In rare move, Vatican official chastised Texas Bishop Strickland at conference

Bishop Joseph E. Strickland

by Religion News Service

If Texas Bishop Joseph E. Strickland is known outside of his diocese for anything, it’s for controversy.

The conservative firebrand, who oversees the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, has sparked backlash from critics for everything from voicing support for priests who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to offering a prayer at a “Jericho March” event in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. More recently, Strickland challenged Pope Francis, announcing on his Twitter feed that he believes the pontiff is “undermining the Deposit of Faith.” His efforts have inspired some detractors to call for Strickland’s resignation, while others have urged Vatican intervention.

But according to multiple sources, Strickland has already been on the receiving end of the Vatican’s ire for more than a year: He was chastised by a representative of the Holy See in 2021, they say — a move that simultaneously signals the potential for formal Vatican disciplinary action and exemplifies the difficulty of reining in a controversial cleric.

“(Strickland) doesn’t really care,” Barber said of the alleged encounter. “It’s the truth that sets us free. If he goes down because he’s speaking the truth, oh well.”

A separate source who is familiar with the meeting but who chose to remain anonymous, as they have not been given permission to discuss the matter publicly, told Religion News Service the incident took place in November 2021 at the annual USCCB meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. The source said the nuncio specifically confronted Strickland about his Twitter feed, which had garnered controversy at the time for, among other things, posts that opposed the three major COVID-19 vaccines distributed in the U.S. at the time.

Asked about the encounter via email this week, Strickland said he would “prefer not to comment.”

The nuncio’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

For his part, Barber told RNS he did not wish to speak further about the incident and would not name the source of his information. Instead, he criticized Pope Francis, accusing him of being ambiguous about important moral questions and calling the pontiff a “disaster for the Catholic Church.”

Strickland would hardly be the first cleric in U.S. history to be reprimanded by the Holy See. In the 1980s, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI — launched an investigation into Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, an outspoken liberal cleric and critic of nuclear power, who oversaw the Archdiocese of Seattle at the time. The Holy See ultimately appointed an auxiliary bishop to the region who shared authority with Hunthausen.

But it’s highly unusual for the public to learn about less formal admonishments doled out to bishops by Vatican officials behind closed doors. What’s more, Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University and an expert on U.S. Catholicism, said a nuncio privately dressing-down a U.S. bishop at a conference is particularly rare, and showcases the delicate situation facing modern popes when it comes to cowing outspoken, media-savvy clerics who buck the party line.

Strickland has become a popular figure in right-wing Catholic circles for his criticism of President Joe Biden and oppositional stance against COVID-19 vaccines, which includes expressing support for priests who have challenged their own bishops by refusing to get vaccinated. (Strickland’s position contrasts sharply with that of Pope Francis, who has advocated repeatedly for the use of vaccines, even calling them an “act of love.”) In addition to the Terry and Jesse Show, Strickland has appeared on a number of conservative and far-right Catholic websites, ranging from EWTN to Church Militant.

Church Militant also organized a protest outside the same November 2021 USCCB meeting where the nuncio is alleged to have confronted Strickland. Speakers at the event, where some participants waved anti-Biden “Let’s go Brandon” flags, praised Strickland from the stage. He also posed for photographs with staffers from Church Militant, an outlet that has railed against other bishops using language critics have decried as homophobic and racist.

Church officials wishing to curtail Strickland’s influence could take dramatic steps like they did with Hunthausen, Faggioli said, but “there’s no measure that can deprive him of the access to these various blogs or influencers” the bishop often utilizes to amplify his message.

“I believe that the fear is that, if he’s removed, his visibility will be amplified,” Faggioli said.

What’s more, if the alleged scolding was meant to cow Strickland, Faggioli said, it doesn’t appear to have had much of an effect. Since the 2021 meeting, the Texas bishop has been embroiled in multiple controversies over challenging the authority or rhetoric of church officials — be it his fellow bishops or the pope. And while Strickland’s much-maligned tweet about Pope Francis earlier this month was an attempt to distance himself from a podcaster who questioned whether Francis is, in fact, the pope, his effort still resulted in controversy.

“I don’t know how much that dressing down worked,” Faggioli said.

Complete Article HERE!

LGBTQ Catholics dream of a changed church, while seeing reasons to hope

By

As a child in inner-city Milwaukee, Father Bryan Massingale’s grandmother gave him a leather-bound copy of The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, along with a dream that he might need it someday.

