Pope may support same-sex unions, but that doesn’t mean the Vatican does

Professor believes Francis sees road to lasting change as a long one

By Colleen Walsh

The disclosure this week of Pope Francis’ support of same-sex civil unions sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church and progressive and conservative circles alike. It came in a papal interview in “Francesco,” a documentary that premiered Wednesday, and represented a major break with Vatican teaching, leaving many wondering whether an official change might be coming soon. In the film Francis says, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” The Gazette spoke with Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Parkman Professor of Divinity and professor of comparative theology, about the pope’s comments and what they mean for members of the Catholic LGBTQ community. 

GAZETTE:  What was your reaction when you heard about the pope’s comments on same-sex unions?

CLOONEY: On the one hand, it’s not surprising at all, because Archbishop Bergoglio [now Pope Francis] struggled with the issue of formal marriage relationships when he was in Argentina and pointed to a compromise such as calling same-sex unions civil unions and not marriage. This debate is similar to what we went through in this country a decade or so ago. But I think Francis’ openness to same-sex unions is also more fundamentally representative of his instinct that human beings have a right to be together, a right to union, a right to family, and therefore, that it would be unjust to provide no way at all for people to live together as a couple. I think it’s his basic sense of human compassion and his openness to finding ways to help people to live the lives that they feel they must live.

On the other hand, you can’t imagine previous popes speaking in this fashion. That doesn’t mean that someone like John Paul was not a compassionate person, but they were so clearly linked to, focused on, church doctrine, and the preservation of marriage between a male and a female and, given their attitudes toward homosexuality, they simply wouldn’t speak in this fashion, whatever they may personally have felt. And I think what is new here is that Francis, as all the reports say, is in the non-authoritative context of a documentary — not sitting on the chair of Peter as pope making a proclamation ­— speaking his mind as probably most Catholics in the West would also speak their minds and say, “Well yes, some kind of way to allow people to live their lives happily and in peace is what matters.”

GAZETTE:  Does this change anything about the church’s overall doctrine?

CLOONEY: Probably not, because he hasn’t pushed it that far in terms of recognizing gay marriages. But implicitly, it’s undercutting the rhetoric that being gay is a grave disorder or that being gay and living out a gay commitment is something that God disapproves of. Francis is taking a positive attitude and therefore changing the climate, even if there are going to be Catholics who resist this greatly.

GAZETTE:  I know Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in Providence, R.I., has come out very strongly against this. Do you expect an even greater backlash from conservative and other voices in the church?

CLOONEY: Yes, but not as much as one might think. This news is based on a documentary, and it’s in keeping with things Francis has said previously. Conservative critics are not going to be surprised by this, even if they will be very annoyed by it. People who are against any compromise in this direction will see this as another sign that Francis has gone astray, that he is not adhering to church teaching. And they will add this to their list of complaints about him, even though he’s the pope and deserving of their respect. You may recall much earlier in his papacy, when people asked him about his thoughts on homosexuality, he said “Who am I to judge people in their lives?” This is Francis, and for many, this is a wonderful Francis; but for some, it’s the Francis they can’t abide, and they will continue to protest.

GAZETTE:  Can you see him pressing this forward to doctrinal change?

CLOONEY: Several years ago, when there was discussion with the pope and some of the bishops about divorced and remarried Catholics returning to Communion, Francis didn’t bite the bullet and declare that they’re welcome back to Communion if they’re in a stable second marriage. But he said that good priests, who know how to be pastoral, will know how to relate to people. It was as if to say: If a couple who are divorced and remarried comes to you, you’ll help them to find their way. My sense is that Francis is not the man as pope, particularly going on 10 years into his papacy, to be making declarations that push the church where it’s not ready to go. But rather, again, he is giving a green light, really, to priests and others involved in counseling couples to say we have to find ways to welcome Catholics as they are: Be pastoral; be like Jesus. And I think this opens the door, even though it will be controversial in some circles, to saying couples who are in a same-sex marriage are members of the parish and welcome in Catholic worshipping communities. Of course, in some dioceses, such couples will not be welcome to Communion. There will be differences in response and pastoral practice. So I think what is at stake is a kind of incremental pastoral disposition, whereby things will change, as they always have, only slowly. The pope is saying things that other popes never would have said previously. But I don’t see Francis being in the position to make any kind of daring pronouncement in the years to come about gay marriage. I wouldn’t anticipate that coming.

