Catholic bishops face a choice: Pastors or politicians?

In this Friday, May 1, 2020 file photo, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez gives a blessing after leading a brief liturgy at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. The nation’s Catholic bishops begin their fall annual meeting Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, where they plan to elect new leaders — a vote that may signal whether they want to be more closely aligned with Pope Francis’ agenda or maintain a more formal distance.

by John Kenneth White

The last two years have been tumultuous ones for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. On Inauguration Day 2021, its president, Archbishop Jose Gomez, sent a churlish message to Joe Biden, condemning him for pledging “to pursue certain politics that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender.”

From there, the conference engaged in a prolonged discussion as to whether Biden and other prominent Catholic politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), should be denied communion — a ban that was imposed by Pelosi’s San Francisco archbishop, Salvatore J. Cordileone. After months of debate, the bishops punted on the issue and are currently spending $14 million to promote a National Eucharistic Revival.

With Gomez’s departure this month, the bishops were faced with selecting a new conference president. Over the past year, the Vatican has made it abundantly clear it is displeased with the American bishops and wants them more in alignment with Rome. In October, President Biden visited Pope Francis, and the pontiff went out of his way to call Biden “a good Catholic.”

A few months earlier, Speaker Pelosi and her husband, Paul, had an emotional meeting with the pope where she received a papal blessing and took communion at a Vatican mass. Prior to the bishops casting their votes for a new leader, the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, pointedly reminded them that they were “cum Petro and sub Petro,” translating, “with Peter and under Peter.” He listed what Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., described as the pope’s “greatest hits,” with an emphasis on the environment, immigration and promoting a greater sense of brotherhood and sisterhood — priorities that Stowe laments the bishops have ignored.

Thirty minutes after Pierre’s remarks, Timothy Broglio was elected as conference president. Broglio is no stranger to the culture wars. As archbishop of the Military Services, he supported a U.S. Air Force chaplain whose homily blamed “effeminate” gay priests for clergy sexual abuse. Broglio has repeatedly claimed that the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals are “directly related to homosexuality” — a position rejected by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice report, which found that “no single psychological, developmental, or behavioral characteristic differentiated priests who abused minors from those who did not.”

For two years, the worldwide Catholic Church has been engaged in a “synodal process,” a common term used for listening sessions. Repeatedly, the laity have expressed their desire that the church welcome migrants, ethnic minorities, the poor and divorced and remarried couples into its increasingly empty pews.

In its report to the Vatican, the bishops wrote, “Concerns about how to respond to the needs of these diverse groups surfaced in every synthesis.” But it was questions concerning LGBTQ Catholics that were especially troubling to the laity, with “practically all” consultations stating that the lack of welcome contributed to the hemorrhaging of young people from the faith. For his part, Pope Francis has gone to extraordinary lengths to convey his sense of fraternity with gay Catholics. This month, Francis welcomed Fr. James Martin, well-known in the U.S. for his outreach ministry to gay Catholics, to an extraordinary private meeting to discuss his ministry and offer support, previously telling Fr. Martin to “continue this way.”

Addressing the conference, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, it’s newly elected vice president, said, “We cannot credibly speak in a polarized society as long as our own house is divided.” But like so many other institutions, the Catholic Church has fallen victim to today’s cultural chasms. For some Catholics, the solution lies in a smaller, more homogenous, and culturally conservative church, set apart from a secular world that it so easily condemns, and producing leaders who are willing to wage war with the cultural politics of the moment.

For others, the choice is to be pastoral, listening without condemning and meeting people “where they are.” Pope Francis clearly prefers the latter approach, writing that when “victory consists in eliminating one’s opponents, how is it possible to raise our sights to recognize our neighbors or to help those who have fallen along the way?”

Bishop Stowe laments that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is becoming “more and more irrelevant” to the average Catholic, while other organizations are filling the void — including Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, Caritas and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Over the past two decades, one thing is clear: The bishops make for lousy politicians. But they could be pretty good pastors. It’s their choice.

Complete Article HERE!

