Pope Francis’ cunning long game

By Damon Linker

Pope Francis’ stealth reform of the Roman Catholic Church shows no sign of slowing down — and may even be accelerating.

Stealth is key here. If the pope had declared earlier this month that henceforth the Roman Catholic Church would authoritatively teach that homosexuals should be happy being gay, that God made them homosexual, and that God himself (along with the pope) loves them just the way they are, it would have been a massive story in the history of Catholicism — and one that quite likely would have precipitated a major schism, with conservative bishops and priests (mainly in North America and Africa) formally breaking from Rome.

But because word of the pope saying these things comes to us second hand, in a report of a private conversation between Francis and a gay man named Juan Carlos Cruz who is also a victim of the clerical sex abuse crisis in Chile, the utterance will go down as just the latest example of the pope making unorthodox statements in settings in which he has plausible deniability and in which he can claim he was speaking as a pastor rather than as an expositor of the church’s official dogmas and doctrines.

Most popes view themselves as caretakers of the church’s authoritative teachings on faith and morals. When it comes to homosexuality, they would therefore be inclined to reaffirm the position laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which clearly states that homosexual desires are “intrinsically disordered” because they are not oriented to the end of procreation. (The same is true of masturbation and other non-procreative sex acts.)

If Pope Francis were a straightforward reformer, he would seek to change church doctrine regardless of the potentially dire consequences for church unity. But Francis is well aware of the limits of his power and the danger of pushing too far too fast. So he has set out on a different, and distinctive, path.

We first saw it early in his pontificate when the pope spoke to reporters about his views on homosexuality. In contrast to Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), who declared in a 1986 letter to the bishops of the church that same-sex desires aim toward an “intrinsic moral evil,” Francis told the press that “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

It continued in September 2014 with a marriage ceremony over which Francis presided at St Peter’s. Some of the 20 couples involved had been previously married, while others had given birth to children out of wedlock or lived with their fiancées before marriage. That prior behavior placed them firmly out of step with the requirements of Catholic doctrine, and yet the pope participated and blessed the marriages.

And on it has gone, through the notorious footnote in the apostolic exhortation that was published at the conclusion of the 2015 Synod on the Family, seeming to give priests the pastoral leeway to offer the sacrament of communion to parishioners who have been divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment of their first marriages. It has made headlines most recently when an elderly Italian journalist asserted that in an interview with Francis the pope had denied the dogma of hell.

And now there is Francis’ apparent elaboration of his latitudinarian beliefs about homosexuality.

What unites all of these examples is a distinctive approach to church dogma and doctrine. Instead of acting as an expositor of these core teachings of the church, the pope selectively diverges from them in his actions and statements without deigning to change the teachings themselves. The implicit message is the same in every case: The pope himself thinks it’s possible to be a member of the church in good standing while failing to abide by all of the institution’s rules.

This is significantly different than the pope acknowledging that everyone is a sinner and will therefore break the rules from time to time. That standard view presumes that the divergence from the rule is a failing that requires repentance and reconciliation (the sacrament of confession), along with the intention on the part of the sinner to do better next time. Francis’ position is different — implying that the lack of conformity to church teaching is acceptable, requiring no change or improvement in behavior.

Juan Carlos Cruz is gay, that’s how God made him, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But of course church teaching contradicts this. Which puts Pope Francis in the position of effectively promulgating two truths — implicitly affirming the official, harsher doctrine while subtly undermining it with a less stringent pastoral teaching. Instead of seeking to change the underlying rules, which would risk divisiveness and even schism, he shows that it’s perfectly alright for a priest or layperson to diverge from or ignore the rule in the name of welcoming as many people as possible to Christ’s church.

Conservative Catholics like Ross Douthat (the author of a new book on this very topic) worry that Francis’ fudging of doctrinal truth will have bad consequences for the church because it simply defers a necessary debate about what the church actually believes. Better to have the argument sooner rather than later.

But I think the pope’s strategy for a longer game displays greater psychological acuity — and Machiavellian cunning. Francis may be betting that once the church stops preaching those doctrines that conflict most severely with modern moral norms, the number of people who uphold and revere them will decline rapidly (within a generation or two). Once that has happened, officially changing the doctrine will be much easier and much less likely to provoke a schism (or at least a major one) than it is in the present.

That’s the great advantage of pursuing a strategy of stealth reform: The seed planted now with a minimum of conflict bears fruits in the future with even less.

