Greek Church Leads Hateful, Twisted Campaign Against Gay Marriage

— Greece’s Orthodox Church is using ludicrous out-dated arguments like claiming homosexuality is a mental illness or that baptisms could turn kids gay if their parents are LGBTQ+.

by Demetrios Ioannou

Greece is expected to legalize same-sex weddings this week, in a vote due to be held the day after Valentine’s Day. Not everyone is feeling the love, however, and the Greek Orthodox church has become an outspoken and powerful opponent of the changes.

Even though the bill isn’t forcing the priests to marry gay people and has nothing to do with the church, it is church officials who have been the loudest opponents, with bishops appearing on television programs making outdated and false accusations, calling homosexuality a mental illness and suggesting that gay men and women are sick and only the church can heal them.

When the bill passes, Greece will be the first Christian Orthodox country with strong roots in religion to allow same-sex marriage.

Ultra-orthodox and far-right groups protested in central Athens on Sunday against the bill. Among them were many who were holding Greek flags, icons with Jesus and the Virgin Mary, and of course members of the clergy. “Fatherland, Religion, Family,” was one of their slogans.

“Ever since psychiatry removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders, it gave up on related research and these unfortunate people were left helpless with only solace the hope of a convenient legislation and the assertion of rights with parades of self-deprecation and shame,” said Nikolaos, the Metropolitan of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki, during a meeting of the Greek church’s Holy Synod in late January. These words angered many Greeks who took to social media to express their disapproval and even forced the Hellenic Psychiatric Association to release a statement clarifying that “homosexuality is not a mental illness”.

According to the Greek church, homosexuality is a sin and “of course the traditional family is in danger. A homosexual relationship can neither be a family nor a marriage,” Panteleimon, the Metropolitan of Maroneia and Komotini, the spokesperson of the Holy Synod, said to The Daily Beast, and continued: “The church only recognizes as marriage the relationship between a man and a woman, whose relationship is sanctified through the holy mystery of marriage.”

“I didn’t expect anything different from the church,” said Stella Belia, who was among a group of independent consultants who worked on the national strategy for the equality of LGBTQ+ people, which is being implemented by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in accordance with a European Commission initiative.

She told The Daily Beast that she has been “out and proud” since she was in high school, but is also a deeply religious person.

Despite being abandoned by her church, Belia has made huge progress as the president of Rainbow Families Greece, an NGO focusing on LGBTQ+ parents and their families.

While there are politicians who also oppose the bill, it is expected to pass with the majority of the parliamentary votes. Although Greece has recognized a cohabitation agreement, as an alternative to marriage for same-sex couples since 2015, this addition to the civil wedding bill will also acknowledge the children of those couples who have not been officially considered a family and don’t enjoy the same rights as straight families. However, the right to medically assisted reproduction and surrogacy will still not be extended to same-sex couples.

“It is very important for many [gay] families who have been feeling insecure, like families where the one member who is the legal parent is a person whose life is in danger. Those families will finally be able to have a shared parenting role,” said Belia, who is the biological mother of two 16-year-old boys, Giannis and Antonis, and looks after the three children of an ex-partner.

When her partner’s son Christos, had an accident with a motorcycle on July 6, 2022, he was hospitalized in the ICU for over a month. “He was under sedation and we didn’t know if he would live or die. And I was outside that ICU, inside was my child and I was nobody [to him according to the hospital rules],” she said, describing the difficulties many same-sex families in Greece face. According to current law, if the legal parent in a same-sex family dies, the child will most possibly end up in foster care. The partner does not have any rights associated with the child and cannot have custody.

This bill is currently in parliament and will be brought to a vote on Feb. 15. The church must then decide how to respond to the new law within religious settings. Though it is not an official decision yet, and the Greek Archbishop Ieronymos has been trying to push a more neutral stance for now, other members of the clergy have suggested that they will refuse to christen the children of gay couples, with Seraphim, the Metropolitan of Piraeus, saying on Greek network SKAI that: “If we baptize the children of gay couples, the children will become gay too.”

“I joke sometimes about this with my sons,” said Belia who had her children through IVF. “My boys tell me, ‘Mom do you still love us the same now that we are straight?’”