How German Catholics pushed Church’s slow reforms

— The Catholic Church in Germany is changing to allow gays and divorcees to join its workforce of 800,000. But the reform does not go far enough for everyone.

by Christoph Strack

It’s an issue that affected the head doctor of a Catholic hospital, who was divorced and wanted to remarry; and the director of a church-run kindergarten, who entered into a same-sex partnership.

Both were dismissed by their employer, the Catholic Church in Germany. That sparked outrage among many German Catholics, who felt the church line made it look hard-hearted and at odds with today’s social norms.

Now, after repeated consultations, Catholic bishops in the country have decided to liberalize regulations covering the approximately 800,000 people who work for the Catholic Church in Germany.

“The core area of private life, in particular relationship life and the intimate sphere, remains separate from legal evaluations,” the announcement stated. In other words, what happens in employees’ bedrooms is outside the Church’s remit.

Reforms in the Church have been driven by the churchgoers
Reforms in the Church have been driven by the churchgoers rather than politicians

More liberal labor laws

The two major churches in Germany, Catholic and Protestant, form the country’s second largest employer after the public authorities. Together, they employ about 1.3 million people, and have their own church labor laws.

But why does the Catholic Church have the right to set its own guidelines for employees in the first place? This is set out in Germany’s constitution, the Basic Law, which grants religious and ideological communities extensive self-determination, including in service or labor law. In past decades, none of the major political parties in Germany wanted to restrict or abolish these provisions of the Basic Law.

That makes it noteworthy that the Catholic bishops are now changing important aspects of their labor laws of their own accord. The pressure came from employees and potential employees, for whom the Church had become an unattractive employer.

Above all, pressure grew from the Church’s base in Germany. Last year, Catholic Church workers caused a stir with an initiative entitled #OutInChurch, which earned support from many church organizations, politicians, and other social groups.

Church employees, including the clergy, came out as queer and pushed for recognition. Many risked losing their jobs, which is why some chose to remain anonymous. But the mood was changing. Some bishops also expressed respect for the initiative and announced that they would no longer fire anyone in their diocese because of their sexual orientation.

The Church’s ‘reform engine’

The “synodal path,” an assembly of lay people and bishops still working to confront abuse scandals and bring the Church closer to contemporary society, discussed the topic and made new demands regarding church labor law. Marc Frings, secretary general of the highest Catholic lay body, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), described the “synodal path” as “the engine of urgently needed reforms.”

Now many in the Church are eager to see how implementation will take place. The Bishops’ Conference can decide on a new labor law, and each individual bishop in the 27 dioceses is responsible for implementing — or ignoring — the rules in his diocese. Experts believe that several more conservative bishops might refrain from implementing it.

Among the dioceses that promptly announced they would stand behind the new labor law were Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki’s Archdiocese of Cologne and Bishop Stefan Oster’s Diocese of Passau. Other dioceses, such as Regensburg and Augsburg in Bavaria, have been more reticent.

‘Discrimination remains’

Not everyone has joined the jubilation over the bishops’ change of heart. Würzburg University Pastor Burkhard Hose, for example, still sees “a lot of room for episcopal arbitrariness.” The new labor law, for example, states that “anti-clerical behavior” can be grounds for dismissal, but it does not specify what this might mean, leaving each bishop to interpret it for himself.

German Anti-discrimination Commissioner Ferda Ataman speaks at Christopher Street Day 2022 Berlin,
German Anti-discrimination Commissioner Ferda Ataman has also been calling for more reforms

Jens Ehebrecht-Zumsande, an employee in the Archdiocese of Hamburg and, along with Hose, one of the initiators of the #OutInChurch campaign, has criticized the fact that the new guidelines are based on a “binary gender model …. according to which there are only women and men.” Trans or non-binary people have not been taken into account, he argued.

The German government’s anti-discrimination commissioner, Ferda Ataman, also weighed in, calling for the abolition of all exemptions, except for the clergy. Only that, she said, would protect people like the doctor or the kindergarten teacher who, even under the new regulation, may be fired if they leave the Church.

