According to L’Avvenire, the pope met with Italian LGBTQ+ Catholic group The Tent of Jonathon in a Wednesday (21 September) conference to discuss the organisation’s plan to build a hospitable church that would cater to LGBTQ+ people.
The group, which was founded in 2018, works with various religious organisations to provide “sanctuaries of welcome and support for LGBT people and for every person affected by discrimination.”
In an effort to convince Pope Francis, organisation members gave him a collection of letters from the parents of LGBTQ+ children who have faced “isolation and suspicious within the Christian community.”
Having urged religious parents to “never condemn your children” in a 26 January address, adding that parents should “not hide behind an attitude of condemnation,” the conferences appeared to convince him as he told the organisation to continue with the church’s construction.
Despite upholding traditional church teachings that claim homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered,” the pontiff has been surprisingly forthcoming about introducing LGBTQ+ members into Catholic proceedings.
In 2013, he famously said: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”
But there is still a long way to go for LGBTQ+ acceptance in the Vatican. During the same address, he condemned what was cryptically described as lobbying by the LGBTQ+ community.
“The problem is not having this orientation,” he claimed. “We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.”
Pope Francis has also repeatedly shut down any hope of same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church, most recently in 2021 when he said he “doesn’t have the power to change sacraments.”
“I have spoken clearly about this, no? Marriage is a sacrament. Marriage is a sacrament. The church doesn’t have the power to change sacraments. It’s as our Lord established.”
Excommunications for LGBTQ+ positive paraphenalia is still incredibly common in local Catholic communities. In June, a middle school was kicked out of the Catholic fold after officials refused to remove Pride and Black Lives Matter flags from school grounds.
In a statement, Massachusetts bishop Robert J. McManus, who chose to excommunicate the Nativity School of Worcester, said: “I publicly stated in an open letter…that ‘these symbols (flags) embody specific agendas or ideologies (that) contradict Catholic social and moral teaching
“It is my contention that the ‘Gay Pride’ flag represents support of gay marriage and actively living a LGBTQ+ lifestyle.”
In response, school president Thomas McKenney said that the flags “represent the inclusion and respect of all people” and that they simply state “that all are welcome at Nativity and this value of inclusion is rooted in Catholic teaching.”
The daughter of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu had wanted to honor her godfather’s personal wish: that she officiate his funeral in England after he died last week.
But the Church of England stopped the Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth, a priest ordained in the United States, from doing so this week because she is married to a woman, she said.
“I’m stunned by the lack of compassion,” said Ms. Tutu van Furth in a phone interview from Shropshire, in central England, on Friday, calling the decision to bar her from officiating at the funeral of her godfather, Martin Kenyon, 92, unkind. “You can’t speak a message of welcome and love and live a message of exclusion,” she said, of the church’s teaching.
Mr. Kenyon was a longtime friend of Archbishop Tutu, a powerful force in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and an early, outspoken critic of the Anglican Communion’s stance on gay rights. The archbishop was also a godfather to Mr. Kenyon’s daughter.
The incident has put a spotlight on the longtime divide within the global Anglican Communion over whether to accept same-sex marriages and ordain openly gay priests and bishops. The Church of England and the Episcopal Church are tied together in the global Anglican Communion, which represents about 85 million worshipers around the world.
But the communion has been slowly fracturing for years as it has debated policies toward clergy and worshipers in same-sex relationships and marriages. The Episcopal Church has taken a stance in favor of acceptance of gay clergy and members, starting with the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, in New Hampshire in 2003.
The Church of England, however, has said that under its religious laws, while it permits same-sex civil partnerships, it does not support same-sex marriage because it would go against its teachings. Gay clergy are expected to remain celibate, and those in same-sex marriages are not permitted to be ordained.
Rights campaigners and some religious leaders have condemned the incident and the church’s policies as homophobic, discriminatory and at odds with the religion’s message.
Ms. Tutu van Furth said that she was informed by local representatives of the church that while she could sit in the congregation during the ceremony, she would not be permitted to deliver the eulogy, say prayers or perform readings at the funeral. She said she understood why local officials had conveyed the message, but said the way church authorities had handled it was “not right.”
The local diocese of Hereford, in which the funeral was held, acknowledged it was “a difficult situation,” adding that they had followed advice given in line with published guidance from the church’s senior leadership — which said that getting married to someone of the same sex was not “appropriate contact” and would “clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England.”
“The Church of England believes that all people are made in the image of God and must be cherished for who they are,” a spokesman for the church said in a statement. The church was in the process of “learning and listening about questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage,” the statement said, which had caused “deep and painful divisions.”
Bishops are expected to formally publish recommendations on a way forward on L.G.B.T.Q. policy among other topics in February, when the General Synod, the national assembly of the Church of England, will meet.
