Can Joe Biden Save American Catholicism from the Far Right?

Joe Biden and Pope Francis.
President Joe Biden’s nondoctrinaire Catholicism is driving comparisons to Pope Francis, who has vexed traditionalist U.S. bishops much the way Biden has.

By

A few hours after agitators incited by President Donald Trump breached the Capitol, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, addressed the reconvened representatives, along with a vast television audience. She denounced the “shameful attack on our democracy” and resolved that the House would complete its certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. Pelosi, a Catholic, then took a religious turn. “Today, January 6th, is the Feast of the Epiphany,” she said. “On this day of revelation, let us pray that this instigation to violence will provide an epiphany for our country to heal.” She also quoted a prayer often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me a channel of thy peace; where there is hatred, let us bring love; where there is despair, let us bring hope.” Biden has quoted this prayer often. Three weeks earlier, when the electoral votes were first certified, he had offered the saint’s words—“where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is darkness, light”—as something like a mission statement for his Presidency.

Those invocations represent a striking turnabout. In the past four years, several million traditionalist American Catholics have made the impious, twice-divorced, religiously tone-deaf celebrity mogul Donald Trump their standard-bearer. Now progressive Catholics are placing their hopes in Biden, who is only the second Catholic President, after John F. Kennedy. Biden’s unfailing attendance at Sunday Mass, his visits to the churchyard graves of his first wife and daughter (who were killed in a car crash, in 1972), and his practice of carrying a rosary are taken as emblems of that public servant’s deep faith. His late-in-life election, moderate temperament, and just-folks manner prompt comparisons with Pope Francis—even as the new President’s support for abortion rights and gay marriage has prompted the head of the U.S. bishops to form a “working group” to examine his positions, and several bishops to declare that he should be denied Communion. (During the campaign, Biden turned against the Hyde Amendment, which proscribes the use of federal funds to support abortion services, after decades of tacit support for it.) Set the rosary aside, and old-school Joe Biden is the kind of flexible, independent-minded Catholic whom many bishops have spent their careers taking to task—and many progressive Catholics see as akin to themselves. In a new book, Massimo Faggioli, an Italian who is a professor of theology at Villanova University, near Philadelphia, observes that “Biden’s presidency arouses not only political expectations but also religious, even salvific ones. This Catholic president is now called upon to heal the moral damage inflicted upon the nation by Trump, the pandemic, and globalization.”

The events of January 6th upped the salvific ante and the brief for Biden to be a “Reconciler-in-Chief.” With the election to the Senate of the Reverend Raphael Warnock, a Baptist pastor from Georgia, some envision a resurgence of the religious progressivism that shaped the civil-rights movement. Catholics hope that the Church, with its moral authority diminished owing to its bishops’ failings on clerical sexual abuse, can be a trusted actor in national affairs again—that it can counter the “ ‘zombie’ ideas” (as Faggioli calls them) of Christian nationalism. The hope is that the Biden Administration will invigorate American Catholicism, and vice versa.

Catholics have sought convergence between Rome and U.S. politics before, and the present political culture is partly shaped by such aspirations. In 1987, Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor (soon to convert to Catholicism), declared that a “Catholic moment” in American public life was at hand. The Reagan Administration had conjoined the President’s anti-Communist conservatism to that of Pope John Paul II, who, after conducting a nine-city U.S. tour, was at the apogee of his influence in this country. The Archbishop of New York, Cardinal John O’Connor, was as prominent as any senator or governor. Antonin Scalia had been seated on the Supreme Court. Through John Paul’s efforts, Catholicism was strongly identified with the struggle for political freedom and human rights in Soviet-controlled Poland. Neuhaus saw the moment as one in which the Roman Catholic Church in the United States would assume “its rightful role” in providing “a religiously informed public philosophy” to what he saw as an incoherent, decadent, post-sixties civil society.

Catholic theoconservatism has shaped Republican politics ever since, through an extensive network of political operatives, opinion-makers, academics, and philanthropists. It has set itself against the presentation of religious belief as merely a private matter, seen in a speech that Mario Cuomo gave in 1984, when he was governor of New York, in which he explained that, although as a Catholic he believed abortion to be wrong, he could not impose his beliefs on his constituents. Theocons disdain that position. In their view, a Catholic in public life should affirm his or her faith openly, strive to conform public policy to Church teachings, and reject the notion that the separation of church and state forces officials to check their faith at the door.

