The private Catholic chapel where two Spanish men celebrated their civil “marriage” last weekend is subject to “canonical effects” and deconsecration, according to the Archdiocese of Madrid and a Catholic priest with jurisdiction in the area.
The Holy Trinity chapel, located on the grounds of the Finca El Campillo, a property used as a wedding venue in the town of El Escorial, was the scene of a celebration of the two men’s civil marriage last Saturday.
Cristina González Navarro, who owns the property, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that at the event inside the chapel “there was no priest” and that “a wedding wasn’t held,” but she refused to offer more details about what the ritual consisted of.
What is known, through images posted on social media, is that the chapel was full of guests and that the men, dressed in formal attire and holding hands, left the chapel walking down the aisle as a Catholic bride and groom do at the conclusion of a wedding ceremony for the sacrament of marriage.
According to photos on social media, some elements of the Catholic liturgy apparently were used during the ceremony, including an image of the Virgin of Hakuna by sculptor Javier Viver.
The two men exchanged rings and at one point knelt on white kneelers in front of the sculpture of the Virgin and before a cross made of two branches tied together.
On the shoulders of the men was draped a white cloth with blue stripes in a gesture similar to the one used in the veiling rite of the Mozarabic liturgy. In this Catholic rite, the wife’s head and the husband’s shoulders are covered and as they kneel they receive a blessing.
Statement from the Archdiocese of Madrid
Father Florentino de Andrés, pastor of St. Bernabé parish in El Escorial, told ACI Prensa that the chapel has not been deconsecrated and that the ceremony was carried out without his knowledge. The priest was emphatic that “it was not with my permission.”
De Andrés also said that he will speak with the owners of the property to determine what took place and if confirmed as reported, he will call for the chapel to be deconsecrated.
The Archdiocese of Madrid also weighed in with a statement confirming that “it was not informed or consulted about the possibility of holding said celebration, being a unilateral act of the property [owners] that will have canonical effects in this regard. In no case is it permitted to perform a civil marriage within a religious venue.”
The Feb. 26 statement stressed that “family chapels can only be used for the purpose that the Church grants them,” and therefore “they cannot be a place for public religious celebrations, unless expressly authorized by the diocese.”
In addition, the archdiocese specified that “they cannot be used for commercial purposes or as places for civil celebrations of any kind. In fact, at the time [they were built] they were intended to be solely for the private devotional use of the family that owned it and in no case to be offered as an optional for-profit service of a company that plans social events.”
Beyond the controversy over the improper use of a Catholic church, those who own chapels that are located on private land are subject to ecclesiastical regulations (canons 1115 et seq.) for the correct use of these sacred places, as summarized by the Archdiocese of Madrid in its statement.
A Catholic bishop in Kenya urged wider discussions on homosexuality, as some religious leaders demand a crackdown on LGBTQ activities in the East African nation.
Christian and Muslim leaders Feb. 1 urged Kenya’s president to take a strong stand against homosexuality to protect the people’s “religious, cultural, and traditional ideals,” the statement said.
Anti-LGTBQ laws are common across Africa, with Ghana’s parliament passing a bill Feb. 28 that imposes a prison sentence of up to three years for anyone convicted of identifying as LGBTQ and a maximum five-year jail term for forming or funding LGBTQ groups.
The latest sign of growing opposition to same-sex groups in African culture also may give a glimpse into why the declaration “Fiducia Supplicans” (“Supplicating Trust”) on “the pastoral meaning of blessings” was so widely rejected on the African continent.
Gay sex is already against the law in Ghana — it carries a three-year prison sentence. Half of the continent’s countries impose some kind of penalty for gay sex, ranging from imposing the death penalty in four African countries to handing down prison sentences in most of northern and eastern Africa. In December, Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye said in a radio broadcast that he asked Burundians living abroad who practice homosexuality “not to return home,” The Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, religious leaders who protested in Nairobi against “a subtle growth of activities by groups and organizations promoting” an LGBTQ “agenda” pointed to the Kenyan president saying that Uganda and Tanzania had “shown the way in their unequivocal stand against these evils.”
Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ law prescribes the death penalty for certain homosexual acts, while same-sex activity in Tanzania can earn one a life sentence.
Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, but Kenyan Bishop Peter Kihara Kariuki of Marsabit urged public participation and consultations to gauge the people’s feelings and where they stand on the issue before any further actions are taken or any new laws made.
“This is the time for Kenya to have discussions on LGBTQ issues before any law is signed or any classroom teaching is embraced and put before the children,” Bishop Kariuki told OSV News. “There should be an amicable understanding of what is wanted, what is acceptable and what is not.”
“Our culture of silence or putting things aside, because we do not speak about those issues … will make them go underground, only to eat what we are supposed to be protecting,” added the bishop.
Charles Kanjama, a Catholic lawyer and chairman of Kenya Christian Professional Forum, is less prone to consultations and urged President William Ruto on Feb. 1 to keep “his pledge against LGBTQ activities in the country.”
In the religious leaders’ statement, Kanjama and other signatories said “we will not remain silent, we will always be vigilant and soldier on in fighting for the protection of family values from the evil machinations. This remains our commitment,” they said.
In a petition sent to the parliament, Christian and Muslim leaders urged the legislators to “inquire into the proliferation of LGBTQ” activities over the last 10 years. They cited “persistent, well-choreographed and well … funded attempts” by LGBTQ activists to change the laws banning homosexuality.
The leaders also pointed to the education sector in Kenya, saying some grade 4 books and study materials contained LGBTQ material.
“This is an affront on future generations and seeks to further confuse and mislead our young children,” said the petition.
The latest debate is only a drop in the ocean of cultural contexts in Africa, where the bishops rejected the papal declaration “Fiducia Supplicans.”
Citing cultural differences and doctrinal confusion, the bishops’ conferences across Africa ruled that same-sex blessings would not be carried out in the continent.
“Fiducia Supplicans” issued Dec. 18, 2023, stated that Catholic priests could bless a same-sex or other unmarried couple. However, it cannot be a formal liturgical blessing, nor give the impression that the church is blessing the union as if it were a marriage.
Among the first to oppose the document’s guidelines were the bishops of Malawi. The day after the Vatican declaration was published, the Malawian bishops’ conference banned the blessing of same-sex couples to “avoid confusion among the faithful.”
“The declaration … should be rejected in totality and we Catholics uphold the Gospel teaching and Catholic traditional teachings on marriage and sexuality,” Bishop Paul Kariuki Njiru of Wote, Kenya, said in a letter to men and women religious Dec. 27, 2023.
Earlier, Archbishop Martin Kuvuva Musonde of Mombasa, president of the Kenyan bishops’ conference, said the church was very clear on family and marriage.
Bishop Kariuki of Marsabit agreed that the document had not changed the teaching of the church on the family.
“(The pope) was only saying that there are blessings, not like those we do in the church, it is a social kind of attention, like … a child telling the father or mother, ‘Bless me, as I go, so that I can be safe,'” said Bishop Kariuki.
“This mother, this father are not priests, but because they are the parent, before God, the child seeks for a blessing. These kinds of blessings are not related in any way to LGBT or even gender,” he said. “That is what the pope meant; to start looking at cultural expressions in a positive way.”
Father Stephen Njure, a lecturer at the department of philosophy, religion and theology at Moi University in western Kenya, said when it came to embracing the LGBTQ community, the church is explicit in its conduct.
“Sexuality is a gift from God and it is like God wanted people to participate in his creative work,” he said, adding that when sexuality is separated from that kind of intention, “and it is left to be the gratification of human whims, then it goes against God’s will,” said Father Njure, a priest of Eldoret Diocese.
The reaction to “Fiducia Supplicans” by several bishops’ conferences around the world prompted the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to issue a clarification on Jan. 4 signed by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the prefect, and Msgr. Armando Matteo, secretary of the dicastery’s doctrinal section.