“There are people of every age who need the church in the times of hardship and pain and loss,” Ms. Tutu van Furth said, adding that the decision had also upset the family of Mr. Kenyon. “This is supposed to be the place for people to go who have nowhere else to go.”
To honor his wishes and allow her involvement, Ms. Tutu van Furth said that the funeral — which she described as prayerful and joyful — was ultimately held on Thursday not in a church but in the garden of Mr. Kenyon’s home in Shropshire.
Mr. Kenyon and Archbishop Desmond Tutu grew close while the two lived in London in the 1960s as Archbishop Tutu studied theology in King’s College. (Mr. Kenyon also gained a bit of fame for his responses to being one of the first people in Britain to receive a Covid vaccine in 2020, telling The New York Times he was looking forward to being embraced by his grandchildren.) The archbishop was a supporter of gay rights, telling the BBC in 2007: “If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.”
Ms. Tutu van Furth has spoken previously about her painful experiences with the church after she married Marceline van Furth, a Dutch academic specializing in global children’s health. That forced her to hand back her license to officiate as a priest in the Anglican Communion’s province in Southern Africa, a decision, she said at the time, that felt like it “stripped away” a part of her. Based in the Netherlands, Ms. Tutu van Furth now preaches at a church in Amsterdam.
For Jayne Ozanne, an advocate for gay rights in the church and a member of the Church of England’s General Synod, its legislative body, the reverend’s experience reaffirmed that the Church of England was “institutionally homophobic.”
“It’s a cruel, crass and hypocritical decision,” she said, adding that church leaders had kept silent for too long on L.G.B.T.Q. rights.
“We are investing millions in mission and evangelism without getting the core basics right of a church who serves all and shows the unconditional love” of God for England, she added.
The Roman Catholic Church wears its age well — and yet, after 2,000 years, is still developing new features, still growing into its body. Perhaps, for world religions, 2,000 years seems like puberty: you’re at the age where lots of people know you and recognize you, but inside you’re expanding in ways that are still going to surprise them.
Georgetown is a place where some of the Catholic body’s most important parts can be found: two schools, two parishes and a world-famous university.
Now, this oldest neighborhood in Washington, D.C., is also home to a growing part of the Catholic Church that many Catholics would surely find a little surprising: women priests.
On Sunday morning, Sept. 18, in a secluded backyard garden on R Street, a community of Catholics gathered for what was likely the first ever Catholic Mass held in Georgetown celebrated by a woman.
Washington Home Inclusive Monthly Mass (WHIMM) organized the Mass and invited Rev. Kathleen Blank Riether to celebrate it. In person and remotely, roughly 30 Catholics prayed, read and worshiped, while sharing the sacrament of the Eucharist — the bread and wine — consecrated by the female Catholic priest.
“Sounds like heresy,” said an older member of Holy Trinity when I told him I was going. “My dad would probably say the same thing,” I replied with a smile. I went anyway.
I am not much of a rule breaker. I wasn’t even sure how comfortable I was going to WHIMM’s Mass in the first place. I am also a parishioner of Holy Trinity and attend daily Mass (not every day). I was born at Georgetown University Hospital and was raised in a conservative Catholic family. I was teased by my Italian grandmother for going to “pagan school” — I went to National Cathedral School. I graduated from Georgetown. And I am a disciplined former ballerina who likes to match her belt to her shoes and pay her credit card bill early.
It was at Holy Trinity where I first learned about WHIMM. A few months before the pandemic, WHIMM’s mission was shared with me at a lecture in the parish’s McKenna Hall about women in the early church. The lecture was co-hosted by the parish’s RCIA coordinator and a parishioner with a Ph.D. in theology from Catholic University, both women. When I learned how women were key evangelizers in the early church and were even ordained as deacons, these early Christian women reminded me of NCS’s former headmistress, Aggie Underwood, whose infamously intense academic environment taught us that — as women — we could do anything.
Catholics do not teach girls that they can do anything. If a girl raised in a Catholic church, who grows to love her church, is asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and she replies, “I want to become Pope,” the answer is, “No.” And yet, here I was, standing in a garden on R Street, witnessing a female Catholic priest bless me.
“We live in a finite, imperfect world in which every person and situation are an inextricable mix of both good and bad, right and wrong,” said Rev. Riether in her homily during Mass. “Though our minds want to automatically categorize people, situations, and things as right or wrong, good or bad, life is just not that simple… [Life] is a process of learning how to live with and negotiate the harsh realities of this world while upholding and living as fully as we can the teachings of Jesus.”
