So what went wrong in Rome over same-sex blessings?

An analysis by Christopher Lamb following Bishop Johan Bonny’s comments at The Tablet webinar.

by Christopher Lamb

The high cost of the Vatican’s ruling against same-sex blessings has been laid out in stark terms by the Bishop of Antwerp. During a discussion with The Tablet, Bishop Johan Bonny explained that in his diocese large numbers of young people had cancelled their baptismal registrations because of the ruling. Across the traditionally Catholic heartlands of Belgium’s Flemish dioceses, he believed the number who have disaffiliated from the Church stands at around 2,000. Similar findings are likely to be found in other places.

So what might be done to retrieve the flock who are leaving? During the 28 April webinar hosted by The Tablet, Bishop Bonny and a panel of theologians explored how the Church could include and recognise same-sex couples and LGBT Catholics. Yet this question goes deeper than whether or not it is possible to bless gay unions. Instead, it raises profoundly important ecclesiological issues including how to live the “Catholicity” of the Church differently.

Three areas of discussion are emerging as crucial to the debate.

First, is the process the church adopts when making decisions on contentious topics. It is now crucial for time and space to be given for discernment rather than Rome panicking and issuing premature judgements. This is where synodality, which Pope Francis wants to see at every level of the Church, comes in.

Some voices argue that synodal processes such as the one in Germany will result in “schism” because it will lead local churches into divergent stances on questions of sexuality or that challenge official teaching. But Bishop Bonny, who once worked at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, pointed out the threat to unity is in the other direction.

“You cannot have real unity or communion unless local churches can find the best solutions for their problems,” he said during the webinar. “There are basic lines, that’s clear, but for so many questions like ministry in the Church or moral theology, we need more differentiated solutions since the questions are not the same.”

On same-sex blessings, Bonny said there would have been “a different outcome” if Rome had invited bishops from a group of countries where gay marriage is the law to “sit together and make a common proposal”.

He went on: “We could have gone to Rome to discuss [the matter] with the Pope, not with all the cardinals, but the Pope himself, to find the best way possible, according to the Gospel, and what Jesus is teaching us, in the general interests of the Church and the Salus Animarum [good of souls]…That would be real collegiality.”

This requires a different role for Rome and a reimagined relationship between the papacy and local churches. Just issuing a repetition of old formulas to complex pastoral questions is inadequate. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document, which said same-sex blessings are impossible because “God cannot bless sin”, was issued without consultation with bishops or the relevant Vatican departments.

By contrast, Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s family life teaching, emerged after two synod gatherings on the family. Synodality offers ways for a discerned judgment to be reached. Rather than issuing condemnations, Amoris Laetitia focussed on accompaniment, integration and discernment and the positive elements in so-called “irregular” relationships. Fr James Alison, another of the webinar panellists, sees this as the magisterium of the Church walking alongside people. The learning process, he said, happens “sideways” and through “dialogue”. He explained: “It is sideways that we learn who we are. It is from and who each other.”

The second area is how Catholic teaching on homosexuality could be updated. Fr Alison, who is openly gay, argued that the stumbling block on the Church’s ministry to LGBT Catholics remains the definition in the Catechism that same-sex orientation “is objectively disordered” and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”.

He added: “Until someone lets them off having to treat us as a negative definition from the heterosexual act, we are never going to move on. That is at the root of this.” A proposed amendment to the catechism could be to change the phrase “objectively disordered” to “differently ordered”, something which Jesuit priest Fr James Martin has called for.

Bishop Bonny pointed out that the catechism can be updated, adding: “I think there are paragraphs that in a very reasonable, collegial way could be changed for the good of the Church and for the pastoral work we have to do.”

Moral theologian Professor Lisa Sowle Cahill, another panellist, argued that change is more likely to come from the “bottom-up” in the Church, and less from top-down changes.

“I think it’s a mistake to keep trying to work out the reality of same-sex couples or gay and lesbian people within this older terminology which is so concerned with tying everyone down into very careful definitions so that we know exactly where to put everyone and how to set boundaries around them,” she said.

“The Catholic Church never changes its teaching by rejecting or revising what is from the past. Instead, we allow it to die a decent death.”

