Top Vatican cardinals tried to put the brakes on the German Catholic Church’s controversial reform process Friday, fearing proposals concerning gays, women and sexual morals will split the church and insisting they would be better debated later.
The Vatican and the German bishops conference issued a joint statement after a week of meetings that culminated with an unusual summit between the 62 German bishops and top Vatican officials, including the No. 2 secretary of state, the head of the bishops’ office and the head of the doctrine office.
The pope, who met separately with the German bishops on his own on Thursday, was originally supposed to attend Friday’s summit but did not, leaving it to his cardinals to toe the Vatican line.
Germany’s church launched a reform process with the country’s influential lay group to respond to the clergy sexual abuse scandals, after a report in 2018 found at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014. The report found that the crimes were systematically covered up by church leaders and that there were structural problems in the way power was exercised that “favored sexual abuse of minors or made preventing it more difficult.”
Preliminary assemblies have already approved calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests and the ordination of women as deacons. One has also called for church labor law to be revised so that gay employees don’t face the risk of being fired.
The German “Synodal Path” has sparked fierce resistance inside Germany and beyond, primarily from conservatives opposed to opening any debate on such hot-button issues and warning that the German reforms, if ultimately approved in the final stage, could lead to schism.
Such warnings were echoed by Vatican Cardinals Marc Ouellet, in charge of bishops, and Cardinal Luis Ladaria, in charge of doctrine, in the meeting Friday.
According to the joint statement, they “spoke with frankness and clarity about the concerns and reservations of the methodology, content and proposals of the Synodal Path and proposed, for the sake of unity of the church,” that they be dealt with later, when the global Catholic Church takes up such issues in a universal way next year.
The statement said a “moratorium” was proposed, but was rejected.
Francis has since launched a global “synodal path” which involves soliciting input from lay Catholics around the globe that has echoed many of the same themes as the German process, including the role of women in the church and homosexuality. But there is no indication the global church is prepared to go as far as the German church in pressing for change.
Francis, for his part, has personally intervened on the German process and recently pointed to a 2019 letter he wrote to the German faithful as summarizing all he has to say on the matter. In that letter, Francis offered support for the process but warned church leaders against falling into the temptation of change for the sake of adaptation to particular groups or ideas.
Bishop Georg Baetzing, who heads the German bishops conference, for his part, explained the work undertaken so far, stressing that it was based on listening to the “people of God and the pain over abuses committed by clergy,” the statement said.
Baetzing is scheduled to give a press conference on Saturday.
— The Roman Catholic Church led by Pope Francis is arguably at a crossroads during a time of global changes that threaten to leave behind those unwilling to adapt.
There have been several key issues that keep on hounding the Church and serve as existential threats. How the Church responds to these issues could spell the difference between its survival and continued relevance to Catholics or signal its collapse and slide into oblivion
Here are the top five issues hounding today’s Catholic Church:
1. Clergy sexual abuse.
There is perhaps no single issue bigger than the allegations of widespread sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic clergy. These sexual abuse accusations are shocking and almost systematic, as there have been numerous publicized cases of clergy sexual abuse, many of which were committed against minor-age victims.
Jean-Pierre Ricard, a retired French bishop made a Cardinal by no less than the current pope, recently admitted through a statement to committing “reprehensible” acts with a 14-year-old girl when he was still a priest in the 1980s. Ricard said: “35 years ago, when I was a priest, I behaved in a reprehensible way towards a girl of 14. There is no doubt that my behaviour caused serious and long-lasting consequences for that person.”
Aside from Ricard, 11 other active and retired senior Catholic clergy members are charged with sexual abuse, according to a disclosure by the French Catholic Church leadership. And aside from these recent cases, there have been many other similar accusations of sexual improprieties by men in cloaks who are supposed to embody Christ’s holiness.
2. Abortion stand.
With recent developments, such as the controversial U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, the Catholic Church is again thrust into a highly divisive and delicate issue. While the Church has traditionally been anti-abortion, some Catholics strongly condemn the Church’s official stand on the matter.
A report revealed that as much as 58% of German Catholics are not happy with Pope Francis’ and the Vatican’s statements critical of abortion. Despite his largely liberal views on many other issues concerning the Catholic Church, Francis opts to take the traditional, conservative anti-abortion stand that past popes have taken.
With this internal conflict of views on this specific issue, it’s interesting to watch for developments on whether the Church and its members could find a common rallying point.
