Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin asks forgiveness for homophobia in the Catholic Church

Homophobia was an «unholy line of tradition» in the Catholic Church, says Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin

Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin has asked forgiveness for the church’s discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation.

Homophobia was an «unholy line of tradition» in the Catholic Church, Koch said May 17 during an ecumenical service in the Protestant Twelve Apostles Church in Berlin.

The German Catholic news agency KNA said he called for respect for the dignity of every human being, regardless of their sexual orientation, and announced that the Archdiocese of Berlin would take measures to ensure this, ucanews.com reports.

Complete Article HERE!

Bishop takes part in gay blessing services in Germany

This year, for the first time, a German bishop took part, the auxiliary Bishop of Essen, Ludger Schepers.

People with pride flags over their shoulders in Max-Josephs-Platz, in Munich in February this year.

by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, Christopher Lamb

The grass-roots #liebegewinnt, or “love wins”,  campaign in Germany again held blessing services for all couples who loved each other, including LGBTQ couples, but numbers were down compared to last year – from 110 to 80 services nationwide.

The #liebegewinnt campaign, held this year on 10 May, began last year as a reaction to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF’s) “no” to same-sex blessings which was published on 15 March, 2021.

The CDF said: “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 presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.”

This year, however, for the first time, a German bishop took part. The auxiliary Bishop of Essen, Ludger Schepers, who is responsible for pastoral work with the LGBTQ community in the German bishops’ conference, took part in an ecumenical blessing service that also included remarried divorcee couples in the Marktkirche in Essen.

There were no blessing services in Munich or Augsburg this year. A Munich priest, Fr Wolfgang Rothe, who held a blessing service for couples who loved each other including people from the LGBTQ community last year in Munich, published a statement explaining that this year he had been unable to find a church in which he could hold a blessing ceremony. “All my inquiries either remained unanswered or were rejected,” he said.

Renate Spanning, a spokeswoman for Maria 2.0, the German Catholic women’s church reform initiative, which took part in a blessing ceremony last year, told Bavarian Radio that she was “frustrated”. Several German bishops had recently spoken of the need to reform the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, she said, adding: “Blessing ceremonies would surely be the logical consequence now. But when it actually comes to embedding their oral admission liturgically, there is no one to be found!”

•Pope Francis’ recent “mini-interview” on the topic of LGBTQ Catholics provides some of the building blocks for a re-imagined ministry to gay people.

“A ‘selective’ church, one of ‘pure blood,’ is not Holy Mother Church, but rather a sect,” the Pope explained in a handwritten reply to questions from Fr James Martin, a Jesuit priest and founder of the “LGBTQ Catholic resource”, Outreach. “What would you say is the most important thing for LGBT people to know about God?” Fr Martin asked on behalf of Outreach.  “God is Father and he does not disown any of his children. And the ‘style’ of God is ‘closeness, mercy and tenderness’. Along this path you will find God,” Francis replied.

Complete Article HERE!

I have been Catholic all my life. A new Milwaukee Archdiocese policy on transgender people has driven me from my church.

Archbishop Jerome Edward Listecki

By Anne Curley

As a cradle Catholic whose values were shaped by 12 years of Catholic education and 60-plus years of Mass attendance, I feel great gratitude for the countless caring sisters, priests and Catholic laypeople who have guided and inspired me through much of my life. I’ve been proud to be associated with the good done by Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations throughout the world.

So it’s with real sadness that I’ve joined the throng who have left the church.

The recently released policy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on how to treat transgender individuals has made it impossible for me, in good conscience, to call myself a Catholic.

I didn’t come to this decision lightly. When friends would ask, “How can you be a Catholic despite (choose one or more) the clergy sex abuse scandal, the ban on women priests, the treatment of homosexuality as a disorder, the rules on birth control … I had three well-honed responses:

“A 2,000-year-old, global institution doesn’t change quickly,” “Show me a major human institution that isn’t a mixed bag of strengths and corruption,” and “It’s the good, grace-filled people that keep me hanging in there — not the policies.”

Still, I can’t say I relished the mental gymnastics required to justify why I continued to be a practicing Catholic.

The justifications ran out when I read “Catechesis and policy on questions concerning gender theory,” a stunningly harsh new directive from the archdiocese covering Catholic parishes, organizations and institutions.

In no uncertain terms, it spells out how all employees, volunteers and vendors at these institutions are to treat transgender individuals. Among other dictates, it includes, “Recognize only a person’s biological sex,” “No person may designate a ‘preferred pronoun’ in speech or in writing” and “All persons are to follow the dress code or uniform that accords with their biological sex.”

The document begins by saying, “’The truth will set you free.’ Christ’s words to his disciples call Christians in every age to embrace the truth of who we are as children of God, for only in embracing this truth can we be set free.”

