Untangling knots and building bonds

— Our Lady Undoer of Knots church welcomes LGBTQ+ people, other disaffected Catholics

Al Risdorfer, a pastor at Our Lady Undoer of Knots Inclusive Catholic Community, stands inside of St. Mark’s On the Hill Epsicopal Church, where Our Lady Undoer of Knots leases space to hold Mass every Sunday at 6 p.m.

By Marcus Dieterle

On a recent Sunday, Father Al Risdorfer stands in front of an altar, flanked by the Maryland flag and an LGBTQ+ pride banner, with rainbow colors reminiscent of the stained glass windows that filter the church’s light.

As a cantor’s voice echoes off stone walls, parishioners line up to receive Holy Communion. No one is turned away.

Risdorfer tells Baltimore Fishbowl that the church community, Our Lady Undoer of Knots, wants to keep Catholic traditions alive while serving as an inclusive, nonjudgmental and affirming space for LGBTQ+ people, divorcees, and others who have been left out of the Roman Catholic Church.

“We’re a community,” he said. “We’re social justice-oriented. We have great fellowship with one another….We pray well, we play well, and we don’t have all the nonsense. We don’t have all the judgment. We don’t have all the condemnations. We don’t have all the division.”

On a mission to redefine what it means to be a devout Catholic, Our Lady Undoer of Knots is building an independent Catholic community that is welcoming to all, and trying to fulfill its social justice vision. It has been a rocky road for the church, trying to grow its parish while many Catholics are leaving the faith altogether, and amid social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. But still, the passion and community are growing.

Every Sunday at 6 p.m., Our Lady Undoer of Knots holds Mass at St. Mark’s On The Hill Episcopal Church in Pikesville, where they lease space. They also livestream the Mass and post recordings on their website, Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo.

Path to priesthood

Although he was ordained four years ago, Risdorfer said he has always wanted to be a priest.

After high school, Risdorfer attended seminary for six years but left before taking his vows. And while attending graduate school to earn his master’s degree in organization management, he came out as a gay man – an identity that he said was also always with him, even before he had the words to express it.

Risdorfer, who has worked in human resources throughout his professional career with technology companies and nonprofits, said there are “an awful lot of transferable skills” between ministry and HR.

“I keep joking to people that I make the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and occasionally I raise somebody from the dead in the HR job,” he said. “In HR, you get people that are just unmotivated and you kind of bring them back to life.”

Now, he and the other members of the community at Our Lady Undoer of Knots hope to motivate people to turn or return to the Catholic faith.

The church community also aims to promote social justice, which Risdorfer said is a tenet of the faith although many do not live up to the principle. Our Lady Undoer of Knots plan to assist low-income families and provide a safe space for survivors of conversion therapy and religious trauma, among other efforts.

Al Risdorfer holds an icon of Our Lady Undoer of Knots, painted by Rev. Anjel Scarborough, formerly of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.

After facing homophobia at another church, Risdorfer and his partner at the time – now husband, Tony Bono, a retired professional soccer player – searched for a congregation where they wouldn’t face discrimination.

They found a parish that was part of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA), a Catholic jurisdiction independent from the Roman Catholic Church. After a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, the CACINA church married Risdorfer and Bono.

When that church was looking for priests, Risdorfer volunteered to return to his studies. He was ordained as a deacon in 2018, and as a priest in 2019.

From there, Risdorfer helped found Our Lady Undoer of Knots in the Baltimore area, a parish under CACINA at the time. Our Lady Undoer of Knots has since left CACINA and joined another Catholic jurisdiction, Progressive Catholic Church International.

Our Lady Undoer of Knots has also revived the Baltimore chapter of DignityUSA, the world’s largest and oldest community of LGBTQ+ Catholics, which has not had a chapter in Baltimore since the 1980s. Dignity Baltimore operates as a ministry of Our Lady Undoer of Knots.

When Our Lady Undoer of Knots began in November 2019, it operated out of Risdorfer and Bono’s home in Howard County. Soon after, they began renting their current space at St. Mark’s, located at 1620 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville, where they hoped to cultivate the parish. Then, the pandemic hit.

Though their plans were stalled, Our Lady Undoer of Knots is still striving to grow in size and impact.

