Vatican Warns U.S. Bishops: Don’t Deny Biden Communion Over Abortion

Conservative American Catholic bishops are pressing for a debate over whether Catholics who support the right to an abortion should be allowed to take Communion.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in April. Despite opposition from the Vatican, conservative American bishops have vowed to press ahead with efforts to deny communion to politicians who support abortion.

By Jason Horowitz

The Vatican has warned conservative American bishops to hit the brakes on their push to deny communion to politicians supportive of abortion rights — including President Biden, a faithful churchgoer and the first Roman Catholic to occupy the Oval Office in 60 years.

But despite the remarkably public stop sign from Rome, the American bishops are pressing ahead anyway and are expected to force a debate on the communion issue at a remote meeting that starts on Wednesday.

Some leading bishops, whose priorities clearly aligned with former President Donald J. Trump, now want to reassert the centrality of opposition to abortion in the Catholic faith and lay down a hard line — especially with a liberal Catholic in the Oval Office.

The vote threatens to shatter the facade of unity with Rome, highlight the political polarization within the American church and set what church historians consider a dangerous precedent for bishops’ conferences across the globe.

“The concern in the Vatican,” said Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and close ally of Francis “is not to use access to the Eucharist as a political weapon.”

Pope Francis, who has explicitly identified the United States as the source of opposition to his pontificate, preached this month that communion “is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.” His top doctrinal official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, wrote a letter to the American bishops, warning them that the vote could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

The result is a rare, open rift between Rome and the American church.

Opponents of the vote suspect a more naked political motivation, aimed at weakening the president, and a pope many of them disagree with, with a drawn-out debate over a document that is sure to be amplified in the conservative Catholic media and on right-wing cable news programs.

Asked about the communion issue, Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said, “As the American people know well, the president is a strong person of faith.”

Pope Francis met then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Vatican in 2016.Credit…

Pope Francis, along with the rest of his church’s hierarchy, explicitly opposes abortion, which they consider among the gravest sins, and incessantly speaks out against it. But that is not the same as punishing Catholic lawmakers with the denial of communion, which many here believe would be an intrusion into matters of state.

That effort is being led by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who has been passed over repeatedly by Francis for elevation to the rank of cardinal.

“The focus of this proposed teaching document,” Archbishop Gomez wrote in a memo, “is on how best to help people to understand the beauty and the mystery of the Eucharist as the center of their Christian lives.”

The conservative American bishops are largely out of step with Francis and his agenda of putting climate change, migrants and poverty on the church’s front burner. But Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, and a senior analyst with Religion News Service, said conservatives constitute at least half of the American bishops’ conference and could have the votes to begin the process of drafting a teaching document about who can receive communion.

It is unlikely the conservatives would be able to ultimately ratify such a document, which would require unanimous support from all the country’s bishops, or two-thirds support and the Vatican’s approval. But the debate promises to keep the issue alive and present a nagging headache for President Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.

A good portion of the bishops want to avoid the question altogether. Already, 67 American bishops, about a third of the conference, and including top cardinals aligned with Francis, signed a letter on May 13 asking Archbishop Gomez to remove the item from the virtual meeting’s agenda.

One of those signees, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has the ultimate decision on whether to deny communion to President Biden in the archdiocese of Washington. He has made it abundantly clear he will not.

Cardinal Gregory’s authority in the matter is a result of a compromise in 2004 when he himself led the bishops’ conference.

Pope Francis and Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, cautioned the American bishops against moving to deny Communion to Catholic politicians.

That year a group of conservative bishops sought to deny communion to then Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry for his support of abortion rights. Conservatives had more support in the Vatican then; the top doctrinal official, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who soon after became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote that politicians who persistently supported abortion rights were unworthy to receive the sacrament.

But at a meeting in 2004, the American bishops chose instead to let individual bishops decide on a case-by-case basis.

The whole situation took a political toll on Mr. Kerry, who lost the election and now, as President Biden’s climate envoy, would rather not relive those days.

