The Catholic Church is increasingly diverse – and so are its controversies

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There is a lot of talk about “synodality” in the Catholic church these days. Synodality refers to a process in which bishops and priests consult with lay Catholics about issues in the church.

In 2021, Pope Francis called for the “Synod on Synodality,” a worldwide discussion of issues that impact the church, which will culminate with a bishops’ meeting in Rome. A final report is scheduled for October 2023.

The Catholic Church in Germany has also moved forward with a national “synodal path” to restore trust after its own sexual abuse scandal.

The German synodal path has been controversial. On Sept. 8, 2022, a minority of German bishops blocked a motion to redefine Catholic teaching on homosexuality, bisexuality, gender identity and masturbation. In response, some proponents of these liberalizations warned they would “take it to Rome.”

Church leaders around the world and in the Vatican have closely watched the German meetings. There has been sharp debate over calls by German Catholics for priests to ordain women and bless same-sex unions. These proposals have been embraced by some German church bishops, but criticized by the Vatican as well as by an international group of 74 bishops.

As a scholar of global Catholicism, I believe this controversy reflects much wider tensions within Catholicism. In 1910, two-thirds of the world’s Catholics lived in Europe. Today, just one in four do. The church’s numbers have grown most quickly in Africa and Asia. As more power shifts to the global south, the church sometimes struggles to chart a path forward for all regions, each of which has its own distinct perspectives.

The German meeting spotlights particularly difficult topics about sexuality and women’s roles, where some Catholics in Europe, North America and Australia clash with Catholics elsewhere.

Continental divides

The Catholic Church is often assumed to look and feel the same everywhere. But Catholicism is culturally quite diverse.

The most public disagreement involves African Catholics and those in the United States and Europe. For example, Ghanaian Catholic bishops have criticized advocates for LGBTQ rights for imposing “their so-called values and beliefs.” Other African bishops have said they feel betrayed by liberal sentiments in European Catholicism, such as the push to allow Holy Communion for divorced church members.

People in white robes kneel near the altar in a brightly colored church with a teal and orange wall.
A bishop blesses worshippers during an early morning mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Yamumbi, Kenya.

Polygamy continues to be a pressing issue in some regions of Africa. While Catholic doctrine prohibits polygamy, polygamous unions are still common in many countries with significant Catholic communities.

A crucial question is how to welcome polygamous families into the church. Some African bishops have suggested that the church’s most important rites, called sacraments, should be available for at least some polygamous Catholics.

Tribalism also remains a challenge. For example, a Nigerian priest published a social media video asserting the superiority of the Igbo tribe. In rejecting such attitudes, other African priests have emphasized that African Catholics should draw on the philosophy of “ubuntu” that affirms collective belonging to humanity.

Looking East

Issues in Asia, home to 12% of Catholics, are diverse.

In Japan, for example, where Catholics make up less than 1% of the population, the main dilemma is how Catholics can maintain their community identity. In the Catholic-majority Philippines, recent meetings for the Synod on Synodality have focused on how poverty and corruption impact the Catholic community and the nation as a whole.

In India, where 20 million Catholics live, the Dalit Catholic community is especially important. Dalit means “oppressed” or “crushed” and refers to the marginalized groups once known as India’s “untouchables.” It was only recently that a Dalit, Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, was named a cardinal, even though Dalits have long made up a majority of India’s Catholics. Caste discrimination in the church is a reality that Dalit Catholics have joined together to protest.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in East Timor, where Catholics are 95% of the population, has experienced its own divisive sex abuse crisis connected with a highly regarded American priest.

A woman in a pink shirt and green sari touches a statue of the Virgin Mary covered with garlands of flowers.
Catholics offer prayers in front of a statue of Virgin Mary in Hyderabad, India.

Catholic churches in China face unresolved disputes over who has final say in the appointment of bishops – the Vatican, or the Chinese government. Also, there are continuing issues about the status of the underground Catholic churches, which worship outside the purview of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

In parts of Oceania, climate change is an existential concern. The spread of HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea remains an important issue as well.

