From Catawba College: “As churches we’ve worked ourselves into a position where we just don’t have much to say about sex,” Dr. Mark Achtemeier shared as he addressed a group of community members, faculty, staff and students at Catawba College on September 20.
In remarks titled, “When ‘Thou Shalt Not’ Is Not Working,” this Presbyterian minister, theologian, and writer explained how he sought to find a way to address sexuality positively from a Christian perspective. “The church becomes a nagging maiden aunt, shaking her finger,” he quipped, suggesting “a more biblical way for how we find guidance for sexual morality.”
“We are the kingdom of thou shalt not,” he said. “Oftentimes, we get introduced to a single proposition – that you should not have sex before marriage…which is good and godly, but there are a lot of situations where it’s just not possible.
“In my book [“The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart”], I have a name for this – it’s ‘minefield ethics’ – teaching that the one true path is being a virgin on your wedding night. This approach to sexual morality, I submit to you, is not terribly biblical.”
Noting that the Bible says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Achtemeier explained that if in fact there was only one right path for sexual morality, “Jesus would have come as a life coach instead of a savior.”
The notion that if one steps off that one right path that “God hates you and you will go to hell,” he said “that’s not biblical either.”
One could look at the commandments in the Bible, he said, noting that the Bronze Age biblical text “is littered with commandments” such as “Don’t eat shellfish,” which require “an awful lot of sorting and sifting.” Or in the Bible, one could look for moral examples, which is only a bit more promising, because there are also immoral examples to be found.
Or, he shared, there is even a third way of finding guidance from the Bible – to look at the purposes of God and his stand behind love, marriage and sexuality. “What are the reasons that are behind these?” He relies on Calvin’s idea that “we can’t understand biblical law unless we understand the purpose of the lawgivers behind them.”
“God is concerned about making us more like Jesus – the law of the gift,” he said. “Human beings are created by God for self-giving love. You must learn to give yourself away to make yourself more like Jesus.”
“God sets up marriage as one very important tool to give ourselves completely to another person. This includes the gift of his body. With that insight in hand, a lot of biblical and moral teaching starts to make more sense.”
Polygamy is viewed as bad, because it is a divided gift since the body is given to more than one person. Sex outside of marriage becomes a concern, because it involves a complete giving of the body without a complete giving of the soul/self/life/future.
“Bodies and spirits are connected to one another; and if you treat your body as a cheap commodity, over time, you start to feel cheap as a person. As Christians, we have access to this teaching to grow as a self-giving person. We, as Christians, know that your sexuality could be a major part of this self-giving project.”
There are three things one could do to find guidance that Achtemeier translated to three questions one should ask themselves regardless of their sexuality or sexual morality:
“Because we are saved by grace, we can be honest with ourselves. How is it with me and God? Where am I in relation to God’s will?” “What’s below me on the slope? What do I need to look out for down there?” “What’s the next right thing I can do to bring myself closer to the image of Jesus?”
He concluded that when we can view sexuality positively in light of God’s purpose for us, we can face our sexuality and its place in our life– and we can take the next steps to becoming more fully a being focused on self-giving love.
The Anglican Church in Canada has elected an openly gay bishop, the first in the diocese of Toronto.
The diocese said the Rev. Canon Kevin Robertson was “the first openly gay, partnered bishop-elect in the diocese and perhaps in the Canadian church”.
Suffragan bishop-elect Robertson, 45, and his partner Mohan have two children. He is the incumbent of Christ Church, Deer Park, in Toronto, and was ordained deacon and priest in 1997 after earning his Master of Divinity from Trinity College in Toronto.
“I’m very overwhelmed,” he said on the chancel steps after his election. “I didn’t really expect to be standing here on the steps, but I’m deeply, deeply honoured. I realise this is an historic day in the life of our church. It’s no secret that I’m the first openly gay, partnered bishop-elect in the diocese and perhaps in the Canadian church as well, and I know that for some people that’s a real challenge and for others it’s the fulfilment of what they’ve been hoping and praying for a very long time. The peace and unity of the church is really important to me and I will work to continue that peace and unity as a bishop.”