Frank Clooney.
“People who are against any compromise in this direction will see this as another sign that Francis has gone astray, that he is not adhering to church teaching. And they will add this to their list of complaints about him,” says Professor Francis Clooney.

GAZETTE:  Does this kind of comment potentially set the stage for another Vatican council?

CLOONEY: Well, there have certainly been calls for a coming Vatican III. I think there’s a sense that some 50 or 60 years after the last council, which opened things up, there’s a need to consolidate and catch up to where things are in the world around us now. How much has changed since 1965! Some, who still regret the way Vatican II was implemented, will also want to have a Vatican III, if not turn back the clock, rather to tighten things up under a more conservative pope. In a sense it’s like calling a constitutional convention in this country: Liberals and conservatives would see such a convention as to their advantage. But I think all this depends first of all on how long Francis is pope. He’s not said he’s going to retire, but he seems to be the kind of man who would be sensible enough to say, “If I can’t do the job, I will retire,” even if he hasn’t said that yet. So then it will also depend on who the next pope would be.

GAZETTE:  Do you have a sense of whether the church is on a more liberal trajectory in terms of selecting popes?

CLOONEY: Sometimes there’s this sense that if you’ve gone from Benedict on the more conservative side to Francis on the more liberal side, it could be that the cardinals look around and want a shift back a little the other way. And therefore, the next pope would be less likely to make any bold gestures. But again, in 1957 or 1958, nobody expected John XXIII, who was put in as an older caretaker pope, would suddenly call Vatican II. This knocked many cardinals off their seats, so to speak. It could be that such surprising things may happen fairly quickly.

All of this is analogous to how change happens in this country with Congress and the Supreme Court making decisions, sometimes behind popular opinion, sometimes against it. But remember that Francis is in a sense a pastoral incrementalist. He believes that you’ve got to change the way we Catholics, clergy, bishops, all of us think about human decency, our responsibility to members of the church, compassion, helping people in trouble. If you change people’s minds and hearts, then the church will continue to grow in new ways. Whereas if you put in something legally that is too far ahead of where people are, it could be counterproductive.

GAZETTE:  Can you talk a bit about the complexity of being the pope for a global community?

CLOONEY: It’s one thing were Pope Francis the pope only of North America and Western Europe. But everything he says will be read by Catholics in South America, which is still very Catholic in many ways, and also by Catholics in more conservative Catholic communities in Africa and Asia. So going incrementally and pastorally step by step is probably Francis’s instinct, because he knows either he would infuriate Catholics in the West by not going fast enough, or anger Catholics in other parts of the world, who would say, “This is far too fast. This is out of keeping where our culture is.” In certain African countries, homosexuality is still, I think, illegal and can be punished. So saying something about same-sex marriages will be heard in one way in certain countries in Africa, and very differently in New York or Boston or London, where the response will be quite different. I think Francis has to be looking in both directions. And his basic sense is: Change our hearts, how we think as priests and bishops, and so on, and then that will be an infusion of the whole church with a new attitude slowly arriving.

GAZETTE:  Could you see Pope Francis making other kinds of comments about women priests or priests being able to marry going forward?

CLOONEY: Many Catholics have been hoping, with each pope for the past 50 years or so, that the pope would say something to change the dynamic on married priests and women priests, but it hasn’t happened. There has been the issue of women deacons serving in ordained ministry — there’s evidence about women deacons in the early church. But Francis, thus far into his papacy, hasn’t really changed church policy even on that. But with his “who am I to judge” comments, Francis was showing that the church is like a Red Cross station on the battlefield of life, there to help people and not to sit in an ivory tower casting judgments on people. In this way he has set a tone, which is quite clear, about wanting to have an inclusive church, wanting to have a church where people are not left out because some particularities about themselves, their self-identity.

But he doesn’t seem to be the one, as more liberal Catholics would want, to say, “Let’s just ordain women deacons, period. Let’s just do it.” I think as pope, he in theory at least has the power to do that, just as Pope John Paul claimed the power for himself to stop entirely the discussion about the ordination of women, saying it’s not even to be discussed in the church anymore, period. But that didn’t work, it didn’t stop discussion. Francis could say something like that, speaking very firmly on marriage or ordination. But again, would it be wise?

