Cardinal Pell: All (including gays) Really Are Welcome

Cardinal Pell is not the first name that come to mind when one thinks of welcoming and supporting gay Catholics. However, this report from Australia shows some clear similarities with the clear expressions of support that we in the Soho Masses received last year from Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Bernard Longley.

The background is that the parish of St Joseph’s church in Newtown, Sydney has for some years hosted a monthly Friday Mass with a particular welcome for LGBT Catholics (not an explicitly or exclusively a “gay” Mass). Last year, a very vocal group of opponents made a lot of threatening noises, then seem to have quieted down. This year, responding to a charity appeal raising funds for accommodation for people living with HIV, they moved from threatening disruption to mounting a visible, noisy and intimidating presence outside the Church.

The renewed threat came on February 12 when Acceptance held a fundraiser for Stanford House – a short term accommodation service for people living with HIV – and was faced with people praying across the street.

One Acceptance member, who wished to remain anonymous, told SX “it was intimidating”.

“They were across the road in the shadows praying. I wouldn’t like to be the last person to leave the church,” he said.

– SX News

They no doubt see themselves as loyal defenders of the faith, and so expected support from the Cardinal in their attempts to have the “sacrilegious Masses” halted.

In the weeks preceding the threat, the fundamentalist group stalked Acceptance members taking photographs and video footage, threatening to show the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell.

– SX News

But they had a surprise coming: instead of siding with the objectors, Cardinal Pell wrote a letter affirming support for the continuation of the Masses, which was posted at the back of the Church, for all to see.

Headed ‘Welcome to the Catholic Church’, the letter specifically addressed the regular Friday night mass at the church, which is attended by LGBT members of the Catholic group Acceptance Sydney.

– SX News

I have not been able to find the full text of this letter on – line, but the extracts which were published in the SX report are worth noting:

“The Catholic Church welcomes all to come and pray in the church, particularly during the Mass and other communal liturgies.

“On Fridays at St Joseph’s Parish Newtown, Mass is celebrated for the spiritual benefit of those present and to foster mutual support and encouragement for all.  These celebrations are not sponsored by any particular organisation, but are for all to share.”

It is understood the letter, which outlines rules around receiving communion, was sent to all Parishes.

“Priests recognise that individuals make their own decisions before God on the reception of the Sacraments.”

– SX News

This emphasis on individual conscience over receiving communion repeats the approach of the Dutch Bishop last year which ended the impasse over the refusal of communion to an openly gay Carnival King, and the approach outlined by Archbishop Nichols when he was questioned last year about the (LGBT) Soho Masses:

In a BBC radio interview with Mark Dowd on “The Pope’s British Divisions”, …. he repudiated any suggestion that by allowing these Masses to continue, he was permitting people to receive Communion in a state of mortal sin. The clergy, he said have no business judging the soul of anyone who presents for communion – and anyone who does attempt to judge another should just STFU:

“anybody from the outside who is trying to cast a judgement on the people who come forward for Communion [there], really ought to learn to hold their tongue.”

Queering the Church

It also is the same approach described by Cardinal Mahoney, in a recent LA Times interview on the occasion of his retirement. (Cardinal Mahoney was speaking about pro-choice politicians, not gay Masses – but the principle, refusing to use communion as a weapon to police individual conscience, is the same).

While some of Mahony’s brother bishops appear as if they won’t be happy until they get the chance to deny Communion to elected officials who deviate from church teachings, Mahony has resisted taking that step. Why? Canon law, he notes, puts the responsibility for worthy receipt of the sacrament on the person approaching the Communion rail rather than on the priest.

“It isn’t for us to guess at what’s on someone’s conscience,” he said. Moreover, the cardinal mused, Christ gave Communion to Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper, though the apostle had, that day, committed his betrayal.

“You know, throughout the Gospels, Jesus never appeals to punitive measures to change anyone’s life….

LA Times

I am delighted that Cardinal Mahoney has based his response not only on Catholic teaching on the primacy of conscience, but also on the Gospels themselves. It really is high time that so-called “Catholic” (and other “Christian”) zealots who attempt to impose their views by force on all others, should likewise ask themselves: “What would Jesus do ?

There is nothing remotely Catholic or Christian in trying to drive people away from the Mass, or any other form of worship.

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Gay Clergy: Rev Peter Gomes (Gay, Black, Baptist, Republican) – RIP.

In the growing ranks of out and open gay or lesbian clergy, Peter Gomes was an anomaly: he was raised Catholic, but became a Baptist pastor. He was also African American, and a Republican. Not, in short, an obvious fit with the popular image of an American gay man. But (and this is important) he was able to recognize and publicly acknowledge his sexuality, and to reconcile it with his faith. This is an important reminder for us that there is no conflict at all between a gay or lesbian orientation and religious faith, or with conservative political philosophy. The only conflict is with those influential people in some churches and in some political circles who seek to impose their own interpretations of Scripture, or their own political prejudices, on everybody else – in disregard of the fundamental Gospel message of inclusion and justice, and the conservative principle of non-interference in private lives.

I have no personal knowledge of the life or work of Rev Gomes, other than the inspiring title of his book, “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?“. (The Gospel message is indeed scandalous, and should be read much more carefully by those who in their ignorance use it to promote their modern conceptions of so-called “traditional” family values, or untramelled capitalism).

Instead of extensive researching and writing a full assessment of Rev Gomes myself, I simply draw your attention to reports elsewhere.