3. Clerical celibacy.
Catholic priests have long been sworn to adhere to the vow of celibacy. This is the doctrine that prohibits Catholic priests from marrying and instead choosing a life of chastity. Celibacy supposedly allows a priest and other clergy members to serve the Church better.
Incidentally, celibacy was among the top issues discussed during the 2019 Catholic Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region. This issue surfaced amid the shortage of unmarried priests to minister to the Catholic faithful in the region. With the lack of unmarried priests to guide Catholics, the question of whether to allow married men to become priests suddenly gained steam.
4. Church attitude towards LGBTQIA+.
In recent years, the LGBTQIA+ community worldwide has successfully drawn attention to their cause. However, despite such global awareness, individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ have yet to find the recognition and respect they seek. And it seems they could not count on the Catholic Church to give them the needed acceptance.
There have been several statements and actions from different Catholic leaderships across the world that clearly show discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community. From an Irish priest who said gay politicians are destined to hell to Denver archdiocese leaders telling Catholic schools not to accept gay or transgender students, there is much left to be desired in how the Catholic leadership and clergy treat the LGBTQIA+ community.
5. Female ordination.
The Catholic Church has been, for technically its entire existence, a male-dominated religion. This setup has been practically unchanged for centuries and does not seem to change in the foreseeable future.This is precisely why ordinating women to become deacons or priests is among the most hotly-debated issues within and beyond the Catholic fold. One small consolation comes in the recent Vatican synod document that included a discussion on women’s ordination, which has long been a taboo subject among Catholic religious.
“Women remain the majority of those who attend liturgy and participate in activities, men a minority; yet most decision-making and governance roles are held by men. It is clear that the Church must find ways to attract men to a more active membership in the Church and to enable women to participate more fully at all levels of Church life,” the document said.
The unwillingness of the Church to put women into a leadership position is eyed by some as a hindrance to the Church’s adaption to modernity. The document quoted the New Zealand episcopal conference report as saying the “lack of equality for women within the Church is seen as a stumbling block for the Church in the modern world.”
This is yet another issue that the Church would have to deal with if it expects to adapt to the changing global sentiment on gender equality in the religious realm.
The “Chain of Discipleship” image showed five Catholics celebrating at a church, including a woman in priest’s vestments and a person in a rainbow-letters lettered “pride” shirt who is shouting “We are the young people of the future and the future is now.”
This art from the Philadelphia Catholic Higher Education Synod rocked Catholic social media — especially when it appeared on the Synod of Bishops Facebook page, linked to the ongoing Synod on Synodality that began in 2021.
Catholics at the local, regional and national levels are sending the Vatican input about the church’s future. A North Carolina parish submitted testimony from “Matthew (not his real name),” who had been recognized as his Catholic high school’s most popular teacher. While “hiding his homosexuality,” he married “his partner elsewhere.”
“As a couple, they decide(d) to foster, love and adopt young children internationally,” said this report. “Matthew’s greatest sadness is that he has to hide his sexuality in order to keep his job in a church institution and that he does not feel welcome in the Catholic Church precisely because of his sexuality which he considers God-given, and this despite his attempt to love the poor and destitute through his pro-life decision to adopt.”
Case studies of this kind recently led Belgian bishops to approve a document — “On Pastoral Closeness to Homosexual People” — containing a rite for priests blessing same-sex couples. The bishops appointed a gay layman as inter-diocesan coordinator for LGBTQ care in a land in which 3.6 percent of baptized Catholics attend Mass on an average Sunday.
Meanwhile, it’s important that a Vatican working document includes the term LGBTQ and even LGBTQIA in discussions of topics once considered forbidden, said Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic gay-rights network pushed aside during the Pope St. John Paul II era.
“The fact that LGBTQ inclusion was raised in this document indicates that this is a topic of global concern, not just the hobby-horse of some Western nations,” he told the press. During New Ways Ministry synod meetings, LGBTQ Catholics showed “their willingness to participate in the life of the church they love so much. … They trusted that Pope Francis truly wanted to hear from them.”
While Catholic progressives have hailed synodality as part of the “Spirit of Vatican II,” Cardinal Gerhard Mueller of Germany, a powerful voice from the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, believes some elements of this process resemble an “occupation of the Catholic Church,” or a “hostile takeover of the Church of Jesus Christ.”