You think of Supreme Court decisions in this country like Roe v. Wade, and can ask whether decisions from above are the best way to change how people think about these issues. I think Francis feels the change has to come more from leaders talking to the people, listening to the people, so that ideas and sentiments seep upward through the church, not just come down from above. So I don’t think he’s going to say anything dramatic about women in the church or married priests in the church. Remember that the bishops of the Amazon region had their annual meeting just a year ago. In their document they called for married priests, arguing that they simply didn’t have enough priests, and that people have a right to Mass and the sacraments, and that the only way to do that is to ordain married men. Francis had the prerogative of issuing the final statement, and he left out reference to that request. He didn’t condemn them and say it’s impossible, but he just didn’t follow up on it. And I don’t see evidence that he’s going to suddenly start acting more boldly at this point on issues such as marriage. A positive attitude toward civil unions may well be as far as he goes.

In terms of his recent comments, people who are in gay unions or gay marriages should therefore not be expecting that suddenly everything is going to be all right. But given Francis’ view of how things change, simply that he’s willing to say these things and air new ideas again and again is a big step forward. It’s not an authoritative pronouncement from Vatican City, per se. But it’s the slow change that moves things forward in a healthy way.

Complete Article HERE!

Thirty years retrieving the history of Irish women

By Una Mullally

For my generation she was Margaret, without the nun’s habit; for the previous generation she was Sr Benvenuta, in full canonical clothing. For both generations her office in UCD became a place where secrets could become shared and thus diminished burdens, opprobrium eschewed and independence of mind encouraged.

I came to appreciate Margaret MacCurtain’s tenaciousness over 30 years and let me pay tribute to her on the occasion of her 90th birthday; to applaud her humanity, humour and brilliant teaching, and also her stubbornness, determination and creative subversion.

MacCurtain’s life and work reflect the second wave of the feminist movement in Ireland that emerged in the late 1960s, a reminder that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the announcement of a commission on the status of women. The commission’s report was published in 1972 and, alongside its many recommendations, expressed the aspiration that women would retrieve their own history.

MacCurtain was drawn towards the idea of the sun coming through a gap ‘because a gap between the fields in Ireland is usually a hostile gap’

MacCurtain embraced this challenge with gusto, despite the fact that, as she recalled: “Writing women into Irish history became a subversive activity for women historians in the 1970s. The universities were not ready for an innovation which, in the opinion of the historical establishment, possessed neither a sound methodology nor reliable sources.”

Despite such hindrance, as MacCurtain has recalled, there was a sense of optimism and determination about challenging this resistance in the 1970s, and for MacCurtain this involved building alliances within and outside academia. At a debate in UCD in October 1971, MacCurtain shared a lecture theatre platform with Mary Anderson and Nell McCafferty. Anderson suggested each of them make a short opening statement about the personal difficulties under which they laboured as women.

Anderson said: “I am a bastard.”

McCafferty said: “I am a lesbian.”

MacCurtain said: “I am a nun.”

McCafferty recalled: “The audience erupted in yells of pure, unadulterated pleasure. The exchanges that evening were a runaway train of untrammelled speech.”

That train ran into many barriers in subsequent years as there was still much resistance to equality and vocal women, but MacCurtain underlined the significance of translating alliances into meaningful retrieval of women’s history. Her mission was a way of giving meaning to her assertion, the previous decade, that the question of education “now lies within the domain of justice”.

MacCurtain remained a historian of the Reformation centuries; it gave her a wider sense not just of divisions in Ireland but also of common inheritances, including the heritage of the Middle Ages. But the spirituality that interested this Dominican sister most was non-sacramental; she recognised the greatness of Patrick Kavanagh and his epic poem The Great Hunger (1942) because he brought out both the longings and spirituality of the small farmers. Kavanagh had laid bare frustrations and suffocations, but also the moments of discovery:

“Yet sometimes when the sun comes through a gap

These men know God the Father in a tree:

The Holy Spirit in the rising sap,

And Christ will be the green leaves that will come

At Easter from the sealed and guarded tomb.”

MacCurtain was drawn towards the idea of the sun coming through a gap “because a gap between the fields in Ireland is usually a hostile gap”, and “you don’t go though gaps easily”.

Hostile gap

MacCurtain was the nun coming through the gap when it came to the retrieval of the history of Irish women and wider questions of justice and equality, and it was a hostile gap from which she had to emerge.