At odds with Rome

Risdorfer explained that Our Lady Undoer of Knots, the Marian devotion that the church community is named after, signifies the ability of Mary, mother of God, to help people navigate tangles and challenges in life.

Pope Francis has expressed some support for LGBTQ+ people, including saying that same-sex couples have the right to have children and that parents should not throw out their children from their homes for being an LGBTQ+ identity. But he has also said that while having a “tendency” for same-sex attraction is not a sin, acting on that attraction is sinful.

This icon of Our Lady Undoer of Knots was painted by Rev. Anjel Scarborough, formerly of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City. Al Risdorfer, pastor at Our Lady Undoer of Knots Inclusive Catholic Community, purchased it from an art auction that St. Peter’s was holding.

Risdorfer said those latter beliefs continue to force individuals to hide who they are and have turned many away from the faith. He added that the Roman Catholic Church also has also looked down on those of other backgrounds, such as those who are transgender, divorcees, and women or nonbinary individuals seeking to become leaders in the church.

“We figured the knot that needs to be untied here is how do we bring people back to the church, back to God?” Risdorfer said. “Because a lot of them, when they walked out of the church and walked out of the pews, they just kept on going.”

Our Lady Undoer of Knots holds a traditional Catholic Mass that Risdorfer said most “cradle to grave Catholics” like himself would be familiar with, from scripture readings to singing of hymns to Communion.

But they do not swear allegiance to Rome and all worshipers are welcome to be part of their church community.

In March, the Vatican released a statement saying that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex marriages and unions, which they called “sinful.”

Catholic churches and dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, also continue to promote a program called “Courage” that “seeks to help persons with same-sex attractions develop an interior life of chastity and move beyond the confines of the homosexual identity to a more complete identity in Christ.”

Risdorfer said LGBTQ+ people should not have to hide who they are to be part of the Catholic faith.

“We are not ‘intrinsically morally disordered,’” he said, referring to a 1986 Roman Catholic Church document that called same-sex attraction a tendency toward “intrinsic moral evil” and an inclination that is “an objective disorder.”

“We are good, we are children of God, and we’re not going away,” Risdorfer said.

A different ‘GPS’

Risdorfer said Our Lady Undoer of Knots has a different “GPS” – which stands for how the church community views “gender, power and sexuality” – than other Catholic churches, particularly those that are allegiant to Rome.

Last year, Pope Francis formally allowed women to give Communion, read during Mass and perform other tasks. But he maintained that women cannot become priests.

At Our Lady Undoer of Knots, people of all genders can be ordained as priests and take on other roles in the church.

There is also less hierarchy in their church’s power structure, which Risdorfer described as “more collaborative” and “not top down.”

Body and blood

While Risdorfer said about half of the parish is part of the LGBTQ+ community, those are not the only people they are looking to reach. They also want to connect with divorced Catholics; individuals who have had abortions; women and nonbinary people, as well as married people, looking to be ordained; and anyone else who does not feel represented in the Catholic church.

Vivian Hogan came to Our Lady Undoer of Knots after being unable to receive Communion at other churches.

Hogan divorced her first husband and married her second husband, whom she has been married to now for 49 years. But for most of her life, she could not receive Communion because her first marriage had not been annulled.

Though Hogan attended Mass at other churches on and off throughout her life, not being able to receive Communion for all those years weighed on her.

When she started attending Our Lady Undoer of Knots in November 2021, she said Risdorfer gave her “unconditional absolution” and she was able to once again receive Communion.

The Pikesville church is about an hour each way from her home in Damascus every Sunday, but Hogan said the community she has found is well worth the trip.

“It’s a much smaller community [than other churches],” she said. “Everyone knows one another and they’re very friendly and outgoing.”

Our Lady Undoer of Knots Inclusive Catholic Community holds Mass every Sunday at 6 p.m. inside St. Mark’s On the Hill Episcopal Church in Pikesville, where they lease the space.

Jared Dixon, also a parishioner at Our Lady Undoer of Knots, said many Catholic churches have “weaponized” Communion.

“It’s been seen as a reward for being a pious Catholic or pious Christian…. I don’t think that receiving Communion should be a reward for being good or [not receiving it] should be punishment for not being good. I feel like everybody should be able to approach the Lord’s table,” he said.

