A major Church of England working group has recommended church blessings for same – sex couples in civil partnerships.
Just released today is a long awaited Pilling report of the “Working Group on human sexuality” (which in practice, is a working group on homosexuality, and how to deal with it in the context of Church practice. Although there is no recommendation to change any part of current Anglican teaching on sexual ethics, there is a great deal in the report that will be welcomed by lesbian and gay Anglicans, and other LGBT Christians.
Joseph Pilling, leader of the working group
The report makes 18 recommendations, of which a recommendation that priests should be permitted to conduct church blessings for same – sex couples entering permanent and committed partnerships is the most newsworthy.
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To mark the feast of Christ the King, and concluding the Year of Faith that Benedict XVII launched a year ago, Pope Francis has released a major Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelium Gaudium – “The Joy of the Gospel”. This important document, described at National Catholic Reporter as a tour de force, deserves careful study and attention to its many themes and layers of meaning.
The full text is long – something like 50 000 words, and I have not yet come close to digesting them all, so will not yet attempt anything like a full response. However, after even a cursory reading, I am convinced that this represents what some reports are already describing as a papal blueprint for Church reform. This is obviously a momentous development, of great importance to all Catholics, and even more so for gay men and lesbians.
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In today’s first reading at Mass, we hear the story of how the prophet Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall at Belshazar’s feast.
When I attended Mass this morning, the celebrant ended his few words on this text with a question: What is the writing on the wall, for us? What warnings should we be seeing in our own lives?
This is of course a deeply personal question, which each of us must answer for ourselves alone. But it is also a collective question, which we do well to consider for the LGBT community, and for the Catholic Church, and for the society in which we live. In “Evangelium Gaudium”, one of Pope Francis’ major themes is a scathing attack on the materialistic that surrounds us, with its celebration of money and financial success, to the detriment and exclusion of the poor. For the Catholic Church, he condemns the culture of clericalism, that treats priesthood and episcopal office as seats of power and prestige, rather than as ministries of service. For the community of gay men and the stereotype of the so-called “gay lifestyle”, we need to ask searching questions, ourselves. While the stereotype is just that, far removed from typical of all gay lifestyles, we must acknowledge that there is at least some truth in an obsession by some gay men with consumption, sexual and other hedonism, and excessive attention to fads and fashion. Are these really the values that we want to be associated with “gay”?
As specifically LGBT Catholics, I see a much more hopeful sign – an implication, unstated but clear, that the writing is on the wall for the Catholic obsession with sexual dogma.
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At Bilgrimage, Bill Lindsay has a discussion about Linda Woodhead’s article for Religion Dispatches, on her professional survey on “What British Catholics believe”. His title accurately reflects the core finding in this survey – that magisterial teaching is a “big con”, not accepted by the Church as a whole. This will be of major importance when the bishops assemble next year for the “Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family. In his first encyclical, “Evangelium Gaudium” (just released), Pope Francis notes that “infallibility” applies to what is believed by the Church “as a whole”, reminding us of the important concept of the “sensus fideii”. In the same document, he also reminds us that there exist different levels of teaching, not all of which are equally important, or require the same degree of assent. In the entire, lengthy encyclical, touching on a wide range of issues, there is not a single word about sexual ethics. Do we need any clearer indication that in Francis’ thinking, these occupy a low level of teaching, about which we are not required to agree fully with the Catechism?
In his introduction, Bill notes the contrast with the poor methodology of the “survey” launched by the bishops:
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When I originally read Michael Sean Winter’s enthusiastic review at National Catholic Reporter, I determined to read this “important book” for myself. I have just done so, and disagree fundamentally with his assessment. I read it at a sitting, within a couple of hours – and that’s not because I was riveted. On the contrary – it’s just a very slight book, small in size, and slight in achievement.
Louis Cameli, “Catholic Teaching and Homosexuality”
He claims to have found something new to say in attempting to bridge the gap between Catholic teaching, and the experience of rejection and exclusion perceived or experienced by so many gay and lesbian Catholics in the Church. He does nothing of the kind – all he does is to present the orthodox teaching as it is, albeit with an attempt to sound welcoming and sympathetic. There is no attempt at all to consider for a moment even the possibility that the teaching might be simply flawed – for either heterosexuals or homosexuals, simply labelling masturbation, artificial contraception, and sex before marriage as self-evidently gravely sinful.
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There are intriguing suggestions emerging that the Extraordinary on the Family could introduce more sympathetic new norms for the pastoral approach to gay and lesbian couples in the Catholic Church.
The lead – in paragraph to a report at Vatican Insider states
Mgr. Forte called for respect for gay people and reiterated that the Church excludes no one. The laboratory of Francis’ Church of dialogue consults the laity on the great challenges ahead
We must be absolutely clear that there is no intention at all that this synod will in any way change doctrine, as Mgr. Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary to the Synod, has stressed. (However, we should always be mindful of the law of unintended consequences. I am convinced that one unintended consequence could be recognition that the doctrine on artificial contraception needs to be rethought. That, in turn, will lead to a more comprehensive review of all sexual theology, in the longer term. But that’s later).
What will certainly be up for serious discussion, will be all matters relating to pastoral approach. Initial reports about the planned Synod focussed on matters of divorce, but it’s become clear that the scope will be far more wide – ranging.
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