Presbyterian church moves to avert schism

A schism is brewing in the Presbyterian church over the ordination of openly practicing, sexually active gays and lesbians as clergy. The matter is being discussed at a conference of the Fellowship of Presbyterians, attended by over 2,000 ministers and laity.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – The Presbyterian church has suffered declining membership and internal division over theological issues, Biblical interpretations, increasing bureaucracy, and the controversial ordination of practicing homosexuals. By attempting to be as “inclusive” as possible, some of the church leadership believe it has doomed itself to division.

Church leaders are wary of schism, and are trying to avert such a move. However, many members, and leaders, are uncomfortable with what they feel is a departure from strict Biblical prohibitions against active homosexuality. The Presbyterian church is one of the few Christian organizations that ordains openly homosexual ministers.

One of the proposed possibilities is to divide the church, creating a new “reformed” body and allowing individual presbyteries to vote on which side of the issue they prefer to stay. The two bodies of the church, traditional and reformed, would remain under a single bureaucratic umbrella.

Perils of a theological democracy

The Presbyterian Church is governed by a constitution that was changed in May to allow for ordination of practicing homosexuals. The change did not compel churches to ordain gay ministers, but removed barriers to ordination, leaving the issue up to individual churches.

The heart of the problem is the church’s operation as a quasi-democratic institution. Many prefer the an all-inclusive interpretation of the Gospels which allows anyone to participate as clergy. Others adhere to an orthodox interpretation which emphasizes sexual morality and excludes active homosexuals and lesbians. The Presbyterian church allows churches and individuals to choose their interpretations of some scriptures.

Church leaders believe they can weather the controversy and preserve the church from schism. They have called upon God in prayer to guide their decisions, to provide vision and unity. How those prayers will be answered remains an open question.

http://tinyurl.com/3u3cp9h

Archbishop Urged Md. Gov Against Supporting Marriage Equality

When Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (pictured, left) announced he would sponsor a marriage equality bill, he was bucking pressure from the Roman Catholic archbishop of Baltimore, who said the action amounted to “promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith.”

The Baltimore Sun reports that Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien (right), in a letter dated July 20 and released Monday by O’Malley’s office, wrote, “I am well aware that the recent events in New York have intensified pressure on you to lend your active support to legislation to redefine marriage,” referring to the enactment of marriage equality in New York State. O’Brien continued, “Maryland is not New York. We urge you not to allow your role as leader of our state to be used in allowing the debate surrounding the definition of marriage to be determined by mere political expediency.”

Two days later, O’Malley, a Catholic, announced that he would introduce a marriage equality bill next year. Similar legislation passed the state Senate this year but was pulled from the House of Delegates because it did not have the support of a majority. O’Malley had said he would sign this year’s bill, but the fact that he is lobbying more actively for such a measure now is likely to help it pass.

In making his announcement, O’Malley said other states had found a way to provide equal marriage rights to gay couples while protecting the rights of those who object on religious grounds, and he was confident Maryland could do so.

Last week he responded to O’Brien, and the letter was made public Monday. “On the public issue of granting equal civil marital rights to same sex couples, you and I disagree,” O’Malley wrote. “As governor, I am sworn to uphold the law without partiality or prejudice. When shortcomings in our laws bring about a result that is unjust, I have a public obligation to try to change that injustice.”

http://tinyurl.com/3bgcogr

Bad Faith: The Catholic Hierarchy’s Pointless Campaign Against LGBT Rights

Commentary…

In early July, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles opposed a modest piece of legislation that requires schools in that state to include lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people, and other previously excluded groups, in their social studies curricula.

The archbishop argued that he was merely supporting parents’ rights to make decisions regarding their children’s education. But Catholics who pay attention to our bishops’ energetic campaign to thwart any legislation that legitimizes (or in this instance, even recognizes) same-gender attraction are familiar with this ruse.

