A Catholic priest has refused communion to a lesbian, solely because she is a lesbian – at her mother’s funeral. He said to her directly that he did so because she is living with a woman, and that is a sin, according to the church.
The blogosphere has been abuzz with the news that Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, a priest at St. John Neumann parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland (Archdiocese of Washington), recently denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral. HuffingtonPost.com has posted a summary of various blog posts on the incident, including Ann Werner’s post on AddictingInfo.org, which broke the story. Werner offers the details:
“My friend Barbara [Johnson], the daughter of the deceased woman, was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. She was the first in line and Fr. Guarnizo covered the bowl containing the host and said to her, ‘I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church.’ To add insult to injury, Fr. Guarnizo left the altar when she delivered her eulogy to her mother. When the funeral was finished he informed the funeral director that he could not go to the gravesite to deliver the final blessing because he was sick.”
In claiming to be upholding the Catechism, Fr Guarnizo is displaying woeful ignorance ot it, on at least three counts. First, there is nothing at all in the Catechism against two women simply living together. There is only (alleged) sin if there are “genital acts”. He has not made any such claim to justify his action.
It would also be quite improper to assume that such acts occur, or even if they do, that they are subjectively sinful. We all have an obligation to follow conscience in these (and all other) matters. As the Catechism (1861) reminds us: “We must entrust judgement of persons the justice and mercy of God”
Third, there is an equally important part of Catechism teaching, which has been flagrantly ignored:
“Respect, Compassion, Sensitivity”. Fr Guarnizo has displayed none of these.
There is one tiny smidgeon of good news in here: the Archdiocese of Washington has issued a statement denouncing the incident:
“In a written statement, the Archdiocese of Washington conceded that Father Marcel had acted improperly, saying, ‘Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.’“Barbara Johnson says she’s satisfied with the statement, though she adds that the damage done, both to her family and to her mother’s memory, could never be repaired.”
This is to be welcomed, but it is not enough. The priest in question must be made to understand that his own actions are in clear contravention of the Catechism, and should publicly apologize. If acting contrary to the Catechism is necessarily sinful, then by his own standards he is himself in sin. The theory of confession states that not only must we repent and confess our sins – but also that for absolution, we must make reparation to those we have injured. The hurt in this case cannot be undone – the least that will suffice is a public apology.
New Ways Ministry suggests writing to Cardinal Wuerl:
These remedies are possible if Catholics contact Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the head of the Archdiocese of Washington. His contact information:
Cardinal Donald Wuerl Archdiocese of Washington P.O. Box 29260 Washington, DC 20017-0260
Tell Cardinal Wuerl that as a Catholic you oppose such blatant discrimination and pastoral incompetence. Let him know that you consider the action offensive and insensitive. Explain that you support free and equal access to communion of all Catholics, especially at such a pastorally critical moment as a funeral. Let him know of your love and support of LGBT people. Request that he instruct all his priests and pastoral ministers not to repeat such an action. Call on him to provide pastoral training on LGBT issues for his priests and pastoral ministers. Ask him to call for an apology from Fr. Guarnizo, and to offer pastoral mediation between this priest, Ms. Johnson, and her family. Speak from your heart and from your faith.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols has once again demonstrated sanity and moderation on the place of the Catholic Church in modern society. While there are many loud, outraged voices raised in complaint in the US and in the UK over alleged assaults on religious freedom and of perceived persecution of Christians, Nichols has correctly pointed out that what is happening is not the “persecution” of Christians, but an attempt to separate the legal and cultural life of the country from its Christian roots. He is saying in other words, that what is happening is a removal from the Church of its previously privileged position. This may be deplorable, unfortunate, or welcome – but does not amount to persecution, any more than the removal of apartheid in South Africa represented the persecution of Whites.
The origins of complaints of persecution in the UK are in a series of high profile court judgements which have consistently found that religious freedom does not give Christians the right to contravene anti-discrimination laws. Recently, the volume has stepped up with complaints against the proposed introduction of marriage equality. (A former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has launched an on-line petition drive in opposition to gay marriage). Archbishop Nichols says that the Catholic Church in England and Wales is against the proposals – but will leave actual opposition to individual Catholics as individuals, but the Church “as a whole” will not join in the campaign.
After a fortnight which has seen the emergence of a “Christianist” backlash – most recently in evidence with an internet petition against gay marriage spearheaded by Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury – Nichols seems to be supporting the movement from a careful distance.
Catholics will be encouraged to sign the petition against gay marriage as individuals, but the church as a whole will not be part of Carey’s campaign even though it opposes a change in the law.