Stronghold no longer?

Latin America is home to almost 40% of the world’s Catholics. But the rise of Protestantism has concerned many priests and laity. Many new Protestants in Latin America believe that evangelical and Pentecostal communities are more sensitive to their needs, prompting soul-searching for Catholics.

Another crucial question in Latin America is whether to ordain married men in regions where priests are scarce, like the Amazon. The Catholic church in Latin America still struggles with its colonial past and calls to apologize for that violent history. This legacy makes it particularly important to hear the voices of Indigenous peoples.

A global conversation

The worldwide Synod on Synodality is focused, in Pope Francis’ words, on creating a church that “walks together on the same road.”

It would be a mistake to see this “walking together” from an exclusively Western perspective. The debate in Germany reflects how ideologically divided Catholicism has become in the Western world alone. And it is not as though churches elsewhere are simply areas of potential problems or disagreements; their faith and rich theological traditions are an important resource for Catholics worldwide.

Still, given the cultural diversity of Catholicism, there are many potential flash points as the Synod on Synodality moves forward: poverty, adapting to local culture, sexuality and gender, church governance and the continuing sexual abuse crisis – just to name a few.

This has left some commentators wondering if anything meaningful can be discussed or achieved. In my view, whether Synod conversations turn into controversies will ultimately depend on how Catholics see themselves as part of a church that is truly global.

Complete Article HERE!

Irish protester among seven held after demonstration at Vatican calling for women’s inclusion in Church

Pope Francis convened a closed-door gathering of the Catholic Church’s cardinals.

By Sarah Mac Donald

Seven protesters, including one Irish woman, were detained by police in Rome over their protest at the Vatican calling for women’s inclusion at all levels of the Catholic Church.

iriam Duignan joined six other women in St Peter’s Square yesterday to draw attention to the lack of any female presence at a consistory – a closed-door gathering of the church’s cardinals – convened by Pope Francis.

The seven held up parasols with messages such as “ordain women” and “sexism is a cardinal sin” as the world’s cardinals filed in for the first of their two-day extraordinary meeting.

Ms Duignan, a spokesperson for the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research in the UK, said she hoped the protest would stir the collective conscience of church leadership to open its doors to women who long to be heard and to serve their church as equals in Christ.

“I chose to be present at the consistory as a member of Women’s Ordination Worldwide to help shine a light on the Vatican’s cover-up of the history of women’s founding role and leadership in the early centuries of the church,” said Ms Duignan.

The London-based advocate for women’s ordination told the Irish Independent that expert theologians, including some in the Vatican, have concluded “there is no scriptural justification for the banishing of women; it is a choice and it can and must be changed”.

She added: “The Roman police were encouraged to remove us from view and to hide our words and witness from the world.”

Though they greeted numerous cardinals as the prelates passed inside the Vatican’s gates, most of the high ranking clerics “clearly did not want to engage or dwell on the messages on our red parasols”.

“The Vatican is desperately afraid of campaigners drawing attention to their discrimination against women and so choose to intimidate anyone who dares to publicly challenge them,” Ms Duignan said.

According to Ms Duignan, the small group of protesters was quickly moved out of sight by a “huge police presence” of 20 officers.

However, one Italian prelate congratulated Ms Duignan when he learned the protest was for women’s inclusion and ordination.

Referring to the call in many recent synod reports for women’s equal participation at all levels in the church, including ordination, Ms Duignan said: “People see that such an influential institution cannot be allowed to function with an all-male leadership that bans women from having a say in any of its policies or teachings.”

Asked about the collapse in priest numbers in the Irish Church, she said: “It is glaringly obvious that to deny women the opportunity to fill this role, despite a desperate shortage of priests, is an injustice to all Catholics.”

The seven women were released from police custody after four hours. They may face charges and a court hearing.

Their parasols were confiscated as evidence.

The Vatican and police in Rome have been contacted for comment.

Complete Article HERE!