Robertson’s election is not without criticism. Before the election, the Rev. Dr. Catherine Sider Hamilton of St. Matthew’s Riverdale in Toronto issued an official protest against the inclusion of “one candidate whose lifestyle is, to the best of my knowledge, irregular according to the teaching of the church regarding chastity and marriage”. She went on: “It is a teaching that still stands formally, and I believe that the inclusion of this candidate by the nominations committee is premature.” The Archbishop of Toronto, Colin Johnson replied that all the nominees were clergy under license in the diocese and in good standing.
Robertson said his election was “a turning point for our diocese, and I’m honoured to be a part of that.”
He added that though his election reflected inclusivity in the Church, he also wanted to represent the whole Church. “I think LGBTQ clergy and lay people might naturally gravitate towards me looking for some leadership around the issue of full inclusion, but I absolutely see myself as a bishop for the whole church, including people who have a very different view of things than I do. I’m their bishop, too.”
Archbishop Johnson said: “Kevin is certainly not the first gay man to become a bishop in the Communion but his election will probably bring a negative reaction in some places and a positive reaction in others. We’re at an early stage in this experience. I think many parts of the world do not understand it, so it will be a challenge for them, but it will be an opportunity for us to explain how and why we have made this choice”.
The Anglican Church in Canada first began accepting same-sex unions in 2002. Canada nationally legalised same-sex marriage in 2005.
The former Music Director at the Church of St. Mary in Providence is speaking out, after being fired on Monday because he said “of the person I love” — his male partner, whom he married in 2015.
In a statement posted to Facebook on Tuesday, Michael Templeton, who resides in Warren, spoke to a conversation with church clergy that he said was “bizarre, unprofessional, and inappropriate,” which led to his firing as Music Director at the Catholic church, where he served for more than five years.
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“What I can tell you about the conversation, is that from what I’ve read, is it’s consistent with the other situations I’m aware of around the country — that they say because of the public nature of your ministry, and the inconsistency of your life choices, that we are requiring your resignation,” Templeton told GoLocalProv.com on Tuesday.
“My heart breaks because this brings to light what ‘safe’ means to people. I feel this action represented more than me in my role. It represents people who have been marginalized and thought of as ‘less than’ for a whole host of reasons,” said Templeton. “I came to St. Mary’s for what it is and who they welcome, whether they come from reformed lives of addiction, or come from divorce and are remarried, whatever the reason. I want to be clear — I did not resign, I was relieved of my duties.”
The church did not respond to request for comment on Tuesday.
Rhode Island in Focus
Templeton spoke to his path to Rhode Island, and the role that Catholicism — and music, and education — has had had in his life.
“I went to St. Bonaventure for college. The Franciscan Friars there encouraged me to take a position at St. Francis [in downtown Providence],” said Templeton. “I was the Director of Adult Education and Music, which really brought me to this area.”
Templeton spoke to his degree in elementary education, which brought him briefly back to his home state of New York for a job in the public education system there, before he decided to return to Rhode Island.
“I came back to Rhode Island for the slower pace of life,” said Templeton. “I’ve been [at St. Mary’s] since I came back five years or so ago. At that time, their music director had quit unexpectedly and the pastor at the time invited me to come on board, so I wanted to do right by the community. A lot folks were there from the St. Francis days.”
Templeton said he was aware that his marriage to his partner in 2015 could put his position in jeopardy, but that he didn’t see it coming.
“What I can say is that I am aware of Catholic educators and administrators around the country facing this — I’ve seen this happen to some colleagues in the music ministry, and they’re all heartbreaking stories,” said Templeton. “These are people giving their best, they’re faith-filled Catholics. It chips away a little each time.”
Templeton said that his had not hidden his life, or his partner, while at the church.
“I have worked hard to live a life of integrity, which means never hiding,” said Templeton. “So it’s 2016. We all have to be concerned about our well-being. Yes, it’s an integral part of me, but only part of me — I’ve been fortunate to do things that I love with the talents and gifts I have.”
Pope Francis Pronouncement
When asked what he would say to Catholics who say that homosexuality — and gay marriage — are against the tenets of the church, Templeton offered the following.
“What I can I say? People need to follow their heart. I feel strongly I give the best I can and what that means is bringing people closer to God through music,” said Templeton. “I pray for those people to follow their heart and conscience. The God I believe in is a merciful God. The Pope has called us to a year of mercy and I invite people to heed that call.”
In 2013, Pope Francis had publicly said, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about the possibility of gay clergy in the Catholic church.
“What I would say about that quote, and I don’t know its context, is regardless of what issue we talk about, it is central to the Pope’s message,” said Templeton. “There’s only one person that we’ll need to answer to at the end of it all.”
