06/18/17

A tale of two Cardinals: One offering welcome to LGBT Catholics and one withholding it

Share

Cardinal_Dolan

By Cahir O’Doherty

Four years ago Pope Francis stunned the Catholic world by declaring “if a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?”

You’re the pope, came the answer – and if you’re going to take judging gay people off the table, then shouldn’t the church?

The implications of Francis’ statement are profound and are playing out internationally at a pace that – by the glacial standards of the church – might be called breakneck.

Here in the U.S. two prominent Irish American cardinals are already offering widely differing responses to the pope’s dramatic change in tone, if admittedly not in doctrine.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, 65, was profiled this week in The New York Times for welcoming a group of openly gay people to mass.

An invitation “by a leader of Cardinal Tobin’s standing in the Roman Catholic Church in this country would have been unthinkable even five years ago,” the Times states, undeniably.

Tobin, who hails from Detroit, is Irish American on both sides and “is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members,” the Times says. “They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same.”

But in New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 67, appears to be resisting any reconsideration in tone or doctrine over gays. This week he signaled he would take a different approach by publicly endorsing Daniel Mattson’s controversial new book, “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay, How I Reclaimed My Sexual Identity and Found Peace.”

Mattson, a writer and public speaker, admits he is only attracted to the same sex but he refuses to call himself gay. In his new book he writes he only made “peace” with his same-sex attractions and his religious faith by embracing a life of chastity.

Cardinal Tobin

Paraphrasing Elisabeth Elliot, Mattson writes: “When a man or woman, a boy or girl, accepts the way of loneliness for Christ’s sake, there are cosmic ramifications. That person, in a secret transaction with God, actually does something for the life of the world. This seems almost inconceivable, yet it is true, for it is one part of the mystery of suffering which has been revealed to us.”

For “the life of the world”, Mattson has decided to remain chaste and embrace loneliness “in a transaction” with God. Although he admittedly still “suffers” from same sex attractions, his self-imposed chastity makes it impossible for him to express that part of himself, ever.

Dolan was effusive in his praise for Mattson’s sobering decision this week. “Mattson… shares with us how he has come to understand and accept God’s loving plan for his life, as well as the beauty and richness of the Church’s teaching on chastity…”

For Dolan and Mattson the “beauty and richness” of an LGBT orientation is only to be found in its total abnegation.

Given how apparently hard line he is on the matter, it’s no wonder Dolan was up with the larks to appear on CBS’s “This Morning” four years ago in a visit that clearly intended to reassure conservative Catholics it was business as usual regarding gay people, despite Francis’ surprising change in tone.

Now, four years later, if you’re LGBT and Catholic, the kind of welcome you receive in any Catholic church depends on which Catholic church you’re sitting in.

“The church must say it’s sorry for not having comported itself well many times, many times,” Francis said in his now famous interview four years ago.

“I believe that the church not only must say it’s sorry… to this person that is gay that it has offended,” said the pope. “But it must say it’s sorry to the poor, also, to mistreated women, to children forced to work.”

“When I say the church: Christians,” Francis later clarified. “The church is holy. We are the sinners.”

For Cardinal Tobin the very Irish act of offering welcome, which is extended to one and all, is a deep expression of his private faith in public action.

“The word I use is welcome,” Tobin told the Times. “These are people that have not felt welcome in other places. My prayer for them is that they do. Today in the Catholic Church, we read a passage that says you have to be able to give a reason for your hope. And I’m praying that this pilgrimage for them, and really for the whole church, is a reason for hope.”

Conservative clergy members have suggested that alongside Tobin’s welcome to gay Catholics he should have offered them a stern challenge to consider their ways, but the Cardinal demurred.

“That sounds a little backhanded to me,” he said. “It was appropriate to welcome people to come and pray and call them who they were. And later on, we can talk.”

After the Mass, he received “a fair amount of visceral hate mail from fellow Catholics,” Tobin says. One parishioner even went so far as to organize a letter-writing campaign calling on other bishops to “correct” him.

“And there’s a lot to correct in me, without a doubt,” Cardinal Tobin told the Times. “But not for welcoming people. No.”

For over two and a half decades gays were a line in the sand issue for the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee – and an unasked for complication to Dolan’s own ministry.

