One intriguing feature of the Synod on Marriage and Family next month, is that at least two bishops have gone on record as stating that they support the principle of church blessings for same – sex couples. Bishop Bonny of Belgium is one. Bishop Bode of Germany is another.
In an interview with the German Catholic News Agency KNA, Bishop Bode of Osterbruck discussed his expectations from the synod, in general terms, for those who are divorced and remarried – and for homosexuals, and especially those in stable same – sex relationships.
What I find particularly interesting about this interview, is that he does more than simply express support for the principle of church blessings for gay couples, he points to a way in which this might actually become feasible.
First, he points to the well- established but often ignored feature of Catholic teaching, that there should be no discrimination against homosexuals. Like many others, he repeats an insistence that gay unions cannot be treated as marriage, which can only be between a man and a woman, and open to procreation. That is differentiation, not discrimination. However, he notes that there are other Catholics in sexual relationships that do not conform to Church teaching, such as those who are cohabiting without marriage. To treat same – sex couples differently to those, in pastoral practice he says, is discrimination, and therefore unacceptable. So, in responding to same – sex couples, pastors should look to the good in their relationships, not merely at what is out of step with teaching – just as they do with other Catholics in irregular situations.
Next, he notes that while any form of recognition comparable to marriage is impossible for the Catholic Church, it is possible to offer some form of prayer and informal blessing, where the pastor is able to judge the quality of the relationship to be suitable. Note the qualification though – these should be “private” blessings, which presumably means in a household setting, not actually in Church.
Third, he notes that although the strength of the Catholic Church is its universality, a community cutting across cultural boundaries, nevertheless we need to take account of geographic differences in social and political contexts. (Interestingly, some African bishops have made exactly the same point, from a different perspective). That being so, he speculates that it is possible, for pastors in some areas to be granted a degree of autonomy in these decisions, so that where same – sex couples are socially commonplace and legally provided for, perhaps in these countries (including his own Germany), such blessings could be authorized – but not elsewhere.
Now recall that when Germany’s largest lay organization called for the introduction of church blessings for gay and lesbian couples, the response by Cardinal Marx was that their request could not be accepted “unreservedly” – implying a possible acceptance, with reservations. Perhaps Bishop Bode’s qualifications, are just such reservations. I also speculated along exactly these lines myself, when Cardinal Marx’s response became public.
It’s been a difficult year for me, medically, spiritually and technically – but with your support, I’ve been dramatically reinvigorated, and found renewed clarity and focus.
It was just about a year ago that I learned that the supposed bowel problem that had been troubling me for months, was in fact a rare form of cancer, a massive GIST wrapped around my stomach. Getting to grips with that, and with the major surgery I will need sometime in the next 6-8 weeks, has been a journey and a half.
Even before the onset of the medical trouble, I had been deeply troubled by what I had been doing here at QTC and elsewhere – and what I should be doing. I was asking myself deep questions about my purpose, effectiveness, and priorities. I was also convinced that the troubling abdominal pains I was experiencing (due to the GIST) were in fact stress related.
Then came the technical trouble, when my primary site appears to have been hacked, and became no longer accessible. With difficulty, I was able to retrieve some of my historic material and repost at a new URL (this one), but not all of it. I came to wonder very seriously, whether perhaps it was time to stop, to set aside the keyboard, and attempt to experience for once, some real life, outside of faith and sexuality.
All that changed, a month or two ago, when I agreed to take on two new challenges: editor of the Quest Bulletin, along with my existing role as Quest webmaster, and responsibility for the new websites (in three languages) for the new Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, which has its foundation conference in Rome next month, to coincide with the start of the bishops’ Family Synod, 2015. Continue reading Renewed Focus, Renewed Energy at “The Queer Church”→
If you’re a European feeling overwhelmed by the current refugee crisis, Pope Francis has news for you: this is just “the tip of an iceberg”. It will not end until we’ve addressed the underlying cause – and this is not just the disastrous wars in the Middle East that we have helped to create. There are also fundamental socio – economic causes, in the vast global inequalities of opportunity and wealth.
“These poor people are fleeing war, hunger, but that is the tip of the iceberg. Because underneath that is the cause; and the cause is a bad and unjust socioeconomic system, in everything, in the world – speaking of the environmental problem –, in the socioeconomic society, in politics, the person always has to be in the centre,” Pope Francis said.
The Holy Father said the world must work to help people not feel the need to emigrate.