Calling the negative statements by some bishops’ conferences as “understandable,” the dicastery said the statements “cannot be interpreted as doctrinal opposition, because the document is clear and definitive” on the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.
The dicastery also said that cultural considerations must be made when applying the declaration’s proposal, especially in countries where homosexuality is outlawed.
At the far-right Church Militant, Michael Voris accused liberal Catholics and others he opposed of being gay until he resigned over unspecified ‘morality’ concerns. Staffers now say he had shared shirtless gym photos.
In his 17 years as a self-appointed enforcer of what he viewed as traditional Catholicism, Michael Voris developed a go-to strategy for taking on his targets: accusing them of being gay.
The head of far-right website Church Militant, Voris often claimed the Catholic church was secretly run by an “international gay-crime syndicate.” In a 2020 webcast, he referred to the Black archbishop of Washington as a term many viewed as both a racial and gay slur, provoking an outraged backlash from church scholars and officials.
“Are you homosexual, yes or no?” Voris demanded in 2017 on a typical episode of his online show, in which he monologued furiously about a prominent Jesuit priest with liberal political beliefs. A year earlier, Voris had floridly repented for his own past relationships with men, calling homosexuality abhorrent.
Over the past decade, Church Militant also waged war on secular liberals and moderate Catholics, but most emphatically on LGBTQ+ people and causes. It was Voris’s platform for publicizing photos of a gay church employee in San Diego with his husband after they were already facing harassment, and raising money to support a priest who was removed from his job after burning a rainbow banner. Church Militant had more than 300,000 YouTube subscribers, dozens of employees, and listed $3.6 million in annual revenue in its 2022 tax filings— thanks in large part to donations raised by its charismatic founder.
Then it all came crashing down. In November, Voris resigned over what his board described as a breach of Church Militant’s “morality clause,” with no other public explanation of his offense.
Interviews with staff and documents viewed by The Washington Post, though, reveal that employees had complained that Voris had sent shirtless workout photos of himself to Church Militant staff and associates.
Voris’s trouble began April, when strange images appeared on Church Militant’s cloud-storage account, according to several staff members: shirtless selfies of Voris, some of them cut off just above his pelvis, along with a screenshot of a text-message exchange screenshot from someone expressing that they found the images sexually arousing.
On a Dropbox account typically reserved for matters such as the syllabus for an online class about the book of Ephesians, these new images stood out. Employees speculated that they had been uploaded unintentionally from Voris’s phone along with business documents meant for staff viewing.
Voris and Church Militant did not respond to requests for comment. Days after his resignation, several staffers were laid off and escorted out of their suburban Detroit offices. In a Dec. 15 email to supporters, its board acknowledged Voris was embroiled in an unspecified “scandal,” and said it has launched an independent audit of his financial management.
Voris is a former local television reporter who was raised Catholic but committed himself more deeply to the faith after his mother died of cancer 20 years ago, he has said. In 2006, he launched Church Militant under the name “Real Catholic TV” — a name it kept until 2011, when the Archdiocese of Detroit asked the fractious outlet to drop “Catholic” from its name.
It found its footing in a conservative strain of American Catholicism rebelling against Pope Francis’s liberalization efforts — especially recent measures signaling greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, such as granting permission for priests to bless same-sex couples. In 2014, Voris railed against a decision to allow gay organizations to march in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and fumed a year later after openly gay comedian Mo Rocca delivered a reading at a mass officiated by Francis in New York.
“He was convinced that everything had to be destroyed in the Catholic Church in order for everything to be rebuilt,” said Alejandro Bermudez, the former head of Catholic News Agency, now a consultant for Catholic media outlets, who described Voris as a “flamethrower.”
“He knew he was going to get eyeballs on content that was controversial in nature,” said Marc Brammer, an early Church Militant investor who has since distanced himself from Voris.
>And as a supporter of then-president Donald Trump, Voris bolstered his profile with other conservative figures. Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon hailed him as a “fighter,” and he hosted friendly interviews with MAGA power players like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and American Conservative Union head Matt Schlapp.