Having finally squared that circle, it’s remarkable to see the LGBT issue has lost none of it’s ability to divide Irish Americans and the Church from each other, even when the Irish Americans in question are high-ranking members of the Church themselves.

Complete Article HERE!

Share
05/23/17

A Complex Conversation

Share

LGBT Catholics & the Francis Papacy

Jaeynes Childers and Maria Balata, members of the Chicago Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach, hold hands at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in 2016

By John Gehring

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been in Chicago and San Francisco talking to LGBT Catholics and hearing from theologians, Catholic school leaders, parents, and others about how the church can do a better job reaching out to and learning from gay Catholics. One of the most hopeful messages I heard came from a Catholic bishop appointed by Pope Francis.

“In a church that has not always valued or welcomed your presence, we need to hear your voices and take seriously your experiences,” Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, told several hundred participants at the New Ways Ministry gathering in Chicago last month, “LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”

New Ways Ministry, founded in 1977 by Fr. Robert Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, faced sanction in 1999 when Cardinal Ratzinger—then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later Pope Benedict XVI—issued a directive that prohibited them from “any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.” The two continued their pastoral ministry anyway. Nugent died in 2014, but Gramick is still active with the organization. Given this history, Bishop Stowe’s presence at the conference is a sign of the times.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has strongly defended the traditional church teaching against same-sex marriage. He also has been critical of what he calls the “ideological colonization” of some contemporary ways of understanding gender. Still, Francis has taken a dramatically different approach to speaking about gay and lesbian people than previous popes, who emphasized homosexuality as an “intrinsic moral evil,” as well as those American church leaders who have put opposition to LGBT rights at the top of their lobbying efforts. While most U.S. bishops still have not caught up to the pope, Cardinal Joe Tobin, appointed by Francis to lead the Newark archdiocese last November, recently welcomed a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. “I am delighted that you and the LGBTQ brothers and sisters plan to visit our beautiful cathedral,” Tobin wrote in an e-mail to the group’s leader. “You will be very welcome.”

Francis’s fresh start is in line with his frequent acknowledgments that the church has too often excluded people by fixating on a narrow, moral legalism. “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” the pope said in a 2013 interview. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.” Less than a year later, when asked by reporters about gay priests at the Vatican, his quote become a viral papal soundbite that has reached near-iconic status: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord, who am I to judge?”
Bishops who can cite the fine print of the church’s teaching on sexuality should also be listening closely to the honest stories of Catholic parents

During a spiritual reflection at the New Ways Ministry conference, Bishop Stowe noted how Jesus often challenged what he called the “self-proclaimed Sabbath police,” and made a direct connection to that mindset with how LGBT Catholics are often treated. “Some of you have experienced the same kind of approach to the law that Jesus corrected so many times in the Gospel—an approach that sometimes devalues human beings,” he said.

The most painful stories I heard came from gay and lesbian Catholics who have been fired from Catholic schools or other Catholic institutions after public disclosures of their relationships. Since 2007, according to New Ways Ministry, at least fifty LGBT Catholics have been fired or forced to resign. Margie Winters, a long-time religious education director at Waldron Mercy Academy in Philadelphia, was fired in 2015 after a disgruntled parent outed her marriage to another woman. (See “Fighting a Firing in Philadelphia” for more details.) “I loved and still love that community because it’s a part of my heart,” Winters said at the Chicago conference. “It was like a death. This kind of firing is a trauma. The sense of exile has been hardest for me.”

Bishops who can cite the fine print of the church’s teaching on sexuality should also be listening more closely to the raw, honest stories of Catholic parents. “Ten years ago I was blissfully ignorant of all things LGBT until it came to my family,” said Ray Dever, a deacon in St. Petersburg, Florida. The father of five, who describes his family as “pretty darn Catholic”—four of his five children were in Catholic schools at the same time—is now a proud and public advocate for his transgender daughter Lexi. “The hard part is seeing one of your loved ones endure self-hatred,” he said. “When the word suicide comes into play, your life changes. We wanted to get her through her junior year alive. There are so many families who reject their LGBT kids and that’s tragic, especially when that is done in the name of faith. I’m no expert but what these families need to hear is God created these kids just the way they are and that God loves them.”