Today, outward measures suggest that a different Catholic moment is at hand. Six of the nine Supreme Court Justices are Catholics. So is Speaker Pelosi. So are at least eight of Biden’s Cabinet nominees. So is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Yet the terms of engagement have changed dramatically. The Church to which these people all belong is nearly as divided as the country, and American politics is now suffused with religion-as-public-philosophy, even as theocons decry, as the former Attorney General William Barr, a Catholic, did in 2019, the left’s “organized destruction” of traditional religion.

The appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court made the change manifest. Barrett, raised a Catholic in Louisiana, is a graduate of an all-girls Catholic high school and of Notre Dame Law School, whose faculty she later joined. Since childhood, she has belonged to the People of Praise, a Catholic movement with a structure that places female members under the authority of men. A traditionalist—mentored by Scalia and publicly opposed to legal abortion—Barrett was a theocon’s dream high-court nominee. Yet, at her confirmation hearings for both the U.S. Court of Appeals, in 2017, and the Supreme Court, this past October, she took the Cuomo-esque position that theoconservatives have long derided: she insisted that her “personal convictions” and “policy preferences” should have no bearing on her rulings from the bench. (Nevertheless, last Tuesday, she joined the five other conservative Justices—three of them Catholics—in rejecting the argument that a Food and Drug Administration rule that women seeking to obtain the so-called abortion pills must do so in person from a health-care provider rather than by mail places an undue burden on those women during the pandemic, which has made doctors’ offices and clinics less accessible.)

Biden’s stance is something like the inverse of Barrett’s: as his public prominence has increased, he has grown more effusive about his Catholicism. In his memoir from 2007, “Promises to Keep,” he recalled that, fifteen years earlier, when asked to speak about faith and public service, at Georgetown University, where his son Hunter was a student, he hesitated: “It was a topic I had always shied away from because it makes me a little uncomfortable to carry religion into politics.” But the experience, he went on, made clear that Catholicism’s message about the perils of the abuse of power by the powerful had “always been the governing force in my political career.” His faith was prominent in the memoir itself, and in 2016, when he received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, awarded to Catholics who have “enriched the heritage of humanity” through their work, he called it “the most meaningful award I’ve ever received in my life.” During the 2020 campaign, he traced his view on immigration to the Church’s “preferential option for the poor”—a favored expression of the Catholic left. Last June, in a eulogy for George Floyd, he cited “Catholic social doctrine, which taught me that faith without works is dead,” and quoted from the Catholic hymn “On Eagle’s Wings.”

Biden’s nondoctrinaire Catholicism is driving comparisons to Pope Francis, who has vexed traditionalist U.S. bishops much the way Biden has. Shortly after his election, in 2013, Francis said that “we cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods,” suggesting that the Church had become “obsessed” with those topics. In 2019, he expressed support for gay civil unions. Last week, he announced that women are now expressly permitted to serve on the altar during Mass, thereby rejecting the traditionalist view that sacramental authority belongs to priests, who, according to Church teaching, must be male.

Shortly after Election Day, Francis sent Biden an inscribed copy of his new book, “Let Us Dream.” The progressive Catholic commentariat had already lit up with exhortations about the ways the new President might draw on the Pope’s key themes—mercy, concern for the poor, attention to the common good—to undo the Trump Administration’s inhumane policies. But it’s worth noting that, on many issues, Francis is much more progressive than Biden. In his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” the Pope traced the destruction of the planet to globalized liberal capitalism, in which strong countries put “selfishness” in place of the common good. In October, in “Fratelli Tutti,” he spelled out a view of universal human solidarity to extend his vision of a society in need of dramatic reordering. His positions bring to mind those of the self-described democratic socialists who are the architects of the Green New Deal—which Biden distanced himself from in a debate with Trump, saying, “The Green New Deal is not my plan.”

How, then, might President Biden draw on his faith as he takes office and leads the country? There are two obvious options. The first is that he could move to the center, through an appeal to his Catholic roots. On the Sunday after the riot at the Capitol, Pope Francis encouraged public figures to “calm souls” and “promote national reconciliation.” Biden could use the language of faith—the human family, my brother’s keeper, a common destiny—to reach out to Republicans disaffected by the Trump-incited hard right, and gain their coöperation in containing the spread of COVID-19, doing the work of reconciliation in the process.

