensified by the ambiguities” of the interim report on the synod which was issued Monday, “because we all expect our faith to be confirmed by the successor Peter.”

Voice of the Family, a coalition of pro-family groups, criticized the final message for sending out “weak and ambiguous” signals about the Church’s stance on sexual morality. Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, archbishop of Aparecida, Brazil, said it should have contained “a clear statement rejecting any openings to homosexuality, cohabitation, so-called ‘second marriages’, or contraception,” especially after the interim report whose content “caused scandal both inside and outside the synod.”

It should be noted however that three paragraphs of the Relatio Synodi did not receive the required two-thirds approval. Two of those paragraphs were on divorce and remarriage, and Paragraph 55 in the section on gay people. Paragraph 55 fell short of the two-thirds majority in 118 to 62 vote. Pope Francis nevertheless agreed to release the full Relatio for the sake of transparency, along with the vote totals at the end for each paragraph. The failure of paragraph 55 to reach a two-thirds vote is seen as a protest by some of the more progressive bishops, who object to watering down the passage. 

It’s also important to note that the Relatio Synodi has no doctrinal authority, but is rather a set of discussion points to be considered between now and when the Synod meets again next year. The current Relatio however is being presented as interim guidelines to the Episcopal Conferences, which means that there would be no pressure to change how bishops respond to LGBT teachers and church members.

So what’s next? The Synod isn’t over, but will continue off and on for at least another year. An executive session will meet next month in Baltimore to draft a more detailed report which is expected to become a first draft for next year’s agenda. Meanwhile, the Pope reportedly told the Synod that they have a year to “mature” their ideas “with true spiritual discernment.” When the Synod meets again next October (and assuming the Synod doesn’t get extended further), it will issue a final Relatio, which, again, would not carry any authoritative doctrinal significance, but it would represent a consensus of the bishops. After that, it is customary for elements of a final Relatio to make their way into an Apostolic Exhortation, which, when promulgated by the Pope, becomes an official authoritative document of the Roman Catholic Church. There’s a lot that can happen between now and then:

When the synod reconvenes, it won’t be quite the same. Some who participated in this year’s meeting won’t be back (I’m thinking of papal critic Cardinal Raymond Burke). And Francis will likely select new cardinals come February. Why might a new-look synod matter? Because the sections that failed still had majority support. The paragraph on gay people, for example, failed by just six votes. But the synod fathers who want divorced and remarried Catholics to be able to receive the Eucharist have a longer row to hoe. Those sections failed by larger margins–and they did nothing more than state what had been discussed.

Meanwhile, just outside the walls of Vatican City, the mayor of Rome has registered sixteen same-sex marriages.

Lost in La Traslazione

Jim Burroway

October 16th, 2014

There are truly strange things going on at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. On Monday, the Synod released its Relatio Post Disceptationem (literally, Report after Discussions), a sort of a first draft for an upcoming Relatio Synodi, or Report of the Synod. The Relatio Post Disceptationem contained some rather remarkable language under the heading of “Welcoming Homosexual Persons,” which began, “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? ” It also recognized that “without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”

On the negative side, the statement also “affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman,” and denounced international efforts to tie aid to “regulations inspired by gender ideology.” But overall, as I explained on Monday, the positive aspects of the statement represented a tremendous shift in how the Church was willing to look at gay Catholics, and gay people generally.

Almost immediately, there was considerable blowback from the more conservative elements within the Church. Given that almost all of the bishops at the Synod were appointed either by Pope John Paul II or his even more conservative successor Benedict XVI, that blowback is not a small thing. Wednesday, the Synod released its Unofficial Summary of the Free Discussions in the Assembly which took place on Tuesday. That summary of discussions, which is akin to meeting minutes, revealed that one of the concerns expressed within the Synod was that the final Relatio Synodi should not leave “the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency (homosexuality) on the part of the Church.” The pushback now was well underway.

Today, that pushback gathered seam as the Vatican’s press office circulated a new English translation of Monday’s Relatio. The new translation now reads, with the substantive changes highlighted in bold:

Providing for homosexual persons

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing [...] them [...] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

51. The question of homosexuality requires serious reflection on how to devise realistic approaches to affective growth, human development and maturation in the Gospel, while integrating the sexual aspect, all of which constitute an important educative challenge. Moreover, the Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that the pastor’s outlook be pressured or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations based on gender ideology.

52. Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to [...] children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority. [Emphasis mine]

There are the four substantive changes:

1. In the phrasing above, “Providing for” highlighted in both instances used to read “welcoming.”

2. The phrase “A place of fellowship” used to read “a fraternal space.”

3. The question, “Are our communities capable of this…” used to read, “Are our communities capable of providing that…” in referring to “offer(ing) them a welcoming home.”

4. And the phrase which speaks of couples making sacrifices which are “a valuable support in the life of these persons” used to read “”a precious support in the life of the partners.”

If you scroll to the bottom of the document, you’ll see that the original diffinatve text is in Italian. When you go to the Italian version of the Relatio, you find this (I’ve highlighted the points of contention):

Accogliere le persone omosessuali

50. Le persone omosessuali hanno doti e qualità da offrire alla comunità cristiana: siamo in grado di accogliere queste persone, garantendo loro uno spazio di fraternità nelle nostre comunità? Spesso esse desiderano incontrare una Chiesa che sia casa accogliente per loro. Le nostre comunità sono in grado di esserlo accettando e valutando il loro orientamento sessuale, senza compromettere la dottrina cattolica su famiglia e matrimonio?