At the moment the Greek church has been waiting for the government’s next move and at the next meeting of the Holy Synod will decide how they will proceed. “True love has a cost; it has a sacrifice. The message of the church is clear; the church accepts everyone in repentance,” Panteleimon said. Belia replied: “None of them will deprive me of my faith. And this has nothing to do with me rejecting the church, it has to do with the church not wanting me in its bosom. I will not force myself to go where they do not want me”.

All this comes only months after the country had its first ever gay party leader. The newly elected leader of the main opposition party in the Greek parliament, Stefanos Kasselakis of SYRIZA, is a gay man who recently married his husband in New York. Same-sex marriage has been on Kasselakis’ agenda as well since day one and this has been one of the few things Greece’s main political parties agree on.

Mitsotakis said in a recent interview on national television ERT that the church could not stop the democratic will. “I absolutely respect our fellow citizens who have a different point of view, just as I respect the church’s point of view. We will respect the different opinion, but the state legislates; it does not co-legislate with the church,” he said.

The bill will finally give visibility to a large number of people in Greece and mostly their children. “All these years we have been fighting for the obvious,” Belia said.

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The overwhelming case to restore women to ordained ministry alongside men as their equals

A fresco believed to show a woman priest in the early church, in the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, Italy.

by Miriam Duignan

“We are still hopeful, but not particularly optimistic.” This was the response of the campaign group, Catholic Women’s Ordination, to the first synodal meeting in Rome.

During the synodal process, Church leadership heard Catholics everywhere express a strong desire to see women recognised for their vocations to ministry and for the priestly work they do in parishes everywhere. In so many of our churches, it is women preparing families for baptisms, marriages and funerals and, in the absence of a male priest, they conduct Communion services on a Sunday. Women are chaplains in hospitals where they care for the sick and the dying, but must call for a male priest to administer the last rites or hear confession. This glaring and illogical injustice can no longer be ignored.

And yet, the topic of women priests was banned at the Synod. Instead, after one month of discussions and constant edits, the summary document’s paragraph on the female diaconate (a question that was allowed) was a watered down, vague statement about the need for further study. If yet another study were to be taken up, this would be the third go-around in seven years to examine the case to restore the women’s diaconate. We have to ask, how much longer can this possibly take?

The vocation to be a deacon is undoubtedly a valid calling for those who do not want the responsibility of running a parish or holding other roles of responsibility in the leadership of the Church. CWO is hopeful that this ministry will soon be opened up for women who feel called to serve as a deacon, the way Catholic men can now. But a Deacon cannot celebrate mass or consecrate the Eucharist, the central sacrament of Catholicism, the heart of church life and of which parishes are in desperate need. The lack of priests has reached a critical stage and most clergy are now exhausted and overworked. The Church hierarchy is excluding a group of willing and able women workers who have the skills and experience to officiate today.

Our ambivalence about the possibility of women deacons also stems from the fear it would entail “bolting us on” to  current hierarchical structures in a way that limits the vocations of women and continues to render them as inferior to men. The post-synodal signs point to the desire of the Church hierarchy to create a lay ministry of women deacons that strictly rules out ordination. This would mean women won’t be sacramentally recognised as having a commitment to a life of ministry. CWO is concerned women would therefore not qualify to receive the same training as male deacons and would lack formal confirmation of a permanent role within parishes. We suspect that female lay deacons’ ability to preside at baptisms, weddings and funerals would always be subject to the goodwill and whims of local priests and bishops.

This continued restriction of the Sacrament of Holy Orders to men only (“permanent” deacons included) is a blatant discrimination that has no basis in tradition or theology. There is overwhelming evidence that women were sacramentally ordained as deacons in the early church. To allow this tradition to be denied would be to pander to the prejudicial desire to ensure that no woman will ever be recognised as the peer of a man.