I believe that truth is embedded in each of us — that God implanted a unique identity that is ours alone to experience, express and put to good use during our time on Earth.  The fact that society is becoming more accepting of differences in our identities — race, sexual orientation and gender expression being prime examples — strikes me as part of God’s unfolding plan to enable each of us to achieve our full potential.

I am not an expert on it, but I think it’s safe to say the subject of gender identity is complex, nuanced and not a good candidate for rigid rules. What I know for sure is that my Catholic education taught me Jesus identified with those whom the rule-makers rejected. I learned that he reserved his harshest criticism for religious leaders who piled heavy burdens on others. Thanks to my Catholic formation, I know that to be Christian means to uplift the dignity of others, especially those who most need uplifting.

So how can I be a committed Christian and go along with a policy that, instead of emphasizing compassionate care, institutionalizes the oppression of people because of who they are?

What would Jesus do?

Complete Article HERE!

Black Catholic nuns: A compelling, long-overlooked history

by DAVID CRARY

Even as a young adult, Shannen Dee Williams – who grew up Black and Catholic in Memphis, Tennessee – knew of only one Black nun, and a fake one at that: Sister Mary Clarence, as played by Whoopi Goldberg in the comic film “Sister Act.”

After 14 years of tenacious research, Williams – a history professor at the University of Dayton – arguably now knows more about America’s Black nuns than anyone in the world. Her comprehensive and compelling history of them, “Subversive Habits,” will be published May 17.

Williams found that many Black nuns were modest about their achievements and reticent about sharing details of bad experiences, such as encountering racism and discrimination. Some acknowledged wrenching events only after Williams confronted them with details gleaned from other sources.

“For me, it was about recognizing the ways in which trauma silences people in ways they may not even be aware of,” she said.

The story is told chronologically, yet always in the context of a theme Williams forcefully outlines in her preface: that the nearly 200-year history of these nuns in the U.S. has been overlooked or suppressed by those who resented or disrespected them.

“For far too long, scholars of the American, Catholic, and Black pasts have unconsciously or consciously declared — by virtue of misrepresentation, marginalization, and outright erasure — that the history of Black Catholic nuns does not matter,” Williams writes, depicting her book as proof that their history “has always mattered.”

The book arrives as numerous American institutions, including religious groups, grapple with their racist pasts and shine a spotlight on their communities’ overlooked Black pioneers.

Williams begins her narrative in the pre-Civil War era when some Black women – even in slave-holding states – found their way into Catholic sisterhood. Some entered previously whites-only orders, often in subservient roles, while a few trailblazing women succeeded in forming orders for Black nuns in Baltimore and New Orleans.

Even as the number of American nuns – of all races – shrinks relentlessly, that Baltimore order founded in 1829 remains intact, continuing its mission to educate Black youths. Some current members of the Oblate Sisters of Providence help run Saint Frances Academy, a high school serving low-income Black neighborhoods.

Some of the most detailed passages in “Subversive Habits” recount the Jim Crow era, extending from the 1870s through the 1950s, when Black nuns were not spared from the segregation and discrimination endured by many other African Americans.

In the 1960s, Williams writes, Black nuns were often discouraged or blocked by their white superiors from engaging in the civil rights struggle.

Yet one of them, Sister Mary Antona Ebo, was on the front lines of marchers who gathered in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 in support of Black voting rights and in protest of the violence of Bloody Sunday when white state troopers brutally dispersed peaceful Black demonstrators. An Associated Press photo of Ebo and other nuns in the march on March 10 — three days after Bloody Sunday — ran on the front pages of many newspapers.

During two decades before Selma, Ebo faced repeated struggles to break down racial barriers. At one point she was denied admittance to Catholic nursing schools because of her race, and later endured segregation policies at the white-led order of sisters she joined in St. Louis in 1946, according to Williams.

The idea for “Subversive Habits” took shape in 2007, when Williams – then a graduate student at Rutgers University – was desperately seeking a compelling topic for a paper due in a seminar on African American history.

At the library, she searched through microfilm editions of Black-owned newspapers and came across a 1968 article in the Pittsburgh Courier about a group of Catholic nuns forming the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

The accompanying photo, of four smiling Black nuns, “literally stopped me in my tracks,” she said. “I was raised Catholic … How did I not know that Black nuns existed?”

Mesmerized by her discovery, she began devouring “everything I could that had been published about Black Catholic history,” while setting out to interview the founding members of the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

Among the women Williams interviewed extensively was Patricia Grey, who was a nun in the Sisters of Mercy and a founder of the NBSC before leaving religious life in 1974.

