01/13/17

A gay priest reflects: ‘Why I can’t go back’

By Warren Hall

The Rev. Warren Hall leads a special mass for couples renewing their vows on Valentine’s Day 2014 at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception on Steon Hall University’s South Orange campus.

“Will our parish leaders petition Cardinal Tobin to lift the suspension of Rev. Hall? This parishioner requests it.”

That comment was posted on my Twitter feed on Jan. 6, the day that Cardinal Joseph Tobin was formally installed as the new archbishop of Newark, where I have served as a Catholic priest for 27 years.

That was also the day that Archbishop John Myers, who had suspended me from priestly ministry for refusing to hide my identity as a gay man and for refusing to stop supporting others in the LGBT community, would be officially and completely retired.

John J. Myers former archbishop of Newark, N.J.

I was very humbled and full of gratitude for the tweet from the parishioner, a member of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken, N.J., where I had been serving until my suspension last Aug. 31. I had seen a few other postings expressing a similar sentiment since the announcement that Tobin would replace Myers, and I had been contacted by family members and friends asking the same question.

It has now been a year and a half since this whole saga began, when Archbishop Myers removed me from my job as chaplain at Seton Hall University in May 2015. He did this due to suspicions that a “NOH8” posting I made on Facebook standing against attacks on the LGBT community, plus my subsequent coming out as a gay man, reflected a “hidden agenda” that he claimed undermined Catholic teaching.

It has also been five months since Myers suspended me from all priestly ministry for my “disobedience” in continuing to be involved with that same work against LGBT discrimination.

That’s given me a lot of time to think about what would happen when a new archbishop came to Newark, and what my future would be.

But as I was contemplating it all the decision was effectively made for me, on Dec. 7. That’s when the Vatican issued a document reaffirming a 2005 instruction that gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood. Apparently, Pope Francis approved of the policy.

How he could assert this is as confusing as his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay men in the priesthood.

One of the reasons for the ban, per the latest document, is that “gay men find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.”

I’m thinking I would like to go back to all the men and women who I’ve had the privilege to minister with and to over my 27 years of priestly service to ask if I was hindered in relating to them.

Apparently, the parishioner cited above would not think so. We should keep in mind that the original 2005 teaching came out at a time when gay priests were made scapegoats for the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Since then science and mental health studies have proved that very few acts of pedophilia in general are committed by gay men.

The activity for which I was suspended last August was related to my speaking publicly to LGBT Catholics and encouraging them to stay in the Catholic Church. Yes, I said stay IN the church!

And yes, I met with groups that do not necessarily agree with our teaching. But those are the places Jesus went. I believe that today is comparable to many other times in the church’s history when the tenets of its teachings came face to face with developments in society, and things became “messy.”

Look at the Council of Jerusalem in the first century, when the debate was whether you had to convert to Judaism prior to becoming a Christian (you didn’t, they decided). Or when church authorities argued whether Catholics could marry non-Catholics. (They can, but to this day a Catholic who wants to marry a non-Catholic must request a “dispensation”!)

Those were challenging issues with strong emotions on all sides of the debate. We are again in one of those times in the church’s history, and like those previous eras there are strong emotions on all sides.

Is the language in the church’s teachings referring to same-sex attraction as “objectively disordered” and same-sex relations as an “intrinsic moral evil” offensive? I believe it is. Theologians will posit that these descriptors reference behavior and not the person but either way it’s still offensive.

So too was the language of the Good Friday Liturgy when it referred to the “perfidious Jews.” Pope John XXIII determined that the language was offensive to our Jewish brothers and sisters and he did not just change it but completely removed it from the Catholic lexicon.

Will the day come when “disordered” and “evil” referring to LGBT people are changed or, better, removed from Catholic teaching? I believe it will. But today is not that day. Therefore, until that day arrives, we have to keep discussing, debating and perhaps even being “disobedient.”

So, will I seek reinstatement as a priest in good standing?

I can’t, simply because I could not in good conscience take the Oath of Fidelity that all priests take upon ordination and when assuming a pastorate, namely, that I “accept and hold everything that is proposed by the hierarchy” and that I “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings.”

I’m not talking about the matters of faith but matters of discipline. I’m sure pretty much all Catholics pick and choose what teachings to follow, and in a sense that’s what I’ll be doing when it comes to the church’s views on gay men and women.

But that teaching is hardly the most important one. I think the average Catholic wants the church to get back to the basics: feeding the hungry; clothing the naked; proclaiming the message of love, forgiveness and inclusion that Jesus taught his followers.