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support,” said Templeton, following his dismissal. “Friends from high school, college, have all left amazing messages. I’m not a media person, I’m not seeking attention. I just want to open the conversation again. I hope people keep their faith, hold their heart, and keep the conversation going on this.”
Within hours of getting a report in August that images of nude children were found on computers owned by the pastor of St. Ann’s Church in Emmaus, the Allentown Catholic Diocese informed authorities. But for the next six Sundays — even as Lehigh County investigators sifted through photos on two laptops — parishioners were urged at Mass to pray for their pastor’s health.
Monsignor John Stephen Mraz’s arrest Tuesday on charges of possessing child pornography left some members of his congregation angry that they would be asked to remember him in their prayers without being told he was under investigation.
“It just feels like a betrayal of trust, not only by Monsignor Mraz, but by the church,” Kara Sterner said. “I was married at that church and all three of my kids were baptized there. And now I don’t feel right. I just don’t have trust anymore.”
So shaken was Sterner that she held her 11-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter from religious prep classes at St. Ann on Wednesday, and she’s considering switching churches. She was among several parents who held their children from prep that night and among many who called the diocese and church office to voice their unhappiness.
The Rev. Dominic Pham, who lived with Mraz and got him to the hospital before the monsignor went to convalesce at Holy Family Villa in Bethlehem, has been fielding many of those calls. And he has a surprisingly simple answer for why, as he urged parishioners to visit Mraz in his recovery, he never told them their pastor was being investigated for child porn.
“I didn’t know. I knew he was very ill with diabetes and kidney failure, but no one told us about this,” Pham said. “I had no idea. They called us together the morning he was arrested.”
That St. Ann parishioners and staff remained unaware their pastor was under investigation for child sex crimes raises questions of whether the diocese is keeping its promise to be more transparent in the wake of the Catholic Church child sex scandal ignited by a Boston Globe investigation in 2002.
During Mass at St. Ann’s on Saturday evening, Allentown Bishop John O. Barres told parishioners that when Mraz left the parish this summer to undergo medical treatment, the events that led to his charges were unknown to anyone in the diocese. He said he understood that many were concerned about being kept in the dark, but that diocesan officials were being careful to cooperate with authorities and not interfere with the investigation.
“What happened is not a reflection of you or this parish or the school,” said Barres, who intends to address the parishioners at Sunday Masses as well. “St. Ann’s parish and St. Ann’s school are the same wonderful, valuable holy institutions that they were a week ago.”
Mraz’s arrest came more than six weeks after he asked a friend and parishioner on July 25 to perform maintenance updates on a laptop computer. According to the criminal complaint, the friend found nude images of boys in the computer’s recycling bin but didn’t come forward until Aug. 1 or 2, after he discovered a file named “naked little boys” on a second computer Mraz asked him to update.
Feeling “uncomfortable,” the friend reported what he saw to the diocese. Spokesman Matt Kerr said the diocese reported the accusation within a day to Lehigh County Children & Youth Services and the state Welfare Department’s ChildLine. A letter from diocese attorney Joseph A. Zator arrived in Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin‘s office Aug. 12, according to the criminal complaint. By Aug. 18, county detectives were serving a warrant to confiscate all of Mraz’s electronic devices, including the computers, the complaint stated.
At that point, a credible allegation had been established and for many dioceses across the nation, the policy would be to suspend the priest and tell parishioners why he was gone, said Michael Sean Winters, who writes the “Distinctly Catholic” column for the Washington D.C.-based National Catholic Reporter. That has become standard procedure, he said, in part because it could prompt parishioners who have had contact with the priest to come forward with information relevant to the investigation.
“They did the right thing by going to authorities immediately, but then once the allegation is determined to be credible, they have an obligation to tell parishioners that an investigation is underway,” Winters said. “It’s the way it is being done in model dioceses in places like Washington and Chicago and it’s been this way for a decade. You don’t wait until charges are filed.”
But that’s where Mraz’s case gets muddy. More than a week before his friend was reporting what he’d found on those laptops, Mraz had taken sick leave to deal with serious medical problems that included diabetes and kidney failure, Pham said. He’d collapsed at his residence and Pham called an ambulance to rush him to the hospital.
The diocese didn’t have to suspend him because he was already out of service and living at Holy Family Villa, a retirement home for priests, Kerr said.