But Dixon, who is also the author of a novel in which characters navigate being gay in the Catholic church, said Our Lady Undoer of Knots is unlike other churches he has attended.

“You feel welcome the moment you walk in the door,” he said. “There’s no preconceived notion of ‘You need to be this way. You need to be that way. You can’t bring this part of yourself to church.’ We welcome you in every aspect of your life: however you show up, whoever you are, whoever you love.”

Welcome one and all

Destiny DiMattei, who is nonbinary, asexual and panromantic, sought a Catholic church that was affirming for LGBTQ+ people.

“I don’t have a relationship right now, but I want to know that wherever I am I’d be somewhere that that my partner and my relationship with my partner will be welcomed,” they said.

DiMattei, who is partially blind, reads from the lectionary in braille every Sunday. At Our Lady Undoer of Knots, they said they are able to not only provide their input but have those ideas respected.

“Everyone has as much impact as they have time for or are able to have…. I’m not just passively sitting around at Mass. I’m actually part of something,” they said.

John Hagens, a music minister with the church, was part of a group in college where he thought he was supported. But when he came out as gay and the group’s reaction was unwelcoming, he left.

“That was the one place where I felt like I could be safe in coming out to a group of people who I called friends and were really supportive of people,” he said. “I just didn’t have that experience. It went quite the other direction. I stopped feeling welcome in that community.”

He added “I was told all throughout growing up and all throughout high school and [college] that I was made in God’s image and God doesn’t make mistakes. And yet, here were these people who were supposedly leading the faith, telling me that I’m wrong and that I am sinful because of who I am.”

After he moved to Maryland to live with his partner Mike, they “bounced around to a few independent Catholic churches in the area” before eventually finding their “church home” at Our Lady Undoer of Knots.

“I never feel like I’m being lectured to,” Hagens said. “I don’t feel like someone is preaching at me. I feel like I’m just having a conversation with a good friend.”

Our Lady Undoer of Knots Inclusive Catholic Community holds Mass every Sunday at 6 p.m. inside St. Mark’s On the Hill Episcopal Church in Pikesville, where they lease the space.

Undoing knots

Risdorfer said the church needs more members to tackle the social justice work they have planned, such as aiding economically disadvantaged families.

“We’re in this Catch 22: I can’t do a lot because I haven’t grown because I haven’t done a lot because I haven’t grown,” he said.

Some people have been turned off by the Roman Catholic Church’s values not aligning with their own, Risdorfer said. Others, particularly young people, have not had as strong of an inclination toward religion that previous generations have had, he said.

DiMattei said other Catholic churches reinforce the idea of “sacrificial love and giving until it hurts,” which has been harmful to them as a person with a co-dependency background.

“How do I not constantly have the urge to do for others to the point of hurting myself, where it becomes too much?” they said. “What is that line? That’s a knot I’m still trying to undo in my life.”

But at Our Lady Undoer of Knots, they are looking to do and give what they can without feeling pressured past those boundaries, balancing their personal wellbeing with others’ needs.

Building bonds

While the church has been working to undo knots, they also recently helped tie a new, more hopeful knot for Dixon and his now-husband Jerry. The couple were married by Risdorfer this January.

Over the past six years or so, Dixon said it became important for him to have a church wedding because he wanted that spiritual connection. But until coming to Our Lady Undoer of Knots, they struggled to find a Catholic church that would let them marry.

“Finding the right church that would marry me and honor my commitment that I would make to my husband was very important,” Dixon said.

As Our Lady Undoer of Knots continues to grow, Hagens hopes more people who have been shut out by the Catholic church will find what they are looking for with their community.

“There are people who are waiting out there to lovingly affirm your whole self and not judge you for whatever you bring to the table because you are a person of the community,” he said. “We are sinners just as much as that other person; there is no one that’s perfect. But we at Our Lady Undoer of Knots really want to provide a space where all are welcome.”

Complete Article HERE!

New book explores being queer in German Catholic Church

A new collection of essays details the discrimination and exclusion experienced by queer people in the Catholic Church in Germany, adding to mounting pressure on the embattled institution to carry out reforms.

By Christoph Strack

Anyone who listens to folk and pop music in Germany will know Patrick Lindner. The 61-year-old has been in the music business for decades. He’s a well-known face on television and performs in German-speaking countries. Patrick Lindner is gay — and Catholic.