“My grandmother was not delusional. She did not live in denial of reality,” said Massingale, a Jesuit priest who holds an endowed chair in ethics at Fordham University, in New York City. “Her gift was a vision, an act of hope. It was a dream, a hope, a reminder that the neighborhood, with its drugs, violence and rodent-infested corner store with overpriced goods, did not define or limit who I could be.”

That’s important to know, he declared, since he was speaking as “a Black, gay priest and theologian” at Fordham’s recent Ignatian Q Conference for LGBTQ students from Jesuit campuses. This event was a “space for our dreaming, for queer dreams” of hope for “despised and disdained and stigmatized peoples,” he added.

“I dream of a church where gay priests and lesbian sisters are acknowledged as the holy and faithful leaders they already are,” he said, in a published version of his address. “I dream of a church where LGBTQ employees and schoolteachers can teach our children, serve God’s people and have their vocations, sexuality and committed loves affirmed. …

“I dream of a church that enthusiastically celebrates same-sex loves as incarnations of God’s love among us.”

Theological visions of this kind inspire hope for some Catholics and concern for others.

Thus, the North American phase of the Vatican’s global Synod on Synodality found “strong tensions within the Church,” while participants in the virtual assemblies also “felt hope and encouragement and a desire for the synodal process to continue,” according to the 36-page report (.pdf here) released on April 12 by U.S. and Canadian Catholic leaders.

Catholics are “called to act co-responsibly in a synodal fashion, not to wait until we know how to do everything perfectly, but to walk together as imperfect people,” said one group, in its summary of the process. Another group added: “When Church structures and practices are dynamic and able to move with the Holy Spirit, everyone is able to ‘use their gifts in service of the Church and of each other.'”

Calling for “greater inclusivity and welcome” within the church, the final report said this was especially true with “women, young people, immigrants, racial or linguistic minorities, LGBTQ+ persons” and “people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment.”

But the report also warned about the “danger of false or unrealistic expectations regarding what the synodal process is meant to be and to ‘produce,’ since people living in “North American culture” tend to focus on “measurable results and … winners and losers.” Some participants, for example, questioned calls for “radical inclusion,” while asking about the “pastoral and even doctrinal implications” of that term.

The explosive nature of these debates jumped into the news weeks later when the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York hosted, next to a side altar, a “God is Trans” exhibit.

In his written explanation of his art, Adah Unachukwu said this display “maps the queer spiritual journey” through “Sacrifice, Identity and Communion.” There is, he added, “no devil; just past selves” and “Communion rounds out the spiritual journey, by placing God and the mortal on the same plane.”

After seeing headlines, Archdiocese of New York officials promised to investigate the exhibit at the Paulist Fathers parish. The congregation also offers, on its website, an “Out at St. Paul” ministry to the “Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans and Queer community.”

Media reports early this week noted that parish leaders changed the name of this art exhibit, but that it remained in place.

Massingale delivered his Fordham address before that controversy. However, he did stress that Catholics must dare to share dreams of change – even those with “an inherently subversive quality” – while seeking a “new and more just social order.”

Referring to the “wedding banquet at Cana,” when Jesus turned water into wine, the Jesuit theologian called for a changed church in which “people of all races, genders and sexualities rejoice at the presence of love” and a world in which “spiritual wounds will be healed, where faith-based violence will be no more, where fear and intolerance are relics of history.”

Complete Article HERE!

Who will Catholics follow? Pope Francis or the right-wing U.S. bishops?

Pope Francis welcomed President Biden to the Vatican for talks in October 2021, as U.S. Catholic bishops debated denying the president communion in American churches.

By Mary Jo McConahay

It’s time to take a clear look at the far-right politics of U.S. Catholic bishops. They won a 50-year campaign to turn back legal abortion, but they will not rest, it seems, until the country becomes a Christian nationalist state, with their moral principles codified into law. The religious right has long been identified with white evangelical Christians, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, some 250 men, mostly white and past middle age, ranks among the nation’s most formidable reactionary forces. As a Catholic, I must protest.

There was a time when I was proud of the principled but often unpopular positions of my faith leaders. During the Cold War, they spoke out against nuclear proliferation. When neoconservatives rose to power in Washington, the bishops issued a powerful letter on the economy, reminding government of its responsibility for making a “preferential option for the poor.” They stood against Ronald Reagan’s support for autocrats in wartime Central America — I was covering the region as a reporter and met several bishops who traveled south to see for themselves before making the policy decision.