This is in stark contrast to the position of Scottish and American bishops (and may explain why unlike Timothy Dolan, Nichols was not in Rome last week for a cardinal’s red hat). It recognizes though, that while opposition to same – sex nuptials may be the logical implication of one part of current church teaching, it is one that is not accepted by the Church as a whole. Research has shown that a clear majority of British Catholics in fact support marriage equality, and we know from our own experience that active opposition by the Church is deeply hurtful to LGBT Catholics. Nichols’ refusal to get the Church actively involved in opposition is the logical result of following that other part of current church teaching that is conspicuously absent in the war on Catholic queer families in some other dioceses: that we deserve to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity.
Nichols’ own “respect, compassion and sensitivity” was further demonstrated in his response to a question about the Vatican language on homosexuality.
When asked how to interpret the notorious Vatican description of homosexuality as “a tendency towards an objective moral evil”, Nichols gave me a carefully prepared talk on the roots of Catholic philosophy. “This is a philosophical construct,” he said
He talked about the curious paradox that Catholic social teaching is gaining in influence and authority at the same time as Catholic sexual ethics seem discredited even among the faithful. Yet they are both, he said, derived from the same kind of reasoning and are an attempt to read out objective general truths about what is good for human beings, and then point our conduct towards them.
So, for example, the Catholic teaching about sex is based on the idea that it leads to babies, and this must be its highest good. The trouble is that when Catholic priests explain the purposes of sexuality they sound too often like a Martian at a football match.
Phrases like “abstract moral evil”, he said, are not aimed at any individual. “One talks about objective moral evil, you might say today, that’s racism. No matter what’s intended or understood, that, objectively, is wrong. In a similar way, you can say, in every sphere of life there is objective moral evil. But that does not imply subjective moral guilt. That does not imply guilt on an individual.“
This is a carefully phrased restatement of what he said in 2010, at the time of the Papal visit to London: that we must not judge the interior state on another’s conscience, and in effect affirms yet another strand of Catholic teaching that is important for queer Catholics- the primacy of conscience.
However, try as he might to lessen the hurtfulness of current teaching, he is unable to get away from the hard fact remaining – that it rests on an assumption that the primary purpose of sex is mere procreation, and that “homosexuality” in the abstract is seen as an objective moral evil, is “intrinsically disordered”.
Yet it is current church teaching itself that is disordered, and will not last. It is not based on anything more secure than the Church’s own tradition, is not securely founded in scripture, and is in conflict with the findings of both biological and human sciences. It is rejected by an overwhelming majority of ordinary Catholics, and probably by a majority of professional Catholic theologians. Other Christian denominations, especially those whose leaders whose understanding of sexuality is grounded in personal experience as well as mere book learning, are moving rapidly in the direction of full LGBT inclusion in church. It is becoming clear that the Catholic Church’s long tradition of hostility to homoerotic relationships is part of the distorting tradition about which Pope Benedict has written, and has warned us about. The writing is on the wall.
I am certain that a significant number of Catholic bishops know this, and that Vincent Nichols is one of them. The real challenge facing the leaders of the Church today is not facing up to the need to articulate a more realistic doctrine on sexual ethics, but finding a way to admit that for so long, they have been wrong.
In recent years, progress towards full lgbt inclusion in church has been remarkable, with the appointment of openly gay and lesbian bishops, landmark national decisions by some denominations to remove barriers to ordination for LGBT pastors, and local decisions by individual congregations to conduct same – sex weddings or blessings for queer couples (or to withhold weddings for all couples, until they are able to offer them to all, without discrimination). The headline news reports have usually featured (mainline) Protestant denominations – and resistance by some dissenting congregations, transferring their allegiance to alternative umbrella bodies.
The movement towards welcoming and affirming congregations is present though in all denominations, and that includes the Evangelical churches. In these, it is sometimes the refusal to accept inclusion, not its endorsement, that leads congregations to disaffiliate. This was the case in Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Central Baptist’s commitment to inclusion is clear from its website, right on the homepage: see the logo, and the clear promise just beneath it : “All Are Welcome – No Exceptions”.
The Central pastor, Mark Johnson, had written a blog post that featured a poster based marketing campaign by an Indianapolis church. affiliated to the MCC, that asked the pertinent question “Who Stole Jesus?“. This resulted in a complaint from the pastor of a sister – church to the Elkhorn Baptist Association. In response, the congregation opted to withdraw from the association
The congregation opted to leave the association rather than fight, but added a public statement to make clear that all Baptists do not agree on everything.
“We have been quiet for too long,” said church member Rachel Childress. “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in our community who do not know there is a Baptist church like us.”