The meaning behind Pope Francis’ meeting with transgender people

By: Newsy

Father James Martin has taken his message of prayer and inclusivity everywhere, from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to the halls of the Vatican. In May, he wrote to Pope Francis with a few questions.

“I just wanted to give him a time to briefly talk to LGBTQ Catholics,” Martin said.

Francis has extended apologies to the abused and a welcome to the historically rejected. According to the Vatican News, he recently met with transgender people near Rome, Italy.

So Martin’s questions aren’t so random.

“I asked him, ‘What would you most like them to know about the church?'” Martin said. “He said, ‘Read Acts of the Apostles,’ which was really interesting because there’s a church that’s kind of mixing it up. Then also, ‘What would you say to an LGBTQ Catholic who felt rejected by the church?’ And he said very interestingly to remember that it’s not the church that rejects you, the church loves you, but it might be individual people in the church.”

It isn’t the first time Francis has corresponded directly with Martin on LGBTQ relations or the first time he has spoken up about their place within the Catholic church.

In 2016, Francis agreed the church should apologize to not only gay people but other marginalized groups, like the poor. He’s also called for parents to accept their LGBTQ children.

Francis’ gestures are one thing; changing church doctrine, which teaches that the act of homosexuality is sinful, is another.

“What would have happened really, in a sense, is for theologians working together, along with church officials, to come to some newer understanding of how they can accommodate for older church teaching on these issues, to show that the church evolves rather than dramatically changing,” said Michele Dillon, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “Because the church is not going to say, ‘Oh, we were wrong.’ It’s very rare.”

“If he were to do that, which I don’t think Pope Francis will, but if he were to do that, he would not want to do it without support from the Curia and the College of Cardinals,” said Cristina Traina, professor of Catholic theology at Fordham University. “He would not want to do it without tracing a pathway theologically.”

Instead, Francis has gone another direction: one met with both criticism and praise, uplifting LGBTQ Catholics while simultaneously reiterating church doctrine.

NEWSY’S AMBER STRONG: Is he sort of riding the line between saying that this is doctrine and doctrines not going to change? But, we also still need to love and affirm people as well.

FATHER JAMES MARTIN: I think that’s a good question, and I think he is kind of trying to straddle that line. But I think one thing to remember is that what seems very bland and tepid in the United States — overseas is a big deal. In the U.S., we might say, ‘Oh, big deal. Of course, you should welcome your kids.’ If you’re in Eastern Europe or sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America or India, that’s a big deal. So, we have to remember that he’s speaking to the whole church.”

According to Pew Research, 76% of U.S. Catholics say society should be accepting of homosexuality. That’s below the rate of Catholic support in countries like Spain and the Netherlands but far higher than places like Lebanon and Nigeria.

Some theologians argue that Francis’ support could have a trickle-down impact on individual Catholics and parishes.

“These things can do a lot to encourage Catholics to embrace LGBTQ people with love and compassion and mercy and not to see them as the Antichrist, the anathema, the enemy of salvation,” Traina said.

In 2021, a group of Catholic leaders, including a cardinal and archbishop, signed a statement calling for widespread support of at-risk LGBTQ youth. According to an NCR analysis of recent listening sessions among U.S. Catholics, there was a growing call for LGBTQ inclusion and more opportunities for women.

“To me, there’s no such thing as an empty gesture because, yes, many times people want to see more clear-cut evidence of change and of their acceptance within the church, but sometimes it’s in small steps,” Dillon said.

In 2021, Martin, a Vatican appointee under Francis, launched Outreach: a website that provides resources to LGBTQ Catholics and leaders. It’s an effort Pope Francis has encouraged.

“He hasn’t changed any church teaching,” Martin said. “I’m not advocating for any church teaching, but he’s advocated a more pastoral response, listening to them, welcoming them, treating them with respect.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Too harsh’ and ‘out of step’

— Survey finds NJ Catholics want a more inclusive church

By Deena Yellin

Thousands of New Jersey Catholics gathered over the past year in an unprecedented series of meetings designed to help steer the future of the church.

The consensus, officials say, was clear: The Catholic Church needs to open its arms more to women, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and others who feel marginalized by the faith.

