02/15/17

A tale of two priests:

Why does NJ Advance Media laud only one of them who who spoke up?

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The Rev. Peter West is a Roman Catholic priest who spoke out, on his own Facebook page, on issues important to him.

The Rev. Warren Hall is also a Roman Catholic priest who spoke out, on his own Facebook page, on issues important to him.

One priest received opprobrium from NJ Advance Media, the digital age moniker of what used to be the Newark Star-Ledger and other Garden State papers owned by the Newhouse empire. The other priest was lauded as a martyr of sorts following a transfer from one field of ministry to another.

Rev. Warren Hall

Want to guess who was praised and who was panned?

Here’s a hint: West is a supporter of Donald J. Trump. Another hint: Hall came out as gay.

Can you say (to use the appropriate GetReligion term) Kellerism? That’s what came to mind when I saw the West story:

West has assailed millennials as “snowflakes” who attend “cry-ins” and described liberals as “smug and arrogant” people who find solace in puppies and Play-Doh.

He has called Hillary Clinton an “evil witch” and former President Barack Obama a “bum,” at one point sharing a post that challenged Obama’s authenticity as an African-American because he wasn’t raised by a poor single mother in the inner city.

Were West some random internet flamethrower, his posts might garner a shrug in an age of intense political division and social media rancor.

But West, 57, is a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, and some of his withering attacks, while popular with many of his 7,300 Facebook followers from around the country, run counter to the statements and philosophies of his own leader, Newark Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, and his ultimate boss, Pope Francis.

Well, I can’t imagine Spencer Tracy starring in “The Father West” story, can you?

West, in his personal posts, comes across as, well, bombastic and his opinions might be off-putting, to say the least. To its credit, the NJ Advance Media story is clear on that point:

The Rev. John J. Dietrich, the director of spiritual formation at the nation’s second largest seminary, Mount Saint Mary’s in Maryland, called West’s comments about politicians, Muslims and liberals “way over-the-top inappropriate behavior.”

“The thrust of his priesthood is not to be political. The thrust of his priesthood is supposed to be sacramental, preaching the Scripture,” Dietrich said, adding, “There’s a red line you don’t cross.”

Here’s the journalistic paradox: However irritating or infuriating West’s positions are, the story properly balances West’s statements with trenchant observations from Catholic experts. In the case of the other Facebook-friendly Catholic priest, his stances are presented with no real objections from within Catholic ranks, at the local national or global level.

About 18 months before the West story emerged, however, the NJ Advance Media team took a far more sanguine view of an outspoken Roman Catholic cleric, the aforementioned Rev. Warren Hall. Let’s go to the digital archives:

The priest who says he was fired from his post at Seton Hall University over a pro-LGBT Facebook post starts a new gig in Hudson County next month.

Rev. Warren Hall starts as assistant pastor at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken and St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church in Weehawken – which share pastors – on Aug. 15, Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese confirmed on Friday. Hall, who has come out as gay, claims he was removed as director of campus ministry at Seton Hall in May after posting a picture on Facebook supporting the LGBT ‘NO H8’ movement. The archdiocese has publicly denied that this was the impetus for his removal. Goodness said on Friday that Hall had a six-week vacation and then was reassigned to the Catholic churches.

This story continues for several paragraphs about how Hall would continue his campaign for gay rights within the Catholic Church and had hoped to meet with Pope Francis during the pontiff’s 2015 U.S. visit, a meeting that apparently didn’t happen. It’s safe to assume that reporters would have reported on that.

Instead, we read about how Hall was a friend of the Rev. Bob Meyers, who pastors the two Catholic parishes, and how church officials believe Hall would be a welcome asset:

“The church’s teachings on LGBT individuals, as the Catechism of the Catholic church says, is that they are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and we welcome them with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” [a parish spokesm an] said in a statement. “With more than 25 years of experience as a priest, Father Hall knows how to make the Good News of the Gospel resonate with parishioners from all walks of life.”

While I’m not qualified to analyze the Roman church’s Catechism, and while I certainly accept the notion that all believers “are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives,” which for faithful priests means celibacy, I do wonder whether there are other voices in Catholicism that might have an issue with Hall’s views. But where an NJ Advance reporter found plenty of experts to comment on West, not a word of opposition was heard about Hall.

So a presumably socially liberal cleric can make the Christian message “resonate” with all kinds of people, while the presumably socially conservative cleric represents a major problem for the church’s image.

That may well be the case, but it would have been nice to have the journalistic scrutiny found in the West piece applied equally in the Hall case.

Complete Article HERE!

02/9/17

Most Religious Americans Support Gay Marriage, Poll Finds

By Samuel Smith

The majority of Americans who identify as religious say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry and oppose policies that would give business owners the right to refuse services to same-sex wedding ceremonies, according to data compiled by the Public Religion Research Institute.

John Sullivan (L) and Chris McCary, both from Anniston, Alabama, walk away from the Provincetown, Massachusetts Town Hall with their marriage license May 17, 2004. They were the first in line to file for a license and were married later in the day. In November 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Massachusetts must allow same-sex couples to marry beginning May 17, 2004.

Last Friday, the Washington, D.C.-based polling firm released a new analysis drawn from interviews with 40,509 Americans throughout 2016 for PRRI’s American Values Atlas.

The data, which has an error margin of less than 1 percentage point, finds that the majority of only three religious demographics — white evangelical Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses — said they oppose “allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally.”

While 58 percent of Americans said they support same-sex marriage, 61 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 55 percent of Mormons and 53 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses signaled that they oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, which happened in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, making it legal nationwide.

By comparison, only 28 percent of white Mainline Protestants and white Catholics, 25 percent of Hispanic Catholics and 30 percent of Orthodox Christians said they oppose allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry.

found that 54 percent of all Christians surveyed agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Over half of all Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Orthodox Christians and African-American Protestant respondents said they believe that homosexuality should be accepted in society, while only 36 percent of evangelical Protestants, 36 percent of Mormons and 16 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses agreed.

As reports have indicated in the last week that President Donald Trump is considering a possible “religious freedom order” that conservative religious freedom advocates say could do many things to protect the rights of religious institutions and federal contractors to operate their organizations in accordance with their beliefs, the PRRI data also shows that most American religious demographics oppose allowing businesses to refuse services for same-sex wedding ceremonies based on religious objections.

In recent years, small business owners across the U.S. were fined, sued and punished over their refusal to provide services for same-sex weddings because their participation would violate their religious beliefs. Advocates have called for state governments to give these religious business owners accommodations to non-discrimination laws, while opponents claim such exemptions would give these businesses a license to discriminate.

Complete Article HERE!

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.’

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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!