In general, the federal government lets the actions of the churches pass with little comment.

For Marc Frings, the new labor law is an encouragement for the laity within the churches. He says it is evident from the new labor law “that change and reform come from below.”

Without the #OutInChurch campaign and “engaged Catholic civil society,” we would not be at the current stage of reform, he argues. “This is how we learn that our actions and discussions can have immediate consequences,” he said.

Further reform issues are awaiting action in March 2023, when a final round of the “synodal path” will address, among other things, the demand for equal rights for men and women in the Church.

Complete Article HERE!

German Catholic Church Changes The Law To Permit Hiring Of LGBTQ People

By Shone Palmer

A new labor law was passed by the Catholic Church in Germany which allows people of the LGBTQ community to work under the church without being discriminated against or fired on the grounds of their sexuality.

The law was passed following a protest conducted last year by the employees of the Church who came out as queer. This new change was part of a greater drive to encourage tolerance and a feeling of oneness inside Catholic institutions.

The church officials also stated that according to the new law anyone can be part of the activities of the church that is ultimately meant to serve people and to exist for the general good in the world. There wouldn’t be any sort of biased behavior in terms of their personal choices unless it doesn’t go against the core values of the gospel itself.

Catholic Church In Germany Changes Policy To Includes LGBTQ Workers

The German Catholic Women’s Community hailed the decision and said that this is one of the most progressive decisions taken by the German Catholic Church which would be remembered throughout history.

The German state labor courts had been always critical of the labor laws of German Catholic Institutions as these didn’t go in agreement with the general labor laws of the country.

In 2011, a German labor court stated that the dismissal of a doctor who worked at a Catholic hospital on the grounds of his remarriage was unlawful.

There was a mass protest in January when around 125 employees of the German Catholic church came out in open with their queer status and raised their concern about living without fear under the catholic institutions in Germany.

There were many employees of the Catholic church like Priests, Religious teachers, and staff of administration who participated in the protest to uphold their identity and freedom.

It garnered a lot of publicity and sparked a massive debate over the stand of the Catholic Church on their hostility towards the LGBTQ community.

Usually, the work contracts of employees would be canceled if they were known to be from the LGBTQ community and the Catholic clergies refrained from blessing same-sex marriages as they considered it to be a “sin”.

The new amendment comes as a big step for the Catholic church and a success story for the LGBTQ community worldwide. The Central Committee of the German Catholics remarked that the decision was “overdue”.

Apart from same-sex relationships, the German Catholic Church was critical of people who remarried after divorce. This was also considered to be an unacceptable behavior and these people also were at risk of losing their jobs anytime.

These orthodox rules at the workplace were highly against the spirit of a democratic society as labor rights were applicable to every individual regardless of their personal lifestyle choices. The people who lived under such scrutiny for a long time had finally come out and expressed their anger and frustration through the protest.

The Conference also added that the amendment is directed at fostering a positive attitude among individuals toward the church and the teachings of the gospel.

Around the world, most catholic institutions are not welcoming of the LGBTQ community. Even in the US, the struggle for LGBTQ rights and social acceptance is still being fought every day.

Even though the situation has become much better compared to the past actions of religious prosecution of the queer communities, it still has a long way to go in terms of policy developments, social laws, and equal opportunities.

This amendment made by the German Catholic church shall be among the forerunners in the march towards queer rights.

Complete Article HERE!

LGBTQ-Friendly Votes Signal Progressive Shift for Methodists

A gay pride rainbow flag flies with the US flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., on April 19, 2019.

The United Methodist Church moved toward becoming more progressive and LGBTQ-affirming during U.S. regional meetings this month that included the election of its second openly gay bishop. Conservatives say the developments will only accelerate their exit from one of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations.

Each of the UMC’s five U.S. jurisdictions — meeting separately in early November — approved similarly worded measures aspiring to a future church where “LGBTQIA+ people will be protected, affirmed, and empowered.”

They also passed non-binding measures asking anyone to withdraw from leadership roles if they’re planning to leave the denomination soon — a category that almost entirely includes conservatives moving toward the exits.