51. La questione omosessuale ci interpella in una seria riflessione su come elaborare cammini realistici di crescita affettiva e di maturità umana ed evangelica integrando la dimensione sessuale: si presenta quindi come un’importante sfida educativa. La Chiesa peraltro afferma che le unioni fra persone dello stesso sesso non possono essere equiparate al matrimonio fra uomo e donna. Non è nemmeno accettabile che si vogliano esercitare pressioni sull’atteggiamento dei pastori o che organismi internazionali condizionino aiuti finanziari all’introduzione di normative ispirate all’ideologia del gender.

52. Senza negare le problematiche morali connesse alle unioni omosessuali si prende atto che vi sono casi in cui il mutuo sostegno fino al sacrificio costituisce un appoggio prezioso per la vita dei partners. Inoltre, la Chiesa ha attenzione speciale verso i bambini che vivono con coppie dello stesso sesso, ribadendo che al primo posto vanno messi sempre le esigenze e i diritti dei piccoli.

The Italian version has not changed one iota since its original release on Monday. But when comparing the authoritative Italian version to the revised English, Italian speakers would quickly observe the following:

1. Accogliere means welcoming, no ifs, ands or buts.

2. The phrase “A place of fellowship,” which used to read “a fraternal space,” is renedered in Italian as “spazio di fraternità.” It seems to me the original translation, “a fraternal space,” is far closer to the Italian. I’m not sure what that change in English might signify, but whoever inserted that change certainly had something in mind.

3. The question, “Are our communities capable of this…”, is interesting. It used to read, “Are our communities capable of providing that…” with both pronouns referring to “offer(ing) them a welcoming home.” In this case, “welcoming home” (“casa accogliente”) wasn’t changed, although the meaning of accogliente was changed elsewhere. But even more interesting is that the Italian asks whether “our coommunities are capable di esserlo accettando” — “of being accepting…” a phrase that never appeared in either English translation.

4. And the phrase that used to describe couples providing “a precious support in the life of the partners” is clearly rendered in the original Italian as providing a prezioso support in the life of dei partners.” It doesn’t take much of a translator to see that the original was far more correct.

And by the way, the French and Spanish versions continue to use the same “welcoming/fraternal/accepting/partner” terminology as the original Italian. Only the English version is different.

So what’s going on?

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said English-speaking bishops had requested the changes, arguing that the first translation was hasty and error-ridden.

When Lombardi was shown how significantly the meaning had changed, he pledged to investigate and didn’t rule out a third version.

Lombardi stressed that the original Italian remains the official text, and noted that the draft is being revised top-to-bottom for a final report which will go to a vote among bishops on Saturday.

Michelle Boorstein, the Washington Post’s religion reporter, goes a bit further:

Asked at the news conference Thursday why the document was changed — and only in English — the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said he was simply given the translation from the group of clergy who are working in English and was sharing it.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a priest-journalist covering the synod, said the clergy are “in a panic. They are afraid this welcoming language will confuse people. They’ll think the church is going to change its teaching.” None of the 190 clergy are pushing for that, he said.

“You get the impression they are very concerned, they want more theology in the document. They want more church teaching in the document. They want more encouragement to Catholics who are struggling to follow church teaching. They are very much afraid if they talk too much about what’s good in these incomplete and impartial relationships that people will say: ‘Then why should I bother doing what the church teaches?’”

What seems clear to me is that the final text will be rather different from the interim report. Gerard O’Connel, writing for the Jesuit news magazine America, spoke with American Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (President of the U.S. bishops’ conference) Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona, and Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization to get a sense of what the final document might look like:

From the comments of these three prelates, and others that I have spoken to, it would seem that the section of the interim report which speaks about “welcoming homosexual persons” (Numbers: 50, 51, 52) will be considerably revised, perhaps even re-written. Sources say some statements could be eliminated as they lack nuance and give a wrong understanding of the church’s teaching and pastoral approach.

Archbishop Kurtz said that his group here made an effort “to improve and clarify the notion of welcome,” so that it is close to church teaching and pastoral practice.

Kurtz got his way with the English translation of the interrim Relato. We’ll see what happens with the final Relatio Synodi, which will be brought to a vote on Saturday. A two-thirds approval of the Synod is required for its passage.

Was it a Backtrack or a Pushback?

Jim Burroway

October 15th, 2014

CNN says it was a “backtrack“:

Under furious assault from conservative Catholics, the Vatican backtracked Tuesday on its surprisingly positive assessment of gays and same-sex relationships.

…In response to such reactions (from Conservative clerics), the Vatican backtracked a bit Tuesday. In a statement, it said the report on gays and lesbians was a “working document,” not the final word from Rome.

The Vatican also said that it wanted to welcome gays and lesbians in the church, but not create “the impression of a positive evaluation” of same-sex relationships, or, for that matter, of unmarried couples who live together.

Calling it a backtrack is an over-reach in my opinion. To understand what happened, it’s very important to understand what the two documents were and what they mean. The first document released Monday was a Relatio, which is nothing but an interrim report released by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. Its weight in Catholic doctrine is nil, and its authority in Catholic practices is comparably low. Like all interim reports, it includes (very) preliminary findings, asks a bunch of questions, and proposes points to consider between now and when the Bishops gather again a year from now. But also like all interim reports, it does point to some kind of a direction in terms of how Pope Francis hopes the discussions will follow. I think this is especially true given how unceremoniously he dumped Cardinal Raymond Burke as head of the Apostolic Signatura (a sort of a Vatican Supreme Court) just before the Synod’s start. You may remember Burke. He’s the one who said this during the Synod:

Burke was also among the loudest complainers on Tuesday:

He strongly criticized yesterday’s Relatio … which the Catholic lay group Voice of the Family had called a “betrayal,” saying it proposes views that “faithful shepherds … cannot accept,” and betrays an approach that is “not of the Church.” … The relatio, he said, proposes views that many Synod fathers “cannot accept,” and that they “as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept.” … “Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable,” Burke told Olsen.