Alternatively, Biden could draw on Francis’s critique of globalized society to move the emboldened Democratic majorities in Congress emphatically leftward. He could cite the vastly popular Pope to help make the case for regular payments to pandemic-stricken families (a form of basic income), tax and banking reform, a national minimum-wage increase, debt forgiveness, and aggressive action on climate change. An obvious precedent is President Kennedy, who shifted left after his election, bolstered, in part, by the progressive teachings of Pope John XXIII.

Or he could combine the two options, taking an approach rooted in both Francis’s pontificate and his own career. Paradoxically, the Pope’s moderate temperament and reputation have served to advance his progressive positions. In the same way, Biden’s record as a centrist and his profile as a hymn-quoting churchgoer could give him cover as he tacks left, much as Francis has, using the language of the common good to advance policies—refreshed infrastructure, a green jobs program, health care for all—that would actually benefit the disaffected whites in the heartland who are presently hooked on Trump. Strong employment, social stability, and a government seen acting concretely for the common good would help bring about national reconciliation with a Franciscan accent. As a side effect, joint efforts between the Biden Administration and the Vatican—on the climate, immigration, and human rights—might prompt the Vatican to be more progressive in its approach to laypeople, women and gay people among them, in leadership positions.

Of course, Biden faces harsh opposition, not least from other Catholics. The morning of the Inauguration, as Biden went to St. Matthew the Apostle, the Catholic cathedral in the capital, for a Mass attended by Speaker Pelosi and other government figures, the Catholic bishops released a long missive by their conference president, Archbishop Jose Gomez, of Los Angeles, expressing an eagerness to work with the new President, but upbraiding him for holding positions “in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender” that “would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity,” and implying that Biden’s approach to Catholicism posed a threat to religious freedom. The same Catholic traditionalists who detest Pope Francis detest the new President, and spiteful right-wing resistance may block any progressive initiative from Biden, as it has blocked those of Francis in Rome.

In this moment, it’s strange to think of Joe Biden, for so long a workhorse legislator in a blue blazer, as a redemptive figure. It’s strange that progressives, who are generally leery of Vatican authority, are frankly hoping that American politics will be inspired by the Pope—and hoping that a Pope might move a Democratic President further to the left. It’s strange that a Church whose followers have been harmed and angered by decades of negligence on clerical sexual abuse can still be seen as a source of civic healing. And yet the second Catholic President can hardly afford not to draw on his religion; with the country wracked by a pandemic, a recession, and political violence, he is going to need every source of reconciliation and moral authority available to him.

Complete Article HERE!

I should no longer be treated like a dissident by Vatican, says Fr Tony Flannery

Fr Tony Flannery has said he believes he should no longer be called a dissident because he is now ‘mainstream’.

By Helen Bruce

Fr Tony Flannery has said he believes he should no longer be called a dissident because he is now ‘mainstream’.

The co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests has also questioned why senior members of the Catholic Church are not being sanctioned, as he was, for airing their views in favour of women being ordained.

His public expression of support for women’s ordination and same-sex marriage, as well as more liberal views on homosexuality, led him to be suspended from public ministry by the Vatican in 2012.

He has been told he can return to ministry if he vows in writing to obey the Church’s teaching on women and LGBT+ people.

However, he has now noted that two senior members of the Catholic Church – one of them the Archbishop-elect of Dublin – have made statements similar to his own about the position of women in the Church, and specifically about women’s ordination.

Fr Flannery said: ‘Given that the opinions I have expressed on these matters are now being held and expressed by many people of all levels right across the Church, without any apparent sanction, I am curious to know how any Church authority, ecclesiastical or religious, can justify and condone the sentences that have been imposed upon me.’

He said the Archbishop-elect of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, in an interview with The Irish Times, had said he would like to see women becoming deacons in the Church.

Fr Flannery said: ‘He is reported to say that “the biggest barrier to having female priests in the Catholic Church is probably tradition, not the Scriptures”.

‘In saying this, he appears to undercut the main argument used by the Church against the ordination of women.’

