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!

Pope Francis calls for civil union laws for same-sex couples

Pope Francis greets people as he leaves after the weekly general audience, at the Vatican, on Oct. 21.

By Chico Harlan and Michelle Boorstein

Pope Francis, in a new documentary, has called for the creation of civil union laws for same-sex couples, in what amounts to his clearest support to date for the issue.

In the documentary, according to the Catholic News Agency, Francis is quoted as saying that same-sex couples should be “legally covered.”

“What we have to create is a civil union law,” he said.

Francis has long expressed an interest in outreach to the church’s LGBT followers, but his remarks have often stressed general understanding and welcoming — rather than substantive policies.

Priests in some parts of the world bless same-sex marriage, but that stance — and Francis’s new remarks — are a departure from official church teaching.

The documentary, “Francesco,” is premiering this week in Rome and then in the United States. The pope gave an interview to the filmmaker, Evgeny Afineevsky, saying that “homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family.”

“They’re children of God and have a right to a family,” the pope said. “Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

Francis, who became pope in 2013, gave earlier, oblique signals interpreted as openness to recognizing same-gender civil unions. He has usually framed his comments in pragmatic, curious terms — as someone noticing the possible need for legal recognition for existing families, so they can access civil benefits such as heath care.

“This is the first time as pope he’s making such a clear statement,” the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit who has advocated for the church to more openly welcome LGBT members, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I think it’s a big step forward. In the past, even civil unions were frowned upon in many quarters of the church. He is putting his weight behind legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.”

According to a Religion News Service story from 2014, Francis — while still a cardinal in Argentina — tried to “negotiate with the Argentine government over the legalization of gay marriage and signaled he would be open to civil unions as an alternative.”

Francis made news that year when the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published an interview with him reiterating “the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman while acknowledging that governments want to adopt civil unions for gay couples and others to allow for economic and other benefits,” RNS reported.

In the interview, Francis said the churches in various countries must account for those reasons when formulating public policy positions. “We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case,” Corriere della Serra quoted him as saying.

The interview triggered global interest and controversy. Some said Francis had outright endorsed civil unions.

The Vatican quickly clarified that Francis was speaking in general terms and that people “should not try to read more into the pope’s words than what has been stated,” RNS reported in 2014.

Italy was the last country in Western Europe — other than Vatican City — to offer same-sex couples legal rights, The Washington Post reported in 2016, a position based on the Roman Catholic Church’s historic opposition to such unions.

Francis has a reputation of offering words open to interpretation. In 2016, after the Vatican hosted a combative synod on the family, he said “there cannot be any confusion between the family willed by God and other kinds of unions,” The Post’s 2016 story said.

This has angered traditional Christians. In 2015, New York Archbishop Tim Dolan was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if accepting civil unions would make him “uncomfortable,” Dolan said it would, because it could “water down” the traditional religious view of marriage,” the RNS story reported.

Complete Article HERE!

Irish priest admits Catholic Church has been ‘very, very, very hurtful to women’

by Harry Brent

A CATHOLIC priest has admitted that the Church has traditionally treated woman very badly, and effectively still does.

Fr Kevin McNamara of Moyvane, Co. Kerry made the admission during a documentary about the decline of Catholic traditions within the Church today.

“As a church we have been very, very, very hurtful to women and still are,” said Fr McNamara in The Confessors, which aired on RTE One on Monday night.

“The Church is all male, all the time. We really need to look at that,” he added.

“We should put our hands up sooner rather than later.”

He went on to admit the devastation he felt at the flood of revelations of child sexual abuse perpetrated by the clergy.

“I actually cried my way through a Mass at the height of the child sexual abuse [scandal]. How people in authority could have blatantly told so many lies, or opted not to tell the truth,” he said, before adding that staying quiet about such atrocities was “the devil’s work”.

With the tagline “a study of sin and redemption as told by Irish priests through the prism of the Confession box”, The Confessors features accounts from 15 priests – of all ages and from all corners of the country.

It also features a priest who says he won’t wear a dog collar for fear of being attacked outside work, and priests who admit that confessional boxes go more-or-less unused for most of the year.

Complete Article HERE!

Priest describes senior Vatican Cardinal’s comments as ‘like Trump’

Fr Tony Flannery, a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, said there are “polarised positions” in the Church and in the Vatican itself on possible reform

By Noel Baker

A Redemptorist priest who has been suspended from active ministry for the past eight years has described comments by a senior Vatican Cardinal as “like Trump” amid a deepening row over potential reforms in the Catholic Church.

Fr Tony Flannery, a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests and an advocate of the ordination of women priests, made his comments after a report this week in the National Catholic Reporter quoted Cardinal Luis Ladaria of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) as saying it had done “everything possible” to come to some type of resolution with him, but this had been unsuccessful.

In the same article, Cardinal Ladaria defended his office’s request that Fr Flannery sign four strict oaths of fidelity to Catholic teaching, saying while this was “very unpleasant”, it was required to maintain fealty to Church guidelines.

The Cardinal was quoted as saying: “We have tried always to maintain our respect towards Fr Flannery, but the duty that we have, according to the arrangement of the church, is to protect the faith and therefore to indicate some things that do not conform with this faith.”

Fr Flannery, 73, had said that unless he signed the oaths he had been informed he should not return to public ministry.

The row has now deepened, with the ACP tweeting a link to the NCR article and stating it is “very disturbed” by the comments as to the nature of the engagement with Fr Flannery.

It said if the report had quoted the Cardinal accurately “then it must be said, that he is misleading Catholics and the public. This is disturbing.”