His daughter Lexi came to terms with her identity at Georgetown University, where she worked at the LGBTQ resource center on campus. “Transgender people just want to live an everyday life and be a normal person in a crowd,” she said. “I struggled with coming out. I was convinced I would be abandoned by family and friends because I saw that happening to others.” Trans youth have disproportionately high suicide rates, she noted, and the average life expectancy of a transgender woman is only thirty-one years.

One of the most impassioned and articulate Catholic voices for the full-inclusion of LGBT Catholics is Fordham University theologian Bryan Massingale, an African-American priest. While some have brushed aside Pope Francis’ oft-quoted statements as merely signaling a shift in tone on LGBT issues, Massingale sees a more substantive process unfolding in this papacy. “There is a change of tone, to be sure, but the tone masks a definite doctrinal shift and development now underway—a change that is cautious, tentative, tense, at times ambiguous and contradictory, and yet nonetheless real,” Massingale said during a plenary address at the New Ways Ministry gathering. “What is neuralgic for many church leaders lies not so much in being gay, but in being honest, forthright, and transparent about it,” he said. “The open closet,” as Massingale calls it, is a paradoxical dynamic of “private toleration and public condemnation,” a stance that he finds problematic. “Justice is inherently public,” he said. “Justice is the social face of love. To insist on private acceptance and compassion for LGBT persons without an effective commitment to defending LGBT human rights and creating a society of equal justice for all is not only contradictory, it is inherently incomprehensible and ultimately unsustainable.”

At the University of San Francisco, I met with more than two dozen Catholic teachers, school administrators, theologians, and women religious, along with the mayor’s point-person on transgender initiatives. The group came together for a conversation about how to support LGBT students and help Catholic institutions think about making a culture of inclusion central to Catholic identity. Michael Duffy, director of the McGrath Institute for Jesuit Catholic Education at the university, pulled together the meeting in part because of his experience at some Catholic workshops and conferences, where discussions about LGBT issues have often been unhelpful and narrowly defined.

Theresa Sparks, the San Francisco mayor’s advisor on transgender initiatives, told the group that she has had little engagement with Catholic institutions. “There is a vacuum there,” said Sparks, who raised all her children in Catholic schools and spent some time homeless after transitioning herself. One in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Last spring, an English teacher at Mercy High School in San Francisco came out as transgender. Gabriel Bodenheimer put his job at risk when he decided to transition from female to male—but the Sisters of Mercy, which owns and operates the school, supported him. “We feel because of our values, the choice was this, but that doesn’t mean it was easy,” Sister Laura Reicks, president of the 16-state region of the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community told the San Francisco Chronicle. Bodenheimer told the San Francisco gathering that his experience was “harrowing and also heartening.” But “a culture of fear and silence,” he said, is still the norm when it comes to transgender issues at Catholic schools.

One longtime Catholic school educator, who requested anonymity, told me that a “Breaking the Binary” conference at his school in March caused an uproar among a vocal contingent of parents. “Some parents were upset and felt a Catholic school should not be talking about gender identity,” he said. “We’ve never had a response like this to anything we’ve done before.” About fifty parents kept their children home from school. Students picked the theme of the conference, which was not solely focused on transgender issues but included discussions about women in the workplace and gender stereotypes. The transgender conversation was optional. A panel of experts spoke to the students: an attorney who specializes in representing transgender clients, two health care providers who work with the trans community, and a social worker. A student who transitioned after he graduated shared a video about his experience. The school is operated by an order of women religious.

“We really used the mission of our school and our Catholic identity to talk about transgender people not as a political issue but in terms of standing on the margins and going to the existential peripheries where people are sometimes suffering,” the educator said. “A Catholic school is a place where kids should learn to think critically so they can make the world a more just and humane place. We teach the church’s position on sexuality and we also have an obligation to help them wrestle with complex moral issues.”

Complete Article HERE!

Share
04/8/17

Top Vatican, U.S. church officials back gay-friendly book

Share

by David Gibson

The Vatican’s point man on family issues and a U.S. cardinal who is close to Pope Francis have both written blurbs for a new book by a Jesuit priest and popular author that calls on the Catholic Church to be more respectful and compassionate toward gay people.

They called it “brave, prophetic, and inspiring” and a “much-needed book.”

Such positive language from such senior church leaders is extraordinary and another sign of how Francis is reorienting the church toward a more pastoral focus.