It’s a message the people are not hearing enough, and because of that their church is failing them and because of that many are abandoning their church, in droves! As bishops sit on their thrones the view has to be disturbing. What Cardinal Tobin saw from the altar at his new cathedral in Newark was a gathering of the faithful hoping for a kinder, gentler and more pastoral shepherd — and from all accounts they got one.

Yet as open as he is, I don’t believe the new archbishop can even make an offer to reinstate me. If he did it would be tantamount to a cardinal defying his own church’s teaching.

Also, I don’t think the church knows yet how to deal with openly gay men in active ministry, even those of us who observe our vows of chastity. I don’t think the church knows how to minister to its LGBT brothers and sisters, and it’s not yet trying to learn.

So I’ll continue to be Catholic, albeit the “pick-and-choose” kind, because I still love and have hope for my church. I have found a wonderful parish with terrific ministries, including one especially for its LGBT parishioners — I now count myself one of them.

At this point I consider myself a “former priest” and will just move on with life as a lay person. There will probably be some paperwork so the diocese is no longer legally responsible for me. But I don’t see any reason to bother with formal laicization.

I will work now in the secular world with that same sense of mission that was mine since I was a youth group teen and which I committed myself to on the day of my ordination.

In doing so, I’ll continue to live by the final command of the liturgy that we all celebrate: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

Complete Article HERE!

12/16/16

Gay Priests and a Stonewall Moment?

By Lisa Fullam

12/12/16

When it comes to ordination, Pope Francis is still a puppet of the church

By refusing the ordination of women and gay priests, Francis is limiting his own legacy despite his declaration that ‘God is not afraid of new things’

‘Unless Francis expands and changes who makes decisions and how decisions are made in the Catholic church, his papacy will risk changing nothing in the long run.’

By

There’s a deep struggle going on in the Catholic church when it comes to power and who exercises it.

Pope Francis has shaken things up, and he has some of the bishops and cardinals mightily unnerved. The Vatican bureaucrats, known as the Curia, are unhappy with this pope.

On matters of faith and morals, Francis is mostly winning so far.

Francis is comfortable with “speaking truth to external power”: demanding governments pay attention to refugees and asylum seekers, to growing economic inequality, and to climate change.

Francis is also at ease with a less-than-certain church, particularly when it comes to questions of human relationships and moral prescriptions. Unlike his predecessor, the current pope is insistent that issues like birth control, divorce and remarriage are not black and white issues.

Earlier this year Francis released a document Amoris Laetitia, (On Love in the Family), in which the pope encouraged Catholic priests to confront the reality that human lives are messy and complex. He asserted that complicated moral issues that arise in human relationships must be responded to not with hard and fast rules, but rather by making conscientious decisions in the sight of God.

As Francis put it, the church is there to form consciences, not replace them.

This approach hasn’t sat well with some. Four cardinals recently sent Pope Francis a letter demanding yes or no answers to five questions they say he has left unanswered in Amoris Laetitia.

It’s unlikely Francis will give them the certainty they want. He wants them to get used to uncertainty, and discern the right approach in these modern times.

However, there is one area where Francis is ceding ground to the cardinals and the Curia: ordination.

Ordination equals power inside the Catholic church. Only the ordained can contribute to theology, form church teaching and set church rules. Only the ordained can control the money and the property. Only the ordained can respond to issues like the child sexual abuse crisis. Only the ordained can choose new bishops and cardinals. Only the ordained can administer the sacraments. Only the ordained can vote for the next pope.

On ordination, the Curia are pulling the pope’s puppet strings.

Case in point: gay priests.

Just a few years ago, during a “free-wheeling” conversation with reporters on a flight back from Brazil, Pope Francis was asked about gay clergy. Here was his response:

There is so much being written about the gay lobby. I haven’t met anyone in the Vatican yet who has “gay” written on their identity cards. There is a distinction between being gay, being this way inclined and lobbying. Lobbies are not good. If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them? The Catholic Church teaches that gay people should not be discriminated against; they should be made to feel welcome.

That was 2013. Last week the Vatican’s Congregation on the Clergy last week released a document titled The Gift of Priestly Formation:

The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’ Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.

It seems the Curia decided that gay priests needed to be judged, after all.