Fr Flannery said that Bishop Batzing, the president of the German Bishops Conference, had been reported as saying he was in favour of women being ordained deacons.

Bishop Batzing went on to say, in relation to the arguments against the ordination of women: ‘I must honestly say that I am also aware that these arguments are becoming less and less convincing and that there are well-developed arguments in theology in favour of opening up the sacramental ministry to women as well.’

Fr Flannery said: ‘So now the German bishop who supports women’s ordination has been joined by the new man in Dublin, who supports women deacons, and undercuts the main argument about ordination – that Scripture forbids it. No longer dissident, I am now mainstream!’

He added: ‘Will these two senior clerics be asked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to sign a document which states “a baptised male alone receives ordination validly”?

‘It is not my wish that they be requested to do so, but it is worth pointing out that this is what I have been ordered to sign as a precondition of being “gradually” restored to ministry.’

Fr Flannery also noted that Bishop Batzing had said he believed it was necessary to change Church teaching on homosexuality, while Pope Francis disliked the Church’s description of homosexuality as an ‘intrinsic moral evil’.

He queried if either of them would be asked, like him, to sign a statement declaring homosexual practices to be ‘contrary to the natural law’.

Complete Article HERE!

How a female priest helped calm tensions over Daniel Prude’s police custody death in Rochester

The Rev. Myra Brown stands for a portrait at Spiritus Christi Church in Rochester, N.Y., on Sept. 18. Brown brokered a deal with Mayor Lovely Warren to get the Rochester Police Department to back down from protesters fighting for justice for Daniel Prude.

By Shayna Jacobs

The pop of pepper ball pellets echoed in the night as police converged on demonstrators who gathered in front of a church to protest the death of Daniel Prude.

“Sanctuary!” an activist filming the protest shouted to his peers. “Go inside!”

Protesters streamed into Spiritus Christi Church, a congregation led by the Rev. Myra Brown, one of Rochester’s most vocal advocates for racial justice. That night, she stepped into a new, unofficial role, trying to bridge the divide between a growing group of Rochester residents fed up with city leadership and the officials still struggling to handle a city in crisis

Video of Prude’s March encounter with Rochester police shows him naked, handcuffed and hooded; he died a week later. The images, which were not released until September, sparked days of protest. Prude’s name — along with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other Black Americans killed by police this year — is now invoked in the nationwide racial justice movement.

It also galvanized Rochester, an industrial city on Lake Ontario where residents have, for decades, pushed for police reform and fought against racism

A respected community leader whose golden singing voice fills the church, Brown has the ear of both the city’s leadership and its grass-roots advocates. A former nurse whose ministry is as tied to racial justice as it is to God, she emerged as a key channel of reason and understanding as tensions between police and protesters escalated, helping change the trajectory of the protests.

She was at home when she got the call that the church, home to a breakaway Catholic congregation, was being hit by pepper balls and the injured were taking refuge inside.

“I need you to get your officers to stand down,” Brown told then-Police Chief La’Ron Singletary. After some haggling with the top police official — who has since been fired amid revelations that he may have tried to minimize the department’s role in Prude’s death — a line of officers surrounding the building receded and those taking refuge inside began to leave.

The following day, Brown brokered a deal with Mayor Lovely Warren: the police would pull back and activists could march freely. Brown and 100 “elders” from the community and area churches served as a buffer between protesters and police that night.

The protests stayed peaceful. Brown was later thanked by city officials and painted as a partner in their efforts — a role she said she did not play.

She said she felt “used” by the city. Brown believed she was “negotiating a better path and a better response for the community” in her talks with Warren and Singletary, a goal she was easily behind.

The message, she said, should not have been, “Reverend Myra partnering to save the system.”

‘We like to deny’

Brown believes Rochester has not recognized how that system, along with historical wrongs and discriminatory policies that include putting Black children in substandard schools, have contributed to systemic racism in a city that is 40 percent Black.

“We like to shift the narrative here,” Brown said. “We like to deny.”

Raised in Rochester by parents who were farmworkers in the South, Brown, 55, saw the difference up close when she and other members of a racial justice convoy spent a week in 2017 touring six cities that have significance to their mission. Stops included Selma and Montgomery, Ala. They went to Cleveland, where a police officer in 2014 shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old playing with a toy gun.