Instead, the diocese turned the report to authorities and took a hands-off approach, Kerr said.
That left Pham in the position of stepping into the pulpit each Sunday to make an impassioned plea for people to pray and visit his ailing colleague.
The diocese was right to keep the accusation under wraps until charges were filed, Martin said.
“Are you suggesting they should have told people an investigation was going on?” he said. “That’s ridiculous. Absolute nonsense.”
Juliann Bortz, Lehigh Valley coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, doesn’t see it that way.
She said Mraz’s arrest was an opportunity for the Allentown Diocese to prove that it has learned from the past. Instead, she said, it allowed Pham to unknowingly trot out the “health issues” excuse that dioceses around the nation have used over the decades to protect priests and keep allegations from the public.
“The way they handled this is still deceptive. It just gives you the impression that they wouldn’t have come forward if they thought they could hide it,” Bortz said. “It’s terrible for people to feel that way about their church. The only way they’re going to win back that trust is if they’re completely transparent. Unfortunately, they weren’t and we’re left to wonder.”
For Bortz, the issue of trust has always been at the heart of the sex abuse scandal. It was only inflamed again in March when a Pennsylvania grand jury report accused two Catholic bishops of allowing at least 50 priests and other religious leaders to sexually abuse hundreds of children for five decades in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
Based on the grand jury report, the attorney general’s office on March 15 charged three Franciscan friars with child endangerment and criminal conspiracy. The agency also set up a tip line for people to call the agency with abuse and cover-up allegations involving diocesan officials, and announced that it would be expanding its grand jury investigation into other dioceses across the state.
On Thursday, The Morning Call reported that the Allentown and Harrisburg dioceses are among those being investigated by a new grand jury in Pittsburgh, according to state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, an abuse victim who said he recently testified before the panel in Pittsburgh. Agents from the attorney general’s office recently interviewed at least two other victims from the Allentown Diocese, according to the victims, who did not want their identity disclosed.
On Friday, four more Catholic dioceses — Erie, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton — were added to the Pittsburgh grand jury investigation of clergy sex abuse and cover-up allegations.
Mraz, whose 41-year career includes stints as chaplain at Lehigh University and theology teacher at Central Catholic High School in Allentown before he arrived at St. Ann in 2008, was charged Tuesday with viewing and downloading child porn, which falls under the sexual abuse of children in the criminal code.
Mraz, 66, was released on $50,000 unsecured bond. His Allentown lawyer, John Waldron, said Mraz has told detectives he downloaded the images for sexual gratification.
“What he’s alleged to have done is illegal and very wrong, but there is no indication that he did anything inappropriate with a child,” Waldron said. “We expect to have him psychologically evaluated so that he can get treatment.”
The situation leaves St. Ann’s leaders to contend with the fact that some parishioners have lost trust in them. Pham said they’re fielding calls at the parish office for anyone who wants an explanation, and have made counselors available for students or parishioners who want help dealing with Mraz’s arrest.
“Some aren’t happy and some are just angry, period, that their priest is alleged to have done this,” Kerr said. “Some wish they had known about it before seeing it online.”
In some ways, knowing that Pham was kept in the dark is helping Sterner deal with it. Maybe her diocese wasn’t open with her, but Pham wasn’t part of that, she said.
“I’m not sure why,” she said, “but it makes a difference for me.”
Still, she’s debating whether to leave for neighboring St. Thomas More in Salisbury Township.
Pham will continue to step into the pulpit to ask people to pray.
“Pray for us all at St. Ann, pray for the monsignor and have faith in the Holy Father,” he said. “It’s OK to be confused. Believe that Christ is with us and the answers will come in time.”
A Church of Ireland cleric has slammed his own denomination for allegedly teaching traditional marriage in public but privately “turning a blind eye” to gay clergy engaging in sexual relationships.
Rev Stephen Neill – a passionate supporter of LGBT rights in the Church of Ireland (CoI) – made the allegations in this week’s edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette.
It is understood to be the first time such explosive claims have been made with such frankness about the inner workings of the CoI.
According to rules in the CoI and sister Anglican denomination the Church of England (CoE), defining oneself as gay does not preclude anyone from becoming a cleric – nor even from entering a civil partnership – so long as those involved give an undertaking to remain celibate within the arrangement.