In fact, the prohibition against homosexual men receiving ordination as cited above first appeared in 2005. The fact that this paragraph re-appeared, word for word, in 2016 seems to indicate that the Curia felt it necessary to clarify that the pope’s words – “who am I to judge” – in no way replace or modify formal church teaching when it comes to homosexual priests.

This new document last week follows last month’s declaration by Francis that women will never be ordained as Catholic priests.

Francis’ pronouncement on women priests didn’t come out of the blue. It was a sop to the Curia and those bishops and cardinals alarmed by the pope’s promise earlier in the year to review the question of whether women can be ordained as deacons.

Many assume that if women were granted ordination as Catholic deacons, ordination as priests would inevitably follow.

The Curia has for many years hoped a pope would declare the ban on women’s ordination as infallibly held – the highest, most solemn form of church teaching and most difficult to overturn. Pope John Paul II came close to doing so in 1995, and Francis’ statement this year, while not infallibly issued, made clear there would be no room in his papacy to move toward the priestly ordination of women.

Francis is fond of saying that “God is not afraid of new things.” But when it comes to ordination, Francis seems afraid of the Curia, and the Curia in turn seems afraid of women priests, married priests and gay priests.

This is the fatal flaw in Francis’ approach: by not speaking truth to internal power, by refusing to contemplate how ordination could be expanded, Francis is limiting his own legacy.

Unless Francis expands and changes who makes decisions and how decisions are made in the Catholic church, his papacy will risk changing nothing in the long run.

All his emphasis on the poor, the dispossessed and the climate will end up being just that – emphasis only. All his commentary about facing uncertainty and complexity of modern life will be just that – commentary.

Francis said he imagined his papacy will be short, maybe only four or five years.

Once Francis leaves the papacy who will hold the power? Who will make the black and white rules? The all-male priesthood, the traditionalist cardinals and the Curia, no longer unnerved, and back in charge.

Complete Article HERE!

12/5/16

LGBTQ clergy tackle tough issues ahead of Trump presidency

by Tanzina Vega

Transgender rights. Same-sex marriage. Federal protections against discrimination.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, some of the hard won rights and protections that the LGBTQ community have gained in recent years are once again in the national spotlight.

President-elect Trump has appointed several members to top government posts that have supported so-called religious freedom laws and opposed same-sex marriage, leaving many in the LGBTQ community concerned that their civil rights hang in the balance.

“Rather than getting a respite we’ve got almost an overload of emotion because things are heating up,” said Joshua Lesser, a gay rabbi in Atlanta. Rabbi Lesser is one of three openly gay clergy members CNN interviewed who say they are not only worried about their own rights, but they’ve been busy counseling a number of parishioners about a wide range of issues since Trump was elected.

Trump received 81% of the vote among white, born-again/evangelical Christians and significant support from Mormons, white Catholics and Protestants, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

The deep support from evangelicals in particular means a Trump administration “will feel obligated to deliver a set of promises to them,” many of which will be based in conservative values, said Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia University and the director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law.

Related: Civil rights groups’ biggest fears about a President Trump

In November, Trump said that he was “fine” with the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 decision allowing same-sex couples to marry. But still many fear that he will appoint a conservative Supreme Court justice who will want to overturn the ruling.

Rabbi Josh Lesser of Atlanta.

Rabbi Josh Lesser of Atlanta.

Trump’s spokespeople did not return a request for comment.

Rabbi Lesser said he and other gay couples he knows are considering moving up their wedding plans so they can be registered before Trump takes office in January. Lesser, who watched the election results with his partner, said he got tearful and “felt existential dread” when Trump was declared the winner. “It was the immediate sense that I’m not safe,” Lesser said.

That feeling of insecurity has hit the LGBTQ community in other ways, too, said Franke.

On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that allows any individual, organization or business that receives federal funding to eschew the federal protections aimed at preventing discrimination against same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals.

For instance, a gay person who is turned away from a government funded homeless shelter will not be protected by non-discrimination laws. The consequences for such a bill could be severe, Franke said.

Trump’s vice presidential pick, Mike Pence, has further fueled fears. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed into a law a measure that could have allowed individuals or businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers in the name of “religious freedom.” After activists, corporations and other organizations — including the Indianapolis-based NCAA — threatened to boycott the state, Pence amended the law and prohibited such discrimination.

Trump has said he also plans to repeal President Obama’s executive orders, one of which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

Fred Daley, a gay priest in Syracuse, New York, said he was also concerned about Trump overturning Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an executive order that allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children apply for work permits, driver’s licenses and without the fear of being deported for at least two years.