The denomination still officially bans same-sex marriage and the ordination of any “self-avowed, practicing homosexual,” and only a legislative gathering called the General Conference can change that.

But this month’s votes show growing momentum — at least in the American half of the global church — to defy these policies and seek to reverse them at the next legislative gathering in 2024.

Supporters and opponents of these measures drew from the same metaphor to say their church is either becoming more or less of a “big tent,” as the United Methodists have long been described as a theologically diverse, mainstream denomination.

“It demonstrates that the big tent has collapsed,” said the Rev. Jay Therrell, president of the conservative Wesleyan Covenant Association, which has been helping churches that want to leave the denomination.

“For years, bishops have told traditionalists that there is room for everyone in the United Methodist Church,” he said. “Not one single traditionalist bishop was elected. Moreover, we now have the most progressive or liberal council of bishops in the history of Methodism, period.”

But Jan Lawrence, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, which works toward inclusion of Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities, applauded the regional jurisdictions. She cited their LGBTQ-affirming votes and their expansion of the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of bishops.

Jurisdictions elected the church’s first Native American and Filipino American bishops, with other landmark votes within specific regions, according to United Methodist News Service.

Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth addresses the delegates, guests and his new episcopal colleagues, shortly after his election on Nov. 4, 2022, at Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City.

“It is a big tent church,” Lawrence said. “One of the concerns that some folks expressed is that we don’t have leadership in the church that reflects the diversity of the church. So, this episcopal election doesn’t fix that, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth, elected in the Western Jurisdiction meeting, agreed. He is the first openly gay African American man to be elected bishop. The vote comes six years after the Western Jurisdiction elected the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area.

The LGBTQ-affirming resolutions point “to the alignment of the denomination more with the mainstream of our country,” Bridgeforth said. “It can also help us begin to center our conversations where we have unity of purpose, rather than centering on divisions.”

Bridgeforth will lead churches in the Greater Northwest Area, which includes churches in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and small parts of Montana and Canada. He said he has always worked across ideological lines in his administrative duties and would continue to do so.

“I have used our differences as an opportunity for us to come together,” he said. “It creates more space for a different kind of conversation than, ‘That’s different, that’s bad, we can’t be together.'” If some churches under his jurisdiction do choose to leave the United Methodist Church, Bridgeforth said he would help them make that transition.

“I would not want anybody to be where they don’t want to be,” he said.

Progressive groups have said the church should be open to appointing bishops and other clergy, regardless of sexual orientation, who show they have the gifts for ministry and a commitment to serve the church.

Conservatives, however, say the church needs to abide by its own rules.

“I am sure Bishop Bridgeforth is a person of sacred worth, but he does not meet the qualifications to hold the office of elder, much less bishop, and should not have been elected,” Therrell said.

At least 300 U.S. congregations have left the denomination this year, according to United Methodist News Service. Hundreds more are in the process of leaving, and Therrell predicted that number would be in the low thousands by the end of 2023. Overseas conferences in Bulgaria and Slovakia have ended their affiliation with the denomination, and churches in Africa are considering it, he said.

Many are bound for the newly formed conservative denomination, the Global Methodist Church.

The UMC is a worldwide denomination. American membership has declined to about 6.5 million, from a peak of 11 million in the 1960s. Overseas membership soared to match or exceed that of the U.S., fueled mostly by growth and mergers in Africa. Overseas delegates have historically allied with American conservatives to uphold the church’s stances on sexuality.

Support for a compromise measure that would have amicably split the denomination, negotiated in 2020, fell apart after that year’s legislative General Conference was postponed three times due to the pandemic. The next General Conference is now scheduled to begin in April 2024 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A vote by a 2019 General Conference was the latest of several in recent decades that reinforced the church’s ban on gay clergy and marriage. But that vote also prompted many local conferences to elect more liberal and centrist delegates, whose influence was felt in this month’s regional votes.

Complete Article HERE!

Top 5 Issues Hounding Today’s Catholic Church

— The Roman Catholic Church led by Pope Francis is arguably at a crossroads during a time of global changes that threaten to leave behind those unwilling to adapt.