Reither belongs to Roman Catholic Womenpriest’s Eastern Region, an umbrella organization for the group of ten female Catholic priests called the Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community, the group from which WHIMM typically invites female priests. Based in Maryland, Living Water’s website states it began offering Masses in 2008 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Annapolis and at the Stony Run Friends Meeting House in Baltimore. One of the leaders of Living Water is Andrea M. Johnson, a woman ordained deacon in 2005, priest in 2007, and now bishop as of 2009. Officially, the Catholic Church excommunicates women who are ordained priests. The ordained women claim the right of apostolic succession.)
Although WHIMM’s Masses are primarily celebrated in private homes, they also offer “Mass on Mass” for a larger gathering in an outdoor park on Massachusetts Avenue and Fulton Street NW. This open, public Mass is offered just steps from the Vatican Embassy, where participants walk to afterward for a short prayer service.
“The goal is not to just bemoan or dismantle what is broken,” says Jane Malhotra, WHIMM’s founder, “but to also build something better.” “Behold, I am making something new!” quotes the group on its website from Isaiah 43:19.
Malhotra was inspired by her aunt, Anne E. Patrick, and her book “On Being Unfinished,” where she explains a belief in creative responsibility: “a willingness to think deeply and originally… to take appropriate risks for the sake of promoting good…”. In that same spirit, Malhotra created WHIMM and through it a space for Catholics, who “want to renew the Church by experiencing a new model of ordained ministry.”
Malhotra’s creative responsibility is not unlike the prophetic obedience (another term coined by Malhotra’s aunt) followed by the women priests from Maryland’s Living Water Community: “Going towards the higher calling of conscience, towards the greater good, towards inclusive and divine justice and the dignity of all God’s creation, even if it means going against the rule of an institution.”
In December 2018, a group of Washington-area Catholics attended the first WHIMM Mass led by a woman priest at a home in Bethesda. In October 2019, the first public Mass was offered — “Mass on Mass” — in addition to ten home masses that year. By 2020, WHIMM Masses were celebrated in Arlington and Bethesda and continued remotely online during the pandemic.
At first, WHIMM started with about 15 Catholics. Then, Masses in private homes began collecting about 30 Catholics. Eventually, the Fulton Street public Mass gathered about 70 Catholics (“despite the rain”). Now, with an email list in the hundreds, a news crew filmed the Georgetown service, capturing attendees which WHIMM says exemplify a “growing community of Catholics seeking to live into the radical vision that Jesus calls us to, in unity with all God’s creation.”
So what is a WHIMM Mass like? Who was there? And what, if anything, was uniquely Georgetown about it?
At first, I felt like I was walking into a picnic (which perhaps, in its casual nature, isn’t too far from the Last Supper). A cardboard sign was taped to a tree to direct us where to walk to find the garden. A cheerful table was set up with mums for doughnut hour, complete with hot coffee and gluten-free pumpkin spice muffins from Trader Joe’s. The most notable culinary offering was actually the communion wine, a bottle of red with Snoop Dog’s face on it, which the label calls perfect for “rule breakers” and which the vintner calls “defiant by nature” and “bold in character.”
Everybody was lovely. The chairs were organized. The altar was recognizably set. The program was passed out. The readings, the psalm, the homily and the eucharist all played out like clockwork. But on this clock, there were some new features. There was no “Lord,” just “God” and “The Creator” (which sometimes took a feminine pronoun). The “Our Father” acknowledged both parents, beginning with “Our Father/Mother in heaven, hallowed be your name…”
Also, there was no unworthiness. Right about as we were to receive communion, instead of calling ourselves “unworthy,” we prayed a reminder that with Jesus we are worthy and that with his words we are healed. Though revised, the liturgy made perfect sense. It was as refreshing as it was heart-opening in a completely enlightened and still authentically Catholic way.
I could tell you that it was very Georgetown because of the Cartier watches, pearl necklaces, Celtic cross pendants, pinky rings, diamond earrings, Nantucket reds and chats about summer travel. (To be sure, the expected Tevas were there, too). But that wasn’t what made it Georgetonian. I thought back to how a 53 year-old John Carroll started building his school before he even officially owned the land. And it made me remember that it was a can-do, self-starting, proactive and hardworking American spirit that built a new country and which also originally defined the community living in Georgetown.
Perhaps, when I was presented with a torn piece of a gluten-free English muffin (instead of a cross-stamped wafer), and heard “the body of Christ” and said “Amen,” I had a hard time believing it really was the body of Christ. Maybe I was confused that there was no man in a robe initiating transubstantiation. But, do I need a man to tell me I am a part of the body of Christ? No. Indeed, I had no doubt that — in the group gathered around me — we were all a new (if a little unfamiliar) part of the body of Christ. And to my right, the older Catholic woman pinched up every crumb left in her palm and ate every morsel so as to not let any part of Jesus fall to the ground.
Flemish Roman Catholic bishops on Tuesday issued a document effectively allowing the blessing of same-sex unions, in direct defiance of a ruling against such practices by the Vatican’s doctrinal office.