On a recent visit to Rome, during which he saw the pope, Mr. Kerry preferred to talk about the Biden administration and Francis’ shared commitment to combat climate change.

In an interview, Mr. Kerry argued that the political climate in the United States had “matured a lot” since his run-in with the conservative bishops, and that there is tolerance for “people to act on their faith in ways that do not somehow cross a line into politics.” He suggested that it was a misstep for the conservative bishops to try again.

“It’s been there and done that,” he said. “And it doesn’t always work out well for people.”

But if anything, America’s church politics have become more polarized in the last 17 years. Some clergy close to Francis in the Vatican say privately that elements within the American church have become political and extremist.

Francis himself has said it is “an honor that the Americans attack me.” But on this issue, he, like Mr. Kerry, would prefer to talk about something else.

Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert with L’Espresso magazine, said that the issue was uniquely American, and was basically unheard of in Europe. He said, “The pope himself would rather not have this vivid debate.”

But the conservative American bishops have for weeks made clear they want to do more than talk.

On May 1, the archconservative bishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, issued a letter arguing that “erring Catholic” politicians who supported abortion rights should be excluded from communion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic and staunch supporter of abortion rights, is a parishioner in his San Francisco diocese.

Soon after, Archbishop Gomez sent a letter to the Vatican’s chief doctrinal office informing it that the American bishops’ conference was preparing to tackle “the worthiness to receive Holy Communion” by Catholic politicians who support abortion rights at their June meeting.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wants to move forward on a document that would draw a hard line on who can receive Communion.

The Vatican apparently had seen enough. On May 7, Cardinal Ladaria wrote Archbishop Gomez urging caution. He said it would be “misleading” to present abortion and euthanasia as “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching.”

If the American bishops were going to crack the door open on the communion issue, Cardinal Ladaria added ominously, they should be prepared to consider extending the policy to all Catholics “rather than only one category of Catholics.”

The matter seemed settled. It wasn’t.

On May 22, Archbishop Gomez sent a letter to the American bishops defending the decision to schedule a vote, arguing — critics say with shocking disingenuousness — that doing so “reflects recent guidance from the Holy See.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis names gay man to clergy sex abuse commission

Juan Carlos Cruz

by Michael K. Lavers

Pope Francis has named a gay man to a commission that advises him on protecting children from pedophile priests.

Juan Carlos Cruz — a survivor of clerical sex abuse in Chile — was named to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. The Associated Press on Wednesday reported nuns, laypeople, a bishop and a priest are among the commission’s other members.

Cruz on Wednesday told the Blade during a telephone interview from Chile that Francis “decided he wanted me on the commission.”

“I’m very honored,” said Cruz. “I’m a survivor. I’m gay. I’m a lay person. I’m Catholic.”

Cruz is among the hundreds of people who a now-defrocked priest sexually abused in his parish in El Bosque, a wealthy neighborhood in the Chilean capital of Santiago over more than three decades.

Cruz and two other men — José Murillo and James Hamilton — in 2010 went public with their allegations. Two Chilean cardinals later blocked Cruz from being named to the same commission to which Francis appointed him.

Cruz is the first openly gay man and the first person from Latin America to serve on the commission.

“I had lots of hits against me, but he trusts me,” Cruz told the Blade, referring to Francis.

“I’m honored,” he added. “It just renews my commitment to change things from within, for survivors, for every person who feels disenfranchised from the church. This is a place where we all belong, with no adjectives.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which defends Catholic teachings, earlier this month published a decree that said the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions. Cruz, who met Francis at the Vatican in 2018, is among those who sharply criticized the edict.

“As a Catholic, I would immediately ask for a change in the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which every day resembles that of the infamous Torquemada himself and not that of the pastors that Francis proposes to us,” Cruz told the Blade, referring to the mastermind of the Spanish Inquisition.