“We are a pretty open, progressive parish,” Daley said. “There’s a coalescing of people who are concerned with these issues saying – we just can’t sit back idly now, we have to do something.”

Reverend Winnie Varghese is an Episcopal priest in New York City.

Reverend Winnie Varghese is an Episcopal priest in New York City.

Physical safety is another big concern. In the weeks since Trump’s election, hundreds of hate crimes have been reported, several of them against members of the LGBT community. As a result, Lesser said he was considering increasing security for his congregation.

Winnie Varghese, a queer Episcopal priest in New York City said she knew of two Episcopal churches that had been spray painted with swastikas after the election. Varghese said that while many of the people in her congregation share a wide range of political views, “most people I meet in church are sympathetic to people in need.”

One of the first people to come to Varghese for guidance after the election is a refugee who is applying for political asylum in the U.S. and is terrified about whether or not she and her children will be able to stay in the country. (Varghese did not say which country in order to protect the woman.)

“We are on the side of the most vulnerable at all times,” Varghese said. “In this scenario, the most vulnerable are more vulnerable.”

Complete Article HERE!

10/6/16

Common Declaration by Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Statement issued as 19 pairs of Anglican, Roman Catholic bishops sent out on mission

Pope Francis (R) smiles with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the end of vespers prayers at the monastery church of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome, Italy, October 5

Pope Francis (R) smiles with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the end of vespers prayers at the monastery church of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome, Italy, October 5

Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby have said that they are “undeterred” by the “serious obstacles” to full unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

In a Common Declaration, issued in Rome Oct. 5, the two say that the differences “cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism. Nor should they ever hold us back from discovering and rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find within each other’s traditions.”

The Common Declaration was made at a service of Vespers in the Church of Saint Gregory on the Caelian Hill in Rome, from where, in 595AD, Pope Gregory sent Augustine to evangelise the Anglo-Saxon people. Augustine became the first archbishop of Canterbury in 597.

During the service, 19 pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from across the world were commissioned by the pope and the archbishop before being “sent out” in mission together. Among the 19 pairings are Episcopal Bishop of Tennessee John Bauerschmidt and Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore Dennis Madden.

Pope Francis told them: “Fourteen centuries ago Pope Gregory sent the servant of God, Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, and his companions, from this holy place, to preach the joyful message of the Word of God. Today we send you, dear brothers, servants of God, with this same joyful message of his everlasting kingdom.”

And Welby said: “Our Savior commissioned his disciples saying, ‘Peace be with you’. We too, send you out with his peace, a peace only he can give. May his peace bring freedom to those who are captive and oppressed, and may his peace bind into greater unity the people he has chosen as his own.”


Common Declaration

of HIS HOLINESS Pope Francis

and HIS GRACE Justin Welby ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

Fifty years ago our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey met in this city hallowed by the ministry and blood of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Subsequently, Pope John Paul II with Archbishop Robert Runcie, and later with Archbishop George Carey, and Pope Benedict XVI with Archbishop Rowan Williams, prayed together here in this Church of Saint Gregory on the Caelian Hill from where Pope Gregory sent Augustine to evangelise the Anglo-Saxon people. On pilgrimage to the tombs of these apostles and holy forebears, Catholics and Anglicans recognize that we are heirs of the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the call to share that treasure with the whole world. We have received the Good News of Jesus Christ through the holy lives of men and women who preached the Gospel in word and deed and we have been commissioned, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to be Christ’s witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). We are united in the conviction that “the ends of the earth” today, is not only a geographical term, but a summons to take the saving message of the Gospel particularly to those on the margins and the peripheries of our societies.

In their historic meeting in 1966, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey established the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission to pursue a serious theological dialogue which, “founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions, may lead to that unity in truth, for which Christ prayed”. Fifty years later we give thanks for the achievements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which has examined historically divisive doctrines from a fresh perspective of mutual respect and charity. Today we give thanks in particular for the documents of ARCIC II which will be appraised by us, and we await the findings of ARCIC III as it navigates new contexts and new challenges to our unity.