That is why, as well as being full of humanity, and carrying an older, Celtic spirituality, she had to be tough and brave in order to open up what she described as “a locked room in the memory . . . the time comes when you have to take it out and honour it”; to go beyond a self-centred quest “for a meaning to ‘my’ life”. She was a champion of what became one of the most important aspects of the women’s liberation movement: personal testimony born of personal experience; and, as she recognised, “there was no break in the development of Irish feminism”.

I thought of all these things as Lyra McKee was laid to rest after that extraordinary funeral on Wednesday; the funeral of a gay woman, from a Catholic background in Belfast, who found a home, love and, ironically, a horrible death in the Derry cauldron as a ceasefire baby, after which the failed politicians were shamed into standing exposed.

Margaret MacCurtain campaigned for an Ireland in which McKee could find solace and purpose. MacCurtain championed what she called “that larger dimension of history, that seeks to reconcile and synthesise the past, rather than divide people into camps and set antitheses between ethnic groups and religious sects”.

McKee had to emerge from a hostile gap to do that too; real leaders lead when they emerge from that gap, despite the vicious snipers who stand in their way.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis urges parents to love their LGBT+ children as they are because they are ‘children of God’

by Patrick Kelleher

Pope Francis has told the parents of LGBT+ children to love them as they are “because they are children of God” in a groundbreaking meeting.

The pope met with 40 parents of LGBT+ children on Wednesday (17 September) to hear their concerns about the church’s disregard for their families.

The parents, all associated with the LGBT+ Catholic parents’ organisation Tenda di Gionata, told Pope Francis about the cold climate their queer children faced in the church when they came out, Avventire.it reports.

At the end of the meeting, the group’s vice president Mara Grassi gave Pope Francis a copy of a Fortunate Families by Mary Ellen Lopata, which details the experiences of Catholic parents of queer children.

He was also given a rainbow-coloured t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “In love there is no fear”.

“He looked and smiled,” Grassi said of the presentation. She called the meeting “a moment of deep harmony that we will not forget”.

Closing out the meeting, Pope Francis told the gathered parents: “Love your children as they are, because they are children of God.”

Speaking after the event, Grassi said their organisation wants to create a dialogue between LGBT+ people and the Catholic church.

“Taking a cue from the title of the book we presented to him, I explained that we consider ourselves lucky because we have been forced to change the way we have always looked at our children,” she said.

“What we now have is a new gaze that has allowed us to see the beauty and love of God in them.

“We want to create a bridge with the church so that the church too can change its gaze towards our children, no longer excluding them but welcoming them fully.”

LGBT+ parents gave Pope Francis letters about their experiences of raising queer children.

The group also gave Pope Francis letters written by parents of LGBT+ children, detailing their painful journeys to acceptance in the face of anti-LGBT+ sentiment in their church.

In one letter, a woman identified as Anna B told Pope Francis that her son knew he would only be loved by his parents if he “suffocated” his true identity.

She explained that she became involved with an LGBT+ Christian group in an effort to better understand her son’s identity after he came out as gay.

The meeting is being hailed as a significant moment of change for LGBT+ members of the Catholic church. The institution has been unwavering in its opposition to LGBT+ acceptance throughout its long history.

However, there was some hope for change among LGBT+ Catholics when Francis was appointed as the successor to Pope Benedict XVI in 2013.

Since then, Pope Francis has had a chequered history with the LGBT+ community.

In 2013, he made global headlines when he called on the Catholic church to “show mercy, not condemnation” to gay people – representing a stark shift in tone from his predecessors.

But in 2019, he told a Spanish newspaper that parents who see signs of homosexuality in their children should “consult a professional” – a comment that was considered by many to endorse conversion therapy.

Meanwhile, he has been staunch in his opposition to trans identities, comparing them to nuclear war and genetic manipulation in 2015.

In 2019, the Vatican released a document claiming that “gender ideology” is a “move away from nature”.

Complete Article HERE!

Fr Tony Flannery rejects Vatican offer to restore ministry for silence, submission on teaching

‘I could not possibly have any more dealings with a body that produces such a document’

By

Banned Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery (73) has declined a Vatican offer of a return to ministry if he promised silence and and signed statements on church teachings.

The offer made by Rome in July would have involved signing documentsasserting church teaching on women priests, homosexuality, same sex marriage, and gender theory

Co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, Fr Flannery was suspended in 2012 from public ministry by the Vatican for publicly expressing support for women’s ordination and same sex marriage as well as more liberal views on homosexuality.

