Tag Archives: bishops

Catholic bishops acknowledging the ‘gifts and qualities’ gays offer

Catholic bishops are showing remarkable openness to accepting the real lives of many Catholics today, saying gays have gifts to offer the church and that there are “positive” aspects of a couple living together with being married.

A two-week meeting of bishops on family issues arrived at its half-way point with a document summarizing the closed-door debate so far. No decisions were announced, but the tone was one of almost revolutionary acceptance rather than condemnation, with the aim of guiding Catholics toward the ideal of a lasting marriage.

The bishops said gays had ‘’gifts and qualities” to offer and asked rhetorically if the church was ready to provide them a place “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.”

For a 2,000-year-old institution that believes gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” even posing the question is significant. The bishops, however, repeated that gay marriage was off the table.

The bishops said they must grasp the “positive reality of civil weddings” and even cohabitation, with the aim of helping the couple commit eventually to a church wedding.

The bishops also called for a re-reading of the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that outlined the church’s opposition to artificial birth control. The bishops said couples should be unconditionally open to having children, but that the message of Humanae Vitae “underlines the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control.”

There has been much talk inside the synod about applying the theological concept of the “law of gradualness” in difficult family situations. The concept encourages the faithful to take one step at a time in the search for holiness.

Applying the concept to matters of birth control would be an acknowledgement that most Catholics already use artificial contraception in violation of church teaching.

Bishops also called for “courageous” new ways to minister to families, especially those “damaged” by divorce. The document didn’t take sides in the most divisive issue at the synod, whether Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment can receive Communion.

However, on Oct. 14,an official summary of the closed-door discussions that followed the document’s release said that while the report was “appreciated,” some bishops offered additional reflections “to bring together various points of view” that should be reflected in a final version being released at the end of the week.

Pope opens big week with sex, marriage, divorce on agenda

Meetings this week between Pope Francis and his cardinals will deal with some of the thorniest issues facing the church, including the rejection by most Catholics of some of its core teaching on premarital sex, contraception, gays and divorce.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has called for “changes and openings” in the church’s treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics, will give the keynote speech Thursday to the pope and cardinals attending a preparatory meeting for an October summit on family issues.

The cardinals are in town for a ceremony to formally install 19 new “princes of the church,” the first batch named by Francis to join the group of churchmen who will elect his successor. The ceremony is the high point of an intensive week of meetings presided over by Francis that include the first proposals to put the Vatican’s financial house in order.

Ahead of the consistory, cardinals will meet for two days behind closed doors to begin preparations for the October summit on family issues.

Francis scheduled the summit last year and took the unusual step of sending bishops around the world a questionnaire for ordinary Catholics to fill out about how they understand and practice church teaching on marriage, sex and other issues related to the family.

The results, at least those reported by bishops in Europe and the United States, have been eye-opening. Bishops themselves reported that the church’s core teachings on sexual morals, birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce are rejected as unrealistic and outdated by the vast majority of Catholics, who nevertheless said they were active in parish life and considered their faith vitally important.

“On the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, `That train left the station long ago,'” Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, recently wrote on his blog, summarizing his survey’s findings. “Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject.”

German and Swiss bishops released similar survey results earlier this month. German bishops reported this: “The church’s statements on premarital sexual relations, on homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried and on birth control … are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases.”

The Swiss bishops went further, saying the church’s very mission was being threatened by its insistence on such directives.

Kasper, who retired in 2010 after a decade as the Vatican’s chief ecumenical officer, has for years held out hope that the Vatican might accommodate these remarried Catholics who are forbidden from participating fully in the church’s sacraments unless they get an annulment.

“What is possible with God – namely forgiveness – we should be able to succeed within the church, too,” he told Germany’s Die Zeit in December.

Church teaching holds that unless that first marriage is annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, Catholics who remarry cannot receive Communion because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, a problem that has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned from their church.

Last year, the German diocese of Freiburg issued a set of guidelines explaining how such remarried Catholics could get around the rule. It said if certain criteria are met – if the spouses were trying to live according to the faith and acted with laudable motivation – they could receive Communion and other sacraments of the church.

The Vatican’s chief doctrinal czar immediately shot down the initiative, insisting there is no way around the rule. Cardinal-elect Gerhard Mueller, like Kasper a German theologian, cited documents from popes past and his own office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in rejecting arguments that mercy should prevail over church rules or that people should follow their own consciences to decide if their first marriage was valid or not.