Professor Cahill, who teaches at Boston College, Massachusetts, said the Pope was offering a Gospel-based morality of “care, compassion and closeness” which should be at the centre of decision making. Amoris Laetitia, she points out, draws from the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas on the application of the natural law and the way it takes into account different factors even in “what is objectively true and right.” Professor Cahill pointed out that Amoris Laetitia states that even couples in “irregular” situations are not deprived of “sanctifying grace”.

The third area is which model of the Church people are using. Bishop Bonny says he likes to see the Church as a family seeing his role as a father or grandfather. It is his responsibility, he said, to make LGBT Catholics “feel part of the family that is the church, not only by welcoming them, but also by giving them a responsibility.” He also recommended that bishops take the time to meet with same-sex couples in their homes.

“Invite your bishop for an evening meal at home and talk with him. It will be a conversion for him”, he advised gay Catholics.

“Once I was invited by two women in a civil marriage with two children, that evening changed my ideas about what it means to live together as a homosexual couple, even having children. I can have many questions, but it changed my ideas.”

If the Church is a family, then it cannot adopt the characteristics of a sect. Sects tend to see themselves as a club and are willing to exclude or throw out people who don’t conform. If the Church is a family then it will always be distressing to hear of people leaving.

Sr Gemma Simmonds of the Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge said the Church cannot operate a system of “you don’t have a ticket” so you are not welcome.

“We are losing people, we are bleeding people…who find that the reality in which they live no longer finds a response within the church of acceptance and blessing,” she said. She offered 1 John 4:16 as encouragement for same-sex couples: “God is love, and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in them.”

The Vatican’s doctrine office may have thought that issuing a ruling against same-sex blessings would be enough to close down further discussion about the topic. In fact, it has had the opposite effect, only sparking more debate which go to the heart of what it means to be the Church.

Complete Article HERE!

After Vatican said ‘God cannot bless sin,’ some LGBTQ people leave Catholic identity behind

By Alejandra Molina

For the past three years, Eder Díaz Santillan has hosted a podcast on which he interviews LGBTQ people on how they’ve coped with their gender and sexual identities while being raised in traditional Catholic upbringings. He also openly discusses his own identity as a Latino and gay Catholic man.

To Santillan, being gay and Catholic has meant reconciling with the reality the church has never fully accepted his LGBTQ identity. However, he’s recognized there’s a difference between his own relationship with God and the priests who have condemned homosexuality from the altar. It took years, but Santillan realized he could maintain his faith and his LGBTQ identity.

That’s why it may have been a surprise to his listeners when he announced in mid-March he would no longer identify as Catholic. The announcement came just days after the Vatican’s decree it wouldn’t allow priests to bless same-sex unions, saying “God cannot bless sin.”

“It took me this long to recognize that I can let go of anything that hurts me,” said Santillan, 35, on Instagram.

Pope Francis’ rejection of proposals that would allow priests to bless same-sex couples has left many LGBTQ Catholics feeling disappointed and demoralized by an institution they felt recently represented a softening toward LGBTQ marriages within the church. As a result, some have decided to leave their Catholic identities behind, while others remain hopeful the church will eventually become more accepting. Though some have said Francis later distanced himself from that decision, some, like Santillan, say “that’s not enough.”

After the Vatican’s statement, Santillan felt an urgent need to break from his Catholic identity. He realized he could no longer “normalize being Catholic and gay to my audience,” adding that he had become accustomed to the church’s “condemning narrative.”

The fact the church would not bless same-sex unions was nothing new to Santillan, but what struck him was the Vatican felt the need to “be so explicit” about it.

It was shocking,” he said.

To Santillan, the church’s stance is more than just an opinion of what is right and wrong; it fuels faith-based conversion therapy and the backing of laws that discriminate and criminalize LGBTQ people in Latin American countries. It has repercussions, he said. The Vatican’s “God cannot bless sin” statement took him back to his childhood, when he considered himself a sin due to the church’s rhetoric. He feared he was going to hell.

While Santillan figures out what it means to no longer identify as a Catholic, he said, he will always work to help those “who like me have to live with the trauma of the Catholic Church.”

Since the Vatican’s declaration over same-sex unions, the Rev. James Martin, an American Jesuit priest, said he’s heard from a number of LGBTQ Catholics whose reactions have “ranged from anger to hurt to frustration to disgust to despair.”

He said about a dozen have explicitly told him they were leaving the church as a result.