Fifty years ago our predecessors recognized the “serious obstacles” that stood in the way of a restoration of complete faith and sacramental life between us. Nevertheless, they set out undeterred, not knowing what steps could be taken along the way, but in fidelity to the Lord’s prayer that his disciples be one. Much progress has been made concerning many areas that have kept us apart. Yet new circumstances have presented new disagreements among us, particularly regarding the ordination of women and more recent questions regarding human sexuality. Behind these differences lies a perennial question about how authority is exercised in the Christian community. These are today some of the concerns that constitute serious obstacles to our full unity. While, like our predecessors, we ourselves do not yet see solutions to the obstacles before us, we are undeterred. In our trust and joy in the Holy Spirit we are confident that dialogue and engagement with one another will deepen our understanding and help us to discern the mind of Christ for his Church. We trust in God’s grace and providence, knowing that the Holy Spirit will open new doors and lead us into all truth (cf. John 16: 13).

These differences we have named cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism. Nor should they ever hold us back from discovering and rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find within each other’s traditions. These differences must not lead to a lessening of our ecumenical endeavours. Christ’s prayer at the Last Supper that all might be one (cf. John 17: 20-23) is as imperative for his disciples today as it was at that moment of his impending passion, death and resurrection, and consequent birth of his Church. Nor should our differences come in the way of our common prayer: not only can we pray together, we must pray together, giving voice to our shared faith and joy in the Gospel of Christ, the ancient Creeds, and the power of God’s love, made present in the Holy Spirit, to overcome all sin and division. And so, with our predecessors, we urge our clergy and faithful not to neglect or undervalue that certain yet imperfect communion that we already share.

Wider and deeper than our differences are the faith that we share and our common joy in the Gospel. Christ prayed that his disciples may all be one, “so that the world might believe” (John 17: 21). The longing for unity that we express in this Common Declaration is closely tied to the desire we share that men and women come to believe that God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to save the world from the evil that oppresses and diminishes the entire creation. Jesus gave his life in love, and rising from the dead overcame even death itself. Christians who have come to this faith, have encountered Jesus and the victory of his love in their own lives, and are impelled to share the joy of this Good News with others. Our ability to come together in praise and prayer to God and witness to the world rests on the confidence that we share a common faith and a substantial measure of agreement in faith.

The world must see us witnessing to this common faith in Jesus by acting together. We can, and must, work together to protect and preserve our common home: living, teaching and acting in ways that favour a speedy end to the environmental destruction that offends the Creator and degrades his creatures, and building individual and collective patterns of behaviour that foster a sustainable and integral development for the good of all. We can, and must, be united in a common cause to uphold and defend the dignity of all people. The human person is demeaned by personal and societal sin. In a culture of indifference, walls of estrangement isolate us from others, their struggles and their suffering, which also many of our brothers and sisters in Christ today endure. In a culture of waste, the lives of the most vulnerable in society are often marginalised and discarded. In a culture of hate we see unspeakable acts of violence, often justified by a distorted understanding of religious belief. Our Christian faith leads us to recognise the inestimable worth of every human life, and to honour it in acts of mercy by bringing education, healthcare, food, clean water and shelter and always seeking to resolve conflict and build peace. As disciples of Christ we hold human persons to be sacred, and as apostles of Christ we must be their advocates.

Fifty years ago Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey took as their inspiration the words of the apostle: “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3: 13-14). Today, “those things which are behind” –  the painful centuries of separation –have been partially healed by fifty years of friendship. We give thanks for the fifty years of the Anglican Centre in Rome dedicated to being a place of encounter and friendship. We have become partners and companions on our pilgrim journey, facing the same difficulties, and strengthening each other by learning to value the gifts which God has given to the other, and to receive them as our own in humility and gratitude.

We are impatient for progress that we might be fully united in proclaiming, in word and deed, the saving and healing gospel of Christ to all people. For this reason we take great encouragement from the meeting during these days of so many Catholic and Anglican bishops of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) who, on the basis of all that they have in common, which generations of ARCIC scholars have painstakingly unveiled, are eager to go forward in collaborative mission and witness to the “ends of the earth”. Today we rejoice to commission them and send them forth in pairs as the Lord sent out the seventy-two disciples. Let their ecumenical mission to those on the margins of society be a witness to all of us, and let the message go out from this holy place, as the Good News was sent out so many centuries ago, that Catholics and Anglicans will work together to give voice to our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring relief to the suffering, to bring peace where there is conflict, to bring dignity where it is denied and trampled upon.

In this Church of Saint Gregory the Great, we earnestly invoke the blessings of the Most Holy Trinity on the continuing work of ARCIC and IARCCUM, and on all those who pray for and contribute to the restoration of unity between us.

Rome, 5 October 2016

HIS GRACE JUSTIN WELBY                                   HIS HOLINESS FRANCIS

Complete Article HERE!