“It is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the church,” he wrote in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

But Kasper has said the issue can and should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Francis himself has made clear he wants to help these Catholics and that the annulment process itself must be reviewed because the church’s tribunals currently are not able to deal with their caseload. He has said now was a “season of mercy.”

Francis is a big fan of Kasper. During his first Sunday noon blessing as pope, Francis praised Kasper by name, saying he was a terrific theologian who had just written a great book on mercy.

American canon lawyer Edward Peters, who has written extensively on the American annulment process, said Monday that compromise is not possible on annulments themselves since that is the only way baptized Catholics can remarry. But in a blog post, he said the Vatican might consider some “process-smoothing provisions” that were approved for the U.S. church back in the 1970s, including the elimination of the mandatory appeal to Rome.

Nuns question Catholic opposition to Affordable Care Act

The National Coalition of American Nuns, in an open letter released on Jan. 27, questioned why Catholic institutions are challenging the federal Affordable Care Act.

In the letter, the group expressed dismay at opposition to the health care law from the Little Sisters of the Poor-Colorado, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations.

The nuns, in the statement, said, “Spurred on by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives.”

The letter went on to state, NCAN strongly supports Reproductive Justice which includes a woman’s right to choose what is best for her body including contraceptives.

“In its endorsement of the Affordable Care Act, NCAN believes that women should not be singled out by any organization or group through its refusal to insure a woman’s reproductive needs. This violates the equality given to all men and women who embrace this country’s laws, which are passed to preserve this very equality.”

The group said, “We support women as moral agents able to make the right choices for their own bodies. We also know that women do not have full membership in churches and societies that keep women and our daughters poor and separated because of their gender. A society or church that disregards a person because of her gender does this to all of its members.”

NCAN’s stated goal is “to study, work and speak out on issues of justice in society and church.” The group was founded in 1969 and it has more than 2,000 members.

On the Web …


Students stage sit-in, launch petition drive on behalf of gay vice principal

A group of Seattle area high school students staged a sit-in Dec. 19 in support of Mark Zmuda, a vice principal forced out of his job after he married his same-sex partner.

Zmuda lost his job at Eastside Catholic High School, which is operated by the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, after officials learned that he’d recently married his same-sex partner, which is legal in the state of Washington. The school is in Sammamish, Wash.

Students responded by launching a Change.org petition and collected more than 8,000 signatures in one day. Students also staged a massive sit-in — hundreds of students assembled in the gymn — to support Zmuda and protest the ouster of the vice principal, who is known around the school as “Mr. Z.”

Bradley Strode, the senior class president who started the petition, wrote, “We, the student body at Eastside Catholic School, have experienced an egregious injustice which was inflicted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. Our beloved vice principal, Mr. Zmuda, was terminated by the Archdiocese as a result of his marriage to another man. The student body is outraged that an incredible administrator, coach and human being was fired solely because of his love and marriage for another human being. We are uniting in order to change the Catholic Church’s opposition of gay marriage. It is time to revisit the policy and act as Jesus would have, loving and supporting every person regardless of their marital status. United, we want this policy changed so that the Catholic Church can achieve its mission of acting with unconditional love in every situation.”

The petition is written to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

With the protests spreading to other Catholic schools in the area, students also have asked Pope Francis to intervene.

Surveys show that U.S. Catholics support marriage equality at a higher rate than the general public. Six in 10 Catholics support legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States.

“The students of Eastside Catholic High School are proof of why the future belongs to the friends of equality,” said Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign. “To young people coming of age in the time of ‘Modern Family’ and Pope Francis, there is simply no argument that can justify discriminating against a beloved member of the community or any LGBT person. To the next generation, the Golden Rule always prevails, and I am inspired by the example the students of the Seattle-area Catholic high schools are setting.”

On the Web …


U.S. Catholic bishops elect new president

The new leader of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops says he will draw on his years as a pastor to guide American bishops as they attempt to shift focus under Pope Francis, who wants more emphasis on compassion than on divisive social issues such as gay marriage.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Kentucky was elected on Nov. 12 as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a role that makes him the U.S church’s spokesman on national issues and a representative of American bishops to the Vatican and the pope.