Cruz in response to Francis’ decision to name him to the commission reiterated he is “really, really honored and will do my best to live up to his appointment and the commitment that I have with the people who are expecting so much from me.”

Pope may support same-sex unions, but that doesn’t mean the Vatican does

Professor believes Francis sees road to lasting change as a long one

By Colleen Walsh

The disclosure this week of Pope Francis’ support of same-sex civil unions sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church and progressive and conservative circles alike. It came in a papal interview in “Francesco,” a documentary that premiered Wednesday, and represented a major break with Vatican teaching, leaving many wondering whether an official change might be coming soon. In the film Francis says, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” The Gazette spoke with Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Parkman Professor of Divinity and professor of comparative theology, about the pope’s comments and what they mean for members of the Catholic LGBTQ community. 

GAZETTE:  What was your reaction when you heard about the pope’s comments on same-sex unions?

CLOONEY: On the one hand, it’s not surprising at all, because Archbishop Bergoglio [now Pope Francis] struggled with the issue of formal marriage relationships when he was in Argentina and pointed to a compromise such as calling same-sex unions civil unions and not marriage. This debate is similar to what we went through in this country a decade or so ago. But I think Francis’ openness to same-sex unions is also more fundamentally representative of his instinct that human beings have a right to be together, a right to union, a right to family, and therefore, that it would be unjust to provide no way at all for people to live together as a couple. I think it’s his basic sense of human compassion and his openness to finding ways to help people to live the lives that they feel they must live.

On the other hand, you can’t imagine previous popes speaking in this fashion. That doesn’t mean that someone like John Paul was not a compassionate person, but they were so clearly linked to, focused on, church doctrine, and the preservation of marriage between a male and a female and, given their attitudes toward homosexuality, they simply wouldn’t speak in this fashion, whatever they may personally have felt. And I think what is new here is that Francis, as all the reports say, is in the non-authoritative context of a documentary — not sitting on the chair of Peter as pope making a proclamation ­— speaking his mind as probably most Catholics in the West would also speak their minds and say, “Well yes, some kind of way to allow people to live their lives happily and in peace is what matters.”

GAZETTE:  Does this change anything about the church’s overall doctrine?

CLOONEY: Probably not, because he hasn’t pushed it that far in terms of recognizing gay marriages. But implicitly, it’s undercutting the rhetoric that being gay is a grave disorder or that being gay and living out a gay commitment is something that God disapproves of. Francis is taking a positive attitude and therefore changing the climate, even if there are going to be Catholics who resist this greatly.

GAZETTE:  I know Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in Providence, R.I., has come out very strongly against this. Do you expect an even greater backlash from conservative and other voices in the church?

CLOONEY: Yes, but not as much as one might think. This news is based on a documentary, and it’s in keeping with things Francis has said previously. Conservative critics are not going to be surprised by this, even if they will be very annoyed by it. People who are against any compromise in this direction will see this as another sign that Francis has gone astray, that he is not adhering to church teaching. And they will add this to their list of complaints about him, even though he’s the pope and deserving of their respect. You may recall much earlier in his papacy, when people asked him about his thoughts on homosexuality, he said “Who am I to judge people in their lives?” This is Francis, and for many, this is a wonderful Francis; but for some, it’s the Francis they can’t abide, and they will continue to protest.

GAZETTE:  Can you see him pressing this forward to doctrinal change?