Since those days, the proportion of conservative U.S. prelates has increased with nominations by the two pontiffs who preceded Pope Francis, and the USCCB drifted far to the political right, narrowing its focus to the “preeminent threat” of abortion. Its members lead the country’s largest and hardly monolithic faith group — 73 million American Catholics — but it also attempts to sway the law with amicus curiae briefs on cases from gay rights to prayer in schools, and with a powerful lobbying arm, its Office of Government Relations, tasked with influencing Congress. The bishops are driving the U.S. church to the point of schism with opposition to Pope Francis, who emphasizes pastoral care more than doctrine, and who virtually slapped down their attempt to forbid Holy Communion to lifelong Catholic Joe Biden, who is pro-choice.

What shaped the conservatism of the America’s bishops?

The roots of today’s right-wing church hierarchy go back to the 1970s when Catholic activist (and Heritage Foundation co-founder) Paul Weyrich persuaded evangelical minister and broadcaster Jerry Falwell to join forces in a “moral majority” — Weyrich suggested the term. As a movement, ultraconservative Catholics and evangelicals would restore the values and morals of the founding fathers as Weyrich, Falwell and their followers saw them, a promise taken up by Reagan, their favored presidential candidate. Abortion became the Moral Majority’s flagship issue.

That highly politicized obsession has put U.S. Catholic bishops sharply at odds with the global church (and public opinion) in their animus to Pope Francis, who calls capital punishment, euthanasia and care for the poor equally important “pro-life” issues.  For moderate Catholics like me, the deviation hits close to home, pushing the U.S. church too far from too much of Christ’s most elemental teachings while engaging in modern culture wars.

About sexual orientation, Francis, who recently celebrated 10 years as pope, famously said, “Who am I to judge?” but U.S. bishops rail against the “intrinsic disorder” of homosexuality. They ignore his urgent call for action on climate change and its existential threats. They drag their feet on his unprecedented process to prepare for a global Synod this year in Rome, which asks people, and in particular women, at every level of the church’s life — not just bishops — to contribute assessments and aspirations meant to define the mission of today’s church.

During the COVID pandemic some U.S. prelates tried to undermine the authority of both church and state. Francis encouraged vaccination, but San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone distributed communion unmasked and unvaccinated and played the aggrieved victim (a Christian nationalist trope), claiming that “cultural elites” treated Catholics with “willful discrimination” by limiting public gatherings. Timothy Broglio, archbishop for the Military Services USA, contravened the pope by saying Catholic service members could request a religious exemption to the shot, despite Pentagon orders they get it. Broglio is the newly elected president of the USCCB.

The U.S. church has a history of discrimination against Black Catholics in parishes and seminaries, and now the bishops go wrong, with notable exceptions, by failing to adequately condemn white supremacy. After Black Lives Matter protests, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez — president of the U.S. bishops for three years until late 2022, and vice president of the group before that — called out social solidarity movements as “pseudo-religions” that are part of “a deliberate effort … to erase the Christian roots of society and to suppress any remaining Christian influences.”

Wealthy laity support the vision of far-right prelates. Southern California billionaire Timothy Busch, for example, is the founder of the Napa Institute and its influential summer conference where well-to-do conservative Catholics hobnob with bishops, archbishops and right wing politicians. Archbishops Gomez and Cordileone are advisors; last year Trump administration Atty. Gen. Bill Barr was a keynote speaker. Busch, who sees unregulated free markets as congruent with Catholic teachings, has little to say about Francis’ attack on the “sacrilized workings” of the global economy.

Perhaps of greatest concern, the USCCB has been increasingly willing to render the wall between church and state a mere gossamer curtain. Invoking novel theories of “religious liberty,” the bishops have fought legislation and court decisions most Americans support, notably laws protecting same sex marriage and access to contraceptives.

At age 86, Pope Francis is close to the end of his pontificate. Among American Catholics, a stunning 82% view him favorably. But he may not live to appoint enough like-minded cardinals to elect a similar successor.

Moderate U.S. prelates do not go along with the USCCB right-wing hardliners, but they are a minority. I can only hope their numbers grow in time, providing the church with the leadership devoid of political considerations that American Catholics deserve.

Complete Article HERE!

Francis: ‘infiltrators’ use Church to peddle hate

— Francis spoke to a group of ten young people in June last year, in a filmed discussion released on 5 April.

The Pope: Answers is available on the streaming services Disney+, Hulu and Star+.

By Christopher Lamb

Those using the Bible to promote hate speech and exclude gay or transgender Catholics are “infiltrators” taking advantage of the Church to promote their ideologies, Pope Francis has told a group of young adults.