But Voris’s own personal history frequently complicated his stance on gay people. In 2016, he publicly acknowledged on his show that, decades earlier, he had lived an “extremely sinful” life of “live-in relationships with homosexual men.” Voris said the admission was meant to preempt attacks from his enemies within the church and that he was no longer in sexual relationships with men, having come to “abhor all these sins.”
Voris kept up his attacks on LGBTQ+ people even after his admission about his own past, and Church Militant continued to grow. But the workout selfies brought old questions about Voris’s sexuality back to the surface — in addition to raising concerns about workplace harassment — for a conservative cohort that largely disapproves of homosexuality, according to ex-employees and three letters from staffers to Church Militant’s board that were reviewed by The Post.
Former employees told The Post that the dozens of shirtless images that showed up in the office Dropbox account appeared to have been uploaded accidentally, and that someone at the organization took quick steps to shut down access.
In early November, fellow Church Militant webcast host Christine Niles warned the board that Voris had also sent pictures directly and apparently intentionally to other men, including some of his employees. (In April, a rival personality on far-right Catholic Twitter had already called out Voris for his alleged selfie-sharing habit, posting an image he had obtained of Voris photographing himself shirtless at a gym and asking why the Church Militant leader was sending “half-nude selfies to his young, single male employees.”)
“I’ve learned Michael has been in the habit of sending shirtless selfies to multiple men inside and outside the apostolate,” Niles wrote in the letter, announcing her resignation, a copy of which was reviewed by The Post. “They reveal an unhealthy obsession with his physique, not to mention the terrible optics — particularly considering his former lifestyle.” She also warned that copies of the photos still existed on employee hard drives, posing the risk of a scandal.
A group of Church Militant employees sent their own unsigned letter to the board that same month, complaining that Voris had sent a selfie to a prominent potential donor that they believed had cost them a sizable contribution, according to a copy reviewed by The Post.
In a separate letter to Church Militant’s board also viewed by The Post, ex-employee Hunter Bradford said there was a “cult” of fear around Voris at the office.
Niles and Bradford did not respond to requests for comment.
“I don’t know if it was a gym bro thing or what,” Joe Gallagher, a former Church Militant employee, told The Post. (Gallagher quit in November 2022 after he said Voris accused him of plotting a coup against him.) “A whole bunch of young guys got them, I know that.”
After Voris resigned, Church Militant sold two of its office buildings in late December, according to court records. But the organization remains in financial jeopardy. A lawsuit from a priest suing Church Militant for defamation in New Hampshire is scheduled for trial in March.
In its December fundraising email, the board said that “the Evil One” had taken a “huge bite” out of the company, suggesting the whole outlet could collapse without more donor support.<
“We would hate to lose this place to the Devil,” the fundraising email read.
Yet after years of Voris’s scorched-earth tactics and dancing around controversy, few of Church Militant’s old supporters seem to be mourning the loss of its leader.
“Nobody is saying ‘Oh, what a shame, so sad,’” said Bermudez, the Catholic-media consultant. “Nobody, not one.”
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One of Pope Francis’s most vocal allies in the Church hierarchy in the United States has criticised the reaction among some Catholics in the country to Fiducia Supplicans.
Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego has said that while it’s fine for a priest concerned about protecting the institution of marriage to refuse to offer blessings of persons in same-sex relationships, much of the opposition in the US to a Vatican document authorising the non-liturgical blessings of couples in irregular situations, including same-sex couples, is rooted not in doctrinal principle but what he called an “enduring animus” against gays and lesbians.
“It is wholly legitimate for a priest to personally decline to perform the blessings outlined in Fiducia because he believes that to do so would undermine the strength of marriage,” the cardinal said on 16 February.
But, he went on to say, “it is particularly distressing in our own country that the opposition to Fiducia focuses overwhelmingly on blessing those in same-sex relationships, rather than those many more men and women who are in heterosexual relationships that are not ecclesially valid.”
McElroy, who’s widely seen as a leader of the progressive wing of the US Church and a strong Francis supporter, added: “It is crucial to emphasise that Fiducia simply clarified questions about the permissibility of a priest pastorally blessing persons in irregular or gay unions in a non-liturgical setting and manner. No change in doctrine was made.”
McElory didn’t specify which sorts of non-ecclesially valid relationships he had in mind, but couples who live together outside of marriage would come under this.
“If the reason for opposing such blessings is really that the practice will blur and undermine the commitment to marriage, then the opposition should, one thinks, be focusing at least equally on blessings for these heterosexual relationships in our country,” he said.
“We all know why it is not,” McElroy said, attributing it to “an enduring animus among far too many toward LGBT persons”.
Noting that Fiducia Supplicans has stirred intense debate around the world, including a statement from the bishops of Africa to the effect that such blessings would be inappropriate in their cultural context, McElroy cited these “diverging pastoral paths” as a positive example of decentralisation.
“We have witnessed the reality that bishops in various parts of the world have made radically divergent decisions about the acceptability of such blessings in their countries, based substantially on cultural and pastoral factors as well as neo-colonialism,” he said.
“This is decentralisation in the life of the global Church,” McElory said, implying that such differences in principle can be positive, reflecting adaptation to local cultures.
Nonetheless, he insisted that decentralisation should not become an excuse for anti-gay prejudice.
“This decentralization must not obscure in any manner the religious obligation of every local church in justice and solidarity to protect LGBT persons in their lives and equal dignity,” he said.
McElroy, 70, was speaking during a session of the Religious Education Congress sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest annual Catholic gathering in North America, on the subject of Pope Francis’s ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality.
McElroy said that in the listening sessions which led up to last October’s month-long meeting of the synod in Rome, issues related to the LGBT+ community loomed large.
“The searing question of the Church’s treatment of LGBT+ persons was an immensely prominent facet of the synodal dialogues,” he said. “Anguished voices within the LGBT communities, in unison with their families, cried out against the perception that they are condemned by the Church and individual Catholics in a devastating way.”
McElroy conceded that among the bishops and other participants gathered in Rome, there was disagreement on the subject, listing it among what he called areas of “deep divide” in the assembly. The other areas included how to empower laity without undercutting the hierarchical nature of the Church, the extent and limits of inculturation and decentralisation, and the possible ordination of women deacons.
McElory also described areas of strong consensus in the meeting, such as the need to open up more roles in the Church to laity. He cited the example of how in his own diocese he was unable to name a veteran administrator to the role of “moderator of the curia” because, under existing church law, that role is restricted to priests.
As a result, McElroy told the crowd, he simply appointed the layman as “vice-moderator of the curia” and refused to select a moderator. He predicted that when the Synod of Bishops reaches its conclusion this October, reforms on such matters could come quickly.
“I think there will be a lot of progress on questions like this,” he said.
In terms of the single most powerful theme to emerge from last October’s summit, McElory said it was the sense that the time has come for a “paradigm shift” with regard to the inclusion of women in the Church.
McElroy said that while there were contrasting opinions on women deacons, a more “full-bodied” discussion ensued beyond a “binary” yes or no. For example, he said there was some discussion of perhaps ending the transitional diaconate, which would make ordination as a deacon the final step before priesthood.
Doing so, McElroy said, might sever the connection between the diaconate and the priesthood, which “could make it easier to have women deacons”.
In response to question about the perception that certain American bishops are anti-Francis, McElroy said the political dimension is less important than a bishop having a pastoral orientation.
“The ultimate criterion for a bishop is, is he pastoral? The question of whether he’s strongly pro-Francis, medium Pope Francis, Okay but not great with Pope Francis, leaning for or against, is secondary,” he said.
Going forward, he explained, a major practical challenge for the Church will be to find ways to make it more participatory and rooted in listening, but without replicating the cumbersome system of the synod itself.
“The process of discernment used in Rome is far too time-consuming to use with regularity in parish and diocesan life and decision-making,” he said. “It won’t work here.”
Instead, McElroy called for “analogical methods of discernment” which would be “practical for general use in our diocese and our parishes and groups of faith”.
With regard to Catholic doctrine, without offering specific examples McElroy suggested that in general it is time for change.
“It is becoming clear that on some issues, the understanding of human nature and moral reality upon which previous declarations of doctrine were made were in fact limited or defective,” McElroy said.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York condemned the funeral of a transgender community leader that was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday, calling the event an insult to the Catholic faith and saying it was unaware of the identity of the deceased — or her vocal atheism — when it agreed to host the service.
The funeral, which drew well over 1,000 people, celebrated the life of Cecilia Gentili, an activist and actress well known for her advocacy on behalf of sex workers, transgender people and people living with H.I.V. She was also a self-professed atheist, a topic around which she built a one-woman Off Broadway show.
The service on Thursday was an event that most likely had no precedent in Catholic history. The pews were packed with mourners, many of them transgender, who wore daring high-fashion outfits and cheered as eulogists led them in praying for transgender rights and access to gender-affirming health care.
One eulogy, a video clip of which was widely shared online Friday, remembered Ms. Gentili as “Saint Cecilia, the mother of all whores,” to the thunderous cheers of a nearly full cathedral.
Catholic liberals, including some parishioners at St. Patrick’s, said that regardless of how some mourners behaved, the church had done a good thing by hosting the funeral of a transgender person. But the response from conservatives was fiery.
CatholicVote, a conservative group, called the funeral “unbelievable and sick” and said it was “a mockery of the Christian faith.” The Rev. Nicholas Gregoris, a co-founder of the Priestly Society of Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman, called it “revolting,” a “blasphemous & sacrilegious fiasco” and “a deplorable desecration of America’s most famous Catholic Church.”
On Saturday, the archdiocese released a statement saying it shared the anger of conservative Catholics over what it called “the scandalous behavior” at Ms. Gentili’s funeral. The Rev. Enrique Salvo, the pastor of St. Patrick’s, said the church was not aware of Ms. Gentili’s background or beliefs when it agreed to host the service.
“The cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way,” the pastor said.
The funeral’s organizer, Ceyenne Doroshow, said on Thursday that Ms. Gentili’s family had kept her background “under wraps” because they feared the archdiocese would not host a funeral for a person it knew was transgender.
Ms. Doroshow said the family wanted Ms. Gentili’s funeral to be at St. Patrick’s because “it is an icon, just like her.”
On Saturday, the Gentili family was incensed by the church’s criticism and accused the archdiocese of “hypocrisy and anti-trans hatred” in a statement.
The family said the L.G.B.T.Q. community would continue to celebrate Ms. Gentili for how she “ministered, mothered and loved all people.”
“Her heart and hands reached those the sanctimonious church continues to belittle, oppress and chastise,” the family said. “The only deception present at St. Patrick’s Cathedral is that it claims to be a welcoming place for all.”
The day before the funeral, the archdiocese described the service as a routine event, even after it was informed by a reporter that Ms. Gentili was a transgender activist.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the archdiocese, Joseph Zwilling, said that “a funeral is one of the corporal works of mercy,” a part of Catholic teaching the church has described as “a model for how we should treat all others, as if they were Christ in disguise.”
But on Saturday, Father Salvo said in the statement that the cathedral had held a special Mass of Reparation to atone for the funeral. Mr. Zwilling said the event happened that day.
“That such a scandal occurred at ‘America’s parish church’ makes it worse,” Father Salvo said, referring to the funeral. “That it took place as Lent was beginning, the annual 40-day struggle with the forces of sin and darkness, is a potent reminder of how much we need the prayer, reparation, repentance, grace and mercy to which this holy season invites us.”
“I used to go with my grandmother to the Baptist Church, and they didn’t want me there,” she said, adding: “I used to go to the Catholic Church, too, and both were such traumatic experiences for me as a queer person. So I came to identify as an atheist, but I know that so many trans people have been able to find a relationship with faith in spaces that include them.”