On the trip, the complicated nature of American racism revealed itself through a candid conversation with a parole officer in Ohio who admitted to feeling like “every Black youth is equally dangerous,” Brown recalled

The officer, who was Black, was worn down by the system and was repeatedly troubled by “the boys he was working with,” Brown said.

Brown, in an essay about the trip, said the group learned that they “must work tirelessly to end racism where we live.”

“To become our best selves,” she wrote, “we must humbly hold ourselves accountable and be open to being held to account when we yield to our worst selves.”

For years, Brown has been working to change Rochester from the pulpit of Spiritus Christi. She spent years worshiping and serving in various positions with the Rev. James Callan, a Catholic priest who violated strict Vatican guidelines by blessing same-sex couples and allowing women to perform the functions of priests. The Vatican forced Callan, who made civil rights the centerpiece of his ministry, from his church.

Callan’s ousting and final Mass was front-page news in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: “Huge goodbye to Callan,” the headline read. The mayor at the time told Callan, “Wherever they send you, Jim, give ‘em hell

In 1999, Callan helped found Spiritus Christi, where he is now the associate pastor. Brown was ordained a priest in 2017 and started leading the congregation two years ago. Women are not allowed to be Catholic priests, but Spiritus Christi is not recognized by the Vatican

Brown delivers sermons, wearing a stole with “Black Lives Matter” etched in gold, that highlight a moral obligation to address racial injustices. At a Sunday this fall, a White congregant with a long gray beard showed up to church in a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt. Equality is Spiritus Christi’s mission.

The church is working on building an outdoor museum in Rochester’s Baden Park — a site of unrest in the 1960s — to raise awareness for the area’s history of housing and employment inequality, and what Brown said was Black community’s mistreatment by police.

Brown tells congregants and community members that the political system was established generations ago by the White, male, elite and was built to serve its creators. She says that modern-day policing is derived from Southern slave patrols. The diversity we see now in government and the private sector is “because people pushed their way in,” Brown said.

Brown, who greets both strangers and friends with her inviting smile, believes Rochester is no exception. Yet she has faith she can help enlighten hearts and minds through education, kindness and respect. It will be no easy task.

“We haven’t done anything to change the structure, we’ve simply moved the pieces around,” she said. “That is why you have what happened to Daniel Prude.”

Brown finds herself working within the confines of what she believes is a broken system, and hoping for the best. She spent four hours facilitating a discussion on race in September with 18 guests, mostly candidates for local office.

The group covered, with her guidance, how the legacy of slavery and broader systems of racism in this country applies to issues they face in their lives and work

New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D) said Brown is able to convey the history that informs structural racism because she is willing to listen to others and treats all with respect.

“Even if they don’t agree with her, they’re open to having those conversations,” he said

Bronson, who is White, said he left with a deeper understanding of White guilt and White fragility, as well as how to recognize racism. Candidates also discussed structural, cultural and institutional racism in society.

“Those kind of thoughts and ideas are going to be beneficial as I continue to develop policy,” Bronson said.

Demond Meeks, a Rochester organizer recently elected to the state assembly, said Brown earns trust by showing respect while facilitating judgment-free conversations about difficult issues.

“She’s someone that can speak to both sides and try to get people to come to a consensus of sorts,” Meeks said

Meeks said community relations with the police have been fractured for years. Many protesters are still haunted by the 2002 fatal police shooting of 14-year-Craig Heard. The eighth-grader was allegedly driving a stolen car. According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, police alleged the boy was trying to run an officer over.

“People are quick to speak about George Floyd and other situations that have happened throughout the country,” Meeks said. “But we have a history of these things happening right here in Rochester.”

Warren said it is “no secret” that Rochester — along with every other city in the country — has issues with systemic racism and police brutality.

“The problems of the past cannot be changed or erased, but we can learn from them,” she said in a statement.

A ‘pathway forward,’ despite a broken system

Days after the video of Prude being detained by police was made public, Brown was among the throngs of protesters gathered in front of Rochester’s Public Safety building — a facility that, to many, represented systemic injustice. The group had been blocked from getting close to the building on previous nights, fueling discontent.

Earlier in the day, Brown brokered a deal with Warren to get the police to pull back its roving detail and allow the activists to march freely. She also pushed for the ability to intervene on site, giving her time to try to diffuse a problem before police responded with force.