The 86-year-old pontiff made his comments during an emotional discussion with ten individuals aged between 20 and 25, including Catholics, non-believers and a Muslim.

In the filmed discussion, The Pope: Answers, Francis was not just asked questions but accepted challenges and rebukes, including over the Church’s handling of the clerical sexual abuse crisis.

On the Church’s approach to LGBTQ matters, Celia, a Spaniard who identifies as non-binary, asked the Pope what he thinks about “people or priests” who use the Bible to promote hate and exclusion.

“Those people are infiltrators,” he replied. “They are infiltrators who use the Church for their personal passions, for their personal narrowness. It’s one of the corruptions within the Church. Those narrow-minded ideologies.”

The Pope has faced deep hostility in some quarters for his refusal to take a “culture warrior” stance on sexual teaching. Throughout his pontificate, Francis has adopted a pastorally sensitive approach to LGBTQ Catholics, supported civil protections of same-sex couples and called for the de-criminalisation of homosexuality.

He has also publicly backed the ministry to LGBTQ people conducted by Fr James Martin SJ, who himself has faced sustained, at times vitriolic opposition to his work.

The Jesuit Pope told the young people that “deep within” those who promote hate are “severe inconsistencies” and that they judge other people due to their sinfulness.

“They judge others because they can’t atone for their own faults,” Francis said.

“In general, people who judge are inconsistent. There’s something within them. They feel liberated by judging others, when they should look inside at their own guilt.”

The Pope insisted that every person is a “child of God” and that when the Church stops welcoming everybody – “the blind, the deaf, the good, the bad” – it will “stop being the Church”.

The discussion, which was filmed in Rome in June 2022 and released on Disney+, Hulu and Star+ on 5 April, covered a range of topics. These include abortion, pornography, masturbation, feminism, migration, online dating, depression and the disconnect between the Church and young people.

The Pope was also asked whether he takes a salary or has a mobile phone, with Francis explaining why he has neither.

Francis, speaking in Spanish, said that the Church’s teaching on sex still needs to develop, saying that the “catechism regarding sex is still at a very early stage [‘in nappies’]. I think we Christians haven’t always had a mature catechism regarding sex.”

He emphasised: “Sex is one of the beautiful things God gave human beings. To express oneself sexually is something rich. Anything that diminishes a true sexual expression diminishes you as well, it renders you partial, and it diminishes that richness.”

One of the participants, Alessandra, told the Pope that she makes her living by posting pornographic content on social media. She was challenged by Maria, a practising Catholic, who said that pornography is harmful.

Francis responded: “Those who are addicted to pornography are like being addicted to a drug that keeps them at a level that does not let them grow.”

Quite early on in the discussion, a disagreement broke out over abortion. Milagros, a young woman from Argentina who teaches the Church’s catechism, said she supports women, whatever their choice. Francis said he tells priests to “be merciful, as Jesus is” when it comes to abortion, but hiring a “hitman” to solve a problem cannot solve the problem.

Some of the group supported Milagros and take issue with the Pope’s use of language. Others did not. Francis listened and thanked them for their sensitivity to the topic.

“A woman who has had an abortion cannot be left alone, we should stay with her. She made that decision. She had an abortion. We shouldn’t send her to hell all of a sudden or isolate her, no. We should stay by her side,” he said.

“But we should call a spade a spade: staying by her side is one thing, but justifying the act is something else.”

Later, a young man, Juan, talked about how he was abused when he was 11 years old by his teacher, a numerary of Opus Dei, in Bilbao, Spain.

Francis thanked Juan for coming forward with his story and pledged to have his case reviewed by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. The young man said the dicastery was presented with details but no further action was taken. The civil courts convicted the man who abused him but with a reduced sentence.

At this point, one participant rebuked the Pope for the Church’s handling of cases pointing out that Juan “had to come here so you would say that the issue would be solved” but asking about those not afforded that opportunity.

Finally, a woman who had been in formation to be a religious sister told the Pope that she was no longer a believer. She described her training as “abusive”, that she could not talk to her family and that her communications were monitored.

She added that the “wealth and power” of the Church in Rome was partly why she lapsed.

“The true Church is on the peripheries,” Francis replied. “In the centre, there are good people, holy people, but there is also much corruption, and that needs to be acknowledged.”

He added that what she said about the abuse of power in some religious orders is “true” and that he has had several of them inspected.