“In the fall of 2020, my husband and I got married,” Lindner writes in a book published earlier this week.

“It was important to us to also receive God’s blessing in church after the civil wedding. Contrary to his expectations, it was made possible without any problems.

A wish for the church

The artist talks about growing up in a Catholic environment, without having been “raised too strictly Catholic.” He describes his coming out in 1999 as a low point in his career, and the impact of fans’ outpouring support. He also writes about his mother’s wish: “I want you to be happy!” The same attitude, Lindner says, is what he would want from “Mother Church.”

Singer Patrick Linder with his husband Peter Schäfer
Singer Patrick Linder (left), with his husband Peter Schäfer

Lindner’s contribution is one of 68 texts compiled and published by the priest Wolfgang Rothe in the German book “Wanted. Loved. Blessed. Being queer in the Catholic Church.” Not all of the authors belong to this group. Some essays are by relatives or friends. And, every fourth contribution is published anonymously, under the initials “N.N.”

Huge pressure on queer people

“Queer” is an umbrella term used to describe people whose sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to heterosexual or cisgender ideas. Until now, the Catholic Church has rejected as dangerous any sexual orientation that diverts from heterosexuality.

Queer people who work for the Catholic Church — whether in parishes, kindergartens or retirement homes — can be fired at any time.

Wolfgang Rothe, who published the book, told DW that he wants the manuscript to depict the reality of queer people in the Catholic Church “as comprehensively as possible” and thus “bring about a change of perspective in our church.” Rothe said he himself “burst into tears” when he first read many of the contributions.

He said he hoped readers will feel the same way and understand just how much queer people in the church suffer from discrimination and exclusion. “This suffering must come to an end,” he said.

Priest Wolfgang Rothe blesses a same-sex couple
Wolfgang Rothe, a priest who published the book, blesses a same-sex couple

Rothe is among Catholic clerics in Germany who blessed same-sex couples at church in May 2021, even though the Vatican had previously banned such celebrations.

Hurt, fear and frustrations

“The divide is widening, the need for reform is obvious,” wrote architect Ulrike Fasching in the book. She lives in a so-called “rainbow family” — two women with one son.

Stefan Thurner, a geriatric nurse, when referring to his experiences in everyday community life, wrote: “To act as if there are no queer people is simply out of touch with reality.”

Three of the anonymous contributions come from the clergy. “I am a priest. And I’m gay,” is how one begins, expressing hurt that homosexuals, even if celibate, are not allowed to become priests at all under Vatican rules.

A same-sex couple in front o a state of Maria
Church employees, who have come out as gay, can be fired

Film director and event manager Katrin Richthofer describes her tense relationship with the Catholic Church and comments on her lesbian daughter: “Don’t let a church ruin your faith! God created you just the way you are and loves you unconditionally!”

The collection is a catalog of hurts, fears and frustrations, as well as the hopes pinned on faith, and painful experiences surrounding the idea of home and identity.

Rothe explains why so many contributions are anonymous. “In this anonymity, the fear is expressed very clearly.” Among those who chose to publish anonymously, he says, are even some people “who are out of the closet in their everyday lives, but who were afraid to speak out in public.”

Need to accelerate reform

The book was published eight days after 125 queer church employees came out, causing a big stir in Germany. The timing was coincidental but it illustrates the growing calls for reform. As recently as last Sunday, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, had welcomed the coming out of numerous queer employees of his church. “We have deeply hurt people and continue to do so today,” he said on German public television network ARD.

But even Bätzing cannot guarantee that no church employee will be fired because of his or her sexual orientation. He refers to the ongoing reform of church labor law in Germany. That, however, has been going on for years — a fact Bätzing did not explicitly mention. The slow process has led to calls for lawmakers to raise pressure on the church.

A rainbow flag near a church spire
Many are pushing for the recognition of queer people in the church

The call for decisive action by bishops will become stronger again when the third plenary assembly of the “Synodal Way” of the Catholic Church in Germany meets in Frankfurt am Main at the end of the week.

The assembly, launched at the end of 2019, is intended to discuss — and advance — reforms.

Earlier in January, the publication of a new, damning report investigating historical sexual abuse at the Munich Archdiocese over several decades sparked renewed outrage. That has prompted many of the faithful to renew calls for swifter action, including recognizing queer people in the church.