It’s never been more obvious that this is precisely what Pope Francis has in mind.

Complete Article HERE!

Young Catholics tell Pope Francis the church is indifferent and judgmental

Pope Francis waves as he celebrates the Vesper prayer in the Church of San Gregorio al Celio, in central Rome.

by Amanda Erickson

On Saturday, hundreds of young Catholics gathered to give Pope Francis a piece of their minds.

They called for a more transparent and “authentic” church, one with a bigger role for women and more wisdom about the benefits and challenges of technology. They called for more flexibility, too, arguing that “unreachable” moral standards should not be the only way to live an authentically Catholic life.

These findings were part of a 16-page report assembled by 300 young people at a week-long conference sponsored by the Vatican. It drew, too, on online submissions from 15,000 others.

“We, the young church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing,” the report said.

It was less clear how the group wanted the church to reframe its message. The young people, ages 16 to 29, did not find consensus on issues like contraception (artificial birth control is banned for all Catholics, even married couples), cohabitation before marriage (frowned upon) or abortion.

The report also pushed the church to find ways to connect to young people, who often feel “indifference, judgment and rejection” from the church.

Throughout, the report called on the church to incorporate women more fully into church leadership. Women cannot serve as priests, which means they’re absent from the church’s upper ranks. Young female Catholics said they feel alienated as a result.

“Some young women feel that there is a lack of leading female role models within the church, and they too wish to give their intellectual and professional gifts to the church,” the report found.

The report also called on the church to accept that technology is a way of life for young people. The focus should not be condemnation, they wrote, but rather guidance on how to combat online addiction and use technology responsibly.

At the beginning of the conference, Pope Francis urged the young people — selected by their national bishops’ conferences, universities or church movements — to be honest. That is reflected in the final report, which notes that young people are leaving Catholicism because of  “indifference, judgment and rejection.” It also called on the church to more fully acknowledge its mistakes, such as the clergy sex abuse scandal.

“Some mentors are put on a pedestal, and when they fall, the devastation may impact young people’s abilities to continue to engage with the church,” the report said.

The document will be incorporated into an October synod of bishops, focused on how to better incorporate young people into the church.

It isn’t clear what that will entail. But at a Palm Sunday service on Sunday, Pope Francis urged young people to keep shouting and not allow the older generations to silence their voices.

“The temptation to silence young people has always existed,” he said in his homily, delivered to an audience of thousands in St. Peter’s Square. “There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.”

“Dear young people, you have it in you to shout,” he told young people, urging them to be like the people who welcomed Jesus with palms rather than those who shouted for his crucifixion only days later. “It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?”

“Yes,” the young people in the crowd shouted. “Yes!”

Complete Article HERE!

St Bride’s RC Church praised for issuing strong public message on homosexuality

Catholic church in Cambuslang praised for issuing strong public message on homosexuality

By Aftab Ali

A Catholic church in Cambuslang has earned the admiration of thousands after issuing a strong public statement on its stance on homosexuality.

St Bride’s Roman Catholic Church in the town’s Greenlees Road took to its social media page on Sunday afternoon to insist that “all gay Catholics are accepted and welcomed in this parish.”

Endorsed by the head of the parish, Father Morton, the statement added: “Every single human person is loved by God and created to love by Him; this is a fundamental belief of our faith. No one is ever excluded from God’s love or his concern or his care or his plan for them.

St Bride’s Roman Catholic Church

“In God’s house, all are welcome and are the blessed and loved children of God. There should be no place in our language or our attitude which allows for prejudice or exclusion.”

Reaching out to anyone who is gay and wishes to speak with Father Morton, St Bride’s has urged them to head along for a talk.

“We must do everything we can to redress the harm that has been done in the past by the negative stance we seem to have taken up. We must join with others who are seeking to build a more inclusive society,” the statement added.

Father Morton’s message comes just two months after he issued a similar one in which he acknowledged how gay people feel “excluded” from the Catholic Church.

He added at the time: “We wish to emphasise in the strongest terms that we are a welcoming and inclusive parish.”

Yesterday’s message has gone down a storm on social media and is continuing to gather praise and positive reactions both at home and further afield.

“Fr Morton is such an amazing man. Lucky parish to have such a wonderful priest,” said one follower, while another added: “What a courageous statement. Hopefully others will follow this Christian lead. Time to stop burying our heads in the sand. Well done Fr Morton.”