“Where the causes are hunger, we have to create work, investments. Where the cause is war, search for peace, work for peace,” he said. “Nowadays the world is at war against itself, that is, the world is at war, as I say, in instalments, bit by bit, but it is also at war against the land, because it is destroying the land, our common house, the environment.”
It’s now widely agreed that “genuine” refugees fleeing war or persecution need and deserve help, and many people are now opening their hearts to offer it. It’s also widely agreed than not all the current migrants are in this category. Many others are economic migrants, seeking a better life. Europeans are far less sympathetic to these.
To resolve the refugee crisis, it is said, we must work to resolve the conflicts and bring peace to the Middle East. That’s a tall order, but even if it is achieved, that will not alone solve the problem The challenge of dealing with economic migration will remain – and economic inequalities, together the devastation being wrought by climate change, are part of the reasons underlying the civil conflicts in the first place, along with a huge clash of values.
In Britain, one common response to the British Muslims leaving to fight for ISIS in Syria or Iraq, or being “radicalised” here in the UK, is to say that we need to promote more effectively “British values”. But what are these? The British themselves assume that these are the things now endorsed across Europe and North America – democracy, justice, freedom, tolerance and equality. To some others, especially to those who feel themselves to be outsiders in the wider society, I fear that “British values” in practice are things like greed and excessive consumption, drunkenness, sexual licence, and lack of compassion for the needy. When I was preparing to leave South Africa to come to the UK, I was warned by my spiritual director that I was coming to a post – Christian society. No wonder that some Muslims, whose core religious values are so much in keeping with those of those of the Gospels, feel that the society they live in, is hostile to those values.
As I have observed this current wave of migration across the Mediterranean and through Turkey, along with European attempts to limit it, I’ve had a strong sense that I’ve seen it all, before, back in South Africa. For many years, previous South African governments tried to deal with the economic migrants moving from impoverished rural areas to the wealthier cities, by simply prohibiting it, in a system they called “influx control” – and the rest of the world called “apartheid”. We all know how that ended. Now, economic migration within the country continues, as it has always done – but instead of trying to do the impossible by limiting it, the response is to plan for it, and provide for the new arrivals in the cities.
…no papal teaching document has ever caused such an earthquake in the Church as the encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae.’ – Catholic theologian, Fr Bernard Haring
The feature of the 2014 Family Synod that most surprised me, was the near absence of any discussion about contraception – except for repeated confirmation of support for “Humanae Vitae”. As Peter Steinfels puts it at the Washington Post,
At last October’sExtraordinary Synod on the Family, bishops grabbed headlines by debating controversial topics such as admitting remarried Catholics to Communion and acknowledging the upsides of same-sex relationships. But the discussion of contraception was perfunctory. The bishops simply called on the church to do a better job of propagating “the message of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.” In other words, the widespread rejection of the birth-control ban is simply a messaging problem.
That’s not true. The church’s unwillingness to grapple with a deep and highly visible gap between official teaching and actual practice undermines Catholic vigor and unity at every level. It encourages Catholics to disregard all manner of other teachings, including those on marriage and abortion. If the church wants to restore its moral authority, it must address this gnawing question.
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna is a senior cardinal in the Catholic Church, who was often named before the last conclave as a possible “papabile”, one who could become the next pope. He is also an eminent theologian, a former pupil of Cardinal Ratzinger, who was a regular member of a select group who gathered with Pope Benedict annually for a theological summer school.
For LGBT Catholics, he is particularly notable as the first senior bishop to have noted, a few years ago, that it is high time that the Catholic church stopped obsessing about “genital acts” of gay and lesbian people, and considered instead the quality of their relationships. At the same time, he also noted the contradiction in Church practice, between exclusion from marriage those who had previously married and divorced but wished to remarry, and the reality that in the modern world, so many couples have no interest in marriage in the first place.
At the time, he was a lone voice, and many conservatives in the Church excpected an immediate slapdown. That did not happen. Instead, a series of other bishops began to take up similar themes, which have since become mainstream, now dominating news coverage of the family synods, that of 2014, and of 2015, next month.
In a notable interview with the Italian Jesuit publication, Civita Cattolica, he shared some important insights into the synod process, on marriage and family, on pastoral approaches to those in “irregular” relationships, and on gay and lesbian relationships specifically. At Bondings 2.0, Francis DeBenardo has discussed these LGBT specific passages, but the entire article is worth reading for its relevance to our concerns, even where these are not directly referenced.