And Maggie Gallagher was in tears:

I hope to respond intellectually to the synod report. Tears right now are streaming from my face, and it is not about objections to welcoming gay people. There is something more profoundly at stake for me.

Is this me? In the corner?

Conservatives are furious, with some yearning for the good old days of Pope Benedict XVI’s Bavarian rigidity. And in reaction to that fury, CNN saw what they thought was a “backtrack,” which brings us to the second document released Tuesday in Italian. Here’s the rushed English translation (it’s so rushed that I had to correct part of it):

In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for welcome was highlighted, but with just prudence [my correction], so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church is not created. The same care was advised with regard to cohabitation.

As for the “just prudence,” that likely refers to the second paragraph of the Relatio’s section on “welcoming homosexual persons“:

…The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions…

Quite a bit of negativity there. I don’t think “a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church” is possible when we’re not considered on the same footing as heterosexual couples. But again, it’s important to understand the nature of this second document. It’s title tells you the whole story: Eleventh General Congregation: Unofficial Summary of the Free Discussions in the Assembly. If the Relatio was an interim report, then the Unofficial Summary is akin to minutes of Tuesday’s meeting and nothing more. And those minutes don’t suggest a backtrack, but rather a pushback from some of the more Conservative voices. That pushback may yet force a backtrack, but it hasn’t yet. This week, the Synod is preparing the more final Relatio Synodi, which means that this Relatio is something of a first draft of a final interrim report. It will be discussed on Thursday (another summary of speeches will be published then) and voted on next Saturday. What can we expect in the next several days? It’s very hard to know. Vatican Insider’s coverage of a press briefing after the Unofficial Summary‘s release hints at all kinds of intrigue and suspicions:

Two of the men moderating the discussions spoke at today’s briefing: the South African Wilfrid Fox Napier and the Italian Fernando Filoni. The briefing illustrated further the frank and collegial nature of the Synod debates. “Some within the circle were surprised at the media’s reactions; some seemed perplexed, as if the Pope had said, as if the Synod had decided, as if…,” the prefect of Propaganda Fide said, underlining the “extraordinary richness of the debate”. Cardinal Napier was more critical. He spoke of “dissatisfaction” among Synod participants and said the text had been “misinterpreted” partly because of the media but also because many people’s expectations are perhaps a little unrealistic. Much of the content of the relatio post disceptationem is not very helpful in getting the Church’s teaching across, Napier pointed out. He said he suspected that those leading the Synod are not committed to expressing the opinions of the entire Synod but only those of a specific group. The final document should include a “clarification”. Filoni, on the other hand, said he could not give the exact percentage of Synod Fathers who expressed concern about the text yesterday and today. He underlined that the text was generally appreciated and that the reaction to the text’s approach was essentially positive. But it needs to be improved in terms of contextualization. Regarding homosexuality, Napier said his concern is that the final document will not match the media’s take on the draft, and anything said in the future will simply look like “damage control”.

…The South African cardinal expressed surprise at the decision to publish the relatio post disceptationem, while Filoni said some in the circuli minores wondered whether it had been published by mistake. But Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi explained that the relatio post disceptationem “is always presented the minute it is ready” and this has been the case at every Synod. What probably caused the excitement was the “nature of the issue, which attracted a great deal of attention and raised many expectations.” Fr. Lombardi announced that Mgr. Rino Fisichella and the President of the US Bishops’ Conference, Joseph Kurtz will be attending tomorrow’s briefing. The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and the Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx will speak in Thursday and Friday’s briefings, respectively.

The two Cardinals given speaking allotments are interesting choices. In 2012, Cardinal Schönborn reinstated a gay man in a registered partnership to a pastoral council after his election was vetoed by the parish priest.  Last year, he earned Lifesite News’s wrath when he urged respect for same-sex relationships. Cardinal Marx has also been critical of the Church’s approach to LGBT people, even going so far as to say that he would pray for their relationships.

A Quiet Revolution At St. Peters?

Jim Burroway

October 13th, 2014

That’s the reaction from Fr. James Martin, S.J. of the Jesuit magazine America to the mid-term report from the Roman Catholic Church’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family which was convene by Pope Francis last week. Stunning sums it up nicely. Others are calling it a “revolution,” but that word will always mean something rather less radical in the very slow-moving Roman Catholic Church, where speed is measured in centuries rather than minutes, than it does in the real world. So keeping that perspective is always advised.

The Synod was called to examine the many changes taking place in the world and the Church’s response to them — or lack of response or inappropriate response, as the case may be. Items for discussion include waht is termed “irregular marraiges,” which include civil marriages that haven’t been sanctioned by the Church (civil marriages of divorced Catholics, for example), cohabitation, and same-sex marriages. These two paragraphs indicate that the Church, under Pope Francis, appears willing to consider lessons learned from “beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries”:

In this light, the value and consistency of natural marriage must first be emphasized. Some ask whether the sacramental fullness of marriage does not exclude the possibility of recognizing positive elements even the imperfect forms that may be found outside this nuptial situation, which are in any case ordered in relation to it. The doctrine of levels of communion, formulated by Vatican Council II, confirms the vision of a structured way of participating in the Mysterium Ecclesiae by baptized persons.

In the same, perspective, that we may consider inclusive, the Council opens up the horizon for appreciating the positive elements present in other religions (cf. Nostra Aetate, 2) and cultures, despite their limits and their insufficiencies (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 55). Indeed, looking at the human wisdom present in these, the Church learns how the family is universally considered as the necessary and fruitful form of human cohabitation. In this sense, the order of creation, in which the Christian vision of the family is rooted, unfolds historically, in different cultural and geographical expressions.

Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.