Kurtz, a 67-year-old Pennsylvania native and a former bishop of Knoxville, Tenn., pledged after his election Tuesday to focus the bishops’ work on reaching out to the poor and underserved, a mission emphasized by the new pope.

“The challenge for us in welcoming people and most especially serving people who are voiceless and vulnerable, spans right across the board from our work in immigration (to) our work in serving people who are poor,” Kurtz said.

But Kurtz has also used his time as Louisville Archbishop to take strong stands on the kind of hot-button cultural issues the new pope says have occupied too much of the church’s focus. Since coming to Louisville, he has joined praying protesters in front of an abortion clinic, donated $1,000 of archdiocese money to a same-sex marriage repeal effort in Maine and joined other Catholic leaders in denouncing a federal requirement for employers to provide health insurance that covers artificial contraceptives.

And Kurtz is not without critics in his archdiocese. Among them are victims of clergy abuse who successfully sued the Louisville archdiocese and reached a $25 million settlement in 2003. The agreement included 242 plaintiffs.

Some of those victims who remain outspoken on clergy abuse issues said Kurtz hasn’t done enough to heal the lingering wounds from the scandal.

“To me there’s no real outreach to survivors,” said Jeff Koenig, a member of the Louisville chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We had to approach him, he has never reached out to us.”

Koenig said archdiocese officials have offered the survivors group a brief meeting with Kurtz, but they have sought a longer interaction.

At the bishops meeting, Kurtz won just over half the votes in a field of 10 candidates. He succeeds New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is ending a three-year term. The new vice president is Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas.

Vatican ambassador: U.S. bishops should not preach ideology

The Vatican ambassador to the U.S., addressing American bishops at their first national meeting since Pope Francis was elected, said this week they should not “follow a particular ideology” and should make Roman Catholics feel more welcome in church.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano noted the challenges from broader society to Christian teaching. He cautioned that the bishops’ witness to faith would be undermined if they failed to live simply. Francis, in office for eight months, has captured attention for eschewing some of the pomp of the papacy, including his decision to live in the Vatican hotel and his use of an economy car.

“There has to be a noticeable lifestyle characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message,” said Vigano, the apostolic nuncio based in Washington.

“The Holy Father wants bishops in tune with their people,” Vigano said, noting that he visited the pope in June. “He made a special point of saying that he wants pastoral bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology.”

In a September interview, Francis said Catholic leaders should give greater emphasis to compassion and mercy, arguing the church’s focus on abortion, marriage and contraception has been too narrow and alienating. For the last several years, the public sessions of the fall bishops’ assembly have centered on those hot-button social issues. This year’s meeting gave the first glimpse of how that message was resonating among American leaders.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, dedicated his speech to persecuted Christians overseas, asking the bishops to make international religious freedom a top priority. 

Dozens of Catholic charities and dioceses, along with evangelical colleges and others, are suing the Obama administration over a requirement that employers provide health insurance that includes contraceptive coverage. The bishops say the religious exemption to the rule violates the religious freedom of nonprofit and for-profit employers. The issue is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

Dolan said in a news conference his speech was not a shift away from that fight – but an expansion of it. “It’s almost raised our consciousness to say we can’t stop here,” Dolan said.

But Mathew Schmalz, religious studies professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said highlighting the fight with the Obama administration would be seen as out of step with Francis’ message, especially at a time when the Vatican is moving away from a European focus. Francis is the first pope from Latin America.

“The bishops realize that they themselves are going to have to change their tone if they are to become more inclusive and complement the new tone coming from Pope Francis and the Vatican,” Schmalz said. “There is definitely something going on here: The American hierarchy is going to have to change its style or be left behind.”

The bishops had early in the meeting prayed for the thousands of victims of Friday’s typhoon in the Philippines and also discussed the response to the disaster by Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ international relief agency.

But after a presentation on overall priorities of the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, a former president of the conference, rose to say it was “missing this essential element” of a focus on the poor.

“It would help our conference be on record as trying to achieve what Pope Francis has put before us,” said Fiorenza, who retired as archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas.

Bishops also discussed how they would collect the information the Vatican is seeking ahead of a major meeting, or synod, on the family in Rome next year.

Last month, Vatican officials sent a survey to the national bishops conferences that took the unusual step of seeking broad input on how parishes deal with sensitive issues such as birth control, divorce and gay marriage. Bishops in England have put the questionnaire on the web for parishioners to respond. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said he planned to post the survey online within days.