“Among that group the general response was, ‘I’m done.’ Or ‘This was the last straw,’” Martin told Religion News Service via email.

“The main reason that LGBTQ people felt hurt was not simply that priests were forbidden from blessing same-sex unions, a decision that many people may have expected, but that the statement went beyond that and talked about their love as ‘sin,’” said Martin, an advocate of the LGBTQ community.

As he listens to LGBTQ Catholics, Martin said he reminds them “they are, by virtue of the sacrament of baptism, as much a part of the church as their pastor, their bishop or the Pope.”

He also invites LGBTQ people to see the church “in its totality,” noting Francis’ appointment of Juan Carlos Cruz, an openly gay man, to a papal commission, as well as the number of European bishops who criticized the Vatican’s language.

“I invite them to see themselves as full members of the church, even a church that seems not to know how to welcome them,” Martin said.

For queer Catholics like Xorje Olivares, 32, it’s about making individual choices around what their Catholicism looks like. Spirituality, he said, doesn’t need to be a “one size fits all.”

“Everybody’s journey toward their acceptance of the Catholic faith or the role of the Catholic Church in their lives is their own, very much like everyone’s journey to their queerness is their own,” Olivares said.

Olivares, a former altar boy, hosts the podcast  “Queer I am, Lord,” where he talks with LGBTQ Catholics about why they’ve stayed in or left the church.

While Olivares said many queer Catholics grew up conditioned to fear God and to believe they are going to hell, “we’ve gone past that.” Meanwhile, he also acknowledged many still find it difficult figuring out “what to believe, when they have a church saying one thing and their bodies telling them another.”

“I sympathize with their struggles because those are very real,” he said.

Olivares often thinks about the kind of message they would send to the Catholic institution if every single LGBTQ person decided to leave the church, but he remains grounded by the Bible verse “knock and the door shall be open to you.”

“Here I am, me and all my queer friends. We’ve been knocking on the door over, and over, and over again, and I would be so upset with myself if the door finally opens and the church becomes a little more welcoming, and I’m not there because I decided to walk away,” he said.

“I don’t know if the church will be the safe space that I need it to be, or if it ever will be, but I know that I still find some joy referring to myself as a Catholic,” Olivares said.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholicism’s outdated views on gay community

The Vatican recently ruled that unions between same-sex people cannot be blessed.

By Gerry O’Shea

A few weeks ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) in the Vatican issued a universal edict refusing a church blessing for homosexual partners as part of the wedding ceremony.  

Their stated reasoning for this blanket rejection focuses on the alleged sinfulness of gay sexual intimacy which the Vatican statement claims God could never bless.

Early in his pontificate, on the plane back from a successful trip to Brazil, Pope Francis responded to a question about homosexuality by asking, “Who am I to judge?” He wondered why he should condemn a gay person of goodwill doing his or her best to live a decent life.

This is hardly a controversial statement; it would win approval in almost any company. However, the Catholic Church maintains a different perspective.

Francis’ predecessor, Benedict, described the homosexual lifestyle as “objectively disordered,” and before him, John Paul II denounced the intimate behavior of same-sex couples as “against the natural law.” It is this response to queer relationships that underpins the CDF statement.

The National Catholic Reporter, a prominent Catholic newspaper, gives front-page coverage to a committed Catholic couple who wanted a priest’s blessing of their union on their wedding day. A friendly priest from the LGBT community performed the ceremony – in an Episcopalian church.

According to the gospels, Jesus never even addressed this issue, and in focusing on his message of love and compassion he had very little to say about proscribing any sexual behavior.

The Catholic Church has definitely not followed his example in this regard.

While not deviating from the ideal high ground of a chaste lifestyle, Francis promised a more pastoral approach to homosexuals. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he supported civil unions where the state recognizes gay marriage as legal – a position that he has also advocated as pope, highlighting every person’s need for a supportive family.

While dealing only with civil arrangements, this thinking drew a lot of criticism from the strong traditionalist wing of the Catholic Church, especially in America. They reminded Francis of the core Catholic teaching that all sexual activity must be confined to marriage and procreation.

No pre-marital sex, no contraceptives allowed, and certainly same-sex lovemaking is completely anathema. The Catholic teaching on marriage is succinct: one man, one woman, one time!

This attitude to sexuality broadly fitted in with the wider culture until the 1960s. Since then, there has been a transformation in the thinking about what is permitted and appropriate between consenting adults. The easy availability of contraceptives drastically altered the behavior of dating couples, gay and straight.

