The Catholic Church’s upcoming discussion of homosexuality

— The relaxation of doctrine for pastoral purposes is itself a Christian doctrine. Is Pope Francis headed that way?

Pope Francis speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the Vatican, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and he himself referred to homosexuality in terms of “sin.” But he attributed attitudes to culture backgrounds, and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.

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Pope Francis stirred the pot last week by calling for an end to criminal penalties for homosexuality. “Being gay is not a crime, it’s a human condition,” he told the AP in a wide-ranging interview in Spanish.

Harking back to his famous “Who am I to judge?” remark, Francis imagined an exchange with an objector:

We are all children of God and God loves us as we are and with the strength that each one of us fights for our dignity. Being homosexual is not a crime. It is not a crime.

Yes, but it’s a sin.
Well, first let’s distinguish sin from crime. But the lack of charity with the neighbor is also a sin, and how are you doing?

In other words, who are you to judge?

It’s possible Francis was sending a message to the bishops of Africa, where he is visiting this week and where 35 of the 54 countries have anti-gay criminal laws. Bishops who support such laws, he said in the interview, “have to have a process of conversion” and should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

As has almost always been the case, Francis gave no indication that he intends to change church doctrine in order to advance his inclusive vision of the church. The sole exception has been his allowing (on a case-by-case basis) people who are divorced and remarried to have access to the Eucharist. The question is whether a similar opening might be made for those in same-sex unions.



According to the Catholic Catechism, while homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” they are “called to chastity” — i.e. no licit sex for them. As for same-sex unions, the church will not bless them because, the Vatican declared two years ago, God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

Those teachings are likely to be up for discussion in the church-wide Synod on Synodality that will bring bishops to Rome for October sessions this year and next. Per the pope’s instructions, the preparations for it have entailed extensive consultations with ordinary Catholics.

Last September, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a report on the consultations that highlighted criticism of the church for not doing a better job of including those suffering from “the wound of marginalization.”

Among these are members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons who have been divorced or those who have remarried without a declaration of nullity, as well as individuals who have civilly married but who never married in the Church. Concerns about how to respond to the needs of these diverse groups surfaced in every synthesis.

In October, the Vatican issued a synthesis of reports from around the world that noted, “Issues such as the Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception, ordination of women, married clergy, celibacy, divorce and Holy Communion, homosexuality, LGBTQIA+ were raised up across the Dioceses both rural and urban.”

Last week, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, whom the pope made a cardinal last year, wrote an article in the Jesuit magazine “America” that openly questioned the exclusion of sexually active people who are not in what the church considers a legitimate marriage.



Calling such exclusion “pre-eminently a pastoral question, not a doctrinal one,” McElroy took direct aim at the church’s refusal to concede to gay people a right to same-sex sexual expression.

The distinction between orientation and activity cannot be the principal focus for such a pastoral embrace because it inevitably suggests dividing the L.G.B.T. community into those who refrain from sexual activity and those who do not. Rather, the dignity of every person as a child of God struggling in this world, and the loving outreach of God, must be the heart, soul, face and substance of the church’s stance and pastoral action.

“We must,” wrote McElroy, “examine the contradictions in a church of inclusion and shared belonging that have been identified by the voices of the people of God in our nation and discern in synodality a pathway for moving beyond them.”

It’s important to recognize that the relaxation of doctrine for pastoral purposes is itself a Christian doctrine — known in Eastern Orthodoxy as the principle of oikonomia. Based on the idea that in a fallen world there are circumstances that require doctrinal relaxation, the principle is employed within Orthodoxy, for example, to permit divorced people to be married in church a second and even a third time.

Under Francis, the synodal path appears to be leading in that direction. Whether it gets there is another question.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Pope Francis stood up for LGBTQ lives

Pope Francis at the Vatican on Jan. 24.

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Pope Francis is full of surprises. He stays away from formal changes in Catholic Church doctrine but is not shy about altering the Church’s priorities. He regularly moves the conversation from judgment to mercy, and from condemnation to encounter.

That’s what he was up to last week when he became the first pope in history to call for the repeal of all laws, everywhere, against homosexuality. “Being homosexual is not a crime,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

He specifically called on Catholic bishops who support statutes that punish or discriminate against the LGBTQ community to change their ways. “These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit writer who has championed a shift in the Church’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, called the pope’s statement “a huge step forward” on “what is essentially a life-and-death issue,” since homosexuality is a capital offense in some nations.