Fr Flannery himself tweeted on Tuesday night “Ladaria is a Jesuit; he knows what ‘dialogue’ entails. He must know this statement is false. This has upset me this evening”.

He told the Irish Examiner he has no intention of leaving the priesthood or the Redemptorists, but could not rule out the possibility that he might be fired.

He said in eight years he had had no direct correspondence from the CDF and so the Cardinal’s assertion to the contrary was, in his view, “totally false”.

“The only thing I can compare that to is Trump,” he said, adding that what was said is “clearly contrary to all the evidence”.

Fr Flannery said there are “polarised positions” in the Church and in the Vatican itself on possible reform, but that the recent issue over the oaths of fidelity “in tone and content is like something from the 19th century”.

“To some extent this is like the end of the road in dealing with the Vatican,” he said.

In a comprehensive statement issued earlier on his website by way of response to the comments made by the Cardinal, Fr Flannery said the CDF under Cardinal Ladaria or his two predecessors “never communicated directly with me”.

“How do you dialogue with someone when you won’t speak to them?” he asked.

He said he was “totally unaware” of any other discussions held at a higher level and added: “All I ever got were demands for statements and signatures, and lists of punishments meted out to me. In fact the very first I knew of the whole process was, in 2012, when I was presented with two documents, outlining my ‘heretical’ writings, and the sentence being imposed. And the Cardinal says they have done everything to dialogue with me.”

Complete Article HERE!

Black sisters urge U.S. Catholics, church leaders to do more to end racism

Sister Beulah Martin, a member of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, center right, of Powhatan, Va., waves in Baltimore’s historic St. Francis Xavier Church July 22, 2019, at a Mass honoring jubilarians during a joint conference of black priests, women religious, deacons and seminarians.

By Carol Zimmermann

The National Black Sisters’ Conference issued a “clarion warning” to U.S. Catholics saying church members and leaders have not done enough to speak out against the sin of racism.

“In this moment of dual life-threatening pandemics; COVID-19 and racism, the voice of the church in America is, for the most part, eerily silent when it comes to the racial unrest in this country,” said the Sept. 16 statement by the national organization of more than 150 Black Catholic women religious and associates in the United States.

The group said they felt compelled to “hold up the light,” referring to an old spiritual with the same title, where light is held aloft to “expose the darkness of evil and sin, thereby destroying its power.”

“We are holding up the light,” the sisters said, “against the sin of racism that is still alive and well in the Catholic Church today.”

They said this has been happening “since the first Catholics set foot on this continent, armed with papal bulls sanctioning and blessing the enslavement of Africans and the removal of native peoples from their lands, all in the name of Christianity.”

This continued, they added, during the civil rights movement when Black Catholics continued to experience “racism, segregation, Jim Crow laws, disenfranchisement, police brutality, and socioeconomic inequality in society and in the Catholic Church,” while church leadership, “for the most part, remained silent and disinvested.”

And now, during this current moment of racial unrest, the sisters maintain that Catholics are not doing enough.

“Very few bishops have spoken out in support of the peaceful demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement; very few have called out the racism and hypocrisy of many white Catholic priests and laity. Sadly, the leadership of the church is not addressing the slaughter of Black lives in the streets of our cities by those sworn to serve and protect as a pro-life issue,” they said.

The sisters also questioned why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops hadn’t “publicly issued a strong statement in support of the courageous actions of their brother bishops,” referring to Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, as well as other bishops and priests who have shown support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In response to the sisters’ statement, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, said: “We have great respect for the women religious who do so much for their communities, the laity and the church at large.

“We invite the sisters to be in conversation and deeper collaboration with their local bishops, many of which have spoken out boldly in confronting racism as an attack against the sanctity of life and contrary to who we are and are called to be as disciples of Jesus Christ.”

In a statement to Catholic News Service, he added: “In response to the strife, anger, anxiety, and anguish felt by people due to ongoing racism in our church and society, dioceses and entire conferences of bishops have had listening sessions, webinars, calls for prayer and fasting and task forces formed to confront racism.”

The bishop, who led the bishops in writing their 2018 pastoral, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love — A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” added that laity-led efforts responding to racism have been taking place across the country.

But he said that “until racism is eradicated from our church and society, it is impossible to say that any one of us has done enough,” and he said he welcomed “the light the sisters hold up to shine upon us all.”

Another focus of the sisters’ statement was the need to view efforts against racism as a pro-life issue, quoting Pope Francis who said: “We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion while pretending to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

To that end, the sisters pointed out that every year tens of thousands of Catholics gather in Washington to demonstrate against abortion. They questioned if they would ever see a time when “tens of thousands of Catholic will gather to protest the sin of racism, which aborts the lives of millions of people of color every day in this country?”

“If we as Catholics are truly to ‘Open Wide Our Hearts,’” the sisters said, referring to the pastoral, then Catholics must “hold up the light of Christ against the sin of racism. We must speak the truth not only in love, but we must speak the truth forthrightly about the complicit, systemic and structural racism that continues to exist in the American Catholic Church today.”

If Catholics don’t commit to this, the sisters said, “it will make a fallacy of all that we profess as members of the one body of Christ.”

Until racism is eradicated, the sisters said they would “continue to hold up the light” for the church they love and “to which we have dedicated our lives.”

In May, the sisters issued a statement about recent deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police and said they would not remain silent about it.

They said that if the bishops’ pastoral on racism is to “have any moral legitimacy, then our episcopal leaders must give more than lip service to addressing the sin of racism that is destroying communities of color around this nation. As Christians, as Catholics, as people of faith, we must do more than just pray; we must model Jesus’ message to love one’s neighbor.”

Complete Article HERE!