The statement comes as religious leaders in Glasgow spearhead gay rights in the UK.

Just last week, St Mary’s Cathedral in the west end of the city became the first in Britain to confirm it has started taking bookings for same-sex weddings following a decision earlier this year in the Scottish Episcopal Church’s General Synod.

The Provost of the cathedral, the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, said: “I want to live in a world where same-sex couples can feel safe walking down the street, hand in hand, and in which they can feel joy walking hand in hand down the aisle of a church too.”

Complete Article HERE!

The way ahead for gay Catholics

Two years ago Cardinal Vincent Nichols asked me to be his liaison and chaplain to the Farm Street LGBT group in central London

by

Two years ago Cardinal Vincent Nichols asked me to be his liaison and chaplain to the Farm Street LGBT group in central London. That same week I was invited to be chaplain to the London chapter of Courage, an international support group. My work includes one-to-one spiritual guidance, helping with reflection days and accompanying both groups as an official representative of the Church.

Ministry to homosexual Catholics (transgenderism would need a separate article) takes place in two main contexts. First, groups like the Farm Street group set up by gay people themselves or their relatives, where everyone knows they are welcome, whatever their situation, and issues can be openly discussed. Such groups often later seek the support of their local bishop and priests.

Secondly, bishops or priests can set up groups themselves, and even obtain Vatican recognition, provided they are explicit in their adherence to Church teaching. Courage is such a group, set up by Fr John Harvey in America with the support of bishops there, and now present in several countries. Members describe themselves not as gay but as “experiencing same-sex attraction” and aim at lifelong sexual abstinence – but not at changing their sexual orientation.

Pastoral care of homosexual people is essentially the same as all ministry: seeking to communicate the unconditional love of Christ and his Church, and to accompany people on their journey towards holiness. But in practice this particular ministry encounters powerful feelings of pain and anger which can cause difficulties.

LGBT people often feel hurt by the Church, either because of the way its teaching comes across, or through concrete experiences of rejection, or both. Those from non-Western cultures are sometimes even in danger of their lives, while some other Catholics seem threatened by the very existence of gay people and react angrily towards attempts to accommodate them within the Church.

There is also a wide range of attitudes, experiences and behaviour among gay Catholics themselves. Some long for a permanent relationship, while others admit that relationships are not important for them, and they simply want sex. With the availability of gay websites and apps, and well-known pick-up spots, most gay people in our society can easily have sex whenever they want.

We sometimes meet men who had a lot of casual sex but came to realise it did not make them happy. They may then seek help in leading a chaste life. Courage provides them with a supportive group, modelled on twelve-step programmes, in which personal sharing enables exploration of the relationship between sexual desires and other aspects of life, and so helps mitigate the compulsive element which can easily affect sexual behaviour. Others are looking for a long-term relationship, but may go through several sexual partners in the search, sometimes remaining good friends with them after the sexual relationship has ended.

But one thing is common to virtually all LGBT Catholics today: they will not take the Church’s teaching on trust, but must learn from experience. Even those who hold a very traditional attitude have likely arrived at it through many experiences.

This being so, ministers to gay Catholics need two main resources: a moral theology that can face the critical scrutiny of life experience; and a well-grounded spirituality of discernment. These can help LGBT Catholics look honestly at their behaviour, see where it is leading them and discover alternatives where indicated.

The moral theology I have found most helpful in this ministry is that of the Belgian Dominican Servais Pinckaers, who shows that from biblical times to St Thomas Aquinas, Catholic moral theology was essentially based on the search for true happiness, on earth and in heaven, and on the cultivation of virtues leading to it – a happiness deeper than mere pleasure, and consisting above all in communion with God and his holy people.

A theology based on observing rules was a later distortion, and led by reaction in the 1960s to an equally unhelpful liberalism.

In Pinckaers’ perspective, moral theology does not just define what one is allowed to do, or the minimum one must do, but joins hands with spirituality in promoting the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the uttermost. Ignatian discernment of spirits is the obvious spiritual partner for such a theology.

Thus the most important gift the minister can offer LGBT people, after unconditional love and welcome, is encouragement to a deep spiritual life of friendship with Christ, based on the traditional practices of Mass, Confession, Adoration, Lectio Divina and the rosary. Without this, discernment loses itself in subjective states of mind; with it we begin to see which path leads to heaven and which to hell, and to marry personal experience with the wisdom of the Church.

Complete Article HERE!

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

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!