Central Baptist Church’s website lists mission partners including the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The church left the Southern Baptist Convention and Kentucky Baptist Convention a decade ago. Johnson said those decisions made the vote to leave the association “a natural and predictable course of direction.”
Johnson said Central Baptist Church wants to identify itself as “an open and inviting fellowship for God’s people.” A motto on the church website says: “All are welcomed here. No exceptions.”
The press release said Central Baptist harbors “no feelings of animosity toward or alienation from the people or programs” of Elkhorn Baptist Association, but believes “it is best to officially part ways.” The church will continue to work with Irishtown Baptist Mission in downtown Lexington, a ministry supported by the association that Central took the lead in establishing 50 years ago.
In fact, this withdrawal neatly highlights the relevance of the “Who Stole Jesus?” question. The whole Gospel message affirms the primacy of love, mercy and compassion over strict adherence to rigid religious rules and bureaucratic control. By withdrawing from a body that seeks to impose religious conformity, they are simply refusing to allow them to “steal Jesus” away from them.
It may be rare to encounter a multicolored gay pride flag upon entering a church. But Brandeis’ Catholic chaplain, the Rev. Walter Cuenin, proudly displays the rainbow flag in the Bethlehem Chapel’s foyer. With the word “Peace” written across the middle, the flag symbolizes a proclamation of acceptance and unity for each person who may walk through the Bethlehem Chapel’s doors.
Cuenin bases his decision to exhibit a gay pride flag on a tale about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. According to Christian tradition, when Mary and Joseph arrived at a Bethlehem inn, Mary was forced to have her baby in an outside stable since there were no rooms left at the inn. Cuenin connects this story to Brandeis’ Bethlehem Chapel by using the multicolored flag to portray that “in this Bethlehem, there’s always room for everyone in the inn.”
Cuenin is currently an ally of Brandeis’ LGBT group, Triskelion. He claims that while the Catholic Church does not support gay marriage, it does welcome gay people to its churches. In fact, when he was a pastor for a larger church nearby, Cuenin had even performed a baptism for the baby of a gay couple.
“The Catholic Church opposes gay marriage, so I cannot directly say I support it, but I have seen from my experience that for many people it creates a much healthier environment … For example, if you were to go to Provincetown in the summer time, where a lot of gay people go, it’s a radically different place today than it was 20 years ago,” Cuenin said. “They are there with children and married, raising kids, so they go home at night. In other words, it has transformed the whole gay scene … it hasn’t led to total debauchery. In some ways, it has pulled people back together,” Cuenin said.
The Sunday after London Pride last year, our Soho Mass was briefly disturbed by an uninvited visitor, making an entirely unauthorized video recording of the proceedings. His recording of the bidding prayers has now surfaced on some conservative Catholic blogs.
In a Catholic Herald report, some of the bloggers and others opposed to the Masses have used these as supposed evidence that they exist primarily to challenge Church teaching. Fr Ray Blake, for instance, claims that
“What I find scandalous is that Mass is offered for a group of people who, as this video shows, obviously dissent from the teaching of the Church and gather primarily to challenge that teaching, rather than to worship.”
This conclusion is patently ridiculous, and not supported by the texts of the bidding prayers themselves. These in particular, appear to be what they most object to:
…..that the various communities we represent, ethnicity, language, gender and sexual orientations, find means to celebrate this diversity, and strive for greater social justice for all people.
Are the opponents seriously suggesting that we should not be praying for social justice? Another prayer they objected to, was for
…lesbian and gay, bisexual and transgender organisations here and throughout the world, and especially those which gather to support people of faith, that they may reflect the rainbow covenant of justice and integrity which God establishes amongst us.
What is forbidden by Church teaching, is same-sex genital activity. There is nothing in the prayers that even remotely encourages this.
Watch, and decide for yourselves:
What these prayers do promote, is an obvious corollary to the other part of Catechism teaching – the importance of respect, compassion and sensitivity, which must lead to the acceptance of full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Church. So these bidding prayers are promoting, not contradicting, Church teaching – one of the parts that the objectors conveniently ignore. (The other part they ignore, is that none of us has the right to pass judgement on the state of another’s soul).