[Note: Lumen Gentium, Nostra Aetate and Gaudium et Spes refer to three Vatican II Council documents.]

The document doesn’t offer much in the way of conclusions. Those won’t come until the Synod meets again in October of 2015. Instead, the report consists mainly of points for consideration, terms which are clearly influenced by Pope Francis’s push for what might be termed a “kinder, gentler church.” I don’t think the Church is about to undergo any significant doctrinal changes, but it does appear open to reconsider how it deals with situations that fall outside of its doctrines. That alone is surprising. But more surprising is what you’ll find under the heading of “welcoming homosexual persons”:

Welcoming homosexual persons

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

It’s interesting to me that the bishops chose to go with the more generic phrasing of “moral problems” rather than the more commonly used “intrinsically disordered” language of natural law. And it’s true that our relationships do pose “moral problems” — for the Church at least, if not necessarily for us. The Church’s moral problem is that it continues to treat gay people as outcasts and lepers. I know, that’s not what they meant when they included the phrase here, and you can also see the Bishops drawing some hard and fast limits on how far they’re willing to go. They are closed to the idea of sanctioning same-sex marriages, and they are sore about tax dollars being tied to nondiscrimination requirements.

But the glass is at least beginning to fill part of the way. This is the first time in the Church’s history that its leadership appears willing to look at our relationships in anything approaching a positive light. The document acknowledges that we have “gifts and talents” without having to, err, “balance” that that recognition with our living in sin. And it recognizes that there are same-sex relationships which rise “to the point of sacrifice” and “constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the word “sacrifice” in Catholic doctrine. It signifies an essential opening to all that is good and holy, whether it’s Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross or the daily sacrifices that we make as we go about our lives. Sacrifice is central to the Catholic understanding. Non-Catholics see it most visibly in the Lenten sacrifices and fasting, but Catholics see sacrifices, big and small, as a daily expression of their faith. Gay people living in same-sex relationships have been hitherto looked upon as selfish and narcissistic, unwilling to sacrifice their sexuality for their faith. And so for the Bishops to acknowledge that gays and lesbians are also living sacrificial lives is to suggest that something good and valuable is happening. That word’s appearance alone in this context is, I think, the most earth-shattering aspect of this statement.

The idea of gay couples offer anything “precious” in their relationships has never appeared in an official church document before. And the phrase “intrinsically disordered,” so reflexively deployed in the past, is nowhere to be found. At a news conference following the report’s release, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Bruno Forte was asked about that section:

Asked if that stance represented a change in understanding of sexual orientation at the highest levels of the church, Forte said Monday: “What I want to express is that we must respect the dignity of every person.”

“The fact to be homosexual does not mean that this dignity does not have to be recognized and promoted,” he continued.

“The fundamental idea is the centrality of the person independent of different sexual orientations,” Forte said. “And I think it is the most important point. And also the attitude of the church to welcome persons who have homosexual orientation is based on the dignity of the person they are.”

Asked how the church would respond to same-sex unions, Forte said such unions have “rights that should be protected,” and this is an “issue of civilization and respect of those people.”

Fr. Martin says those two statements represent “a revolutionary change“:

. Nowhere in the document are such terms as “intrinsically disordered,” “objectively disordered,” or even the idea of “disinterested friendships” among gays and lesbians, which was used just recently. The veteran Vaticanologist John Thavis rightly called the document an “earthquake.”

…The document is just the mid-point summary of the bishops’ meetings over the last week, and is not a final declaration. (Besides, the Synod has another session next year, after which Pope Francis will issue his final apostolic exhortation, which will be his own teaching on the Synod’s deliberations.) But it is still revolutionary, as were some of the comments of the participants during the press conference today. Clearly Pope Francis’s call for openness at the beginning of the Synod has allowed the bishops to listen carefully, to speak their minds and to be open to new ways of thinking. As was the case at the Second Vatican Council, the participants may have gone into this Synod not expecting much openness or change, but the Holy Spirit is afoot.

Joshua McElwee, Vatican correspondent for the independent and often critical National Catholic Reporter, live-tweeted the document’s release and the press conference. He was also encouraged by the Synod’s interim report:

Conservative Catholics, on the other hand, are in quite a lather. The anti-gay Lifesite News calls it an “Earthquake” and rounds up the usual dose of conservative outrage:

However, it has also met a sharp rebuke from Catholic activists. John Smeaton, co-founder of Voice of the Family, a coalition of 15 international pro-famiy groups, said it is “one of the worst official documents drafted in Church history.”

“Thankfully the report is a preliminary report for discussion, rather than a definitive proposal,” he said in a press release. “It is essential that the voices of those lay faithful who sincerely live out Catholic teaching are also taken into account. Catholic families are clinging to Christ’s teaching on marriage and chastity by their finger-tips.”

…Patrick Buckley of European Life Network said the report is “an attack on marriage and family” that “in effect gives a tacit approval of adulterous relationships, thereby contradicting the Sixth Commandment and the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the indissolubility of marriage.”

Maria Madise, coordinator for Voice of the Family, asked whether parents must now “tell their children that the Vatican teaches that there are positive and constructive aspects to … mortal sins” such as cohabitation and homosexuality.

“It would be a false mercy to give Holy Communion to people who do not repent of their mortal sins against Christ’s teachings on sexual purity. Real mercy consists of offering people a clean conscience via the Sacrament of Confession and thus union with God,” she said.

“Many of those who claim to speak in the name of the universal Church have failed to teach the faithful. This failure has created unprecedented difficulties for families. No responsibility is taken for this failure in this disastrous mid-way report,” she added. “The Synod’s mid-way report will increase the incidence of faithful Catholics being labelled as ‘pharisees’, simply for upholding Catholic teaching on sexual purity.”