The desire for more inclusivity was a major theme in discussions with 16,000 parishioners in four of New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses, according to summaries released recently by each diocese. While responses varied widely, many at the listening sessions said they too often feel unwelcome. Participants also cited distress at the church’s handling of the clergy abuse scandal.

“The challenge remains,” Trenton Bishop David O’Connell said in a statement, for the church “to determine ways to address and minimize the hurts felt by people.”

The surveys conducted by the Trenton, Camden, Paterson and Metuchen dioceses — representing almost 2.5 million Catholics — were part of a synod, or assembly, launched by Pope Francis last year and aimed at taking the pulse of the world’s Catholics. Such efforts have been convened throughout the centuries, generally with church leaders. But Francis upped the ante by asking every diocese on the planet to survey its parishioners, churchgoing or not.

The Newark Archdiocese, the state’s largest, with nearly 1.5 million worshippers in Bergen, Essex, Union and Hudson counties, is still working on its report, and its completion date is uncertain, spokesperson Sean Quinn said.

Other key themes from the New Jersey sessions included women’s role in the church, a desire for greater involvement in decision-making by the laity and the need to better engage young people, who have been fleeing religion in general. The call for a more welcoming church was echoed in recent reports from Catholic leaders in Seattle, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

Findings from the U.S. and assemblies around the world will be sent to participants of the synod in Rome, due to gather in October 2023.

Francis’ synod is the “widest in scope” that’s ever been attempted, said Tim Gabrielli, an expert in Catholic theology at the University of Dayton in Ohio, “Whether there will be a change in church doctrine as a result of the reports remains to be seen.s

“The process itself — which involves speaking with frankness, accompanying one another and carefully listening to each other — is transformational,” he said. “I don’t think anyone knows what will come of it. Pope Francis has never suggested a change to church teaching but has been consistent in emphasizing the importance of a more complete welcome and ministry to LGBTQ persons.”

Here’s a look at what local Catholics had to say, based on the four dioceses’ reports:

Paterson Diocese

Bishop-elect Kevin Sweeney, named the new leader of the Paterson Diocese, seen during ordinations of priests in Brooklyn.

The Diocese of Paterson, with 577,000 members in Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties, said many of the 5,000 participants in its synod sessions expressed a sense that the church is not loving. The church’s report said people cited “the absence of inclusion and sensitivity to women, Hispanic/Latino community, LGBTQ people, families with young children, people with special needs, people victimized by abuse, the elderly and other people who, for whatever reason, feel that they do not conform to the prevalent social or moral norms.”

English-speaking participants most commonly cited gender as a fault line and Hispanic churchgoers’ ethnicity, the diocese said. “Although not all participants called for a change in the Church’s teaching on these matters, they did call for a change in approach and attitude,” its summary added.

Some said the church should adapt to modern times, while others were content with the status quo. Some said priests should be allowed to marry and women to serve as deacons and priests; others affirmed their support for an all-male, celibate priesthood.

Parents and relatives “expressed that their LGBTQ children did not feel welcome and included by the church,” said the Rev. Paul Manning, the Paterson diocese’s vicar for evangelization. “People were on both ends when it came to the morality of the issue, but certainly felt that ministry to and inclusion of the LGBTQ community was lacking.”

Not all the feedback was negative, he noted in summarizing the synod results. “Most Catholics long for Jesus and care for the Church,” Manning said. “That is the key message of the report.”

Trenton Diocese

Bishop David O'Connell of the Trenton Diocese is shown during a Confirmation mass at the Church of St. Martha in Point Pleasant Borough on October 26, 2018.

The Diocese of Trenton, which encompasses Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties, has a Catholic population of 774,000. Among the 4,500 participants’ most prominent concerns was that their children and grandchildren don’t practice their Catholic faith. “There is a dismay that the church doesn’t know what to do to attract and keep young people,” said the report.

The clergy abuse scandal and the crisis of credibility it generated was anther major theme. It “continues to be a source of pain for many, not only for victims and their families, but also for average lay Catholics and priests,” the diocese said. Some said they lost confidence in the church leadership because of the way the abuse crisis was handled.