Fr Blake is also totally wrong that the “purpose” of the Mass is not worship. Five years ago, when I and a group of others were discussing with diocesan representatives the parameters for our move into a Catholic parish church, it was clearly understood, and agreed by us, that the Masses were to be pastoral in nature, and not campaigning. As part of the organising team ever since, I can confirm that we have stood by that agreement scrupulously. The sole purpose of the Mass is to provide an opportunity for LGBT Catholics, their families and friends, to meet together for a corporate act of worship, in a setting where they know they will receive a particular welcome – together with other Catholics, and in a parish setting. It is true that I and some of the other organisers do disagree, strongly and publicly, with Vatican doctrine on sexual ethics, but that is kept strictly separate from the conduct of the Masses. (In the same way, it is likely that in any student chaplaincy, there will be a strong proportion of young people who disagree strongly with church teaching on sex before marriage, or on masturbation, but that does not imply that Masses for students are organised to promote dissent. A similar argument applies to family Masses and contraception.)
In his response to the objections, the CH quotes our chairman, Joe Stanley, who said that he did not think Fr Finigan’s view of the Soho Masses was representative.
“Our experience of ordinary Catholics in the pew is very different from the comments in the blogosphere. The Masses keep getting represented as “gay Masses”,” he said, emphasising that they are public Masses that extend a particular welcome to gay people and their parents, families and friends.
But the most important response is that of Archbishop Vincent Nichols of the diocese of Westminster, in which the parish falls. In a supportive statement, he reminds us that
As with every Catholic Mass, the bidding prayers celebrated at the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory ask for the intercession of God in the lives of people who may be in need.
Bidding prayers for every Mass must reflect the teaching of the Catholic Church and this applies to the Mass held every fortnight where a particular welcome is extended to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered Catholics and their families.
There is no sacrilege in bringing together a group of Catholics for worship. The only sacrilege here is in making an unauthorized recording of that worship for the sole purpose of sowing dissension. There is no dissent expressed in praying that all may be included and treated with respect in the Catholic Church. The only dissent, is in opposing a considered, deliberate pastoral plan by the Archdiocese to put Catholic teaching on respect, compassion and sensitivity into practice.
From a personal recollection by Francis DeBernardo, of New Ways Ministry:
Father Howard Hall, one of the pioneers of LGBT ministry in the Catholic church, has passed away from pancreatic cancer. Fr. Hall was instrumental in developing diocesan ministry to LGBT people in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he was involved in the work of so many of the national Catholic organizations that work for justice and equality for LGBT people: Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, New Ways Ministry, Fortunate Families, and Dignity.
I had the pleasure of meeting Howard on several occasions over the years, and he was always a gentle and joy-filled presence. My greatest memory of him comes from the summer of 2000 when I spent two weeks doing New Ways Ministry workshops in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Howard was instrumental in helping us set up and promote the workshop I conducted in his hometown of Baton Rouge. It is a testimony to the great groundwork that he did there that this workshop was one of the best attended that I have conducted in 18 years of this ministry.
Like many people, I will remember Howard for his great kindness and generosity. While I was planning that trip to the Gulf Coast, Howard realized that it would be a grueling schedule for me, as I spent each day traveling and doing a program for almost two weeks straight. To alleviate the stress, Howard offered me use of his small cabin in the countryside not far from Baton Rouge for two days of solitude and silence. It was a modest, cozy place, and I’ll never forget the peace that I experienced there or the generosity of the priest who provided it.
Even today, it is extremely difficult for a gay priest to come out to more than a few close friends – and even that is not easy. It is even more difficult for those working in parish ministry, and outside a supportive religious order. Yet, it is striking in Father Hall’s story, that as a parish priest, he began reaching out to gay and lesbian parishioners as long ago as the early ’70’s, some forty years ago, and in 1973 launched one of the first Dignity chapters, based in his Baton Rouge parish. He has also worked extensively in LGBT ministry with other organizations, such as New Ways, CALGM, Fortunate Families, and PFLAG.
There is still a long, long way to go on the path to full inclusion for queer Catholics, but we have come a long way already, from the dark days when “gay Catholic” was simply assumed to be an impossible oxymoron. Today, we have widespread acceptance by ordinary Catholics in the pews, who believe that homosexuality is simply not a matter of morality, recognition by many professional moral theologians that official teaching needs a drastic overhaul, and a shift in emphasis by many bishops from the Catechism prohibition on “homosexual acts”, to the accompanying Catechism inistence on “dignity, compassion and respect”.
This shift over the last half century would not have been possible without the brave work of the early pioneers – like Fr Howard Hall.
Progress towards full queer inclusion in church has been remarkable in some Christian denominations, and familiar enough for the US Mainline Protestant churches, and also in the European Lutheran churches. In the former, the chief marker of progress has been the steady dismantling of barriers to ordination and ministry for openly gay or lesbian clergy, even in non-celibate partnerships, as long as these are committed, faithful and publicly accountable, in a manner comparable to conventional marriage. In Scandinavia, the marker is even more dramatic – the expansion of same – sex church weddings (already available in Sweden and Iceland, coming to Denmark this years, and probably to Finland next year).