Of course, if the shoe fits, then Pharisees it is.

Catholic Church stops funding immigrants group

Timothy Kincaid

July 16th, 2014

Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project is an organization in Portland, Oregon, which advocates against the deportation of Latinos who are in the United States illegally and facilitates day employment for such persons. Their website lists various organization with which they ally, including National Day Labor Organizing Network and Oregon New Sanctuary Movement.

Not listed on their site is National Council of La Raza, a group which works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans. However, NCLR does include Voz among their affiliates; the relationship is primarily that of NCLR providing financial support for the group.

Voz has also, until recently, received funding from Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a program of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But no more. Because NCLR supports Voz and because NCLR also supports marriage equality, the Catholic Church has discontinued funding from Voz. (AP)

Voz Workers’ Rights Education lost a $75,000 grant in June from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which is the national anti-poverty, social justice program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Catholic Campaign director Ralph McCloud said the group asked Voz to cut ties with the National Council of La Raza, a large Latino civil rights organization that endorses marriage equality, to be considered for the grant. Voz has been an affiliate of NCLR since 2009, primarily as a grantee.

After Voz refused to cut its ties, the organization “self-disqualified” itself from the funding process, McCloud said.

Yes, I know that this makes no sense whatsoever. One would think that the positions of Voz would be what matters, not whether the Catholic Church agrees with every policy of someone else who gives them money.

But the US Catholic Bishops have become so obsessed with their losing battle to deny civil marriage equality, that they have placed it as a higher priority than their own charitable endeavors. As for Voz, they were unwilling to become an anti-gay organization just to receive Catholic funds.

“Marriage equality is not the focus of our work; we focus on immigrant rights. But we work with everyone, we don’t discriminate,” Sosa said. “There may be gays and lesbians among our staff or workers, and we can’t turn our backs on them.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I suspect that most organizations who advocate for persons in the United States illegally are in some way affiliated with NCLR. If the Catholic Church applies this standard consistently, they may soon find that they have distanced themselves from all of their allies in their efforts to advance their immigration position.

São Paulo Archdiocese Commission Issues Supportive Statement for Pride

Jim Burroway

May 9th, 2014

A BTB reader in Brazil passes along this fascinating tidbit: the Justice and Peace Commission of the São Paulo Archdiocese has issued a surprisingly supportive statement in advance of the city’s Pride celebration that’s taking place this week. The statement, which was released on April 30 and citing the Second Vatican Council, states, in part:

…[W]e can not remain silent in the face of the reality that is lived by this population: they are the target of prejudice and victims of the systematic violation of their Fundamental Rights, such as those to health, education, work, housing and culture, among others. Besides all this, they face every day an unbearable level of physical and verbal violence, building up to murders which are true crimes of hatred.

Given this, we invite all people of good will, and in particular, all Christians, to reflect on this profoundly unjust reality as lived by LGBT people, and, guided by the supreme principle of Human Dignity, to dedicate themselves actively to overcoming it.

The Justice and Peace Commission’s director told Estadão (via Google Translate, with some cleanups):

The director of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese, Geraldo Magela Tardelli, said this is the first time that the commission wrote “formally” in favor of homosexuals. “The committee has a mission, according to Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Ars: ‘we have to give voice to those who have no voice.’ Right now, what we are finding is that there is an increase of violence against homosexuals, so we can not overlook. regarding this violation of human rights,” said the director.

According to him, the realization of the Gay Parade ordered the disclosure of the note.”We think this was the right time to put this note in circulation. We, the Church, are engaged in defending human rights and are not siding with its violation, regardless of color and sexual orientation of people,” said Tardelli.

The full statement is here:

Note from the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of São Paulo

Faithful to its mission of announcing and defending the Gospel and civilizing values of Human Rights, the Justice and Peace Commission of São Paulo (CJPSP) wishes to make a public statement on the occasion of the 18th LGBT Pride Parade which is to take place on the Avenida Paulista next Sunday, 4th May 2014.

We base ourselves on the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, approved at the 2nd Vatican Council which says “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”

Therefore the defense of the dignity, the citizenship and the safety of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite and Transgender) people is indispensable in the building of a fraternal and just society. For this reason we can not remain silent in the face of the reality that is lived by this population: they are the target of prejudice and victims of the systematic violation of their Fundamental Rights, such as those to health, education, work, housing and culture, among others. Besides all this, they face every day an unbearable level of physical and verbal violence, building up to murders which are true crimes of hatred.

Given this, we invite all people of good will, and in particular, all Christians, to reflect on this profoundly unjust reality as lived by LGBT people, and, guided by the supreme principle of Human Dignity, to dedicate themselves actively to overcoming it.

São Paulo, 30th April 2014
Human Rights Commission of São Paulo

[Special thanks to BTB reader James]

Vatican Cardinal Criticizes Criminalization of Homosexuality

Jim Burroway

March 5th, 2014

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana has called on Uganda to repeal its Anti-Homosexuality Act:

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said Tuesday that “homosexuals are not criminals” and shouldn’t be sentenced for up to life in prison. Speaking to reporters in Bratislava where he attended a conference on the Catholic Church and human rights, Turkson said the Vatican also calls on the international community to keep providing aid.

Cardinal Turkson’s comments are considered significant in Catholic circles for two reasons: he’s a member of the Roman Curia, and he’s sometimes mentioned as being among the “papabile” or potential candidates to be elected pope in a future conclave.

Pope warns against rejecting children of gay parents

Timothy Kincaid

January 5th, 2014

One of the more stupid anti-gay positions taken by American Catholics in the past few years was the decision by some dioceses to disallow children of gay couples to attend parochial schools. It’s hard to fathom what that was supposed to accomplish.

But now Pope Francis has called for a reassessment of how the Church responds to children of gay or divorced parents.