It is no longer acceptable in Western culture to demean people because of their sexual proclivity. And Vatican statements, including the recent one from the CDF, always advise that homosexuals should be respected and treated with dignity.

Many gays cast a cold eye on this pronouncement, asking how can an institution that views their lifestyle as disordered and unnatural be sincere in wishing them well and offering them pastoral counseling.

It is instructive to consider the changing perspectives on homosexuality through the lens of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). They considered it a mental disorder until their 1973 annual convention when a slight majority of the psychiatrists voted to remove this negative designation.

Instead, their Diagnostic Manual of Disorders (DSM) named it as an “orientation disturbance,” a halfway effort aimed to include both sides in the APA. It wasn’t until 1987 that all negative connotations to being queer were removed completely from the DSM.

Cardinal Newman, the great 19th-century thinker and convert to Catholicism, warned that human knowledge of God and ethical issues can never be frozen in time and that church teaching must always be dynamic, open to new insights in response to advances in scientific knowledge and human experience.

Change, moving from past positions, has always been a challenge for big organizations and that certainly applies to the Catholic Church. Popes tend to show unwarranted deference to the teaching of their predecessors.

Paul VI, agonizing over the issue of contraceptive use in the late sixties, felt he could not go against the teaching of Pius X1 in his encyclical Casti Connubi (Latin: Of Chaste Wedlock) published in 1930. Pius was asserting traditional values in the area of sexuality against the liberalizing statement in the same year by the Anglican leadership at their Lambeth Conference, which allowed the use of contraceptives by married couples in limited circumstances.

Anyway, Paul went against the advice of a clear majority of his advisory commission, mainly because he felt that deviating from his predecessor would damage papal credibility. His encyclical Humanae Vitae (Latin: Of Human Life), published in 1968, remains true to Casti Connubi and disallows the use of condoms or the contraceptive pill even by married couples. The overwhelming majority of Catholics disregard this papal ordinance with, ironically, serious damage to the credibility that Paul sought to enhance.

More recently, Francis replied to the important question of ordaining women by stating that his predecessor John Paul II already ruled that out, without sharing his own opinion. Interestingly, it is a central issue on the agenda of the German church in their important ongoing synod, and they are likely to recommend change in this discipline. If other national and regional synods take a similar stand, Rome may not be able to staunch the forces of modernity.

At present, any priest or bishop participating in a female ordination is subject to excommunication. Tough luck on the many women who feel called to priestly service.

These ecclesiastical regulations reflect the cultural beliefs of other times. The Vatican is finding it very challenging to update and restate its belief system, especially in the light of positive advances in popular perceptions and scientific insights about the gay lifestyle.

Christians call on the spirit that pervades the universe, the spiritus mundi, for guidance. Catholic theologians in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1964) stressed the importance of what they called the sensus fidelium, the beliefs of the people in the pews, in gradually developing an understanding of controversial issues.

The men in the Vatican pay occasional lip service to this concept, but in reality, they want to keep power for themselves and they have been really successful in this regard. The lay community, non-clerics, have virtually no say in deciding church teaching about the queer lifestyle.

Back to the recent CDF pronouncement about blessing gay marriages. The ruling from Rome elicited expressions of dismay in progressive church circles. Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna said that as long as the request for a blessing is genuine and comes from a good heart, “it will not be refused.”

Seven of the ten Austrian bishops have been critical of the Vatican statement, and 200 German theologians questioned a regulation that suggests the exclusion of gay couples from God’s love. And more than 2,000 priests in Germany and Austria promised to continue blessing unions of queer couples with the proper disposition.

In America, Cardinal Tobin in Newark, from the minority progressive wing of the American bishops, proudly welcomes gays to his cathedral and states that the church’s approach to sexuality badly needs rethinking.

Across the Hudson, the large Catholic homosexual community in New York would surely celebrate if Cardinal Dolan showed a similar magnanimity, but he is a leader of old-school thinking. He fully supports the CDF statement and, unfortunately, no priest in his archdiocese can offer a sacerdotal blessing of the marriage of gay parishioners because the CDF in the Vatican has declared that God has ruled it out.

Complete Article HERE!