Building Bridges: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, by Rev. James Martin of America magazine, does not advocate for any changes in doctrine nor does it touch third-rail topics like same-sex marriage; nor do the churchmen who praise the book, to be published by HarperOne on June 13.

But simply using terms like LGBT to describe people is highly controversial for many in the church who insist that gay people be described as “homosexual” or “same-sex attracted” rather than by words that seem to affirm their orientation.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who was recently chosen by Francis to head the Vatican office on laity, family, and life issues, praises Martin’s writing in his blurb: “A welcome and much-needed book that will help bishops, priests, pastoral associates, and all church leaders more compassionately minister to the LGBT community.

“It will also help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church,” said Farrell, the former bishop of Dallas.

“In too many parts of our church LGBT people have been made to feel unwelcome, excluded, and even shamed,” Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who Francis personally picked for the New Jersey archdiocese, adds in a blurb.

“Father Martin’s brave, prophetic, and inspiring new book marks an essential step in inviting church leaders to minister with more compassion, and in reminding LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our church as any other Catholic.”

“The Gospel demands that LGBT Catholics must be genuinely loved and treasured in the life of the church. They are not,” writes Bishop Robert McElory of San Diego, also a rising star in the U.S. hierarchy, in another endorsement.

McElroy says Martin “provides us with the language, perspective, and sense of urgency to replace a culture of alienation with a culture of merciful inclusion.”

Francis himself sparked controversy when he used the term “gay” last year in saying that the Catholic Church should apologize to LGBT people, among others, that it has “offended.”

The pope’s comments came in the wake of the shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in June that left 49 dead, and Martin’s book also emerged from that tragedy.

Martin, whose books about Jesus and Catholic spirituality and related topics have landed on the best-seller lists, has often written about the role of gays and lesbians in the church, and about the need for the church to do more to welcome them.

But he was struck by the relative lack of compassion from U.S. bishops for gays and lesbians who were targeted in the Orlando shooting and elsewhere, and he voiced his concerns in a powerful Facebook video that went viral.

The video prompted more than the usual level of anger and criticism of Martin, and prompted him to begin writing about how to address the rift between LGBT people and church leaders.

He outlined his views in an October talk — an address that would become the basis of “Building Bridges” — as he accepted an award from New Ways Ministry, a group for LGBT Catholics and causes that in the past has been condemned by church leaders who said it was not authorized to represent itself as a Catholic organization. (The talk was reprinted in America magazine.)

A co-founder of New Ways Ministry is Sister Jeannine Gramick, whose views were considered so far outside the bounds of Catholic teaching that she was barred by the Vatican and her order from speaking about homosexuality. She transferred to another order and has continued to minister and speak and write on the topic.

In fact, Gramick also blurbs Martin’s book, writing: “Father Martin shows how the Rosary and the rainbow flag can peacefully meet each other. A must-read.” That she is endorsing the same book as senior church leaders is an indication of the sea change under Francis.

“I was delighted that Cardinal Farrell and Cardinal Tobin found the book helpful,” Martin said in an email to RNS. “To me, it’s a reminder that many in the hierarchy today support a more compassionate approach to LGBT Catholics.”

In his talk, as in the book, Martin called on church leaders and all Catholics to treat gays and lesbians with greater respect and sensitivity.

He said church leaders should address LGBT people by the term they call themselves, and he called for an end to the indiscriminate firings of church employees who are discovered to be gay or who make their sexual orientation public. Such firings selectively target LGBT people, he said.

But he also called on gays and lesbians to be more considerate and respectful of the hierarchy, saying both sides must listen to each other and learn from each other.

“This may be very hard for people who feel beaten down by the church to hear,” Martin writes in the book.

“One gay friend recently told me that this mockery comes not from a place of hatred, but from a sense of betrayal. But being respectful of people with whom you disagree is at the heart of the Christian way. And part of this is surely about forgiveness, an essential Christian virtue.”

Complete Article HERE!

Share
02/9/17

Steve Bannon Aligns With Vatican Hard-Liners Who Oppose Pope Francis

Share

Anti-Pope Francis posters appeared in Rome last week, with a message in a Roman street dialect saying, “Hey, Frank, you took over Congregations, suspended priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of The Immaculate, ignored Cardinals… Where the heck is your mercy?”