The pope was widely cited as describing homosexual acts as sinful, in keeping with Church teaching, but Martin said that the Spanish transcript of his remarks suggested he was ascribing this view to others by way of responding to their arguments. “Yes, but it’s a sin,” the pope said, mimicking what those opposed to his view might assert. “Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.” Francis added: “It is also a sin to lack charity with one another.”

Francis knows about the lack of charity. A great many conservative bishops, especially in the United States, have been highly critical of his pontificate and his insistence that addressing poverty, social justice and global inequalities should take priority over abortion and issues related to sexuality. Close students of the hierarchy see at least a third of American bishops as hostile to Francis’s anti-culture-war approach and a majority as being, well, less than enthusiastic.

But the pope’s latest salvo is likely to be popular in the pews. Despite the views of conservatives in the hierarchy, U.S. Catholics are somewhat more supportive of LGBTQ rights than Americans overall. A Gallup study of polls taken from 2016 to 2020, for example, found that on average 69 percent of Catholics, including 56 percent of weekly church attendees, favored legal recognition of same-sex marriages.

The pope appeared to go a step further toward liberalizing the Church’s position in response to questions from Martin after the AP interview aimed at clarifying whether he regarded homosexual behavior as a sin. Francis reiterated that Catholic teaching held that “every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” but added that “one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault.” This was classic Francis: He reiterated old doctrine but then distanced its meaning from earlier formulations far more hostile to homosexuality.

“It’s a move away from seeing all sexual sins as separating us from God’s grace,” Cathleen Kaveny, a theologian and law professor at Boston College, told me, “and instead seeing them more like other sins, which can be serious or not, depending on circumstances.”

The pope’s intervention comes amid ferment created by his call in October 2021 for a process of dialogue and consultation at all levels of the Church under the rubric of the much-debated word “synodality.” It’s not democracy but does imply listening and sharing insights.

It is also an occasion for pro-Francis bishops to speak out. In a timely essay last week in America magazine, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy, the bishop of San Diego, criticized “cultures of exclusion that alienate all too many from the church or make their journey in the Catholic faith tremendously burdensome.”

He challenged those who center “the Christian moral life disproportionately upon sexual activity,” and argued that “the distinction between orientation and activity cannot be the principal focus” of Church thinking about homosexuality.

“It is a demonic mystery of the human soul why so many men and women have a profound and visceral animus toward members of the L.G.B.T. communities,” McElroy wrote. “We must enlarge our tent. And we must do so now.”

His essay invited instant backlash from conservative Catholics. The Rev. Raymond J. de Souza charged in the National Catholic Register that McElroy’s approach to sexuality amounted to “the abolition of chastity.” The headline called it “a pastoral disaster.”

McElroy, a strong Francis ally, is accustomed to being a lightning rod for censure that is really aimed at the pope. But the response underscores how trying to diminish the power of culture-war issues is itself a spark for more cultural warfare.

Francis seems calm about the brickbats that come his way. “Criticism helps you to grow and improve things,” he told the AP, providing protection against “a dictatorship of distance … where the emperor is there and no one can tell him anything.”

Those of us who sympathize with Francis wish his internal detractors felt the same way.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

How German Catholics pushed Church’s slow reforms

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

by Christoph Strack

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

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

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

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

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

More liberal labor laws

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

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

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

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

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

The Church’s ‘reform engine’

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

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

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

‘Discrimination remains’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!

Fr Brian Darcy

— ‘The Church needs to learn from transgender people – not just preach Canon Law’

Fr Brian Darcy

Why should we be surprised when a church leader seeks advice about something

I read a beautiful letter from a committed Catholic which shocked me in a good way. I hope it does the same for you.

This is how WE come to terms with difference; it’s how to come to terms with being transgender.

The letter was published in a leading Catholic magazine in the USA called America.

I want to be true to what the writer Christine Zuba wrote and therefore I will quote directly where possible to make sure I am not misinterpreting Christine in any way.

The letter begins: “About eight years ago, after 29 years of marriage to my wife and two beautiful children, I walked into confession with something to discuss.

“For as long as I could remember since about the age of 3 or 4, I knew that I was different.

“As a child, for years I would go to bed praying that I would wake up as a girl. This is a story commonly echoed by many transgender people like myself.”

Christine is a lifelong Catholic. As part of her transition, she took an unusual first step.

She decided to speak to a priest in the Confessional. She was aware in a general way of the teaching of the Catholic Church about being gay.