Grey shared with The Associated Press some painful memories from 1960, when – as an aspiring nurse – she was rejected for membership in a Catholic order because she was Black.

“I was so hurt and disappointed, I couldn’t believe it,” she said about reading that rejection letter. “I remember crumbling it up and I didn’t even want to look at it again or think about it again.”

Grey initially was reluctant to assist with “Subversive Habits,” but eventually shared her own story and her personal archives after urging Williams to write about “the mostly unsung and under-researched history” of America’s Black nuns.

“If you can, try to tell all of our stories,” Grey told her.

Williams set out to do just that – scouring overlooked archives, previously sealed church records and out-of-print books, while conducting more than 100 interviews.

“I bore witness to a profoundly unfamiliar history that disrupts and revises much of what has been said and written about the U.S. Catholic Church and the place of Black people within it,” Williams writes. “Because it is impossible to narrate Black sisters’ journey in the United States — accurately and honestly — without confronting the Church’s largely unacknowledged and unreconciled histories of colonialism, slavery, and segregation.”

Historians have been unable to identify the nation’s first Black Catholic nun, but Williams recounts some of the earliest moves to bring Black women into Catholic religious orders – in some cases on the expectation they would function as servants.

One of the oldest Black sisterhoods, the Sisters of the Holy Family, formed in New Orleans in 1842 because white sisterhoods in Louisiana, including the slave-holding Ursuline order, refused to accept African Americans.

The principal founder of that New Orleans order — Henriette Delille — and Oblate Sisters of Providence founder Mary Lange are among three Black nuns from the U.S. designated by Catholic officials as worthy of consideration for sainthood. The other is Sister Thea Bowman, a beloved educator, evangelist and singer who died in Mississippi in 1990 and is buried in Williams’s hometown of Memphis.

Researching less prominent nuns, Williams faced many challenges – for example tracking down Catholic sisters who were known to their contemporaries by their religious names but were listed in archives by their secular names.

Among the many pioneers is Sister Cora Marie Billings, who as a 17-year-old in 1956 became the first Black person admitted into the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia. Later, she was the first Black nun to teach in a Catholic high school in Philadelphia and was a co-founder of the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

In 1990, Billings became the first Black woman in the U.S. to manage a Catholic parish when she was named pastoral coordinator for St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia.

“I’ve gone through many situations of racism and oppression throughout my life,” Billings told The Associated Press. “But somehow or other, I’ve just dealt with it and then kept on going.”

According to recent figures from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, there are about 400 African American religious sisters, out of a total of roughly 40,000 nuns.

That overall figure is only one-fourth of the 160,000 nuns in 1970, according to statistics compiled by Catholic researchers at Georgetown University. Whatever their races, many of the remaining nuns are elderly, and the influx of youthful novices is sparse.

The Baltimore-based Oblate Sisters of Providence used to have more than 300 members, according to its superior general, Sister Rita Michelle Proctor, and now has less than 50 – most of them living at the motherhouse in Baltimore’s outskirts.

“Though we’re small, we are still about serving God and God’s people.” Proctor said. “Most of us are elderly, but we still want to do so for as long as God is calling us to.”

Even with diminished ranks, the Oblate Sisters continue to operate Saint Frances Academy – founded in Baltimore by Mary Lange in 1828. The coed school is the country’s oldest continually operating Black Catholic educational facility, with a mission prioritizing help for “the poor and the neglected.”

Williams, in an interview with the AP, said she was considering leaving the Catholic church – due partly to its handling of racial issues – at the time she started researching Black nuns. Hearing their histories, in their own voices, revitalized her faith, she said.

“As these women were telling me their stories, they were also preaching to me in a such a beautiful way,” Williams said. “It wasn’t done in a way that reflected any anger — they had already made their peace with it, despite the unholy discrimination they had faced.”

What keeps her in the church now, Williams said, is a commitment to these women who chose to share their stories.

“It took a lot for them to get it out,” she said. “I remain in awe of these women, of their faithfulness.”

Complete Article HERE!

Should Women Be Ordained Catholic Deacons?

Yes, says renowned expert Phyllis Zagano (COM’70), as Vatican ponders the issue

Pope Francis has a commission studying whether women deacons, part of the church until the Middle Ages, should be revived.

By Rich Barlow

In 2020, Pope Francis created a second Vatican commission to consider ordaining women as deacons—clergy who may read the gospel and preach at Mass, baptize, witness marriages, preside at funerals, and work with the needy. (A prior commission had ended two years earlier with no action taken by the Vatican.) One media report said the move signified that “women deacons in the Catholic Church are closer to reality than ever before.”

Correction: women deacons were reality in the early church. The diaconate, male and female, was abolished in the Middle Ages, then restored for men only by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s as “a ministry of service.”

Phyllis Zagano (COM’70), a scholarly authority on, and advocate for, women deacons, served on the first iteration of the pope’s commission. Her new book, Women Religious, Women Deacons: Questions and Answers is a collection of five essays for women in religious orders who aspire to the diaconate. She wrote a longer book on the topic, Women: Icons of Christ, published in 2020. A Hofstra University adjunct professor of religion and a senior research associate in residence, Zagano summarized her argument for Bostonia.

A photo of Phyllis Zagano in a brown blazer jacket with a microphone on a podium in front
Phyllis Zagano (COM’70) says Catholicism ordained women deacons early in its history and could do so again.

Q&A

With Phyllis Zagano

Bostonia: What’s the case for ordaining women deacons?

Phyllis Zagano: We have a great history of women ordained as deacons in Christianity up until the 12th century. You’ll remember that Phoebe, in Romans 16:1-2, is introduced by St. Paul; she is the only person in scripture with the job title “deacon.” What the church has done, the church can do again.

Why did deacons go away? Basically because they controlled the money, and they were very, very, very powerful between the 10th and the 12th century, particularly in Rome. The priests did not like the deacons. They wanted to get rid of the deacons. As you move through the 10th, 11th, 12th centuries, no one who is not eligible to become a priest is ordained a deacon. So there was no more permanent diaconate.

In 1976, a [church] document said women can’t be priests because Jesus chose male apostles, and secondly, women can’t image Christ. Then in 1994, another document said we can’t ordain women as priests because Jesus chose male apostles. Where did the argument that women can’t image Christ go? They dropped it. [Opponents of women deacons] say they can’t be sacramentally ordained because they can’t image Christ. They’re overlooking the fact that the argument about imaging Christ has been dropped.

Bostonia: You write, “Is the church capable of seeing women—both secular and religious women—as bearers of the gospel and as icons of Christ?” What if the answer is no? Can misogynists in the church be overcome?

Phyllis Zagano: One would hope so. I was on the commission for the study of women in the diaconate for two years. I was seated at lunch across from a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith official. I said, “Why can’t women be ordained as deacons?” He said, “Because women can’t image Christ.” I said, “Watch me.”

[His was] an heretical statement: I don’t see Christ in you, I don’t see Christ in the woman next door, the little boy, and—God help me—in Putin. The Incarnation comes to us every day, and the Resurrection comes to us every day. For them to deny the ability of women to be sacramentally ordained as deacons because women can’t image Christ—they have left the church. I haven’t. That is an example of clericalism, the understanding that I belong to a special group and you don’t.

I think misogyny in the church must be overcome. Students and young people will not deal with an organization where women are either mistreated or ignored.

Bostonia: Could diaconal ordination for women increase the church’s problem with clericalism?

Phyllis Zagano: It depends on the personality. If you’re worried about clericalism, you should have no clerics. But we need clerics. We need individuals who will serve the people of God.

Bostonia: Some critics might say that absent priestly ordination, women will inevitably be second-class citizens. How would you respond?

Phyllis Zagano: [Traditionalists fear that] if you can sacramentally ordain a woman as a deacon, you can sacramentally ordain her as a priest, and eventually ordain her as a bishop. And I say, then you don’t believe church teaching. The church teaches that it does not have the authority to ordain women as priests [because Jesus chose only male apostles]. If you say they can, that’s your argument, not mine.

The church needs ministry more than it needs priests. It needs ministry of charity. It is assumed that only priests can have governance and jurisdiction in the church. Actually, a cleric can have governance and jurisdiction, and a deacon is a cleric.

Who would you prefer to preach—the priest who talks about his golf game and Netflix, or the deacon who talks about running the soup kitchen? Not to begrudge priests, but I do want to hear, once in a while, the deacon who has been in prisons and ministering to people there, who has been in the hospitals visiting the sick, who is teaching catechism to five-year-olds. You need to look at the diaconate not as deacon-priest-bishop, but rather the deacon works for the bishop and the priest works for the bishop. These are separate but equal orders.

Women deacons did participate in baptism, whereas male deacons didn’t for the most part; women deacons did visit the sick. Women deacons also anointed ill women; male deacons never anointed. There are sacraments that, historically, women deacons performed that men deacons never did and still can’t do. It’s not that women are second-class citizens. It’s that the church has not appropriated the full understanding of what the diaconate is.

Bostonia: What is the likelihood that the current deliberations will result in Francis approving women’s diaconal ordination?

Phyllis Zagano: Because I do not know what the new commission is tasked with, I cannot predict what effect their work might have. I do know that the restoration of women to the ordained diaconate is a topic of serious synodal discussion around the world.

Complete Article HERE!