At the end of the discussion, Francis thanked the participants and said this kind of dialogue should be promoted as a “path of the Church”.

Complete Article HERE!

US bishops’ document on trans health care ‘harms people,’ queer Catholics say

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a document on trans health care that queer Catholics say is harmful.

By John Ferrannini

LGBTQ Roman Catholics are responding to a document from the United States bishops about how the church’s health care services should respond to requests for gender-affirming care.

The document, issued March 20, predictably does not recognize that what it terms as “gender dysphoria” and “gender incongruence” should be treated with surgical intervention, stating, “Catholic health care services must not perform interventions, whether surgical or chemical, that aim to transform the sexual characteristics of a human body into those of the opposite sex or take part in the development of such procedures.”

Written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on doctrine — which includes Diocese of Oakland Bishop Michael Barber — the document cites Pope Francis, who wrote in “Amoris Laetitia” (a binding document of church doctrine) that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.” Unlike homosexuality, the church’s most recent catechism does not address this issue.

The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of health care in the nation. Barber’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this report but the Archdiocese of San Francisco did respond when the B.A.R. reached out Monday, stating that it “stands in solidarity with Pope Francis and the USCCB.”

“The Catholic Church has always viewed the body and soul as integral to the human person. A soul can never be in another body, much less be in the wrong body,” Peter Marlow, the executive director of communications and media relations for the archdiocese, stated. “Any technological intervention that does not accord with the fundamental order of the human person as a unity of body and soul, including the sexual difference inscribed in the body, ultimately does not help but, rather, harms the human person. Particular care should be taken to protect children and adolescents who are still maturing and who are not capable of providing informed consent.”

Paul Riofski, a gay man who’s the co-chair of Dignity SF — an affinity group for LGBTQ Catholics — told the Bay Area Reporter that “this document is just really misguided.”

“It’s just another example of the leadership of the USCCB going their own way, apart from the pastoral approach, when you deal with decisions on an individual basis, and look at how people can live fully as a Christian, a Catholic and a human being,” Riofski said. “It [the document] totally denies modern medical and scientific knowledge. It totally disregards the reality of intersex people, the fact that when you look at human biology many people are born without XX or XY chromosomes and the definition of ‘gender at birth’ is determined by the medical professional who delivers the baby.”

Intersex is an umbrella term for differences in sex traits or reproductive anatomy. People are born with these differences or develop them in childhood. There are many possible differences in genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, or chromosomes.

Riofski said that the committee has failed to consider anything beyond its foregone conclusions.

“There’s nothing in God’s creation as narrow as gender is portrayed,” Riofski said.

Sara Mullin, a nonbinary person who is also a member of Dignity SF, agreed.

“I do not get the sense these particular bishops consulted with transgender and transsexual people or the science behind standards of care for trans people,” Mullin said.

Mullin also said that the document doesn’t consider the consciences of individuals.

“It takes for granted it’s not possible for a transgender person to undertake surgical or medical transition in a way that’s thoughtful, kind to oneself, and prayerful in its discernment,” Mullin said. “I think it’s concerning the conference thinks people undertaking medical transition are in best case out of a delusion and, worst case, out of maliciousness against their own body.”

New Ways Ministry, a national LGBTQ Catholic advocacy group, issued a statement of its own. Executive Director Francis DeBernardo wrote that “the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ new document on transgender health care states its intention as continuing Jesus’ healing ministry. Yet, in neglecting the experiences of trans people and in not attending to contemporary science, it harms people instead of healing them.”

DeBernardo clarified that it’s up to each bishop to determine the policies in their own dioceses.

“Thankfully, this document is limited in its power at this point,” DeBernardo said.

“Whether it becomes a national policy remains to be seen. Each bishop can still determine for himself if the recommendations in this document are helpful for the pastoral care of the transgender people in their communities,” he added. “We hope that local bishops will turn to transgender people and to the wider medical community to decide what policies about transgender healthcare they will pursue.”

A trans man who lives in the Bay Area who did not wish to be identified by name told the B.A.R. that “I feel I was naturally born this way and if I need surgery to match the inside of what I feel, that’s what I need.”

Though he isn’t Catholic — he was a Seventh-day Adventist and Latter-day Saint when he was younger — he feels that conservative Christians often “don’t like LGBTQ people. They don’t want us to have rights and be OK with ourselves and our bodies. They don’t see it — as what I said — a surgery to match the inside of how we feel. They think of it as a religious thing, and it’s only because they don’t understand anything about it.”

Complete Article HERE!