“On an educational level, gay unions raise challenges for us today which for us are sometimes difficult to understand,” Francis said in a speech to the Catholic Union of Superiors General in November, extracts of which were published on Italian media websites on Saturday.

The pontiff said educational leaders should ask themselves “how can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?”

“We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them,” the 77-year-old added.

The Catholic Church and Pope Francis hold and espouse views that are damaging to our community. But unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict the Malevolent, Francis seems to be aware that the future looks dim for any organization who’s approach to expansion is, “Not you, nor you, nor you, nor you, nor you!”

Cardinal Dolan: Church has been out-marketed

Timothy Kincaid

November 30th, 2013


Advocate

“Well, I think maybe we’ve been outmarketed sometimes,” he said on Meet the Press, according to a preview of the Sunday interview reported by the Associated Press. “We’ve been caricatured as being antigay.”

This is the explanation Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic Archbishop of New York, gives for the reason that the United States is marching firmly in the direction of marriage equality. (The interview can be seen Sunday night on NBC’s Meet the Press.)

“When you have forces like Hollywood, when you have forces like politicians, when you have forces like some opinion-molders that are behind it, it’s a tough battle,” he said.

The Cardinal is correct that public image and social pressure were the factors that swept away the argument of the American Catholic Bishops and which will result in equality not only in the United States but in most of the Christian and Catholic World. But Hollywood and politicians only deserve part of the credit.

The real credit lies elsewhere.

America has come to know who Catholic Cardinals are. Media stopped giving the Church a pass and over the past decade or so the real lives of Catholic priests have been exposed.

The public has discovered that all that they feared and despised about gay people – irresponsible sexuality, a threat to their children, flaunters of law and social order – had been blamed on the wrong party. It was not Hairdresser Joe that their sons needed to be warned about, but Father Joe.

And through it all, the Bishops – in their arrogance – failed miserably in maintaining their image. They fought futile public battles to keep their crimes a secret, they threw nuns out of convents in order to raise money to pay their settlements, they put forward spokesmen who demanded that the public obey their will without question, all while parading their own wealth and power and political connections. And, in the process, the Church lost its credibility on matters of morality and social good.

And, most foolish of all, they failed to address the very real, very identifiable needs of same-sex couples. While the public was looking at a problem and seeking a solution, the Church could have endorsed civil unions as a means to address the economic and political inequalities, while holding marriage as sacred and separate.

But instead they adopted absolutism and offered nothing. And did so in very nasty terms.

The Church could have easily won the battle over the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, but they were caricatured as anti-gay and they were terribly out-marketed. By themselves.

Stolam mea est pulchellus

Timothy Kincaid

November 21st, 2013


While the marriage bill was being signed, those who oppose equality as being contrary to the procreative purpose of marriage met in Springfield at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to join celibate Bishop Thomas Paprocki for a rather unusual response: an exorcism.

Speaking in a language that has for 1,000 years been spoken only by those who vow not to marry, Paprocki commanded that “every unclean sprit, every power of darkness, every incursion of the infernal enemy, every diabolical legion, cohort and faction” be gone.

But evidence suggests that the command may not have been effective as he himself did not immediately disappear in a puff of purple smoke

Vatican Surveys Parishes on Gays, Divorce, Contraception

Jim Burroway

November 1st, 2013

In preparation for the Vatican Synod on “Pastoral Challenges of the family in the context of evangelization” called by Pope Francis for next October, the Vatican is asking bishops around the world to conduct a wide-ranging poll asking Catholics their opinions on a number of church teachings, including same-sex marriage, contraception and divorce. The independent National Catholic Reporter has the details:

Among topics bishops’ conferences are asked in the Vatican document to question their Catholic populations about:

  • How the church’s teaching on “the value of the family” is understood today. “In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice?” the document asks. “If so, what are they?”
  • Whether cohabitation, the problem of divorce and remarriage, and same-sex marriages are a “pastoral reality” in their church. “Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases?” the document asks. “How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?”
  • How persons in same-sex marriages are treated and how children they may adopt are cared for. “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live these types of union?” it asks. “In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”
  • Whether married couples have “openness” to becoming parents and whether they accept Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI that prohibited artificial contraception use by Catholics. “Is this moral teaching accepted?” it asks. “What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?”

The documents accompanying the survey reveal a tension within the Church. Since his election just seven months ago, Pope Francis has signaled a willingness to open the church up and change its approach to LGBT Catholics. And on the one hand, this unprecedented survey represents a huge change to the way the Vatican has traditionally done business. On the other hand, some of the documents deploy  some of the more traditional cultural-warfare talking points:

Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children. The many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care include: …relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); and new interpretations of what is considered a human right. Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment.

Degrading rhetoric aside — wombs for hire? — the document does illustrate the crisis that the Church faces, particularly in the West and especially among young people:

Consequently, we can well understand the urgency with which the worldwide episcopate is called upon to gather cum et sub Petro to address these challenges. For example, by simply calling to mind the fact that, as a result of the current situation, many children and young people will never see their parents receive the sacraments, then we understand just how urgent are the challenges to evangelization arising from the current situation, which can be seen in almost every part of the “global village”. Corresponding in a particular manner to this reality today is the wide acceptance of the teaching on divine mercy and concern towards people who suffer on the periphery of societies, globally and in existential situations. Consequently, vast expectations exist concerning the decisions which are to be made pastorally regarding the family.

It’s not clear exactly how widespread the questionnaire will be distributed. A letter accompanying the US version of the survey simply asks the bishops “to share it immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local source can be received.” The survey period ends December 31, with reports due to the Vatican by the end of January. A spokesperson for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops told NCR, “It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome.” Meanwhile, NCR reports that Bishops in England and Wales have posted a survey online. That survey is in essay form rather than multiple choice, asking participants such questions as:

  • Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
  • How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
  • Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?
  • Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?
  • What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?
  • What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?
  • In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?
  • What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
  • How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?
  • How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?

