Confused English Bishops, and the Catholic “Redefinition” of Marriage.

A firestorm has erupted among some British church people and commentators over government proposals to amend the civil partnership regulations, allowing the ceremonies to be conducted on religious premises, and using religious words, symbols or music. I have avoided commenting up to now, because the precise substance of the proposals has been unclear, and has been badly misrepresented in some press reports, as providing for “gay marriage” in church. This is simply false reporting, arising from the close similarity of British civil marriage in civil partnerships in their legal import – so that many newspapers simply ignore the difference in their reporting, and routinely refer to civil partnerships as “marriage” – which they are not. This has not deterred the howls of protest in some quarters, complaining about the state’s interference to redefine marriage, and more laughably still, to restrict religious freedom.

Particularly incoherent examples of this have come from Austin Ivereigh at “America” magazine (where I really expect better). I ignored his first post last week (which I did not see until a friend emailed me a link late on Sunday), but responded to a follow-up post, in which he reported that the Catholic bishops will strenuously oppose the legislation. This was the response I placed, earlier today:

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The Catholic Push For Maryland Equality

Catholics have been prominent in the Maryland push for marriage equality – on both sides of the divide. Delegate  Heather Mizeur is a Catholic lesbian who married her spouse, Deborah, five years ago – and is a lead sponsor of the legislation now making its way through the state legislature. Governor Quinn is a Catholic, who has said that  if when the legislation is passed, he will follow his conscience – and sign. Polling evidence shows that collectively, Maryland Catholics are more supportive of marriage without discrimination than the state as a whole. New Ways Ministry, the nationwide organisation founded in 1976 by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent to promoteg sound pastoral care for LGBT Catholics and their families, and providing reliable information about sexual orientation to the Church as a whole, is based in Maryland.

 

Sister Jeanine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo speak at the day-long conference

Yesterday, New Ways Ministry hosted a day-long conference?, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach,  to promote equality.

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Defective Theology From Colorado Springs Diocese.

The principle behind 12-step programmes has become familiar, made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous, and since adapted for narcotics addictions, gambling addictions and other pathological behaviours, where it is widely agreed they can be extremely helpful in turning around self-destructive behaviour. Note carefully those qualifiers – they have worked in turning around addictive or otherwise self-destructive behaviour. Their use in attempting to modify behaviour which is totally natural and healthy (but possibly unpopular) is no more appropriate than using dangerous hydroquinine – based skin lighteners to “cure” dark skin – but this is what the Catholic diocese of Colorado Springs is trying to do, with a spurious 12-step programme that claims to offer support to those  suffering from same-sex attraction – by asking them to make amends for those whom they have hurt.

As Call to Action has noted in their response, this is plain bad theology.  Same-sex attraction is not a disease or addiction, but is totally natural. The only hurt that needs healing is not that done by gay men and lesbians on others, but that inflicted on them by misguided programmes such as this. What I find particularly offensive in the response by the programme organisers to the outraged reaction, is their pretence that the only orientation they are promoting is an orientation to Jesus Christ. They are not – Jesus, in his life and ministry said absolutely nothing against same sex relationships, and much in support. He most specifically promoted inclusion and welcome to all, including those otherwise marginalized by the social and religious elites of his day. If the diocese were to genuinely focus on an orientation to Jesus Christ, the only 12-step programme worth considering would not be aimed at those with same-sex attraction, but at those so burdened by homophobia that they are determined to impose their heterosexual agenda on everybody else. They are the ones who should be apologising for the hurt that they have caused to others, not the gay men and lesbians whose only “fault” has been to love.

This is a press statement from Equally Blessed: Read the rest of this entry »

More on “Welcome” in Church.

The Church claims to be a welcoming space for all, including sexual minorities. Some would disagree, but I do not wish to go into that here. Instead, I want to draw your attention to a piece written by Deb Word, for the newsletter of the Catholic Association for Lesbian & Gay Ministry, Winter 2010. (CALGM is an association of diocesan, parish and campus-based ministries and those involved in these ministries, under the leadership of the US bishops).

This piece is about the work of the writer and her husband as individual Catholics in providing a welcome. But here’s the key passage, as it applies to the institutional church in the USA (as far as I know, it is much the same everywhere else):

When you are working with a population that is prone to suicide1, you need more than band-aids.  LGBT homeless kids attempt suicide at a rate of 69%. Why, as church, are we missing this? A search for a model of Catholic Charities reaching out to homeless LGBT kids comes up empty.