The document published on the website of the Bishops’ Conference of Belgium suggested a ritual that included a prayer and a benediction for stable same-sex unions. But it stressed that it was not “what the Church understands by a sacramental marriage”.
It said the Church wanted to be “pastorally close to homosexual persons” and be a “welcoming Church that excludes no one.”
The ritual would start with prayers and includes a commitment by the two people in front of family and friends to be faithful to each other. It would end with more prayer and what the document called a “benediction”.
A Vatican spokesman had no immediate comment.
In March 2021, in response to formal questions from a number of Roman Catholic dioceses on whether the practice of blessing same-sex unions was allowed, the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), ruled that it was not. read more
At the time, the CDF said its ruling was “not intended to be a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite” of the sacrament of marriage and the blessing associated with it.
In response to that ruling, Bishop John Bonny of Antwerp said he felt “shame for my Church” and apologised to those he said had been hurt by the “painful and incomprehensible” decision.
POPE SUPPORTS CIVIL UNIONS BUT NOT MARRIAGE
Pope Francis has said he is opposed to same-sex marriage in the Church but supports civil union legislation to give same-sex couples legal protection and rights such as inheritance and shared health care.
A spokesman for the bishops, Geert De Kerpel, said their intention was not to defy the Vatican ruling.
“This is first and foremost a positive message,” he told Reuters, adding that it conformed with the pope’s calls for a more inclusive Church.
The Flemish bishops document said that some Catholic gays remained celibate and that the Church appreciated it. The Church teaches that while homosexual orientation is not sinful, homosexual acts are.
But the document added that “some prefer to live as a couple, in lasting and faithful union with a partner” and that such a relationship “can also be a source of peace and shared happiness”.
The bishops denounced “homophobic violence,” and said they wanted to “structurally anchor their pastoral commitment to homosexual persons.
They announced the appointment of Willy Bombeek, a gay Catholic, as an additional staff member to their department for pastoral care of families to oversee care of gay Catholics.
One with similar duties would be appointed to each diocese in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.
“I’m proud to belong to the Flemish Church,” Bombeek told Reuters. “I hope that religious people in other countries will also get to experience this, and hopefully, this is only the beginning”.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of U.S.-based Catholic LGBTQ group New Ways Ministry, said the move would be a blessing for both the couple and for the Church.
“These prelates recognise that love is love. Love is more important than sexual behaviour, and love is something that the Church should always bless,” he said in a statement.
Mapsalak, who was formerly mayor of Naujaat, Nvt., and served two terms as a member of the Nunavut legislature, said he initially had mixed feelings when he was approached to join the trip. He said he decided to face Rivoire as he believed it could be a healing experience.
“After I did and said what I needed to say to him, I felt a release inside me and I felt a lot better,” he said by phone from his home in Naujaat on Tuesday. “It’s helped me really very much.”
Mapsalak said he spoke to Rivoire, who is now 91 and lives in a care home in Lyon, in Inuktitut as he had spoken and understood the language when he lived in Nunavut.
“I told him I know that he knew exactly what he did to me when I was a child and when I was helpless.”
Mapsalak said Rivoire responded that he didn’t remember anything. He told the former priest he wanted an apology.
“That’s when I left the room, I couldn’t stand looking at him anymore.”
Mapsalak said the last time he saw Rivoire was at the airport in Winnipeg in 1993. He said Rivoire was leaving Canada following allegations that he had abused Inuit children.
“I didn’t get close to him but when he saw me I noticed that his face got really red,” he recalled.
Rivoire was an Oblate priest in Nunavut from the 1960s until 1993 when he returned to France. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. alleges he abused up to 60 children during that time.
The allegations have never been heard in court and Rivoire has denied any wrongdoing.
A Canadian warrant was issued for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998, but criminal charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of four children were stayed in 2017.
Following a new complaint, Rivoire was charged in February with one count of indecent assault of a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979. Canadian judicial authorities have sent an extradition request to France.
Although Canada and France share an extradition treaty, France does not traditionally extradite its citizens. During a meeting with the Inuit delegation, officials with the country’s Justice Ministry said extraditing a French national would violate a constitutional principle. The group said they do not agree that France is prohibited from extraditing its citizens.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate said they have repeatedly urged Rivoire to face the charges against him, but he has refused to return to Canada. As a result, Oblate leaders in France have said they have decided to dismiss Rivoire from their congregation.
Mapsalak said he still hopes to see Rivoire face justice in Canada.
Nadia Debbache, a French lawyer who is working with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. on the case, said she plans to file a complaint against the Oblates and pursue legal action for allegedly concealing a criminal.
“I am in the process of preparing this complaint so that all light may be shed on the behaviour of this congregation,” she wrote in an email.