CLOONEY: Several years ago, when there was discussion with the pope and some of the bishops about divorced and remarried Catholics returning to Communion, Francis didn’t bite the bullet and declare that they’re welcome back to Communion if they’re in a stable second marriage. But he said that good priests, who know how to be pastoral, will know how to relate to people. It was as if to say: If a couple who are divorced and remarried comes to you, you’ll help them to find their way. My sense is that Francis is not the man as pope, particularly going on 10 years into his papacy, to be making declarations that push the church where it’s not ready to go. But rather, again, he is giving a green light, really, to priests and others involved in counseling couples to say we have to find ways to welcome Catholics as they are: Be pastoral; be like Jesus. And I think this opens the door, even though it will be controversial in some circles, to saying couples who are in a same-sex marriage are members of the parish and welcome in Catholic worshipping communities. Of course, in some dioceses, such couples will not be welcome to Communion. There will be differences in response and pastoral practice. So I think what is at stake is a kind of incremental pastoral disposition, whereby things will change, as they always have, only slowly. The pope is saying things that other popes never would have said previously. But I don’t see Francis being in the position to make any kind of daring pronouncement in the years to come about gay marriage. I wouldn’t anticipate that coming.

Frank Clooney.
“People who are against any compromise in this direction will see this as another sign that Francis has gone astray, that he is not adhering to church teaching. And they will add this to their list of complaints about him,” says Professor Francis Clooney.

GAZETTE:  Does this kind of comment potentially set the stage for another Vatican council?

CLOONEY: Well, there have certainly been calls for a coming Vatican III. I think there’s a sense that some 50 or 60 years after the last council, which opened things up, there’s a need to consolidate and catch up to where things are in the world around us now. How much has changed since 1965! Some, who still regret the way Vatican II was implemented, will also want to have a Vatican III, if not turn back the clock, rather to tighten things up under a more conservative pope. In a sense it’s like calling a constitutional convention in this country: Liberals and conservatives would see such a convention as to their advantage. But I think all this depends first of all on how long Francis is pope. He’s not said he’s going to retire, but he seems to be the kind of man who would be sensible enough to say, “If I can’t do the job, I will retire,” even if he hasn’t said that yet. So then it will also depend on who the next pope would be.

GAZETTE:  Do you have a sense of whether the church is on a more liberal trajectory in terms of selecting popes?

CLOONEY: Sometimes there’s this sense that if you’ve gone from Benedict on the more conservative side to Francis on the more liberal side, it could be that the cardinals look around and want a shift back a little the other way. And therefore, the next pope would be less likely to make any bold gestures. But again, in 1957 or 1958, nobody expected John XXIII, who was put in as an older caretaker pope, would suddenly call Vatican II. This knocked many cardinals off their seats, so to speak. It could be that such surprising things may happen fairly quickly.

All of this is analogous to how change happens in this country with Congress and the Supreme Court making decisions, sometimes behind popular opinion, sometimes against it. But remember that Francis is in a sense a pastoral incrementalist. He believes that you’ve got to change the way we Catholics, clergy, bishops, all of us think about human decency, our responsibility to members of the church, compassion, helping people in trouble. If you change people’s minds and hearts, then the church will continue to grow in new ways. Whereas if you put in something legally that is too far ahead of where people are, it could be counterproductive.

GAZETTE:  Can you talk a bit about the complexity of being the pope for a global community?

CLOONEY: It’s one thing were Pope Francis the pope only of North America and Western Europe. But everything he says will be read by Catholics in South America, which is still very Catholic in many ways, and also by Catholics in more conservative Catholic communities in Africa and Asia. So going incrementally and pastorally step by step is probably Francis’s instinct, because he knows either he would infuriate Catholics in the West by not going fast enough, or anger Catholics in other parts of the world, who would say, “This is far too fast. This is out of keeping where our culture is.” In certain African countries, homosexuality is still, I think, illegal and can be punished. So saying something about same-sex marriages will be heard in one way in certain countries in Africa, and very differently in New York or Boston or London, where the response will be quite different. I think Francis has to be looking in both directions. And his basic sense is: Change our hearts, how we think as priests and bishops, and so on, and then that will be an infusion of the whole church with a new attitude slowly arriving.

GAZETTE:  Could you see Pope Francis making other kinds of comments about women priests or priests being able to marry going forward?