Now read the full article, which I have taken from an email :

Surely you can set one more place at the table… please.

By Deb Word

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The Futility of (Attempted) Church Censorship: Minnesota, Ireland.

The standard response by the CDF (and others who hold power in the Catholic Church) to opinions they do not wish to hear appears to be to censor them. My gut response to censorhip is to do what I can to uncover what has been hidden. Others have the same impulse.

A local example from Minnesota is that of a Catholic school head who has removed two articles from the school on-line magazine which are critical of the local bishops’ political intervention in the gay marriage debate. Fortunately, in an internet age, it is no longer so easy to kill something that has once been published. It was in this spirit that MinnPost has retrieved and published in full the piece published by the editorial board, then removed by the school principal – together with comment on the excellent quality of the writing, a link to a companion op-ed piece on “Life as a Gay Teenager”, and a statement released by the editorial board.

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“Catholics For Equality” on Gay Bullycide

Catholics for Equality and Catholics for Marriage Equality
Issue Joint Statement to LGBT Youth

WASHINGTON – Catholics for Equality and Catholics for Marriage Equality, with all people of good will, lament the multiple tragic deaths of gay youths. As Catholics, we confess that our personal indifference and institutional church prejudices have contributed to the morbid despair of these and many other LGBT youth.

Our response moving forward must be both personal and political. We must personally include and affirm LGBT youth in our homes, churches, neighborhoods and schools.

Catholics for Equality and Catholics for Marriage Equality pledge active political support for The Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2010 (SSIA). The SSIA would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (part of the No Child Left Behind Act) to require schools and districtsreceiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

LGBT suicide is not primarily a psychological issue, related to individual failure to cope, adapt, or access adequate services. It is a social issue. It reflects our collective failure as a society and a Church to affirm, nurture, and provide safe place for vulnerable persons to grow in truth and love.

Our message to LGBT Catholic youth is fourfold:

  1. The problems that drive you to despair are not your fault. Regardless of your struggles and thoughts of suicide, you remain the beloved child of God. That love never changes.
  2. Know that we love and cherish you as our own flesh and blood, united in one Body in the Lord. We are family. In family there is no other. You are not alone, and will never be abandoned. You may feel isolated, and wonder if there is hope. Believe that your LGBT and allied Catholic family are here for you. Many in it have been where you are. Let our love for you help you through the challenges you face.
  3. What must change are social attitudes, and our capacity as Church to understand, care and advocate for you. We have failed you. We have allowed anti-gay bishops to issue a steady stream of anti-gay pronouncements; to promote an anti-gay agenda in our parishes through literature, DVDs, petitions and political campaigns. Our silence has led you to believe that we agree with Church hierarchy. We do not. We recognize and respect your intrinsic human dignity.Our confessions: We have not treated you with sensitivity, as the Catechism teaches. We have sinned in our indifferent attitude to LGBT-affirming ministries, which should be made available in every parish, so that you would never for a moment have to think that you were the only one, or that there was no place for you in the Church of Jesus Christ. Please forgive us.
  4. We ask you to consider that “it does get better”. We pledge to you our personal support as Christians who share the baptismal gifts of faith, hope, and unfailing love. We pledge to you our political advocacy to make the promises of The Safe Schools Act of 2010 your reality.No matter what you are going through now, things will get better. God is not a bully. God loves you, and will continue to supply all of the graces you need to live an abundant life in Christ Jesus.

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In Minnesota, Catholics Support Marriage Equality.

Despite the high profile opposition of many of our bishops, we know that Catholics as a group are firm supporters of legal recognition for same  – sex unions, and are more likely than most other Christians to support full equality in civil marriage regulations. Now, it seems that the bishops’ vigorous efforts to prevent marriage equality are spurring many Catholics to open disagreement in formal groups publicly supporting same-sex marriage. In Maine last year, Maine Catholics for Marriage Equality was the first such group, spurred into action by Providence Bishop       fund-raising for the Prop 1 campaign to overturn marriage equality in that state. “Catholics For Equality”  took that campaign to a national level earlier this year – “Equally Blessed” is another national initiative, a joint effort by New Ways Ministry, Dignity USA and others.  In Minnesota, just as in Maine, the efforts of Archbishop  Nienstedt to influence state elections to stall same-sex marriage have spurred another local group in support of justice for same sex couples.