Some synod leaders believe “doctrine is only like a program of a political party” and they can “change it according to their votes,” said the former leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The result is a process resembling the “hermeneutic of the old cultural Protestantism and of the modernism” in which “individual experience” has the same level of authority as the “objective revelation of God,” he told EWTN.
It’s crucial that, under Pope Francis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2021 said church authorities do not have the power to bless same-sex unions, said Cardinal Francis Arinze, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
“This is what the Flemish Bishops, and indeed all bishops and priests, should be teaching. They should be blessing, not homosexual couples, but properly married unions of one man and one woman,” said the Nigerian cardinal. “Human beings have no power to change the order established by God the Creator. … This includes calling people to repentance, sacrifice, chastity and perfection.”
The word from Belgian bishops is different — that Catholicism is learning and evolving through contact with modern believers seeking change on marriage, sexuality, divorce and the ordination of women, argued Father Jos Moons, a Jesuit professor at University of Louvain.
“The Flemish Church is repositioning itself,” he argued, writing in La Croix, an independent Catholic newspaper in France. “The bishops opt for warm, pastoral closeness, without judgments, warnings and prohibitions.”
The synod document, he stressed, is “fully Roman Catholic” built on Amoris Laetitia (“the joy of love”), a 256-page document by Pope Francis. “The Flemish bishops emphasize conscience. By this they mean the personal dialogue with God, which forms itself in dialogue with Church teaching, fellow believers, society and one’s own inner self.”
Bishop of Kerry Ray Browne has apologised for derogatory comments made by Fr Sean Sheehy that resulted in over 30 parishioners walking out of Mass at St Mary’s Church in Listowel at the weekend.
he diocese of Kerry was quick to distance itself from Fr Sheehy’s sermon that condemned transgenderism, same-sex couples, and supplying condoms to teenagers.
Shocked Mass-goers were subjected to an outpouring of anger from the pulpit, which many deemed tactless, insensitive, and represented a throwback to the days of clerical authority.
Fr Sheehy – who is deputising for Listowel Parish Priest Canon Declan O’Connor– criticised Government legislation around what he said was the promotion of abortion and described the ‘lunatic approach of transgenderism’.
We see it, for example, in the promotion of sex between two men and two women. That is sinful. That is a mortal sin and people don’t seem to realise it,” he said.
“It’s a fact, a reality, and we need to listen to God about it because if we don’t, then there is no hope for those people.”
Fr Sheehy went on to say that sin was rampant and told parishioners they had a responsibility to ‘seek out’ those who are lost and to call people to an awareness that sin is destructive, detrimental and would lead people to hell.
Fr Sheehy was heckled by parishioners, many of whom left the church. But undeterred, he continued his homily adding that people should admit they are sinners.
“There are people who won’t like what I’m saying, but the day you die you’ll find out what I’m saying is what God is saying…Those of you who happen to be leaving today, God help you. That’s all I have to say to you. And God bless you who are here and worshiping God,” he said.
Fr Sheehy continued: “I was talking to a woman a few weeks ago whose 17-year-old daughter was out with friends in Tralee. She came home and handed her mother a condom…a HSE van was handing these out in Tralee.
“That is promoting promiscuity. That is horrible, horrible. As Christians, we need to stand up for God. If we don’t there is no hope for many people.”
In a statement, Bishop Browne said he is aware of the deep upset and hurt caused by the contents of Fr Sheehy’s homily.
“I apologise to all who were offended. The views expressed do not represent the Christian position. The homily at a regular weekend parish Mass is not appropriate for such issues to be spoken of in such terms. I regret that this has occurred while a parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land is taking place,” Bishop Browne said.
Bishop Browne said the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is a Gospel of love and ever proclaims the dignity of every human person, and that Jesus calls on us all to have total respect for one another.
In 2009, Fr Sheehy was also embroiled in controversy when he, and many others, shook hands in a courtroom with a man convicted of sex assault. This was criticised by the then Bishop of Kerry, Bill Murphy.
The latest controversy comes amid the Church’s recent survey among Catholics around the world regarding lay positions on the Church’s future.
— Book by gay Catholic theologian finds new publisher
By Brian Bromberger
It was a disturbing email notification that was received in June by Miguel H. Díaz, Ph.D., a gay man and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and currently the John Courtney Murray, S.J. University Chair in Public Service at Loyola University Chicago.
Sent from the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America Inc. (aka Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers), the June 9 notification ended Díaz’s agreement with Orbis Books to publish his book “Queer God de Amor,” which had been scheduled to be released in June, having been sent to the printer in mid-February and heralded in the Orbis spring catalog.
Díaz wrote to the Bay Area Reporter, “No reasons were provided for this decision nor was any process identified for coming to this determination.”
The B.A.R. contacted Orbis publisher Robert Ellsberg, who replied, “On this subject I can only confirm the information that was conveyed to Miguel by the chief operating officer for Maryknoll, that the decision not to publish his book was made by the Maryknoll Society. I am sorry we were not able to publish Miguel’s book. He is a dear friend and author of many years. I’m afraid I can’t really make further comment on this.”
Several attempts were made to get in touch with Maryknoll COO Robert Ambrose to ask why it withdrew its offer to publish “Queer God de Amor,” but despite promises to call back, he never did.
Orbis had previously published “The Word Became Culture,” which Díaz edited.
Fortunately, less than two weeks later, Fordham University Press acquired the book and the Disruptive Cartographers: Doing Theology Latinamente Series from Orbis. The series is designed to “to re-map theology and push it in new directions from varying coordinates across a spectrum of latindad as lived in the U.S.A., publishing boundary-breaking scholarship and supporting underrepresented voices,” it stated.
Díaz’s new book focuses on the 16th-century Spanish theologian/poet/mystic St. Juan de la Cruz/St. John of the Cross (1542-1591).
“Juan’s spiritual teachings and theological arguments, especially in his poems all of them rich in homoerotic imagery, helped me see more clearly than I ever saw, how heterosexism and heteronormativity are indeed socially constructed idols that must be challenged and rejected,” he said.
Jorge Aquino, chair of the Theology and Religious Studies Department at the University of San Francisco, explained why Díaz’s latest book is significant.
“The publication of ‘Queer God de Amor’ will make an important mark on Roman Catholic debates on sexuality in the U.S.,” he said. “Díaz presents a significant theological argument in favor of a more open church teaching on sexuality. And Díaz’s own story as a sexual subject — a man who came out as gay later in life, having fathering children in a long-standing heterosexual marriage — presents fruitful pathways toward a new thinking in Catholic theology. The fact that Díaz is one of the most prominent public theologians in this country, having served as ambassador to the Holy See during the presidency of Barack Obama, will force more conversation about the need to rethink today’s unsustainable anathemas against non-heterosexual love and queer families.”
Tom Poundstone, Ph.D., associate professor of theology and religious studies at Saint Mary’s College of California, views Díaz’s work in terms of its pastoral implications. “Hearing Díaz read a passage from his book that mentioned shame and wrestling with angels, a student shared that, by virtue of being a lesbian, she couldn’t help but feel that in her very being she was disappointing God,” he said. “What should we say in response to that pervasive sense of shame and sadness? Does the good news of the gospel extend to her, to all of her? Like this student crying out from the depth of her heart, many in the LGBTQ communities feel the church has no good news message from them, and no sense that Christianity is an invitation to intimacy with God.”
As ambassador (2009-12), Díaz, 59, launched his Building Bridges initiative that brought together religious voices, political leaders, educators, and civil servants to tackle issues such as the climate crisis, human trafficking, immigration, religious freedom, and poverty. Díaz sees his book as continuing that bridge building initiative, only now between queer Catholics and the institutional church.
The B.A.R. interviewed Díaz, 59, when he visited San Francisco to give a September 29 lecture, “A Sanjuanista Queering of the Mystery of God,” based on his book at USF’s Lane Center.
He was asked what inspired him to write the controversial book.
“This book was birthed from numerous queer persons whom I have been privileged to meet and accompany since I started the process of coming out to myself, family, and friends,” he said. “Coming out is not always as liberating as it is oftentimes assumed to be, as anyone who has accompanied LGBTQ+ persons (in particular, Brown and Black queer bodies) knows. Cultural realities connected to my Cuban background and to my Catholic faith obstructed my journey of self-discovery and self-transparency.
“As is the case for many queer persons, coming out involves an ongoing wrestling with angels to reject powers and principalities that stand in the way of human flourishing and our ability to know and unite with God and neighbor,” he added. “Shame-based trauma, often related to ill-conceived religious ideas, theologies, and religious practices, keeps many of us from beginning and continuing this process.”
The book is scholarly and academic. Díaz tried to clarify his thesis for a lay, largely secular audience. “Consistent with other liberating religious perspectives, it outs God from heteronormative closets and restores human sexuality as a resource for theology. This outing of divine queerness — that is, the ineffability of divine life — helps to align reflections on the mystery of God with the faith experiences of queer Christians,” he said.
“My book highlights the sexual experiences of those that have been marginalized and oppressed. My central thesis is that God and queer sexuality belong together,” he said. “Sexuality, broadly understood, entails our God-given capacity to relate to others in consensual and life-giving acts. As sexual beings and in our sexual expressions, we give to and receive from others. Queer sexuality focuses on the specific ways that queer persons embody and express this act of sexual hospitality. Sadly, one is often hard pressed to find words like God, queer sexuality, and sex used in the same sentence, except in perspectives that often threaten queer lives. I draw from the writings of John of the Cross, particularly his poems, to offer an alternative interpretation.”
Díaz acknowledged why some may find his book contentious.
“Traditional Christian teaching would hold that God is love and that God is ineffable, that is, incapable of being boxed and limited by any human experience, image, or concept,” he said. “It is in this sense that I use the term queer God of love. In particular, I turn to God’s queerness to disrupt heteronormative notions and images associated with the sacred and to let God come out of restrictive closets that stand in the way of God’s ability to speak to queer persons and their sexuality … and cause narrow-minded understandings of what it means to be human in the image of God.
“And all theologians, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, must contribute to the work of dismantling heterodox notions of God,” Díaz said. “God is not male, no more than God is female; God is not straight, no more than God is gay; God is not white no more than God is Black. We must keep in mind that no theological construction based on any human experience can ever speak the last word on God. The mystery of God cannot be confined to any human closet.”
Díaz talked about the implications of his book on Catholic teachings on sexuality and homosexuality.
“I wrote this book to open new possibilities of relating divine life and queer lives,” he said. “In this way, the book disrupts Christian theologies that exclude and invites the construction of ‘catholic’ that is inclusive understandings of God and humanity. I take very seriously the belief that we are spiritual beings who thirst for meaningful and life-giving personal encounters in our life. Religious faith matters to me and queering it for the sake of persons that often find themselves excluded has now become a quintessential task for me to undertake.”
Díaz uses bedroom imagery as a place of human encounter with God.
“In sexual intimacy, in lovemaking, lovers choreograph a dance that makes room for one another,” he said. “This making room for others is what I mean when I use the term ecstasis. What characterizes ecstasis, divine and human, is a dynamic movement to personally encounter others. God makes room for us, we make room for God, we make room for one another. An ecstatic person is one that gives to and receives from others.
“As the ecstatic being par excellence, I believe God reaches out to find us in the bedroom and in our human sexual expressions, just like God encounters us in other places and human experiences,” he added. “In this sense we can say that ‘In intimacy is found ecstasy; in ecstasy we find God; and in God, we find others in sexually and culturally embodied ways.'”
There are three things Díaz wants readers to take away after finishing his book.
“First, I want readers to consider the possibility that God is queer, and by queer, I mean, ineffable, disruptive, and beyond human definitions and categories,” he said. “I want them to embrace the notion that God’s love is ‘catholic.’ Divine love excludes no one and, thereby, also manifests itself in queer persons and in their queer sexual expressions.
Secondly, he wants readers to understand that “religious perspectives and theologies matter,” Díaz said.
“I want readers, and in particular queer readers, to take seriously the methodological premise of my book that relates faith and queer experiences,” he said. “I also would invite them to embrace the theological arguments I provide as a springboard for further theological explorations, questioning, and conversations around life-issues that affect queer persons and others who suffer marginalization on the basis of religion.
And, thirdly, Díaz said, he wants “queer persons of faith who experience rejection and religious isolation because of their gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual expressions, to seek the support they need to reject and detach themselves from beliefs that undermine their humanity. In solidarity with queer bodies, I pray that our ‘dark nights’ become the seeds of human flourishing so that we may grow in greater love of God, of ourselves, and of our neighbors.”
For Díaz, religion can be a force for good as well as undermining fundamental human rights.
“I dream of the day when all LGBTQ+ children of God will not be judged by the ‘color’ of their gender identity or sexual orientation, but by the content of their character, the faith they witness to in the God of life, and the valuable contributions they make to the church and society,” he said. “Our uncommon faithfulness stems from our firm belief that in spite of the sexism and heterosexism we have endured — all tied to the abuse of power — we remain proud, queer, and Catholic members of Christ’s body. As members of this universal body, we will continue to stand for the dignity of all LGBTQ+ persons worldwide.”