Among the conclusions of the Trenton synod was that the church should consider married priests and reopen discussion about women serving as deacons and priests, along with other leadership roles.

“We need to continue to increase respect for women and their role in the Universal Church,” the diocese concluded. “The church must also do more to engage young people and offer them opportunities to be included. And finally, the church needs to be more welcoming to all, not only in words but in action.”

O’Connell, the Trenton bishop, said he wasn’t surprised by the criticism but also noted people’s “love for the Holy Eucharist and willingness to serve in various ministries.” The diocese must look to “build upon the strengths and good experiences expressed by participants.”

Camden Diocese

Many of the nearly 4,000 participants discussed the need for women in church leadership and also said the diversity of the local community is not reflected in their parishes. The diocese includes 475,000 Catholics in Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.

A substantial number of people complained about the exclusion of LGBTQ and divorced individuals. The common recommendation was to create specific ministries where members can enjoy the richness of parish life, the church said.

“There appears to be a perception that the LGBTQ and divorced individuals cannot receive communion and participate in liturgy,” said the report. “Many expressed a need for improving the teaching on these subjects.”

Metuchen Diocese

The Metuchen diocese is composed of a Catholic population of roughly 650,000 and encompasses Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties. About 1,800 people participated in sessions, and many said the church is moving “too slowly” and is “too harsh,” but didn’t offer specific examples.

As in the other New Jersey dioceses, Metuchen participants were concerned about marginalized groups feeling “excluded” and said the church needs to become more hospitable, its report said.

People pointed to outdated language used by the church to refer to those who identity as LGBTQ as “disordered,” describing it as hurtful. Some respondents accused the church of being “out of step with the world” regarding gender issues.

Complete Article HERE!

Spanish lawyer names bishops and priests pushing conversion therapy

Many of the 70 figures identified by Saúl Castro have not previously been linked to the anti-LGBTIQ practice

By a href=”https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/author/lucy-martirosyan/”>Lucy Martirosyan

A Spanish human rights lawyer has named 70 practitioners and promoters of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ in Spain, among them Catholic bishops and priests.

In Saúl Castro’s new book ‘Ni enfermos ni pecadores’ (meaning ‘neither sick nor sinners’), he reveals the traumatic experiences of therapy survivors and identifies different kinds of therapy providers. Many of the people he identifies have never been publicly linked to conversion therapy before.

These range from self-proclaimed “identity coaches” who provide paid services online to “cure” what they call “homosexual obsessive compulsive disorder” to “ex-gay” leaders from the US who spread misinformation via the internet. Catholic schools and churches also promote conversion therapy to their members.

Conversion therapy, which claims to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, has been condemned by international health and human rights experts and is banned in many countries.

As a cisgender gay man, Castro takes this topic personally. “Conversion therapy is a sort of genocide,” he said. “They are offering mechanisms to make us disappear.”

He is also the founder of the association No Es Terapia (‘not a therapy’), which campaigns against conversion therapy in Spain.

There are bans on conversion therapy in nine of Spain’s 17 regions. Promoting or carrying out conversion therapy has been prohibited in Madrid since 2016, with fines of up to €45,000.

In June, the Spanish government approved a draft of a wide-ranging bill to protect the rights of LGBTIQ people. It is particularly strong on rights for trans people, and seeks to classify conversion therapy as a “very serious administrative offence with penalties between €10,001 and €150,000” throughout Spain. The bill is currently going through parliament.

However, making conversion therapy an administrative offence – meaning it is not punishable with jail time – would not criminalise its practitioners or promoters in the way Castro says is needed.

Bishops promoting conversion therapy

Castro interviewed 15 survivors of conversion therapy during his three years of research for the book. They described some of the so-called ‘treatments’ they had experienced.

These included being instructed to flick a rubber band worn around their wrist whenever they felt attracted to someone of the same sex. In some sessions, they were told to strip and hug other naked same-sex participants, to “de-sexualise” their bodies.