There have been several key issues that keep on hounding the Church and serve as existential threats. How the Church responds to these issues could spell the difference between its survival and continued relevance to Catholics or signal its collapse and slide into oblivion

Here are the top five issues hounding today’s Catholic Church:

1. Clergy sexual abuse.

There is perhaps no single issue bigger than the allegations of widespread sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic clergy. These sexual abuse accusations are shocking and almost systematic, as there have been numerous publicized cases of clergy sexual abuse, many of which were committed against minor-age victims.

Jean-Pierre Ricard, a retired French bishop made a Cardinal by no less than the current pope, recently admitted through a statement to committing “reprehensible” acts with a 14-year-old girl when he was still a priest in the 1980s. Ricard said: “35 years ago, when I was a priest, I behaved in a reprehensible way towards a girl of 14. There is no doubt that my behaviour caused serious and long-lasting consequences for that person.”

Aside from Ricard, 11 other active and retired senior Catholic clergy members are charged with sexual abuse, according to a disclosure by the French Catholic Church leadership. And aside from these recent cases, there have been many other similar accusations of sexual improprieties by men in cloaks who are supposed to embody Christ’s holiness.

2. Abortion stand.

With recent developments, such as the controversial U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, the Catholic Church is again thrust into a highly divisive and delicate issue. While the Church has traditionally been anti-abortion, some Catholics strongly condemn the Church’s official stand on the matter.

A report revealed that as much as 58% of German Catholics are not happy with Pope Francis’ and the Vatican’s statements critical of abortion. Despite his largely liberal views on many other issues concerning the Catholic Church, Francis opts to take the traditional, conservative anti-abortion stand that past popes have taken.

With this internal conflict of views on this specific issue, it’s interesting to watch for developments on whether the Church and its members could find a common rallying point.

3. Clerical celibacy.

Catholic priests have long been sworn to adhere to the vow of celibacy. This is the doctrine that prohibits Catholic priests from marrying and instead choosing a life of chastity. Celibacy supposedly allows a priest and other clergy members to serve the Church better.

Incidentally, celibacy was among the top issues discussed during the 2019 Catholic Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region. This issue surfaced amid the shortage of unmarried priests to minister to the Catholic faithful in the region. With the lack of unmarried priests to guide Catholics, the question of whether to allow married men to become priests suddenly gained steam.

4. Church attitude towards LGBTQIA+.

In recent years, the LGBTQIA+ community worldwide has successfully drawn attention to their cause. However, despite such global awareness, individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ have yet to find the recognition and respect they seek. And it seems they could not count on the Catholic Church to give them the needed acceptance.

There have been several statements and actions from different Catholic leaderships across the world that clearly show discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community. From an Irish priest who said gay politicians are destined to hell to Denver archdiocese leaders telling Catholic schools not to accept gay or transgender students, there is much left to be desired in how the Catholic leadership and clergy treat the LGBTQIA+ community.

5. Female ordination.

The Catholic Church has been, for technically its entire existence, a male-dominated religion. This setup has been practically unchanged for centuries and does not seem to change in the foreseeable future.This is precisely why ordinating women to become deacons or priests is among the most hotly-debated issues within and beyond the Catholic fold. One small consolation comes in the recent Vatican synod document that included a discussion on women’s ordination, which has long been a taboo subject among Catholic religious.

“Women remain the majority of those who attend liturgy and participate in activities, men a minority; yet most decision-making and governance roles are held by men. It is clear that the Church must find ways to attract men to a more active membership in the Church and to enable women to participate more fully at all levels of Church life,” the document said.

The unwillingness of the Church to put women into a leadership position is eyed by some as a hindrance to the Church’s adaption to modernity. The document quoted the New Zealand episcopal conference report as saying the “lack of equality for women within the Church is seen as a stumbling block for the Church in the modern world.”

This is yet another issue that the Church would have to deal with if it expects to adapt to the changing global sentiment on gender equality in the religious realm.

Complete Article HERE!