Bishops go against the tide

One of those already taking action has his say in the book with the essay titled: “Encounters create change.” Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers, who is 69, describes his uncertainty before meeting with a group of queer Christians in Dresden.

“What they had to tell me touched me deeply,” Timmerevers writes. His diocese has now set up a counseling service for queer people. The Dresden bishop calls the Vatican’s refusal to bless same-sex partnerships “deeply devastating,” saying the church “cannot continue like this in the long run.”

Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers of Dresden

Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers changed his stance on same-sex couples after meeting with Dresden’s queer community

Timmerevers is not alone. On March 13, Cardinal Reinhard Marx will celebrate a queer service in Munich’s Paulskirche. It also marks an anniversary. Since March 2002, queer people and their friends in the city have been celebrating “Roman Catholic services” once a month in Munich.

Marx’s presence will mark the first time that an archbishop will attend the anniversary — complete with champagne and a buffet.

Complete Article HERE!

German Catholic Priests Defy Rome to Offer Blessings to Gay Couples

More than 100 Roman Catholic parishes in Germany held services to bless gay couples, in defiance of the Vatican’s refusal to recognize same-sex unions.

The Rev. Wolfgang Rothe blesses Christine Walter and Almut Muenster during a service at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church on Sunday in Munich.

By

More than 100 Roman Catholic parishes in Germany offered blessings to gay couples on Monday in defiance of church teaching and their own bishops.

The call for nationwide blessings came in response to a decree issued by the Vatican on March 15, reinforcing the church’s prohibition of priests asking for God’s benevolence for gay couples, stating that God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

A group of 16 German priests and volunteers organized a petition that within days collected more than 2,000 signatures. Encouraged by the response, they decided to take their action one step further and declare May 10 — chosen because of its association with Noah, who in the Bible is recognized by God with a rainbow, a symbol that has more recently been adopted by the L.G.B.T.Q. community — as a day to hold blessing ceremonies for any and all couples, but especially those in same-sex unions.

“In view of the refusal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to bless homosexual partnerships, we raise our voices and say: We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship,” the group said in a statement. “We will not refuse a blessing ceremony.”

The Vatican had no comment on Monday, but the head of the conference of Roman Catholic bishops in Germany, Georg Bätzing, who is also the bishop of Limburg, rejected using public blessing ceremonies as what he called “instruments for symbolic actions on church policy or for protests.”

“It is part of the pastoral ministry of the church to treat all of these people fairly in their respective concrete situations on their life’s journey and to accompany them pastorally,” Bishop Bätzing said in a statement, speaking for the country’s bishops. “In this context, however, I do not consider public actions such as those planned for 10 May to be helpful or a way forward.”

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, because that is God’s plan for the creation of life. Church doctrine says that while gay people must be treated with dignity, homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.” Pope Francis has not changed this teaching, but has occasionally raised the hopes of gay Catholics by speaking of the need to love and welcome gay and transgender people.

The German church is among the most powerful and liberal in the world, and Roman Catholics everywhere were watching the response to the blessings for signals of how the church might respond to attempts at reform from those in the pews and from the priests who are often among those most active in finding ways to include gay men and lesbians in the church.

“There has been this incredible discussion in Germany about same-sex couples specifically that has not taken place anywhere else,” said Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, which represents gay and lesbian Catholics in the United States. “No other group has done something like that.”

A few German parishes held blessing services on Sunday and dozens more took place Monday, many of them in churches in the heavily Roman Catholic western regions of the country, home to many of Germany’s most liberal Catholics. Some were streamed live, while others offered virtual blessings over social media, “whenever and wherever you want.”

By contrast, only a few parishes in the heavily Roman Catholic southern state of Bavaria, the more deeply conservative region where Pope Benedict XVI grew up, held services.

Churches that were not offering ceremonies were encouraged to fly a rainbow flag or other banners recognizing and celebrating love in all of its forms as worthy of God’s graces.

The Rev. Bernd Mönkebüscher, pastor in the Church of St. Agnes in the western town of Hamm and one of the initiators of the campaign, said that every Valentine’s Day, his parish holds blessings for all couples, including those from same-sex unions and those who remarried after a divorce.