BY

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is known to have cultivated ties with far-right parties in Europe, like the National Front in France. He also seems to have forged an alliance with Vatican hard-liners who oppose Pope Francis’ less rigid approach to church doctrine. The New York Times reported this week on Bannon’s connections at the Vatican.

Before becoming White House chief strategist, Bannon — who is Catholic — was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, which he called a “platform for the alt-right.” That’s a movement associated with white nationalism.

During a visit to Rome a few years ago, Bannon struck up a friendship with the American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a traditionalist who has emerged as one of Pope Francis’ most vocal critics.

Bannon hired Thomas Williams, an American former priest, as Breitbart’s Rome correspondent. Williams belonged to the conservative Legion of Christ, which was roiled by scandal when it was revealed its founder had been a pedophile.

Williams recently told his own story on an Italian TV talk show: In 2003, he fathered a child, but he kept it secret until he was outed by a news report. He then left the priesthood and married the child’s mother — who is the daughter of the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon.

In July 2014, Bannon addressed a conference that was held inside the Vatican but was sponsored by a conservative Catholic group. Speaking via Skype, Bannon painted an almost apocalyptic vision of the state of the Western world.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which, if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting.”

A barbarity, Bannon added, that would completely eradicate “everything we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years,” and which he clearly spelled out a few minutes later: “We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.”

This is language that Pope Francis has never used. The pope has repeatedly urged European countries to welcome migrants — who are, in the majority, Muslim — and he has championed the rights of the poor.

A year ago, Francis criticized candidate Donald Trump for wanting to build a wall along the border with Mexico, saying, “A person who thinks only about building walls … and not building bridges is not Christian.”

But that’s not Bannon’s worldview. While most Breitbart reports on the pope have been neutral, headlines about the pope when Bannon was in charge included:

  • “Seven Ways Pope Francis Slapped Conservatives in the United States”
  • “A Vatican Expert: Pope Francis a ‘Friend of Islam’ “
  • “Pope Francis Slams Capitalism, Death Penalty, Immigration Law; No Real Mention of Abortion, Gay Marriage”
  • “Pope Francis Threatens Legacy of Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan”

While Breitbart and Bannon seem to be making common cause with Roman Catholics who are on the outs with this pope, these Vatican hard-liners are not very powerful.

Nevertheless, Pope Francis’ supporters inside the Vatican worry that following Trump’s election victory, the pope is a little more isolated — a lonely progressive on the global stage. They say this has emboldened his critics both within and outside the Vatican, who have become more vocal.

For example, just last week, mysterious anti-Francis posters cropped up around Rome. The photo showed the pope looking uncharacteristically very grouchy, and the unidentified author — using a Roman street dialect — accused him of acting in an authoritarian manner and showing lack of mercy, despite the fact that Francis has made “Mercy” the unofficial slogan of his papacy.

Francis has not reacted. But in a surprising move, on Sunday, he issued the very first papal blessing for the Super Bowl. It was a video message in his native Spanish — not in Italian, which he usually uses for official messages — in which he said such a sporting event “shows that it’s possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace.”

The Italian media labeled the message “anti-Trump.”

Complete Article HERE!

Share
11/12/16

Pope meets with men who left the priesthood

Share

As the Jubilee Year of Mercy is rapidly coming to a close, the pope reached out once again to those in need of mercy – men who have left the priesthood. 

For two hours, Pope Francis met with seven men, who now have families, and spent time listening to their stories and getting to know their wives and children. 

Pope Francis did not intend to judge or justify them, but desired to express his closeness to these men, who felt they had made a mistake by becoming a priest. Many faced extreme opposition from their diocese, family or friends for leaving. Because of this, the pope wanted to send a gentle message of mercy to the five Italians, Spaniard and Latin American men he met during the surprise encounter.

Additionally, the families asked him to autograph various objects, like this cell phone case and gave him gifts as well. 

The pope ended the visit by reciting a Hail Mary with them all together and giving a group blessing. 

When the pope headed outside to leave the apartments on the outskirts of Rome, however, he was greeted by masses of people who waited for him with cell phones posed and ready for pictures. 

pope-meets-with-men-who-left-the-priesthood

Complete Article HERE!

Share