On the ground, she and about 100 other elders from the community and area churches were serving as a buffer between the police and protesters. It was tense at times, but the tactic worked: That night was the first of many relatively peaceful ones to come.

Throughout the night, Brown fielded calls from Singletary, who believed some in the crowd were getting out of hand. She convinced Singletary and Warren to give her “at least five minutes” to diffuse situations before officers “start to get trigger-happy and nervous,” she said. The officials agreed to work with Brown.

Brown said her goal was to create a “pathway forward to make sure the community was safe to grieve,” that they “were not attacked by police and not re-traumatized.”

Elders, she reasoned, could provide the life experience and patience that some of the young people needed. They should also be willing to listen.

That night, a young Black man she encountered was visibly hurting, his voice shrill and intense. As others fell silent, he continued to chant by himself in a way that was “coming out sideways,” she said.

Hi sweetie, how you doing?” Brown asked the young man. She saw an opportunity to show him love and see that his hurt did not get the best of him, leading to conflict. She said she asked him in her “softest and gentlest voice” to please lower his volume so she could hear the speaker on the megaphone.

The young man said he was sorry.

“You don’t need to apologize,” Brown said. “I hear the pain in your voice, and I know its real for you, and I’m sorry about whatever you have gone through.”

Ashley Gantt, one of the main organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement in Rochester, said Brown has a reputation for doing good in the area.

“She’s like a mentor, slash activist, slash spiritual counselor,” she said. “And she can sing.”

Activists in Rochester have paused protest activity as coronavirus infection rates rise. They have turned their attention to advocating for a law that would remove police officers from mental health crisis calls like Prude’s, mirroring similar efforts around the country, Gantt said.

Brown’s negotiation with Singletary and Warren resulted in a news conference where she was thanked for her role. In public statements after the meeting, she was painted as a “partner” of those in power, a role she did not agree with. There was also confusion over Brown’s role in bringing elders to the protest; Gantt said others deserve credit for organizing their presence.

“Myra just let the mayor know what was happening, and then the mayor co-opted it,” Gantt said.

Brown was also unhappy with the city’s portrayal of her role as one that denoted a community partnership, which was not her intention.

“I felt used in that,” Brown said. “I never want to be framed as somebody working with the system that’s oppressive for people

In a statement, Warren said those considered to be elders are the most trusted and respected voices in the community and have been “instrumental in bringing together opposing sides.

“The presence of our city’s elders during recent protests and periods of unrest has been vital to the well-being of the Rochester community,” Warren said.

Brown told a Rochester television station that she was ultimately happy to have helped secure “a pathway forward” for the city, and acknowledged it would not have happened without Warren pushing Singletary to stand down.

“I can establish relationships with people without being tied to the oppression,” Brown said.

Complete Article HERE!

The queer and Catholic dilemma

By Isabella Brown

In a documentary that aired last month, Pope Francis commented seemingly in support of same-sex civil unions, prompting critique, clarification, and confusion.

The paradoxical reality of the American Catholic Church is that it is has gay priests, gay followers, and followers in support of same-sex marriage,yet it continues to teach that homosexual behavior, same-sex marriage, and civil unions are sins against God’s plan.

The queer and Catholic dilemma feels like a never-ending standstill between equality and Catholic law, and until the Church can offer more than kind words, it may always remain as such.

“What we have to create is a civil union law,” Francis said in the documentary according to the New York Times. “That way they are legally covered … They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

The Pope’s comments contradict those of his predecessor, not to mention official Catholic doctrine, who referred to homosexuality as an “intrinsic moral evil.” In 2003, the Congregation of the Faith took a clear stance against same-sex marriage and civil unions.

“Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon,” the Congregation stated. “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The doctrine’s strong opposition to same-sex civil unions may have contributed to the Vatican’s original attempt to censor Pope Francis’ comment, which was recently revealed to have been cut from a 2019 interview with Televisa, only to resurface in the documentary. According to the New York Times, “Almost everyone involved declined to comment or evaded questions of how the footage emerged.” Clearly the Church feels these comments were something to hide.