CLOONEY: Many Catholics have been hoping, with each pope for the past 50 years or so, that the pope would say something to change the dynamic on married priests and women priests, but it hasn’t happened. There has been the issue of women deacons serving in ordained ministry — there’s evidence about women deacons in the early church. But Francis, thus far into his papacy, hasn’t really changed church policy even on that. But with his “who am I to judge” comments, Francis was showing that the church is like a Red Cross station on the battlefield of life, there to help people and not to sit in an ivory tower casting judgments on people. In this way he has set a tone, which is quite clear, about wanting to have an inclusive church, wanting to have a church where people are not left out because some particularities about themselves, their self-identity.

But he doesn’t seem to be the one, as more liberal Catholics would want, to say, “Let’s just ordain women deacons, period. Let’s just do it.” I think as pope, he in theory at least has the power to do that, just as Pope John Paul claimed the power for himself to stop entirely the discussion about the ordination of women, saying it’s not even to be discussed in the church anymore, period. But that didn’t work, it didn’t stop discussion. Francis could say something like that, speaking very firmly on marriage or ordination. But again, would it be wise?

You think of Supreme Court decisions in this country like Roe v. Wade, and can ask whether decisions from above are the best way to change how people think about these issues. I think Francis feels the change has to come more from leaders talking to the people, listening to the people, so that ideas and sentiments seep upward through the church, not just come down from above. So I don’t think he’s going to say anything dramatic about women in the church or married priests in the church. Remember that the bishops of the Amazon region had their annual meeting just a year ago. In their document they called for married priests, arguing that they simply didn’t have enough priests, and that people have a right to Mass and the sacraments, and that the only way to do that is to ordain married men. Francis had the prerogative of issuing the final statement, and he left out reference to that request. He didn’t condemn them and say it’s impossible, but he just didn’t follow up on it. And I don’t see evidence that he’s going to suddenly start acting more boldly at this point on issues such as marriage. A positive attitude toward civil unions may well be as far as he goes.

In terms of his recent comments, people who are in gay unions or gay marriages should therefore not be expecting that suddenly everything is going to be all right. But given Francis’ view of how things change, simply that he’s willing to say these things and air new ideas again and again is a big step forward. It’s not an authoritative pronouncement from Vatican City, per se. But it’s the slow change that moves things forward in a healthy way.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis calls for civil union laws for same-sex couples

Pope Francis greets people as he leaves after the weekly general audience, at the Vatican, on Oct. 21.

By Chico Harlan and Michelle Boorstein

Pope Francis, in a new documentary, has called for the creation of civil union laws for same-sex couples, in what amounts to his clearest support to date for the issue.

In the documentary, according to the Catholic News Agency, Francis is quoted as saying that same-sex couples should be “legally covered.”

“What we have to create is a civil union law,” he said.

Francis has long expressed an interest in outreach to the church’s LGBT followers, but his remarks have often stressed general understanding and welcoming — rather than substantive policies.

Priests in some parts of the world bless same-sex marriage, but that stance — and Francis’s new remarks — are a departure from official church teaching.

The documentary, “Francesco,” is premiering this week in Rome and then in the United States. The pope gave an interview to the filmmaker, Evgeny Afineevsky, saying that “homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family.”

“They’re children of God and have a right to a family,” the pope said. “Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

Francis, who became pope in 2013, gave earlier, oblique signals interpreted as openness to recognizing same-gender civil unions. He has usually framed his comments in pragmatic, curious terms — as someone noticing the possible need for legal recognition for existing families, so they can access civil benefits such as heath care.

“This is the first time as pope he’s making such a clear statement,” the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit who has advocated for the church to more openly welcome LGBT members, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I think it’s a big step forward. In the past, even civil unions were frowned upon in many quarters of the church. He is putting his weight behind legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.”

According to a Religion News Service story from 2014, Francis — while still a cardinal in Argentina — tried to “negotiate with the Argentine government over the legalization of gay marriage and signaled he would be open to civil unions as an alternative.”

