In two recent posts, Bondings 2.0 has reported on yet another two highly influential cardinals, Sean O’Malley of Boston and Claudio Hummes, retired archbishop of Sao Paolo, have demonstrated substantial sensitivity to LGBT concerns. These encouraging small steps to increasing openness by senior Catholic prelates are put into sharp context however, when compared with the giant strides made by some Protestant denominations.
The Catholic Church
O’Malley, who is one of Pope Francis’ group of eight cardinal advisers, was a panelist for a discussion about Pope Francis for the launch of the on-line magazine, “Crux”. (For a full report on the cardinals observations on a wide range of topics, see Michael O’Loughlin’s report at the Crux website). Bob Shine of New Ways provides more detail on those of particular interest to LGBT Catholics. Shine had submitted a question in advance, pertaining to the rash of dismissals of lesbian and gay Catholics from church employment, to which the cardinal responded indirectly, but sensitively, about the need to follow Francis’ example of “mercy and compassion”. Shine reports that later, in private conversation. O’Malley went further:
In a one-to-one conversation following a public speaking engagement, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley said that the firing of church workers because of LGBT issues is a situation that “needs to be rectified,” becoming the first prelate to speak against this trend.
In an earlier post at Bondings. Frank DeBenardo reported on Cardinal Claudio Hummes.
In a recent interview with the newspaper Zero Hora, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the retired archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil, gave the following answer to the reporter who asked “If Jesus were alive today, would He be in favour of gay marriage?”:
“I do not know. I make no assumptions about it. The Church as a whole should answer that. We must take care not to be raising questions as individuals, because it ends up creating more trouble to get a conclusion that is valid. I think we have to get together, listen to the people, those who are involved in the issue. It is the Church that must indicate the paths, and there must be way for everyone.”
Hummes is a close friend and confidant of the Pope, who suggested the name “Francis”, and stood beside him on the balcony of St Peter’s when he accepted the papacy. O’Malley is one of Francis’ group of eight cardinal advisors. Earlier this year, Cardinal Gracias, another of that influential group of eight gave a warm and sensitive hearing to the chair of Quest, Ruby Almeida, when she visited India. There is now a steadily expanding list of bishops and cardinals who have shown some degree of increasing openness to LGBT relationships, and it now seems that those closest to the Pope are those showing the greatest flexibility. This is still a change in rhetoric, not substance, but DeBenardo notes that beneath the surface, “something is brewing”.
As I’ve noted before, I think these statements are like “test balloons,” and the fact that now so many cardinals and bishops are making them seems to indicate that something is brewing. I’m not sure it will be a big change, but I think it will be a step in the right direction
These are indeed encouraging signs: One cardinal “close to the pope”, and two of the eight cardinal advisors (O’Malley and Gracias) at least sympathetic to LGBT concerns – and yet. In a private, email discussion, Bill Lindsey of Bilgrimage makes a pertinent point:
“I think we have to get together, listen to the people, those who are involved in the issue. “
How? Where? When? I ask myself as I read the article.
How, where, and when will church officials listen to “the people . . . who are involved in the issue”?
Contrast with Protestant denominations
Bill is absolutely right to ask “How? Where? When?” As the family synod approaches, with marriage and sex to be discussed/decided by celibate bishops and only a handful of handpicked married lay people as “auditors” to endorse their conclusions, and gay relationships barely on the agenda except i.r.o. pastoral care for our children, it’s instructive to contrast with some other denominations.
Several, in Europe and in North America, are already permitting local congregations and pastors to celebrate our relationships with either church weddings, or blessings of same – sex unions. In the UK, the United Reformed Church came within a whisker of approving a similar proposal but failed only because church rules require absolute consensus, so that even with overwhelming support, it was blocked by just a handful of dissidents in the full assembly. In the Methodist church, which has not yet approved any change in its regulations to approve either church recognition of same – sex unions or gay clergy, several ministers have publicly declared their willingness to conduct gay weddings, in spite of these regulations. Nor is it only the traditionally progressive denominations that are changing – Baptists conducted the first British same – sex church wedding.
More interesting than the decisions taken, is the processes that have been followed. In all these denominations, the decisions have been preceded by intensive study, with task groups preparing full study materials, circulated in advance of the deliberative assemblies for study and discussion at local level, and exhaustive debate at assemblies or synods which have been attended by the full range of church membership – people in leadership positions, local ministers, and ordinary churchgoers alike.
The Anglican Church in the UK is a case in point. Following the Pilling report on human sexuality (in effect, a report on the appropriate response to gay sexuality), the bishops have been engaged in intensive discussions on the search for mutual understanding between differing perspectives, aided and guided by a team of facilitators. Later, this will be followed by similar regional gatherings, with clusters of dioceses coming together to debate the same issues. The guidelines specify that the composition of these discussion groups should closely match the range of views in the region, and that for these specify that for every diocese, participating delegate groups should include “more than one” LGBT person. From a CoE media release
10. The choice of diocesan participants will rest with the diocesan bishop. They will select participants so that, apart from the bishops, the group will be composed of equal numbers of clergy and laity and equal numbers of women and men. Diocesan bishops will normally attend conversations in regions other than their own. The aim will be for a quarter of the group to be under 40 years old. LGBTI people should be represented by more than one person in each diocesan group. The range and balance of views in the group should, as far as is possible, reflect the range and balance within the diocese itself.
With several dioceses represented at each regional forum, this is more than mere tokenism. The contrast with the RC Family synod is stark.