“We held a blessing service this Valentine’s Day, but it was important to us in view of this story from Rome to send a clear signal that the church must recognize, honor and appreciate life in all of its many colors,” said Father Mönkebüscher, who identifies as gay. “It is an important gesture toward those people who the church for years, if not decades, has viewed as second-class citizens.”

At least 30 couples had registered to take part in the ceremony in his parish on Monday, he said, adding that the number of participants was limited because of restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “We are fully booked out,” he said.

During the ceremony, Father Mönkebüscher walked around the nave, approaching couples who sat in pairs, socially distanced and masked. They rose as he placed a hand on their shoulders and spoke a blessing as they bowed their heads. After one lesbian couple had received their blessing, they dropped their masks and shared a kiss, wiping away tears.

Not everyone has been receptive of the initiative. One parish in Bavaria received threats from members of an arch-conservative Roman Catholic group and had to call the police to ensure the safety of participants at their ceremony.

The initiative is the latest strain between the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in Germany. Many parishioners in Germany have left the church, including those frustrated with what they see as an outdated approach to sexual morality and a failure to punish priests accused of abusing children.

According to official statistics, 272,771 people formally quit the Church in 2019, a record number that helped to galvanize efforts among the bishops to discuss with the church a series of issues they believe were contributing to the loss of members. Among them were the role of women in the church, its teachings on sexual morality, priestly celibacy and clerical power structures.

In 2019, they began a series of talks on these topics, discussions of which would be off-limits for the church in many other countries. The talks were to take place among the faithful and church leaders over the course of two years but were extended because of restrictions on gatherings that were introduced last year at the outbreak of the pandemic. They are now to continue into February 2022.

Among those leaving the Church in Germany are many same-sex couples, who are tired of feeling they are not accepted for who they are, said the Rev. Reinhard Kleinewiese, who held a blessing at the Church of St. Mary in the western town of Ahlen on Sunday evening. Ten couples attend, all of them heterosexuals.

“We can’t ignore the fact that a lot of homosexual couples have already left the church. There are many who don’t come anymore,” Father Kleinewiese said. “Nevertheless, it is good and important for this situation and beyond that we make clear that we are not in agreement with Rome on certain issues and prohibitions.”

Complete Article HERE!

German Catholic Priests Defy Pope Francis with Public Blessings of Same-Sex Couples

Priests across Germany will publicly bless same-sex partnerships on Monday, May 10

By Ashley Boucher

A group of German Catholic priests will publicly bless same-sex couples across the country on Monday in defiance of the Vatican’s decree in March that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex marriages.

“In view of the refusal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to bless homosexual partnerships, we raise our voices and say: We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship,” the statement says. “We do not refuse a blessing ceremony. We do this in our responsibility as pastors, who promise people at important moments in their lives the blessings that God alone gives. We respect and value their love, and we also believe that God’s blessings are on them.”

Pope Francis leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad
Pope Francis leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad

“Theological arguments and knowledge gained are sufficiently exchanged,” the statement continues. “We do not accept that an exclusive and outdated sexual morality is carried out on the back of people and undermines our work in pastoral care.”

The priests have also organized several church services, including live-streamed blessings of same-sex couples, to take place on May 10 across the country.

One of the organizers, Klaus Nelissen, told the Wall Street Journal that a Monday was chosen because that is traditionally a priest’s day off: “No bishop can tell them not to do it, since they are doing it on their own time,” he said.

The correlating events on Monday are making public what has been a quiet defiance over the last several years.

“It always has been a little bit kind of a secret,” Rev. Christian Olding told the Wall Street Journal of German priests’ blessings of same-sex couples. “This is the first time that we are going this way in society, to do it visibly for everyone.”

In March, the Vatican said in a statement approved by Pope Francis that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions because God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

While the community should welcome gay people with “respect and sensitivity,” their unions would not receive the same embrace, as under Catholic teachings, marriages as per “God’s plan” should be between a man and a woman to create new life, said the statement, which was a formal response to a question regarding the Church’s power to bless same-sex marriages.

“For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage, as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex,” the statement said.

In October, he said he would support a civil union law, saying in a documentary that gay people are “children of God and have a right to a family.” And he famously said in 2013: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Complete Article HERE!

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!