Irish priest says Catholic Church’s refusal to bless same-sex unions is “not Christianity”

By Rachael O’Connor

Fr Paddy Byrne, from Portlaoise, was responding to a recent report from the Vatican which ruled that the church cannot bless same-sex unions as ‘God doesn’t bless sin‘.

In the ruling, the CDF stated that while “God loves every person and the Church does the same”, and rejects all unjust discrimination, the church cannot bless a same-sex union as it does not follow the plan of the Creator.

The blessing of same-sex unions, the CDF said, is not “licit” and “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”.

The ruling insisted that this is not a “form of unjust discrimination” and that a gay person can be blessed individually, but the blessing of a same-sex union cannot take place as a “reminder of the truth… of the very nature of the sacramentals”.

Fr Byrne, who is a part of the Abbeyleix Parish, yesterday took to Twitter where he lamented over the ruling, citing his own experience in blessing “ceremonies of every description”.

Over the past 20 years, Fr Byrne has blessed “pets, cows, crops, rings, cars, tractors,” he said.

“Yet a same sex couple who request a simple blessing on their union must be turned away.

“This is not Christianity,” he said.

The ruling from the Vatican was a blow for Catholic members of the LGBT+ community, who were hoping for progression from their church, and Fr Byrne’s words have resonated with people across Ireland and beyond, garnering almost 5,000 ‘likes’ on Twitter.

“I feel so sad for the church,” one person wrote in response to Fr Byrne’s post. “What I’ve learned about Jesus in my 48 years of life is he preached love not hate, inclusion not exclusion.”

Earlier this month, former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, criticised Pope Francis following the Vatican ruling, saying she was bitterly disappointed by what could be perceived as Pope Francis raising and subsequently dashing hopes that LGBT Catholics were close to being accepted by their religion.

As reported by The Irish Times, the former president criticised Pope Francis as a populist whose “chummy words to the press” makes people believe the church is becoming a more progressive and accepting place– before the Vatican dashes such hopes soon afterwards.

Pope Francis made headlines across the globe late last year when he appeared to voice his support for same-sex families and same-sex unions, as he spoke in a new documentary stating “homosexual people have a right to be in a family” .

“What we have to create is a civil union law,” he added. “That way they are legally covered.”

“[Gay people] are children of God and have a right to a family.”

“Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it.”

However, the Vatican later released a statement insisting the Pope’s comments were taken out of context and the Church’s stance on the LGBT community and gay marriage has not changed.

Complete Article HERE!

Same-sex marriage exposes ‘cavernous divide’ between Vatican, Catholics

by Cornell University

The Vatican’s orthodoxy office has issued a formal response to a question about whether Catholic clergy have the authority to bless same-sex unions, saying the Catholic Church won’t bless same-sex unions since God “cannot bless sin.”

Landon Schnabel, assistant professor of sociology at Cornell University, says while the Vatican’s announcement is in keeping with the views of the church, it does not reflect the opinions of many everyday Catholics.

Schnabel says:

“The Pope’s pronouncement against same-sex marriage is consistent with Catholic tradition, but inconsistent with Catholic public opinion, especially in countries like the United States where about three in four Catholics support same-sex marriage.

“This distinction highlights the ongoing tension between elite pronouncements from institutional religious leaders and what everyday adherents believe, which is present across religions but is particularly pronounced in Catholicism as a diverse and global religion with one set of official rules from on high and yet a wide range of beliefs and practices on the ground. Especially on issues of gender and sexuality, there is often a cavernous divide between what the Vatican says and what everyday Catholics think and do.”

Kim Haines-Eitzen, professor of religious studies at Cornell University, says the announcement continues a legacy of conflicts over human sexuality.

Haines-Eitzen says:

“Christianity has been interwoven with debates about gender, sexuality, and the human body from the very beginning. The latest news from the Vatican against blessing same-sex unions continues a historical legacy fraught with conflicts over, in particular, human sexuality.

“From its inception, Christians argued about whether it was better to be married or celibate, whether women could hold positions of ecclesiastical authority, and about rules for sexual relations.

“At stake in this long and troubled history is the paradox of tradition, which is at once conservative and dynamic. Church traditions developed in part through the interpretation of biblical texts, the need for church unity in the face of diversity, and increasingly through the establishment of ecclesiastical law. The decree issued today stands in marked tension with recent efforts toward a more inclusive and expansive Catholicism.”