Progress in other denominations and faith traditions has been less visible, but is also very real. As illustration, I offer three stories I have come across over the past 24 hours, representing three very different contexts.
Remembering Joseph Colombo – openly gay theology professor at a Catholic university.
Tomorrow, February 10th, San Diego University will hold a “memorial” for Joseph Colombo, who passed away on January 2nd this year. An obituary in Vista, the college newspaper, says of him
“He was really one of the leading figures in the department,” Nelson said, “not only in terms of his excellence in teaching and the hours he gave to advising his students, but in terms of thinking about the direction of the department and mentoring young faculty. It’s a huge loss to the department in terms of an elder figure who really was a guiding light for us all.”
Colombo actively served the LGBT community both at USD and throughout San Diego. He served as the chair of the board of directors at the San Diego LGBT Center from 1991-1995 and served as the advisor of PRIDE on campus. He was the first openly gay chair of a theology and religious studies department at a Roman Catholic University in the United States.
“He was a pioneer here in that as an openly gay faculty member, he paved the way for every queer student, every queer faculty member, that we can be out at USD,” theology and religious studies professor Evelyn Kirkley said. “He really was a great mentor, role model and friend.”
There was a time when Catholic church leaders discouraged, or even prohibited, laymen and women from even reading scripture. Those days have long passed, but it is not that long ago that only priests (not even religious sisters) were expected to study formal theology. Nowadays, there are more lay people than clergy studying theology – and many of them have gone on to teach it. A fair proportion of those will be gay, lesbian or trans, just as in the wider community. As they take their places in theology departments, Catholic and other, and contribute to academic research and publication, it is becoming increasingly untenable for the traditional, clerical theologians to simply ignore the queer perspective on their field.
Openly gay chaplain at Evangelical college.
At “Bible – thumping Liberal”, Ron Goetz observes that
“Being out on an EFCU campus (Evangelical/ Fundamentalist College/University) used to be impossible. Even today it is barely tolerated, if is tolerated at all”
but goes on to publish some of the story of Doug Johnson, who was a fellow student with him at Simpson College (now University), a denominational school of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in California. After his time at Simpson, Johnson went on to a mid-Western Baptist seminary, and now works as a hospital chaplain.
Then I went back to a Baptist Seminary in the midwest and started to come out. That is also where I had my first sexual encounter, in the dorm of the Baptist Seminary. Eventually I came to the place of full acceptance, but it was a journey, especially in the institutional church where in the 80′s homosexuality was viewed as anything from some kind of heinous crime against nature to an embarrassment which could screw up one’s chances to fulfill one’s calling as a minister.
Thankfully, that is gradually changing. I am still single, but not because I think of that as more “Christian.” I am single because I haven’t met the right guy yet. I hope it happens someday.
Collectively, Evangelical Christians are known as the major faith group most closely opposed to recognition and acceptance of LGBT relationships or civil rights, but even here, there is change, far more than most people recognize. Research evidence shows that younger evangelicals, especially the millenial generation, have very different concerns to their elders, and a substantial minority do not share their strong opposition to homosexuality and same – sex relationships, or to marriage and family equality. Some are actively promoting lgbt inclusion in their writing (Jay Bakker) or advocacy (Kathy Baldock), and evangelical scholars have produced some good LGBT – supportive books on scripture. Like Doug Johnson, there are more pastors who have found ways to serve openly. There are Baptist counterparts to the Catholic organisations Dignity and Quest: The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists in the US, and Affirming Baptists in the UK. Some Baptists, as in all other denominations, are actively promoting marriage equality. (In South Carolina, lesbian pastor Nancy Petty at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church is refusing to sign marriage licences for any couples – until she can legally do so for all).
Orthodox Jewish gay wedding
Finally, just in case anyone imagines that progress to inclusion is limited to European and North American Christian groups, it is not. Change has if anything been swifter among Jews, and is beginning to stir also in Islamic groups, and in some African countries. I’m not going to give examples for all of these, but here’s one remarkable example from Orthodox Jewry:
Yasher Koach to chatanim (חתנים or grooms) Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan!
Standing in matching kittle’s (קיטלנים or traditionally white linen robes that Ashkenazim are known to be buried in after wearing it to their wedding as well as annually on Yom Kippur to signify purity, holiness and new beginnings) and orange kippah’s (כִּפוֹת or platter-shaped head caps worn for respect) the two men stood under the chupah (a symbol of the home that the couple will build together) in Washington D.C. holding hands.