We often hear that the body of evidence proving women were deacons means this is the only ministry women can claim to hold. But this is mistaken. Christ instituted an equal baptism for women and men, indicating openness to all sacraments including ordination. And at the Last Supper, women were present when Jesus said: “Do this in memory of me.” When Jesus sent out his apostles and disciples, he blessed them – men and women – with his authority for their mission. Whatever men did in the early Church, women did too, as equals and not subordinates. It was only in the fourth century that we first see a separate hierarchical rank of ordained male priests when the Roman culture of excluding women from leadership roles took hold. And so, for as long as priesthood exists as a role and a requirement to run parishes, administer all sacraments and participate in decision-making about how the Catholic Church is run and what it teaches, women can and must be among their number.

We welcome Synod discussions about tackling what Pope Francis calls “the scourge of clericalism”. But those opposed to any ministry for women are increasingly using this term to position women’s vocations in a negative light. To associate women’s genuine call to ministry with abuse of power and suggest that their ministry would be corrupt before it even starts, is a judgment never levelled at men who claim a vocation to priesthood. Those who claim concern about clericalism should note that this affliction often arises when priests believe they are a superior caste of men, because no woman can ever be their peer. And so, the most effective way to diminish clericalism and start to reform the priesthood would be to restore women to ministry alongside men as their equals.

CWO envisages flourishing,  inclusive, active Eucharistic communities, where women will be ordained to sacramental and pastoral care. We are confident that the Synod’s lack of meaningful commitments to act on equality will galvanise Catholics to demand their local dioceses have further listening sessions. This would increase the pressure on the Vatican to not only give the illusion of inclusion with vague references to study women but actively to include women in the leadership structure of the church. Our hierarchy needs to act now because the very future of our church is at stake. Any further delay only exacerbates the pastoral crises that leave the dying neglected, the vulnerable with no support, and parishes adrift. These communities are desperate for priestly service and leadership – the very care that women are already offering and are ready to give more fully.

Pope Francis: To be ‘scandalized’ by gay couple blessings is ‘hypocrisy’

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, at the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican.

By Matthew Santucci

Pope Francis this week again defended the Vatican’s controversial document authorizing blessings for same-sex couples, with the Holy Father arguing that humans “must all respect each other” and stating that blessings should be extended to “everyone.”

The pope’s comments come from an exclusive Italian-language interview he gave to the Italian weekly print periodical Credere, which will be available in newsstands across Italy on Thursday.

When asked by editor Father Vincenzo Vitale about Fiducia Supplicans — the December document published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) that authorized nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples and others in “irregular situations” — the pope said that “the gravest sins … are those that disguise themselves with a more ‘angelic’ appearance.”

“No one is scandalized if I give a blessing to an entrepreneur who perhaps exploits people: and this is a very serious sin,” the Holy Father said. “Whereas they are scandalized if I give it to a homosexual … This is hypocrisy! We must all respect each other. Everyone.”

“I don’t bless a ‘homosexual marriage,’” the pope said. “I bless two people who love each other and I also ask them to pray for me.”

“Always in confessions, when these situations arrive, homosexual people, remarried people, I always pray and bless,” he continued. “The blessing is not to be denied to anyone. Everyone, everyone. Mind you, I am talking about people: those who are capable of receiving baptism,” Francis continued.

Pope Francis has come to the defense of the document several times since its publication. In a Jan. 26 audience with members of the DDF, the pope said that “moral perfection” isn’t a requirement for receiving a blessing.

The intent of the blessings, the pope said at the time, is “to concretely show the closeness of the Lord and of the Church to all those who, finding themselves in different situations, ask help to carry on — sometimes to begin — a journey of faith.”

Those comments came after the 87-year-old pontiff appeared on the Italian prime-time TV talk show “Che Tempo Che Fa” on Jan. 14, which he joined via livestream from his residence at Casa Santa Marta.

Answering questions regarding Fiducia Supplicans, the pope said that “the Lord blesses everyone who is capable of being baptized, that is, every person.”

“But we are to take them by the hand and help them go down that road, not condemn them from the beginning,” he told the network. “And this is the pastoral work of the Church. This is very important work for confessors.”

The pope’s comments at Credere come amid continuing controversy over Fiducia Supplicans, which has been met with widespread criticism and concern centered on how it might be misconstrued. Backlash has come particularly from Church leaders in Africa and Eastern Europe.

Credere, which is part of the San Paolo Editorial Group and available only in print, was established on the occasion of the election of Pope Francis in 2013.

It is distributed throughout Italy with a weekly circulation of 60,000 copies and 200,000 readers, the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa reported.

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New leader of LGBTQ+ Catholic group seeks to help the queer faithful find a welcoming home

Michael O’Loughlin is the new executive director of Outreach, which highlights welcoming spaces within the church while working to create more.

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Many LGBTQ+ Catholics have a fraught relationship with the church, given its teachings against same-sex relationships and gender transition. Some leave for another faith or none at all, but some stay and try to make Catholicism work for them. As the new executive director of the LGBTQ+ Catholic ministry Outreach, Michael O’Loughlin’s goal is to help those who stay find welcoming spaces — and to create more of those.

“There can be room” for out, self-accepting LGBTQ+ people in the church, says O’Loughlin, a gay man who has worked as a journalist for The Advocate, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and numerous other publications.

He was most recently national correspondent for America, a magazine affiliated with the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order noted for scholarship and a commitment to social justice, and Outreach is an official Jesuit ministry. Founded two years ago by Rev. James Martin, a priest noted for his LGBTQ+ allyship, Outreach is a resource for LGBTQ+ Catholics, publishes a news and analysis website, and holds an annual conference. O’Loughlin is its first executive director, and Martin will continue to provide leadership in his role as founder.

O’Loughlin has spent the past few years promoting his book Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear, about Catholics who stepped up to serve those affected by the epidemic even as the church sometimes turned away. In talking about the book, he encountered many LGBTQ+ people who longed for a welcoming space within the Catholic Church. He was attracted to Outreach because it’s creating those spaces, he says.

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He was brought up Catholic and struggled at times to make sense of being both Catholic and gay. “Early on, I was confronted with the idea that I had to choose to live as a gay person or choose to practice my faith,” he says. In the end, though, he decided “you don’t have to choose one or the other.”

He realizes that not everyone can do what he did. “It’s fairly obvious that the church has been damaging to LGBTQ people throughout history,” he says, and notes that it’s understandable that some would leave. But with Outreach, he seeks to highlight the stories of those who’ve stayed in the faith and are not only feeling affirmed there but also providing important services to the church — teaching, serving as music directors, working in food pantries and homeless shelters, and more. They’re “living the gospel,” he says.

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The ministry, he says, won’t shy away from the challenges facing LGBTQ+ Catholics; he acknowledges that some LGBTQ+ people have been fired by church-affiliated entities simply because of their identity, but he notes that there has been pushback against such discrimination, especially by the Jesuits. However, many LGBTQ+ Catholics are finding those welcoming spaces he talks about, he says, and Outreach can help parishes understand how to be more welcoming.

He has worked alongside Martin, editor at large for America, for several years. “What I admire about Jim’s work is he’s able to advocate for greater inclusivity while working within the framework of the church,” O’Loughlin says. “He’s been very successful in bringing people together.” Martin is the author of several books, including Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.

“Everyone at Outreach is overjoyed,” Martin said in a press release announcing O’Loughlin’s appointment. “With his years of journalistic experience, his theological background, two books to his credit, and his deep knowledge of the LGBTQ community, I can think of absolutely no one better suited for this job. This is the perfect job for Mike, and Mike is the perfect person for this job.”

Outreach is not a competitor to other LGBTQ+ Catholic groups, such as DignityUSA and New Ways Ministry, both of which have a mission of advocating for LGBTQ+ equality within the church, O’Loughlin says. “There is room for all these different groups to work together,” he says.

Asked about potential changes to church doctrine, he says he can’t predict what the future will hold. Ten years ago, he wouldn’t have expected that any pope would approve blessings for same-sex couples, although Pope Francis has since said the blessings are not for the relationship but for the individuals in it. Still, he says, “I’m encouraged that Pope Francis continues to make space with these conversations.” So he’ll stay hopeful about what the next 10 years might bring.

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Jesuits in US Bolster Outreach Initiative Aimed at Encouraging LGBTQ+ Catholics

— Catholic dogma continues to repudiate same-sex marriage and gender transition

In this photo provided by America Media, from left, the Rev. James Martin, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, N.M., and Rev. Eric Andrews attend the closing Mass for the Outreach conference at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, in New York, June 18, 2023. Martin is the founder of Outreach, a unique Jesuit-run program of outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics.

By Associated Press

Even as Catholic dogma continues to repudiate same-sex marriage and gender transition, one of the most prominent religious orders in the United States — the Jesuits — is strengthening a unique outreach program for LGBTQ+ Catholics.

The initiative — fittingly called Outreach — was founded two years ago by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit who is one of the country’s most prominent advocates for greater LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Catholic Church.

Outreach, a ministry of the Jesuit magazine America, sponsored conferences in New York City in 2022 and 2023, and last year launched a multifaceted website with news, essays and information about Catholic LGBTQ+ resources and events.

On Tuesday, there was another milestone for Outreach — the appointment of journalist and author Michael O’Loughlin as its first executive director.

O’Loughlin, a former staff writer at online newspaper Crux, has been the national correspondent at America. He is the author of a book recounting the varied ways that Catholics in the U.S. responded to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and ‘90s — “Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear.”

O’Loughlin told The Associated Press he’s excited by his new job, viewing it as a chance to expand the range of Outreach’s programs and the national scope of its community.

“It’s an opportunity to highlight the ways LGBT people can be Catholic and active in parishes, ministries and charities,” he said. “There’s a lot of fear about to being too public about it. … I want them to realize they’re not alone.”

O’Loughlin says his current outlook evolved as he traveled to scores of places around the U.S. to promote his book, talking to groups of LGBTQ+ Catholics, and their families and friends, about how to make the church more welcoming to them.

Those conversations made O’Loughlin increasingly comfortable publicly identifying as a gay Catholic after years of wondering whether he should remain in the church. Its doctrine still condemns any sexual relations between gay or lesbian partners as “intrinsically disordered.”

The latest expansion of Outreach occurs amid a time of division within the global Catholic Church as it grapples with LGBTQ+ issues.

Pope Francis, a Jesuit who has met with Martin and sent letters of support to Outreach, has made clear he favors a more welcoming approach to LGBTQ+ people. At his direction, the Vatican recently gave priests greater leeway to bless same-sex couples and asserted that transgender people, in some circumstances, can be baptized.

However, there has been some resistance to the pope’s approach. Many conservative bishops in Africa, Europe and elsewhere said they would not implement the new policy regarding blessings. In the U.S., some bishops have issued directives effectively ordering diocesan personnel not to recognize transgender people’s gender identity.

Amid those conflicting developments, Martin and other Jesuit leaders are proud of Outreach’s accomplishments and optimistic about its future.

“There seems to be deep hunger for the kind of ministry that we’re doing, not only among LGBTQ Catholics, but also their families and friends,” Martin said by email from Ireland, where he was meeting last week with the the country’s Catholic bishops.

“Pope Francis has been very encouraging, allowing himself to be interviewed by Outreach and sending personal greetings to our conference last year,” Martin added. “Perhaps the most surprising support has been from several bishops who have written for our website, as well as some top-notch Catholic theologians who see the need for serious theological reflection on LGBTQ topics.”

Martin will remain engaged in Outreach’s oversight, holding the title of founder.

The Rev. Brian Paulson, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, evoked both Jesus and the pope when asked why his order had embraced the mission of Outreach.

“Pope Francis has repeatedly called leaders in the Catholic church to emulate the way Jesus spent his ministry on the peripheries, accompanying those who had experienced exclusion,” Paulson said email. “I think the work of Outreach is a response to this invitation.”

Paulson also said he was impressed by Martin’s “grace and patience” in responding to the often harsh criticism directed at him by some conservative Catholics.

There was ample evidence of Outreach’s stature at its conference last June at a branch of Fordham University in New York City. The event was preceded by a handwritten letter of support sent to Martin by Pope Francis, extending “prayers and good wishes” to the participants.

“It’s a special grace for LGBTQ Catholics to know that the pope is praying for them,” Martin said.

Another welcoming letter came from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.

“It is the sacred duty of the Church and Her ministers to reach out to those on the periphery,” he wrote to the conference attendees.

The keynote speakers included Fordham’s president, Tania Tetlow, and the closing Mass was celebrated by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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