I am preparing a series of posts on this interview and its implications for LGBT Catholics, in my own rather free translation. (The original is available only in Italian. When completed, I will post the entire interview in my English translation at The Queer Church Repository). The excerpt below, giving the Civita introduction, gives some of the flavour of the entire, 12 page, piece.
During the extraordinary Synod on the family, which took place 5 to 19 October 2014, I was impressed with, among others, by the intervention of Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna. We had a discussion, after his speech in the classroom, during a dinner with a mutual friend. Then he told me about his experiences as a child of a family that has experienced the divorce. His lucidity was not a merely intellectual reflection, but was the result of experience. Strolling under the colonnade of St. Peter, he told me about the absence of grandparents and uncles from Synod speeches. The family, he said, is not only wife, husband and children, but is a wide network of contacts, including some friends and not only relatives. Any divorce affects a large network of relationships, not only on a couple’s life. But it is also true that the network can withstand the impact of the split and support the most vulnerable, the children, for example.
We did not end the conversation. We continued for two subsequent meetings, after a few months, at the headquarters of Civiltà Cattolica. Once with his friend and fellow Dominican Fr Jean Miguel Garrigues, who I also interviewed for our magazine (1). And the interview finally, continued in Vienna at the Kardinal KönigHaus.The following interview is the result of these meetings, which eventually took the form of a dialogue unit. I asked the Cardinal for a reflection closely tied to his experience as a pastor. And this pastoral inspiration that gives body and breath to his words.During the extraordinary Synod on the family, which took place 5 to 19 October 2014, I was impressed with, among others, by the intervention of Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna. We had a discussion, after his speech in the classroom, during a dinner with a mutual friend. Then he told me about his experiences as a child of a family that has experienced the divorce. His lucidity was not a merely intellectual reflection, but was the result of experience. Strolling under the colonnade of St. Peter, he told me about the absence of grandparents and uncles from Synod speeches. The family, he said, is not only wife, husband and children, but is a wide network of contacts, including some friends and not only relatives. Any divorce affects a large network of relationships, not only on a couple’s life. But it is also true that the network can withstand the impact of the split and support the most vulnerable, the children, for example.
The strength of the pushback by some conservative bishops against what they fear the Family Synod will introduce changes in Church teaching on divorce and on sexual orientation is clear evidence of their fear that change is on the way. Their fear is well – founded, at least in the long term. The synod itself was not called to change doctrine, but only pastoral practice – but pastoral practice will inevitably lead, in the long run, to changes in the teaching itself.
More than that, those insisting on rigid adherence to a set of rigid rules as laid down in the Catechism and Canon Law, completely misunderstand the nature of “doctrine” itself. In a recent interview with the Italian Jesuit publication Civita Cattolica, the eminent theologian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn was asked about this concern, in some quarters, that doctrine should be the main focus of the synod, and their fear that it could be undermined. His response was illuminating, and has great importance for LGBT Catholics (emphasis added):
Civita: According to some, however, the aim should be eminently doctrinal; some even fear for the doctrine.
Schonborn: The challenge Pope Francis puts to us is to believe that, with the courage that comes from simple proximity, from the everyday reality of the people, we will not turn away from doctrine. We not risk diluting its clarity by walking alongside people, because we ourselves are called to walk in faith. Doctrine is not, in the first instance, a series of abstract statements, but the light of the word of God demonstrated by apostolic witness to the heart of the Church and in the hearts of believers who walk in the world today. The clarity of the light of faith and its doctrinal development in each person is not in contradiction with the way that God works with ourselves, that we are often far from living fully the Gospel.
Sister Mónica Astorga Cremona, a nun who belongs to the Order of Discalced Carmelites, answers the phone and briefly summarizes the mobilization she generated when her work became known: “I told the Pope that, although he urged young people to make trouble, I’m the one who’s doing it.”
Mónica has come out out in recent weeks in various media in the province of Neuquen, where she lives in a cloistered convent, because of the work she’s doing with a group of trans women. But in addition to this work, for many years she has been helping inmates in prisons across the country.
Mónica’s voice is cool, calm, and strong, and if a person didn’t know her age, they’d bet she wasn’t more than thirty or so. However, behind those vocal chords are 30 years of work in the community and 50 years of age. Hence the need to clarify that although the Pope spoke to the young, she’s the one who’s “making trouble.”