Our hierarchy has a habit of invoking noble sounding principles but applying them only when they can be used against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington did something similar last year when he announced that the legalization of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia had forced him to stop offering health insurance to the spouses of new employees of Catholic Charities. The marriage equality law, he explained, would force him to extend benefits to gay and lesbian couples, and since this violated the church’s teaching on marriage, he could not do it.

There is Sin, and then There is Gay Sin

To take this argument seriously, one has to overlook the fact that Catholic Charities already offered benefits to the spouses of employees who had not been married in the Catholic Church, or who had been remarried without benefit of an annulment. These are also clear violations of the Church’s teaching on marriage. But Wuerl’s harsh and unloving stance is typical of a hierarchy that behaves as though there is sin, and then there is gay sin—and gay sin is much worse.

Catholics faithful to the scriptural admonition to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with their God, have become increasingly alienated by bishops who seem obsessed with pushing a narrow anti-gay agenda to the exclusion even of simple charity. Our bishops were in the small minority of religious leaders who failed to speak out when a wave of anti-gay bullying, some of which led to suicides, swept the country last year. At a time when seemingly every organization in the United States was finding a way to tell young lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people that “It Gets Better,” our hierarchy, to our shame, was silent.

In their zeal to deny any form of legitimacy to same-sex relationships, the bishops have neglected more urgent pastoral duties. Catholic schools and parishes are closing by the dozen in dioceses across the country, yet somehow the hierarchy and its allies in the Knights of Columbus have found millions of dollars to spend in one state after another opposing marriage equality, or its weaker cousin, the civil union.

Leaders Without Followers

The rhetoric our bishops employ in these campaigns is hardly pastoral. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, referred to same-sex marriage as “an Orwellian nightmare” and an “ominous threat.” He compared his state’s government to North Korea’s during New York’s recent debate on marriage equality. Then, upon losing the debate, this prince of the Church, with a palace on Fifth Avenue, proclaimed himself a victim of intolerance.

We are well acquainted with the history of anti-Catholic bigotry in this country, and keenly aware of what our forebears in the faith suffered at the hands of hateful fellow citizens. But we find it reprehensible when that legacy is invoked by those who themselves advocate discrimination and repression. If you are the Catholic parent of LGBT daughter or son, you know firsthand that it is your child’s sexual identity, and not a belief in the Immaculate Conception, that puts them at risk for beatings and taunting. Archbishop Dolan and his colleagues should stop pretending that they face anything like the intolerance that our children do.

A Gay-Friendly Church?

The one fortunate aspect of the bishop’s campaign against LGBT people is that it has been singularly ineffective. Polling by the Public Religion Research Institute makes clear that almost three-quarters of Catholics support either marriage equality or civil unions, and that we back legal protections for LGBT people in the workplace (73 percent), in the military (63 percent), and in adoptions (60 percent) by significant margins.

We are, in other words, an extremely gay-friendly church; and while it has taken a while for this fact to filter out beneath the bluster of our bishops and their lobbyists, political leaders have begun to take note. A Catholic governor and Catholic legislators made marriage equality a reality in New York. A Catholic governor and legislators passed civil unions into law in Illinois. Heavily Catholic Rhode Island passed a civil union bill over the protests of Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, and a Catholic governor has promised to permit same-sex couples to marry in Maryland, if the legislature will only put the bill on his desk.

A few days after Archbishop Gomez announced his opposition to the legislation requiring California schools to give an accurate recounting of the nation’s history. Gov. Jerry Brown, a Roman Catholic, signed it into law.

Those of us who support equality for LGBT people in civil society do so not in spite of our Catholic faith but because of it. We learned in childhood that Jesus moved freely among the outcast and the marginalized, that he warned his followers to judge not lest they be judged, and that he taught that our neighbor was not the priest who passed the beaten traveller on the other side of the road to avoid ritual impurity, but the hated Samaritan who bound up his wounds, and paid for his care.

We learned later that the Church’s teachings on social justice compelled us to act as advocates for fairness, justice, and individual dignity, that its teachings on politics instructed us to vote for the common good, and that in making moral decisions, we were to follow the promptings of our own well-formed consciences.

There are times, it seems, when our hierarchy is so committed to cultivating political power, and deploying our Church’s resources in contemporary culture wars, that they expect us to forget all of this. We won’t.

As Philadelphia Burns

Last week, the Vatican announced that it had appointed Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver as the new archbishop of Philadelphia. The clergy abuse scandal that has badly damaged the hierarchy’s credibility is still spinning out of control in Philadelphia, and Pope Benedict XVI clearly thinks that Archbishop Chaput is the right man for a difficult job.

We would only note that in his previous post, he supported a parish priest who expelled a girl from a Catholic school because her parents were lesbians. The archbishop argued that parents must be able to cooperate with Catholic schools in the education of their children, and that those who do not embrace Church doctrine cannot do so.

This was not an argument he employed against Protestants, or non-Christians, or children whose parents had remarried after a divorce. It was employed exclusively against lesbian parents. Because in the theological universe that our bishops are constructing to support their personal biases, there is sin, and then there is gay sin, and gay sin is so much worse.

http://tinyurl.com/3htna7s

Michael O’Flaherty to Head Northern Irish Human Rights Commission

Michael O’Flaherty, who is still formally a Catholic priest and who was heavily involved in the creation of a radical gay rights document, is to take over as the head of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

O’Flaherty, who has not been attached to any diocese for some years but has never been formally laicised, was a leading figure in the drafting of the Yogyakarta Principles, which advocates, among other things, legalising gay adoption.

He is to take over from Professor Monica McWilliams in September.

O’Flaherty, who currently serves as Ireland’s UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) member, is also a Professor of Applied Human Rights at the University of Nottingham. In 2008 The Irish Catholic newspaper reported that the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs had undertaken “extensive lobbying” on his behalf to ensure that he was re-elected as a representative on the HRC.

The newspaper said that Professor O’Flaherty “campaigns on a radical gay rights agenda” and that he was a Galway priest, but had “not ministered in the Galway diocese for a number of years.” Subsequent to the Irish government’s lobbying, he was re-elected to the UN Committee on Human Rights.

Professor O’Flaherty, who is an academic at the University of Nottingham, will take up the post on September 19 and will be paid €87,500. Mr Paterson has also appointed an entirely new set of commissioners, with none of the existing commissioners being re-appointed.

They will be replaced by victims’ advocate Alan McBride, Singapore-born former Equality Commission member Paul Yam, former senior social worker Marion Reynolds, retired PSNI chief inspector Milton Kerr, NIPSA general secretary John Corey, former civil servant Christine Collins and Grania Young, director of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Northern Ireland.

Professor McWilliams said she was “delighted” by the choice of her successor and added “His outstanding reputation is a great reassurance for the future work of this commission.”

The Yogyakarta Principles, drafted in 2006, is a document that sets out sweeping and detailed recommendations about advancing homosexual and transsexual rights.

Among its many recommendations are the introduction of gay adoption, the right of prisoners to have “gender-reassignment treatments”, the use of schools to ensure that children are educated to have “understanding of and respect for … diverse sexual orientations and gender identities,” positive discrimination to favour gay individuals and the suggestion that freedom of expression may have to be limited to protect gay rights

Currently, the Principles have no legal status. However, according to C-Fam, a Catholic human rights body that monitors the UN and the EU, the lobbying effort of these three groups is an attempt to elevate them to the status of “soft law.” This would enable bodies charged with reviewing countries’ compliance with international treaties be referenced in more formal contexts, such as by the UN committees, which monitor the implementation of international treaties.

In turn this would allow homosexual rights’ groups to argue that domestic legislation on such issues should give way to new, evolving soft-law international norms, despite the absence of reference to such “norms” in actual hard-law treaties ratified by sovereign nations.

http://tinyurl.com/437q9tn