He also discovered cases where, if the therapy ‘isn’t working’, psychiatrists prescribe patients medication for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, because these drugs are known to suppress the libido.

Conversion therapy is a sort of genocide

Through his interviews with therapy survivors, Castro was able to reveal the names of several Spanish bishops who have promoted conversion therapy.

Last year, the Vatican conducted an investigation into Granada-based Verdad y Libertad (Truth and Freedom), an organisation that often recruits Catholic bishops and priests to promote and refer people to conversion therapy. The Vatican urged bishops not to participate in any activities run by the group, which has tried several times to be officially recognised as a faith ministry by the Catholic Church.

However, the church itself has never released the names of faith leaders involved with Verdad y Libertad.

Castro said that some bishops and priests would select their victims in parishes, dioceses and theological schools and “monitor their paths to ‘conversion’”. One such case involved a gay Spanish priest who was ordered to start conversion therapy by his parish.

“The worst part of the ‘therapy’ for him was being forced to record his masturbatory and homoerotic fantasies daily,” Castro said. Three times a day, for a year, the priest participated in group Telegram chats dedicated to conversion therapy, with more than 100 other participants. He had a ‘fake’ funeral and burial to symbolise “becoming a new person”.

“They had forced him to break his relationships with friends [and family] because they were ‘triggering’ his homosexuality,” said Castro. Eventually, he left the Telegram group, but “it took him so much to [do so].”

Castro is using the evidence he found to report both individuals and groups to regional authorities in Spain, and also to human rights offices at the United Nations that specialise in sexual orientation and gender identity.

All the way from the US

Paid-for online counselling sessions – in person or via books and audio – are another common channel for conversion therapy in Spain. While researching his book, Castro signed up for a couple of sessions to understand the practitioners’ motives.

PATH screenshot.png
Positive Approaches To Healthy Sexuality website (screenshot 25 July 2022) | PATH

One example is provided by US website Positive Approaches To Healthy Sexuality (PATH). Its $150 “counselor training program”, designed for therapists and ministry leaders who would in turn “assist” LGBTIQ people to change their “same-sex attraction” and enter heterosexual relationships. The training includes more than 18 hours of recordings and a 180-page manual.

It was devised by Richard Cohen, a prominent figure in the ‘ex-gay’ movement in the US, who identifies as a “former homosexual” and is now married to a woman and has three children. In 2002, he was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association for multiple ethical violations.

“In Spain, the main discourse by perpetrators of conversion therapy stems directly from Richard Cohen,” according to Castro. He also says that “teenagers who lack education about the LGBTIQ community” are the “most susceptible” to Cohen’s ideas if they come across his books online.

In 2012, Cohen promoted his latest book, ‘Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality’, in Madrid during the sixth conference of the ultra-conservative network World Congress of Families (WCF).

A 2020 investigation by openDemocracy revealed that the WCF is linked to $280m of ‘dark money’ spent overseas by US Christian right groups since 2007. More money was spent in Europe than in any other region.

The late Joseph Nicolosi is another American practitioner of ‘reparative therapy’ – an alternative term for conversion therapy – with significant influence abroad. A Google search in Spain for “cómo dejar de ser gay” (‘how to stop being gay’) yields results for five books by Nicolosi.

‘Conversion therapy has to be criminalised’

For Castro, simply banning conversion therapy in Spain doesn’t go far enough.

“Conversion therapy has to be criminalised,” he said. “Our criminal code has to be amended, not only [to stop] impunity, but so that those who are responsible for promoting the practice and violence are locked up in jail… Fines are not a deterrent, but jail is.”

Spain is the home of CitizenGo, an ultra-Catholic, far-right advocacy group, which has created bailout funds for anti-LGBTIQ groups in the past.

Since the publication of his book in June, six more survivors of conversion therapy have contacted Castro. He encourages people to report cases to his organisation, No Es Terapia.

“I’m not hoping that [criminal proceedings] will happen,” Castro said. “I will make them happen.”

Complete Article HERE!