At that point, however, the church was still relatively silent about transgender persons.

“My faith has always been strong. I’ll never claim to be the perfect Catholic; I do make mistakes. Occasionally (but not often),

“I miss a Sunday Mass, and I’ve been known to utter a bad word once in a while… I do my best to be a good person, though, trying to live each day as if it may be my last.

“I was, and still am, very confident in my relationship with my God. I knew I would be the same person walking out of the confessional as walking in, no matter what some might say or claim about me.

“While my “outside” was changing, everything else—my heart, my mind, my soul and my faith—remained unchanged.”

A young woman holding a rainbow gay flag outdoors. Stock image
A young woman holding a rainbow gay flag outdoors.

The priest was sympathetic to Christine and was amazingly open to a discussion.

“…the conversation immediately diverted to sex. “Excuse me, Father,” I remember saying, “this has nothing at all to do with sex; this has to do with who I am.

“You can throw me out if you want, but if you do, I’m coming right back. This is my church too.”

What a superb response! In fairness, the priest said he had no intention of throwing Christine out.

Instead, he suggested they pray together to ask for guidance for the journey. He was so kind that Christine cried as she left the confessional.

Later she spoke to the Parish Leader in Confession. His first words were: “God loves everyone.”

He added that while he understood what it meant for people to identify as gay, “the transgender subject is somewhat new.” He admitted: “I’ll need you to help me learn.”

“I’ve been blessed”, Christine says. “While I had a very positive reaction from my priests, I know others who have experienced the complete opposite.

“They were told that they are sinners, evil or that they were not Catholic. One of my best friends was even physically carried out of the church during Mass after being refused Communion.

“Many people are still learning about transgender persons. Before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down our daily lives, I had lunch with a local priest who had baptized my grandson.

” He wanted to learn more about me. One of the first things he asked was if I was ever physically or sexually abused when I was young because it was his understanding that people become transgender as a result of abuse. I have never been abused”

An even bigger surprise was in store for Christine. “A year after my transition, I was asked if I would be interested in becoming an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.

“Shortly thereafter we also started an L.G.B.T.Q.+ ministry in our parish…

“Through Zoom, I’ve participated in numerous parish L.G.B.T.Q.+ ministries as well as informational sessions with priests, and religious and diocesan school administrators to help them better understand and accompany transgender adults, youth and children.

” I’ve met many loving, kind, wonderful L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics and allies.”

But there was an even bigger surprise in store.

“About four years ago, I was invited (along with 17 gay and lesbian Catholics, supportive clergy, and parents) to dinner with Cardinal Joseph Tobin at his residence in Newark, N.J.

“It was a beautiful and amazing evening. An introductory reception preceded a beautiful dinner and conversation, after which Cardinal Tobin sat back and asked each of us, “How can I help you?”

It was an inspired move by Cardinal Tobin. But I have to ask myself why should we be surprised when a church leader seeks advice about something he knows nothing about.

Should not that be what every leader would do? Christine had similar thoughts.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

“I often wonder, however, what it is about me and people like me that causes so much fear among my fellow Catholics.

“Why are the transgender community selectively targeted by some as a threat to the family and the world? Nothing could be further from the truth.

“I understand our faith says that “God made them male and female.” But God made a whole lot more, and everything in between.

“Our world, science, technology, and even our church, have changed over time. Today’s science recognizes that something can happen between the body and mind, causing misalignment between the two.

“I don’t often quote science, though. I just know that “I am,” that God made me this way, and that God made me this way for a reason.

“I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about being transgender. Our lives are no different from anyone else’s. We live, we work, and we pray. We have families.

“We ask simply to be accepted and to be a part of our church, no better or worse than divorced Catholics, or Catholics who may not strictly follow other church teachings.

“Pope Francis has spoken out for L.G.B.T. Catholics, saying that God “does not disown any of his children.”

He is reported to have told Juan Carlos Cruz, a sexual abuse survivor and a gay Catholic man, that “God made you this way and loves you this way,” in reference to his identity. I pray that someday our church will take this to heart and that this message will reach trans Catholics, too.”

There is a powerful and emotional ending to Christine’s letter. In a few words, she outlines a common-sense approach that speaks louder than theology or canon law ever could. This is pure Gospel compassion from Christine Zuba.

“Transgender persons are not an ideology. We are not a threat. All of us are a part of God’s great universe, made in the image and likeness of God, a God who is neither male nor female.”

Now I’m in tears!

Complete Article HERE!

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!