But Rev Stephen Neill from Celbridge, near Dublin, says that the rules are being widely flouted in the CoE by clerics who publicly claim to be in celibate gay relationships which are privately sexual – and all with the full collusion of CoE bishops. Rev Neill goes on to say that the CoI is in “exactly the same dishonest position”.
His comments were prompted by the Bishop Nicholas Chamberlain of Grantham, who last week became the first Anglican bishop to openly declare his homosexuality – and that he was in a relationship, which he said was celibate.
Rev Neill said the bishop’s relationship was “the worst-kept secret in the church”.
Bishop Grantham’s ‘secret’ was also known to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Lincoln and many others.
Rev Neill went on to quote CoE cleric Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain, who stated that “quietly” across the CoE “clergy are getting married or converting their civil partnerships to marriage; gay ordinands in sexual relationships are getting the nod through while appearing to comply with the selection procedures; and clergy are having sex in their civil partnerships”.
Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain had said last month: “Priests are offering services of blessing and thanksgiving to gay and lesbian couples and parishes celebrating with them. The bishops all know this and many even collude in the dishonesty around the current position with private words of support and public obedience to the official line.
“One recently married priest I know of was invited into the episcopal study, handed his letter of discipline and then the bishop’s wife arrived with two gin and tonics – and as she said ‘Congratulations’, the bishop toasted the new couple.”
Rev Neill, whose father is the retired Archbishop of Dublin, said he despaired over the lack of honesty in the CoE – “but we in the Church of Ireland find ourselves in exactly the same dishonest position”.
He added: “There are, just as in the Church of England, many informal arrangements and turnings of a blind eye in our own Church of Ireland”.
He went on to affirm that he was one of those who “fervently believe that same-sex relationships should be recognised and affirmed without qualification by our Church”.
Scott Holden, Chair of CoI LGBT lobby group Changing Attitudes Ireland estimates there are some 65 gay clergy in the CoI out of 500 overall.
But Rev Dr Alan McCann, Rector of Holy Trinity in Carrickfergus and treasurer of conservative CoI lobby group ‘Reform Ireland’, challenged Rev Neill’s claims – and called on the CoI bishops to clarify what is happening in the wider denomination.
“He speaks of a blind eye being turned to such arrangements in the CoI,” Rev McCann said, “If that is the case, and he doesn’t document them, then the House of Bishops need to be honest with the church that they have such a policy in place. If such a policy is in place and they are turning a blind eye to sinful relationships amongst the clergy then they are failing in their vows as Bishops and that would place many of us in a very difficult relationship to our bishop [assuming they were turning a blind eye to such].
“I have not heard of such a protocol or guidelines existing in the CoI.”
He believed Rev Neill was raising the issue as he and other liberals had been “emboldened” by the Bishop of Grantham revelations about his gay relationship. He also believed liberals had been emboldened by the fact that no disciplinary action has been taken against Dean Tom Gordon from Carlow and the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory who appointed him. Dean Gordon revealed he was in a civil partnership in 2011 and remains a CoI cleric in good standing.
Rev McCann added that Rev Neill and others are departing from Scripture and from the historical teaching of the church, reaffirmed in General Synod 2012. “He can advocate change but he cannot change the teaching of Scripture and to do so is heretical”.
He added: “Mr Neill has called for honesty – and that is a good thing. The shadowboxing is coming to an end and we cannot ignore the fact that a realignment is happening all across the Anglican Communion and the CoI will not be immune from it.”
A CoI spokesman said it was not “appropriate” to comment on the “dialogue” between the two clerics.
“However, with regard to the question of there being any policy of ‘turning a blind eye’ to the sexual relationships of clergy, I would confirm that there is no such policy in the Church of Ireland.”
There has not been any disciplinary action taken towards the Very Revd Tom Gordon or his bishop, Michael Burrows, he said.
He reiterated that the Church passed a resolution at its General Synod in 2012 by 245 to 115 votes which clarifies that marriage “is between a man and a woman”.
The spokesman said that after same-sex marriage was enshrined in law in the Republic of Ireland last year, bishops wrote to clergy there and “encouraged restraint by any cleric who might consider entering a same-sex marriage, for the sake of unity and in order to be respectful of the principles of others”.
The letter acknowledged that “all are free to exercise their democratic entitlements once enshrined in legislation” but that members of the clergy are “bound by the ordinal and by the authority of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland”.