Dolan is at the end of this three-year term as conference president. His successor will be elected today (Nov. 12), the final day of the public part of the meeting.

Chicago Cardinal George says gay marriage unnatural, threat to human dignity

Chicago Cardinal Francis George opened 2013 with a renewed campaign against equality in Illinois. George and six bishops, leaders of the Catholic Church in the state, released a letter saying legalizing gay marriage is against nature and God.

Illinois Democrats hope to deliver a gay marriage bill to Gov. Pat Quinn this month, possibly as early as next week. The legislation, which could be introduced in the state senate on Jan. 2, is called the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act because the bill does not require religious institutions to celebrate same-sex marriages or their leaders to officiate at gay weddings.

George says the bill ignores basic truths and that gay marriage is unnatural because same-sex couples cannot consummate a marriage.

He writes, “Marriage comes to us from nature. The human species comes in two complementary sexes, male and female. Their sexual union is called marital. It not only creates a place of love for two adults but also a home for loving and raising their children. It provides the biological basis for personal identity.

“It is physically impossible for two men or two women to consummate a marriage, even when they share a deep friendship or love. Does this mean nature is cruel or that God is unfair? No, but it does mean that marriage is what nature tells us it is and that the State cannot change natural marriage. Civil laws that establish “same-sex marriage” create a legal fiction. The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible.”

George says if lawmakers enact a gay marriage law “it will be acting against the common good of society. We will all have to pretend to accept something that is contrary to the common sense of the human race,” that the “natural family is undermined” and “human dignity and human rights are then reduced to the whims of political majorities.”

The cardinal urges members of the church to go to a Website – www.ilcatholic.org – for information and updates on the issue.

George, in the letter, also claims that the Archdiocese of Chicago “has consistently condemned violence toward or hatred of homosexually oriented men and women. Good pastoral practice encourages families to accept all their children and not break relationships with them.”

Gay civil rights activists challenged that the cardinal’s assertion ignores basic facts and that George has been a leader in the U.S. church’s attempt to block civil or equal rights for LGBT people and he has repeatedly made anti-gay statements, including one comparing civil rights activists to the KKK.

“I don’t really think the cardinal knows what is natural or unnatural,” said gay rights activist Paul Frazier of Rock Island, Ill., who was considering a organizing a demonstration. “He certainly doesn’t know right from wrong.”

LGBT activists to protest installation of new archbishop in San Francisco

LGBT civil rights activists plan to protest on Oct. 4 in San Francisco when the Catholic Church installs Salvatore Cordileone as the new archbishop.

Cordileone, at the ceremony, officially becomes the head of the San Francisco Archdiocese.

A call to demonstrate issued by GetEQUAL said, “This is a slap in the face to the San Francisco LGBT population, but more importantly an affront to all equality-minded Catholics in the Bay Area.”

Cordileone, as a bishop in Oakland, was one of the more influential voices in the campaign to pass Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that amended the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

The demonstration will take place outside St. Mary’s Cathedral on Gough Street in San Francisco at 1 p.m.

He also leads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for the Defense of Marriage, which exists to block marriage equality. He has, in past campaigns, been aligned with the anti-gay Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage.

“Despite a vast majority of American Catholics affirming the true social justice teachings of Jesus and of the church, Cordileone continues to use right-wing political action to climb the ranks of church hierarchy,” said San Francisco GetEqual activist Billy Bradford.

At a recent San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, elected officials also were critical of Cordileone’s promotion and assignment.

“It’s disappointing that the church has assigned a person here who has shown a great deal of hostility to the (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) community,” Supervisor Christina Olague, a bisexual who was raised as a Catholic, said at the board meeting, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Official Episcopal blessing for gay couples approved

Episcopal bishops approved an official prayer service for blessing same-sex couples this week at a national convention that also cleared the way for transgender ordination.

At the Episcopal General Convention in Indianapolis, the House of Bishops voted 111-41, with three abstentions, to authorize a provisional rite for same-sex unions for the next three years. The liturgy next goes to the convention’s deputies for their authorization.

“This is a great day for the Episcopal Church and people of faith everywhere,” said Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, deputy director of the Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program.  “The Church reaffirmed to LGBT Episcopalians they are also God’s children and they deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion.”