Last February the Redemptorists’ Superior General in Rome Michael Brehl wrote to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) making representations for Fr Flannery’s return to public ministry. It , in turn, followed correspondence with him last year by the Redemptorists’ leadership in Ireland.

They did so as, under the leadership of Pope Francis, issues such as the equality and ordination of women are now freely discussed in the Church as is a more compassionate and nuanced approach to homosexuality.

The CDF responded that “Fr Flannery should not return to public ministry prior to submitting a signed statement regarding his positions on homosexuality, civil unions between persons of the same sex, and the admission of women to the priesthood.”

It said “the Irish Provincial should ask Fr Flannery to give his assent to the statement by providing his signature in each of the places indicated (enclosure).” This latter referred to separate statements asserting church teaching in each relevant area with space for Fr Flannery to sign his assent.

The CDF response continued: “After the statement is signed and received, a gradual readmission of Fr Flannery to the exercise of public ministry will be possible by way of an agreement with this Congregation. Furthermore, given the fact that he has stated numerous times that he is not a theologian, he should be asked to not speak publically on the above-mentioned topics which have caused problems in the past.”

As well as signing separate statements on each issue, Fr Flannery was also asked to sign an additional paragraph which stated “I, Fr Tony Flannery C.Ss.R, submit to all of the above doctrinal propositions given by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as they pertain to the Church’s teaching on the: 1. Reservation of the sacred priesthood to men alone; 2. The moral liceity of homosexual practices; 3. The legal recognition of marriage between persons of the same sex; and 4. ‘Gender Theory’.”

Responding to the CDF document, Fr Flannery said he was “not surprised, but disappointed and saddened” by it. “In my view it is a document that, both in tone and content, would be more at home in the 19th century. I could not possibly sign those propositions.”

The issue of equality, and ordination, of women “is now freely discussed in the Church,” he said, and that he was “on record for many years now in supporting, indeed emphasizing the necessity, of full equality for women, including ordination. How could I possibly sign that first proposition.”

The same applied to “ official Church language on homosexuality and homosexual relationships,” which he described as “appalling. I could not submit to it. As regards same sex marriage, I voted in favour of it. I don’t know enough about Gender Theory to have any strong views on it, and I don’t know where that one came from.”

He felt this was “the end of the line in terms of priestly ministry for me. I could not possibly have any more dealings with a body that produces such a document. Life is too short – especially at 73”.

Next month Fr Flannery’s latest book ‘From the Outside; Rethinking Church Doctrine’ will be published.

Complete Article HERE!

Trump’s DOJ Says It’s Okay For A Catholic School To Fire A Teacher For Being Gay

By Carlos Santoscoy

The Trump administration has sided with a Catholic school that fired a teacher after he entered a same-sex marriage.

Joshua Payne-Elliott lost his job as a world language and social studies teacher at Cathedral High School, a private Catholic school, in Indianapolis in June 2019. His husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, is a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. After the couple married in 2017, the Catholic Church directed the schools to fire both men.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis stripped Brebeuf of its Catholic status after it refused to fire Layton Payne-Elliott. Days later, Cathedral fired Joshua Payne-Elliott after the archdiocese threatened it with the same action.

In a statement to the parents and staff, Cathedral called the decision to terminate Joshua Payne-Elliott “agonizing” and “made after 22 months of earnest discussion.”

Joshua Payne-Elliott sued the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, claiming that it illegally interfered with his employment relationship with Cathedral.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a brief in support of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The case is currently before the Indiana Supreme Court.

In the 36-page brief, U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler for the Southern District of Indiana argues that the archdiocese is protected under the First Amendment.

“[T]he First Amendment right of expressive association protects the Archdiocese’s right not to associate with Cathedral, whose forced presence within the Archdiocese’s associational umbrella if it continued to employ Payne-Elliott as a teacher would interfere with the Archdiocese’s public expression of Church doctrine regarding marriage,” Minkler wrote.

A gay guidance counselor at a separate Catholic high school has also filed a federal lawsuit against the archdiocese. Lynn Starkey says she was fired because of her same-sex marriage.

The Roman Catholic Church, which views gay relationships as sinful, has taken a strong stand against same-sex couples who marry.

According to New Ways Ministry, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBT Catholics, roughly 90 church workers “have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes” since 2007.

Complete Article HERE!