Some members of the church have clarified the Pope’s commentary, arguing that the Pope was not actually voicing support for same-sex civil unions but simply reiterating that LGBTQIA+ people should be “loved, cherished, and respected in whatever way they live,” according to Fr. Marcin Szymanski, assistant director of the Newman Center, a Catholic ministry that serves the UW community.

“He is saying you should not disown, kick out, or disrespect any member of your family because of homosexual preference,” Szymanski said.

The confusion stems from nuances in translation from the interview, which was conducted in Spanish. The Pope used the phrase “convivencia civil,” which some have argued translates to “civil coexistence,” not civil union.

UW Spanish professor Ana M. Gómez-Bravo disagrees.

“The Pope was clearly speaking in favor of civil unions,” Gómez-Bravo said. “The second half of his statement erases any ambiguity.”

Despite confusion around the Pope’s verbiage, his comments were highly encouraging to an anonymous UW student who is bisexual and Catholic.

“I would like to hear more on what he has to say from an official standpoint but as it is, it’s a hint to something that is really positive for me,” the student said.

But for many LGBTQIA+ people, myself included, this doesn’t exactly feel like a major step forward. Rather, it feels like an empty declaration disguising the Church’s inaction on LGBTQIA+ issues.

Even if the Pope is in favor of same-sex civil unions, this legal separation is still unequal treatment. A civil union is a legally recognized partnership created to preserve the iron-clad walls around the institution of marriage, ensuring that same-sex couples remain excluded from the right to marry. A rose by any other name does not smell as sweet, and with U.S. Christianity in rapid decline (while the number of religiously unaffiliated U.S. adults is rising), it seems the Church is paying the price for it.

The Catholic Church exists in contradiction when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community. The same document that claims that “homosexual inclination is ‘objectively disordered’” also claims that LGBTQIA+ people “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and “unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

We tend to think of Catholicism as a solidified entity that derives its power from its permanence. But the reality is that the Church has reversed its ideology a handful of times throughout history, changing its mind on Jews, usury, and slavery, to name a few.

A full-hearted acceptance of same-sex couples is long overdue, and yet it comes at a cost the Church can’t seem to pay. This change would require a radical rewrite of some of the Church’s essential teachings, rooted in Catholic beliefs that marital and sexual relationships must be procreative. This reasoning makes it nearly “impossible” for the Church to ever change their position on same-sex relationships, according to Fr. Syzmanski.

The Bible tells us that faith without action is dead. There’s a hidden repercussion in the Pope’s words: By appearing in favor of same-sex relationships, the Church saves itself from having to address its own hypocrisy and homophobia.

We need something the Church can’t offer: change, now.

Complete Article HERE!

Tony Flannery: ‘I’ve no doubt that the Vatican has nothing to do with God’

The dissident priest reveals why he voted ‘yes’ to repeal and why he considers the exclusion of women the ‘biggest blight’ on the 
Catholic Church

Fr Tony Flannery pictured at Ahane, near Newport, Co Tipperary.

By Ellen Coyne

Fr Tony Flannery started laughing as soon as he read what he was expected to sign.

The outspoken priest, who was suspended by the Vatican in 2012, received a letter in September that suggested he could return to ministry if he signed a document vowing to obey the church’s teaching on women and LGBT+ people.

He had been effectively banned for publicly saying the church should change its position on such issues. “What kind of crazy people are they?” he laughed. Fr Flannery and others had hoped that Pope Francis had ushered in a more open era for the Catholic Church, but the Vatican still takes a hard line with those who challenge it.

Fr Flannery is aware of others who had taken on the Vatican and had died “because of the stress of the thing”.

“I’ve said to myself, the one thing I have to avoid is becoming embittered. Because if I become embittered I will destroy myself,” he says. “There are a lot of people in the church who think like me. Why don’t they go public? Some of them would be afraid, yes.”

The 72-year-old has taken advantage of his position in the pews, rather than at the altar, to write a new book called From the Outside: Rethinking Church Doctrine. It calls for sweeping reform of the Catholic Church, including its attitudes to women and sexuality.

“The church is so locked into old doctrines and old ideas, even though the world has completely moved on and left all of that behind,” he says.