In a separate vote, the full convention approved new anti-discrimination language for transgendered clergy candidates and church members. Some dioceses already ordain transgendered people or elect them to positions of parish leadership. However, advocates for the amendment argued they needed an explicit statement of acceptance as the churchwide policy.

The Rev. Carla Robinson, a transgender vicar of All Saints Church in Seattle, said she was lucky to have the backing of parishes and bishops when she was considering ordination, but she said others haven’t had the same support.

“I stand here as a priest today because my diocese specifically said that my gender identity and expression didn’t disqualify me from the discernment process,” Robinson said from the floor of the convention. “I ask that as a church we do the same for my trans sisters and brothers.”

While critics of the different measures registered their opposition during the convention debate, many conceded ahead of the vote that they were in the minority.

Episcopalians blazed a trail – and caused an uproar – in 2003 by consecrating New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican world. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. body of the Anglican Communion. Episcopal conservatives responded by creating a rival denomination in the U.S. under the guidance of like-minded Anglican leaders overseas.

Worldwide, the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, which has its roots in the Church of England, has been splintering ever since. Anglican leaders had asked Episcopalians for a moratorium on electing gay or lesbian bishops as the communion struggled to stay together. However, after a few years, Episcopalians voted to lift the temporary ban.

Several Episcopal bishops who spoke against the same-sex unions trial liturgy warned about the repercussions overseas.

“I believe it will put us, put the Episcopal Church, out of the Christian mainstream,” said Bishop Edward Little of the Diocese of Northern Indiana. “They will interpret that the Episcopal Church has endorsed same-sex marriage.”

However, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde argued that an official service was needed to honor and bless the “lifelong same-sex couples” who she said “have served Christ and Christ’s mission in ways incalculable to measure.”

The official liturgy for same-sex blessings has been in development since 2009, when it was authorized by the last General Convention. Some bishops had already developed rites for the ceremonies for use in their own dioceses. If the deputies approve the proposal before them in Indianapolis, it will be the first such official prayer for use by the entire church.

The rite is called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant.” It includes what one bishop described as a conscience clause, explicitly stating that no one in the church would be forced to perform the ceremony or punished in any way for barring its use.

“The Episcopal Church one of a growing number of denominations to see a new day in the intersection of faith and sexual orientation and gender identity.  This is not only good for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people but it is good for the soul of the church,” Flournoy said.

Like other mainline Protestant groups, Episcopalians have been debating the Bible and homosexuality for decades. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have in recent years struck down barriers for clergy living with same-sex partners, while the United Methodist Church has maintained its ban on ordination for openly gay and lesbian candidates.

The New York-based Episcopal Church has 1.96 million members. The convention in Indianapolis runs through Thursday.

On the Web: http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/gc2012/

WiG contributed to this report.

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Catholic bishops holding rallies, vigils against Obama

Roman Catholic groups in the U.S. have started a two-week campaign of prayer vigils and rallies to fight what they claim are government attacks on religious liberty.

The immediate target is the mandate that President Barack Obama announced in January requiring most employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control, which the Vatican opposes.

Critics accuse the bishops of organizing the campaign as a partisan assault on Obama. But Church leaders say their only goal is to protect religious freedom.

The “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign runs through Independence Day, July 4.

“In only the past few years, we’ve experienced rampant disregard for religious beliefs in this country,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote in an e-book released for the “Fortnight” effort. Among the examples he cites are approval for embryonic stem cell research, legal justification for torturing prisoners and support for same-sex marriage. Dolan is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Opponents are unconvinced. “This bishops’ project isn’t about religious freedom – it’s about privilege,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “They are asking for preferential treatment from the government, and if they are successful, it would undercut the rights of millions of Americans.”

The bishops’ new religious freedom committee was formed last September in response to what church leaders viewed as inadequate religious exemptions in many state laws that authorized gay marriage and mandated contraception coverage in employers’ health insurance or prescription drug plans.

The Obama mandate on contraception coverage included a religious exemption for houses of worship, but not for religiously affiliated hospitals, charities, universities and social service agencies. Many Catholics from across the political spectrum protested that the Health and Human Services department chose the narrowest religious exemption available and urged Obama to reconsider.

In response, the president said he would require insurance companies to cover the cost instead of religious groups. However, some Catholic allies have called the compromise inadequate.

Last month, Catholic dioceses, charities and schools filed a dozen lawsuits against the administration over the mandate.