That last question can be a tricky one in the U.S., where there have been several cases of children being barred from Catholic schools because their same-sex parents have decided to live together as a couple or marry.

So After Pope Francis’s Opening, These Things Happened

Jim Burroway

September 25th, 2013

After the Jesuit magazine America published an interview with Pope Francis last week in which the pontiff chastised the church for “insist(ing) only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” a couple of events took place which, in my view, reinforced my caution that while we can be greatly encouraged by Francis’s comments, its important not to get too carried away. Specifically, I pointed out that nothing in church doctrine had changed. Further, I cautioned that just as under Benedict XVI, the entire Church was not the Pope and hierarchy, but the laity as well; so, too, today the entire Church is not the Pope and laity, but the hierarchy as well. A couple of events since last week bring all of that back into sharp focus.

First, there’s the excommunication of the former Father Greg Reynolds, of Melbourne, Australia. Fr. Reynolds says that he was excommunicated over his support for women’s ordination and gay Catholics. That excommunication took place last May, before the Pope’s more recent comments and before his comment last July responding to a question about gay priests with another question: “Who am I to judge?” Chronology may or may not explain the church’s inconsistency in its approach to Reynolds. Another explanation may be found in this report by the independent and often critical National Catholic Reporter:

The letter, a copy of which NCR obtained and translated, accuses Reynolds of heresy (Canon 751) and determined he incurred latae sententiae excommunication for throwing away the consecrated host or retaining it “for a sacrilegious purpose” (Canon 1367). It also referenced Canon 1369 (speaking publicly against church teaching) in its review of the case.

I have no idea as to the circumstances or veracity of that middle accusation. It may be real, or it may be a red herring. Of the three accusations, that one by far would be the most serious, and its inclusion here greatly clouds the issue. Reynolds has addressed the first and third accusation, but so far I’ve found no comments from anyone on the second one, except for Reynold’s broader comments saying he doesn’t know why he was excommunicated. As I said, there may be nothing to it, or there may be more than Fr. Reynolds is disclosing. Until that is sorted out, the question of Reynolds’s excommunication remains not so cut-and-dried in my mind.

Much less murky is the decision by Providence College, a Catholic institution in Rhode Island, to rescind its invitation to John Corvino, chair of Wayne State University’s philosophy department, to discuss the ethics (and not the theology) of gay marriage in a debate with a Providence theologian. Corvino’s invitation, which was co-sponsored by nine departments and programs, was cancelled in an announcement last Saturday by college provost and senior vice president Hugh F. Lena, who cited a church document that says that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” This, of course, wasn’t an “honor,” but a debate and discussion, which, last I checked, was supposed to be one of the hallmarks of higher education. Corvino responded:

The reference to “awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” applies, for example, to allowing such politicians to present commencement addresses or to receive honorary degrees. By contrast, I am an academic speaker. Both the person introducing me and I would state clearly that my views were not those of the Catholic Church; moreover, a respondent from the Providence College theology department, Dr. Dana Dillon, would follow immediately to explain the Church’s position on marriage. Far from suggesting “support” for my views, the College would have ample opportunity to express precisely the opposite.

The silver lining however is a pretty big one. It exposes Providence College to suspicions that it is not confident in its ability to defend church doctrine when it comes to marriage equality. That’s a pretty pathetic patch of ground for a supposedly prestigious Catholic college to stand on, if you ask me. Also, the timing of the cancellation’s announcement — on the Saturday after Pope Francis’s interview went online — couldn’t have been better to guarantee the most favorable publicity. For Corvino:

So, Providence College has done wonders for my media exposure. In the last 24 hours I’ve talked to The New York Times, the Associated Press, The Huffington Post, the Providence Journal, the Detroit Free Press, a half dozen radio producers (I’m about to go on WPRO with former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci), and MSBNC (which may have me on “Last Word” tomorrow or Thursday night).

Pope Francis’s Remarks About Gay People Are Bigger Than You Think

Jim Burroway

September 20th, 2013

The Jesuit magazine America, in a joint project with its Italian counterpart La Civiltà Cattolica, published an interview yesterday with Pope Francis which has the potential of representing a new starting point with regards to the Church’s fractured relationship with gay Catholics in particular and with social issues in general.

The entire interview reveals a humble man who takes his time to think before speaking, and to just simply jump to the particular paragraphs which we care about as LGBT people, I think, would miss the broader mark. So I’m not going to do that, not just yet. I strongly encourage you to read the entire interview.

He begins by discussing how he identifies as Matthew in Caravaggio’s “The Calling of Saint Matthew,” which is essential to understand how he sees himself first, before all other identities and roles that he has taken on. I don’t think it’s possible to understand him without seeing how he sees himself. I also think it’s important to read the interview as it progresses to where Pope Francis describes his leadership style when he first became a superior in the Jesuits:

“In my experience as superior in the Society, to be honest, I have not always behaved in that way—that is, I did not always do the necessary consultation. And this was not a good thing. My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults. That was a difficult time for the Society: an entire generation of Jesuits had disappeared. Because of this I found myself provincial when I was still very young. I was only 36 years old. That was crazy. I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself. Yes, but I must add one thing: when I entrust something to someone, I totally trust that person. He or she must make a really big mistake before I rebuke that person. But despite this, eventually people get tired of authoritarianism.

It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems. My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”

I’m tempted to perhaps read more than is warranted into the fact that the only predecessor he mentions (aside from his immediate predecessor while discussing some of the church’s current problems) is Pope John XXIII and the only Vatican document he cites is one from the Second Vatican Council. But this line, in particular, leapt out:

“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.

“The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. …”

Let me interrupt here, because it’s impossible not to read what he has said so far without recalling the many, many ways in which the “people of God” are in tension (at the very least) with many of the teachings that have emanated from the Church’s hierarchy over the past several decades. This tension has been most visible in the laity’s overwhelming rejection of the Church’s teaching on birth control, masturbation, and other social and sexual issues, including marriage equality. This Public Religion Research Poll from just two years ago found that nearly three quarters of American Catholics support civil recognition of marriage or civil unions, an opinion that is endorsed by nearly two-thirds of Catholics who attend Mass weekly. Keep that in mind as Francis continues the paragraph that I so rudely interrupted:

“…. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.”

This idea then ties pretty directly to what follows, the section that has us all excited:

“The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.

“Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”

I mention to Pope Francis that there are Christians who live in situations that are irregular for the church or in complex situations that represent open wounds. I mention the divorced and remarried, same-sex couples and other difficult situations. What kind of pastoral work can we do in these cases? What kinds of tools can we use?

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.

“…We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. … e have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

It’s important not to get too carried away. Just as under Benedict XVI, the entire Church was not the Pope and hierarchy, but the laity as well; so, too, today the entire Church is not the Pope and laity, but the hierarchy as well. Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George will continue to call same-sex marriage “irrational,” Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt will not backtrack from his comments saying that Satan is behind gay marriage, and Cardinal Dolan will continue his fight against civil marriage equality — although he is fervorously trying to find his footing in the shifting ground underneath him. And if it’s hard to see how the Pope’s opinions will quickly filter down through the American hierarchy, imagine the difficult road those ideas will have to take in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and other more socially-conservative parts of the world.

And, more critically, nothing in Church doctrine has changed. The Catechism still refers to natural law arguments to describe our relationships as “objectively disordered.” I still don’t see any moves to suggest that paragraphs 2357 through 2359 will substantially change in my lifetime.

But what is clear is that this pope pointedly rebuked those Cardinals, Bishops, priests, and laity (I’m thinking here of Maggie Gallagher and others at National Organization for Marriage) who have abused the church’s teachings to further their own narrow political agendas. Not only that, but he accuses them rather specifically of “lock[ing] (themselves) up in small things, in small-minded rules.”

But what’s most encouraging to me is that if you were to see this only in political terms, you would miss most of the story. This is not just a potentially momentous shift in politics (it will only become truly momentous if Bishops take heed), but is is also a landmark shift in the spiritual life of the Church. It took the Second Vatican Council three years, two thousand bishops and nearly a thousand constituting sessions to bring the church out of its legalistic middle ages. Much of that work was threatened under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who served as JBII’s right hand man and chief enforcer at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But Francis, in one bold move, has once again called for throwing open the windows of the church, as John XXIII did fifty-one years ago next month. While it’s important not to get too carried away, I think getting rather excited about this is certainly in order.

Breaking: The Vatican Blows Smoke (UPDATED)

Jim Burroway

March 13th, 2013

We’ll habemus a Papam soon, although I hear Karl Rove is throwing a fit because the votes from Cincinnati’s suburbs still haven’t come in.

His Holiness Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.

Update: The new head of the Roman Catholic Church is His Holiness, Pope Francis, the former Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. This sets several precedents: He’s the first non-European Pope in many centuries (some early popes were north African), he’s the first Jesuit pope, and he’s the first to be named Francis. The regnal name is chosen with care, and is intended to signal the kind of papacy the pope intends to pursue. In this case, it’s unclear whether this one intends to follow the path of St. Francis of Assisi, or perhaps, St. Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Jesuits.

Nevertheless, the speed with which two-thirds of the 115 Cardinals settled on Bergolgio can only be seen as a stunning rebuke of the back-stabbing, infighting, scandal-plagued Roman Curia, which is badly in need of a complete reboot. While Bergolgio is a theological conservative, he can be somewhat more “left” leaning on economic and (non-sexual) social issues, for whatever meanings those labels may carry within Catholicism. (He’s no Paul Ryan, at any rate.)  The National Catholic Reporter has a very good rundown on his background here

Bergoglio has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.

“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” Bergoglio said during a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007. “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”

At the same time, he has generally tended to accent growth in personal holiness over efforts for structural reform.

…Bergoglio may be basically conservative on many issues, but he’s no defender of clerical privilege, or insensitive to pastoral realities. In September 2012, he delivered a blistering attack on priests who refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, calling it a form of “rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism.”

Among the issues that Bergolgio was “basically conservative” on was homosexuality. He first crossed our radar in 2010, as he was campaigning against a proposal to bring marriage equality to Argentina’s same-sex couples:

“Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God,” writes Bergoglio in a letter sent to the monasteries of Buenos Aires, where he is archbishop. “We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

According to Wikipedia:

He has affirmed church teaching on homosexuality, though he teaches the importance of respecting individuals who are gay. He strongly opposed legislation introduced in 2010 by the Argentine Government to allow same-sex marriage. In a letter to the monasteries of Buenos Aires, he wrote: “Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.” He has also insisted that adoption by gays and lesbians is a form of discrimination against children. This position received a rebuke from Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who said the church’s tone was reminiscent of “medieval times and the Inquisition”  [By the way, the page was changed moments ago to replace every instance of "gay" to "homosexual"]

For another day the world remains popeless

Timothy Kincaid

March 12th, 2013

It seems that discernment is not a straightforward thing and that God is working in very very mysterious ways today. (Times)

The cardinals of the Catholic Church held their first ballot on Tuesday to elect a pope, with black smoke signaling no winner on the first day of their conclave inside the Sistine Chapel.

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