He has little faith in those who are at the top of the church at the moment, and says the Vatican is full of “pathetic” careerism. The Irish Catholic bishops don’t inspire him either, and he notes that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was the only senior Irish cleric to publicly welcome Pope Francis’s recent comments condoning civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

Huge leap

“What Pope Francis said was that homosexual people are human beings, who are as entitled to love and relationships as anyone else and should be respected as such. That is a huge leap forward. Church teaching is still very reliant on the old, awful discrimination against gay people.”

Fr Flannery was a founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, and at the height of the clerical child sex abuse scandal found himself bombarded with requests for help from accused clergy.

As a child, he was a victim of sexual abuse himself. He recoils at the word “survivor”, because he does not believe that his experience of abuse has had a devastating effect on his life.

In 2014, he upset survivors of institutional abuse and advocacy groups when he suggested that priests accused of child abuse should be forgiven and allowed to return to the ministry. He still believes, and argues in his book, that child abusers are not entirely bad people, and claims that they deserve forgiveness.

“The idea that the person who abuses a child is inherently a bad person, I don’t go along with that. I think that we are all inherently a mixture of good and bad,” he says.

I ask if he is aware this is a very upsetting thing to say? First of all, because of the possible perception that those within the church are once again shielding paedophiles from the consequences of their actions, and secondly because many people see child sex abuse as an evil thing that they could not possibly forgive. “There is an element of evil to child sex abuse, it is an awfully evil thing,” he agrees. “But I’d be fully aware that what I’m saying is not in line with the popular consensus, but that’s what has me where I am.”

Fr Flannery tries to broach the thorny issue of the incidence of paedophilia among Catholic clergy. He explains that making priests “superior” people with closer relationships to God is “dreadfully dangerous”. He believes that this, combined with forced celibacy and the church’s regressive attitudes to sexuality, can manifest itself in abusive behaviour.

But isn’t that also a deeply controversial thing to say? Not least because it suggests that anyone could be capable of the monstrosity of child abuse if they existed in certain circumstances. It also appears to lay the blame for abuse on the institution rather than the individual carrying it out.

“It is, I know,” he says. “And I’ve dealt with that many times over the last 10 years. I’d be fully aware of that. But that is the truth as I see it.”

For most of the last decade, he has been attacked by right-wing Catholic commentators.

He says it’s “probably true” that groups such as the Iona Institute have put people off Catholicism. He singles out the American Catholic Church for its “appalling” support of Donald Trump.

A number of prominent US Catholics chose to back Trump over Joe Biden, a devout Catholic, because the Republican candidate claimed to be anti-abortion while the Democrat supports pro-choice policies.

“Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict put the most right-wing, narrow-minded and reactionary people into office in the church in the United States,” Fr Flannery says.

“Abortion is a single issue, and life is much more complicated than that. The ironic thing is that Trump was doing feck all about abortion. He couldn’t care less about abortion.”

Fr Flannery said that he finds the issue of abortion “very, very difficult” but after much internal wrangling voted ‘yes‘ in the 2018 referendum — the most difficult vote of his life.

“I don’t have any connection with the emotion and the distress and everything else of pregnancy, the whole world is foreign to me. Here I would be again, another male celibate priest, telling women how they should live their lives. And I said, we’ve had more than enough of that,” he says.

The banned priest says that the more he has thought about it, the more convinced he is that the church’s attitudes to and exclusion of women has been a “biggest blight” on the institution since the beginning.

“It has to change, and it will change,” he said, dismissing attempts by Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict to shut down discussion on the issue as a “total failure”.

Even the current pope, who Fr Flannery refers to sympathetically as “poor aul’ Francis” for his uphill struggle for reform, has disappointed him.

“Some of the things he says about women are so patronising. Oh God, I go mad at times,” he says.

Fr Flannery’s arguments for church reform are clear and unapologetic.

But was there ever any fleeting doubt? Did he ever worry that the Vatican might be right, and that God might disapprove of what he was calling for?

“No,” he said, firmly. “I’d have no doubt that the Vatican and the way it operates has nothing to do with God.”

Much like Mary McAleese, Fr Flannery’s calls for the Catholic Church to be better have been regularly met with derision from some right-wing Catholics and the suggestion that he should “go off and become a Protestant”.

Well, why wouldn’t he? Surely after everything he’s been through with the Vatican, he must have considered it, even briefly?

“Arah, no,” he says. “Catholicism is part of what I am and has been all my life. I couldn’t even conceive of it.”

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