Francis made news that year when the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published an interview with him reiterating “the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman while acknowledging that governments want to adopt civil unions for gay couples and others to allow for economic and other benefits,” RNS reported.

In the interview, Francis said the churches in various countries must account for those reasons when formulating public policy positions. “We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case,” Corriere della Serra quoted him as saying.

The interview triggered global interest and controversy. Some said Francis had outright endorsed civil unions.

The Vatican quickly clarified that Francis was speaking in general terms and that people “should not try to read more into the pope’s words than what has been stated,” RNS reported in 2014.

Italy was the last country in Western Europe — other than Vatican City — to offer same-sex couples legal rights, The Washington Post reported in 2016, a position based on the Roman Catholic Church’s historic opposition to such unions.

Francis has a reputation of offering words open to interpretation. In 2016, after the Vatican hosted a combative synod on the family, he said “there cannot be any confusion between the family willed by God and other kinds of unions,” The Post’s 2016 story said.

This has angered traditional Christians. In 2015, New York Archbishop Tim Dolan was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if accepting civil unions would make him “uncomfortable,” Dolan said it would, because it could “water down” the traditional religious view of marriage,” the RNS story reported.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis urges parents to love their LGBT+ children as they are because they are ‘children of God’

by Patrick Kelleher

Pope Francis has told the parents of LGBT+ children to love them as they are “because they are children of God” in a groundbreaking meeting.

The pope met with 40 parents of LGBT+ children on Wednesday (17 September) to hear their concerns about the church’s disregard for their families.

The parents, all associated with the LGBT+ Catholic parents’ organisation Tenda di Gionata, told Pope Francis about the cold climate their queer children faced in the church when they came out, Avventire.it reports.

At the end of the meeting, the group’s vice president Mara Grassi gave Pope Francis a copy of a Fortunate Families by Mary Ellen Lopata, which details the experiences of Catholic parents of queer children.

He was also given a rainbow-coloured t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “In love there is no fear”.

“He looked and smiled,” Grassi said of the presentation. She called the meeting “a moment of deep harmony that we will not forget”.

Closing out the meeting, Pope Francis told the gathered parents: “Love your children as they are, because they are children of God.”

Speaking after the event, Grassi said their organisation wants to create a dialogue between LGBT+ people and the Catholic church.

“Taking a cue from the title of the book we presented to him, I explained that we consider ourselves lucky because we have been forced to change the way we have always looked at our children,” she said.

“What we now have is a new gaze that has allowed us to see the beauty and love of God in them.

“We want to create a bridge with the church so that the church too can change its gaze towards our children, no longer excluding them but welcoming them fully.”

LGBT+ parents gave Pope Francis letters about their experiences of raising queer children.

The group also gave Pope Francis letters written by parents of LGBT+ children, detailing their painful journeys to acceptance in the face of anti-LGBT+ sentiment in their church.

In one letter, a woman identified as Anna B told Pope Francis that her son knew he would only be loved by his parents if he “suffocated” his true identity.

She explained that she became involved with an LGBT+ Christian group in an effort to better understand her son’s identity after he came out as gay.

The meeting is being hailed as a significant moment of change for LGBT+ members of the Catholic church. The institution has been unwavering in its opposition to LGBT+ acceptance throughout its long history.

However, there was some hope for change among LGBT+ Catholics when Francis was appointed as the successor to Pope Benedict XVI in 2013.

Since then, Pope Francis has had a chequered history with the LGBT+ community.

In 2013, he made global headlines when he called on the Catholic church to “show mercy, not condemnation” to gay people – representing a stark shift in tone from his predecessors.

But in 2019, he told a Spanish newspaper that parents who see signs of homosexuality in their children should “consult a professional” – a comment that was considered by many to endorse conversion therapy.

Meanwhile, he has been staunch in his opposition to trans identities, comparing them to nuclear war and genetic manipulation in 2015.

In 2019, the Vatican released a document claiming that “gender ideology” is a “move away from nature”.

Complete Article HERE!