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Irish Archbishop Agrees: Catholic Church Needs Fundamental, Cultural Change

When people think of the crisis facing the Irish church since public awareness exploded over the sexual abuse scandals, they generally think only of the abuse itself. However, the real crisis goes much deeper. The abuse problems brought the crisis into sharp focus, but (tragically important as they are) they are in fact just one symptom of a much deeper malaise.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has garnered respect for his own response to the crisis, but in a hard-hitting speech in Cambridge, he has explained the extent of the problem, in terms remarkably similar to the argument made by the German theologians this month. Their statement, remember, was a response to a reflection on the abuse problems that emerged in Germany, Austria and Switzerland a year ago. Reflecting on the abuse issue, they concluded, like Archbishop Martin, that clerical sexual abuse cannot be looked at in isolation, but must be viewed as part of a much larger problem of Catholic culture and structures, which are urgently in need of fundamental reform.

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Surprise: Traditionalist Catholics Have Not Converted the Vatican

In 2009, Pope Benedict surprised, delighted and horrified different sections of the Catholic church with his announcement of the lifting of excommunication orders on four bishops of the traditionalist Society of Pius X. In launching an attempt at dialogue, he and his Vatican colleagues were hoping to find some sort of agreement and compromise that would resolve the decades old rift.

The SPX, in contrast, had simpler aims: to convince Pope Benedict and the rest of the Church to end their foolish ways, and to recognize what the society have claimed all along: that Vatican II was a big mistake, with no validity for its resolutions. Their intention, says Bishop Fellay, was to make the Catholic faith understood in Rome.

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The Myth of Clerical Celibacy, Revisited

One of the key points in the recent declaration by German theologians (now joined by others, worldwide), is the urgency of ending the current insistence on compulsory clerical celibacy. This is my cue to revisit, and expand on, some points I have made frequently on previous occasions.

When I wrote a series of posts on the problem of compulsory clerical celibacy nearly two years ago, I listed several problems with the rule:

  • It is not based on Scripture, but in fact contradicts Paul’s clear advice that celibacy is not for everyone.
  • It was not the practice of the early church, and was not compulsory for the first twelve centuries of Christianity – over half of Church history
  • The rule, when it became fixed, was not introduced as a matter of pastoral care, but to preserve church wealth and power
  • Celibacy has never been required for all clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Churches
  • It was swiftly rejected by the Protestant churches after the Reformation
  • It is still not required for all Catholic priests: it does not apply to those in the Eastern rite of the Roman church, nor to those who are already married, and are now converting from other denominations.
  • Many bishops and even national Bishops’ conferences have asked, either privately or formally, for the blanket ban to be relaxed.

I can now add some further observations that I was not then aware of:

  • Research shows that the majority of Catholics want an end to the policy.
  • As a young man, Joseph Ratzinger himself signed a document asking for the ban to end.
  • As pope, Benedict XVI has conceded that celibacy is difficult, but becomes possible when living in a supportive community of fellow priests. He can offer no advice on how it becomes “possible” for one who can not live in such a community, implicitly conceding that for many men, perhaps it is not (agreeing in this, with St Paul).
  • The only objection he raised in the interview to ending the rule was not not one of principle, but of practicality, saying there were questions as to how this could be arranged.

But the most serious difficulty to my mind, is that as a universal practice, even within the Roman rite, it is a myth – and a dangerous one. It is a myth, because it is a rule that is widely broken.

Ordinands: A Lifetime of Celibacy?

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Theologians’ Revolt Deepening, Widening

When the German theologians last week released their declaration calling for far-reaching reform of the Catholic Church culture, structures and teaching on sexual morality, it had been signed by 143 leading theologians from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The publication of the declaration on Friday coincided with the resignation of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, in the culmination of sustained popular protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. Since then, Arab street protests have spread to other countries of the Middle East, notably including Bahrain, Iran, Libya, Jordan and Algeria.

The theologians’ revolt has similarly been spreading beyond the original 143 German signatories.

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Exceptionalism: failing to learn from history

(Gay priest Bart writes on the impact of the culture of clericalism on the Church):

Exceptionalism (Wikipedia; Collins English Dictionary) is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles. In recent decades, we heard more often of the term “American exceptionalism”, but really this word has a long pedigree, with British and Soviet exceptionalism being other recent examples. The perception behind exceptionalism is not dissimilar to that belief which holds that certain companies or institutions are too big to fail. The last decade disproved  this perception in a horrific way, first with the Enron collapse, and then more recently with the collapse of Lehman Brothers (and with it the whole banking sector), followed by the bailing-out of a corporation that used to boast a product output that was larger than the GDP of most countries: General Motors. As I sat reading Terry’s Thoughts on Popular Revolutions: in Egypt, in South Africa – in the Church, I couldn’t but help remembering that the Catholic Church promotes its own brand of exceptionalism. I would like to share a couple of thoughts on this point with my readers.

Catholicism locks onto a cluster of foundational principles, the most important being the following:

1.      The belief that the Church is established by Jesus Christ, who also promised that he would be with it till the end of time (Matthew 16:18-19; 28:20);

2.      The belief in the unifying, leadership role of Peter the Apostle and his successor, the Pope, the bishop of Rome (Matthew 16:18-19); and

3.      The belief that the one Church of Jesus Christ – “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” (Nicene Creed) – subsists in the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council, in n. 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, stated that “this Church, constituted and organized as a society in this present, world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her structure; such elements, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic unity.”

 

pope-benedict-saturno-hat

Image by Waka Jawaka via Flickr

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