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“Speaking the Truth” on Catholic LGBT Inclusion

Regular readers here will know that the infamous CDF document on “homosexuals”, Homosexualitatis Problema (better known as then Cardinal Ratzinger’s Hallowe’en letter), is not my favourite Church document.  Nevertheless, it does include some important features, which many people in the Catholic Church too easily forget.

In its closing paragraphs, the document reminds us of the words of Scripture: “Speak the truth in love”, and “The truth shall set you free”. It is disgraceful that the document itself ignores its own advice here, but no matter: the advice itself is sound, and there are an increasing number of Catholics, lay and clerical, who are making up for the CDF omission, by speaking the truth in love on LGBT inclusion in church. The latest to do so is  Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), in an address October 21 at King’s University-College, a Catholic institution based at the University of Western Ontario. In doing so, he reminded us of the other neglected portion of the CDF letter – the exhortation to treat “homosexual” persons with dignity, compassion and respect.

I regret that the only report I have been able to find of Huckaby’s address is from Lifesite News (but see the update below*), which is not usually renowned for its sympathy with progressive causes in general, or LGBT Catholics in particular. Nevertheless, they quote some sections verbatim, which are worth taking on board:

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All Souls Reflection: On Burying Our Queer Dead

In Catholic tradition, the Feast of All Souls (Nov 2nd) is the day on which we remember the souls in Purgatory. Fresh from my mother’s funeral, this is a topic much on my mind. I find, however, my thoughts are not so much on those starting their new lives in Christ, as on those nearing the end of their present lives on earth. In particular, I am led to the difficult question: for those lesbian or gay Catholics who attempt to live fully within the guidelines of the CDF, who will bury our dead?

My mother’s attempt to live scrupulously according to Church teaching, and the Natural Family Planning it recommends and she in turn commended to her daughters, was witnessed by her seven children. Her reward was that even though I now live in the UK, and one of my sisters in Cape Town, and after the death earlier this year of one son, during her last months she still had living in close proximity four daughters, nine of her sixteen grandchildren, and two of six great-grandchildren, all of whom were with her on her final day. She clearly knew she was going, and was able to make peaceful goodbyes. We all contributed to the funeral planning, while the pall-bearers included myself, three sons-in-law, and two grandsons.

During my two bereavements this year, I have been greatly helped by the prayers and support of the congregation of the Soho LGBT Masses, and of my readers here at QTC. Similarly, the congregation has frequently lent its prayers and support to others in their own bereavements. I am increasingly aware though, that the day is approaching when we will be praying not for our departed relatives, but for our own deceased congregants. How will we respond? In some cases, those who live alone, will we even know they have passed away?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith insists that it condemns all forms of unjust discrimination against persons of a homosexual disposition. However, it goes on to insist that the best way for us to avoid any discrimination is to remain firmly closeted, to avoid any self-disclosure of our sexual identity. In practice, this means that the Church frequently makes the assumption that where self-identified gay men or lesbians are living together as couples, their relationships are not celibate, and so in contravention of Church teaching. We are condemned by CDF doctrine to lives not only celibate, but also solitary. We are further denied Church approval as adoptive parents.

And so the question arises: if we do indeed order our lives as recommended in Homosexualitatis Problema – without loving spouses or children to survive us, who will bury our dead?

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John McNeill on “GAY MYOPIA”*

One of the curiosities of the human psyche is that we tend to pay more attention to bad news to good. – a phenomenon well known to newspaper editors.  Here, I have to plead guilty myself. Especially in the current extraordinary saga surrounding clerical abuse in the Catholic Church, there is an awful lot of bad news that regrettably needs airing. For gay, lesbian and trans people in the churches, we also have to face the very visible opposition by some in the church, and those highly visible opponents of LGBT equality and inclusion, who claim to be speaking for the church. It is not surprising then, that so many queers and others are  convinced that the Christian churches are uniformly hostile, and only the high-profile bad news is reported – with a few exceptions for the major events, like the election of openly gay bishops.
The truth, however, is far more complex, and includes a lot of encouraging features that are seldom reported.  This becomes strikingly clear is you read just a little way back into recent history, as I have been doing.  Two books I have been reading, Gary Comstock’s “Unrepentant, Self-Affirming, Practicing” and Michael Vasey’s  “Strangers and Friends“, both date from just fifteen years ago, but in their telling of then current events, they read as if they were much older.  For instance: