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!

09/2/15

Vast majority of U.S. Catholics who left the church can’t imagine returning, study says

Pope Francis has a light moment as he leaves St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican after an audience with with altar boys and girls on Aug. 4.

Most Americans who were raised Catholic but have since left the church could not envision themselves returning to it, according to a new Pew Research Center survey examining American Catholics and family life. The survey’s findings were released Wednesday, weeks before Pope Francis makes his first visit to the United States, and as Catholic leadership contends with dramatic demographic shifts.

005Seventy-seven percent of those who were raised Catholic but no longer identify with the religion said they could not envision themselves eventually returning to the church, according to the Pew survey. The survey also examined U.S. Catholics’ views on issues such as divorce, same-sex marriage and sinful behavior, finding an openness for non-traditional family structures.

Although Catholics have long made up about a quarter of the U.S. population, recent data has shown that percentage dropping. In 2007, 23.9 percent of Americans identified as Catholic. In 2014, 20.8 percent of Americans said the same, according to previous survey results from Pew.

But the new survey illustrates something else about Catholic life in the United States: while the percentage of Americans who may identify their religion as Catholicism is dropping, a much larger group of Americans identify as Catholic in some way.

In all, 45 percent of Americans say they are either Catholic, or are connected to Catholicism. That larger percentage includes “Cultural Catholics” (making up nine percent of those surveyed) who are not practicing Catholics but who identify with the religion in some way; and “ex-Catholics” (also nine percent) who were formerly Catholic but no longer identify with Catholicism at all. And another eight percent said they had some other connection to Catholicism, for instance by having a Catholic partner or spouse. For the purposes of the survey, Pew kept each category mutually exclusive.

According to the survey, about half of those who were raised Catholic end up leaving at some point, while about 11 percent of those who left have since returned.

The breakdown provides an interesting look at the cultural reach of Catholicism, beyond those who would call themselves members of the religion. For instance, the survey also found that eight in ten American Latinos have some direct connection to Catholicism, whether as a current practicing Catholic, as an ex-Catholic, or otherwise.

The study also sheds some light on how Catholic American attitudes on family, sex, and marriage compare with church teaching. When asked whether they believed the church should change its position on a variety of issues, a very large percentage of religiously identified Catholics — 76 percent — expressed a desire to see the church allow the use of birth control. Sixty-two percent felt that the church should allow priests to marry, and about the same percentage thought that the church should allow divorced and cohabitation couples to receive communion.

004Fifty-nine percent of Catholics surveyed thought women should be allowed to become priests. Meanwhile, just 46 percent of Catholics believe the church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples.

Among those Catholics who attend Mass weekly, support for these changes was lower overall. But Pew notes that even among this particular population, two-thirds of Mass-going Catholics think the church should relax its prohibition on contraceptives.

Overall, cultural Catholics were more supportive of the changes named by the survey, while ex-Catholics were more supportive of allowing priests to marry, and for women to become priests.

Although an overwhelming majority of Catholics (nine in ten) believe in the concept of sin, they don’t seem to agree on what, precisely, constitutes one. Fifty-seven percent of Catholics think it’s a sin to have an abortion, compared to 48 percent of the general U.S. population who say the same. Forty-four percent think homosexual behavior is sinful (about the same say this among the general public). And just 17 percent of Catholics believe its a sin to use contraceptives, while 21 percent say the same of getting a divorce.

And although those percentages are higher for those who attend Mass weekly — 73 percent of weekly churchgoers say that abortion is a sin, for instance — the numbers are still pretty low on the issue of contraception: just 31 percent of weekly Mass attendees say the use of artificial contraception is a sin.

Despite those disagreements between U.S. Catholics and church teaching, the poll does not indicate that a change in that teaching would lead more Catholics to “revert” to their faith than do already.

Cultural and ex- Catholics gave a variety of answers when asked why they decided to leave Catholicism, and no consensus emerges from those reasons that could point to any one factor driving away those who were raised Catholic from the faith. A 2008 Pew study asked a similar question, and found that fewer than one in four Catholics said that the rule banning priests from marrying was an important reason for leaving Catholicism. About 3 in 10 said that the church’s teachings on abortion and remarriage were important.

Far more common, in that 2008 survey, were those who said they simply stopped believing the church’s overall teachings, or gradually drifted away from Catholicism, or said that their spiritual needs weren’t being met.

The latest survey finds clearer answers for why “cultural Catholics” identify with the religion in some non-religious way – 59 percent of those who were raised Catholic or have a Catholic parent cite this familial connection as the reason they are tied to the church. Cultural Catholics without a parental connection cite a variety of reasons, including having a Catholic spouse (15 percent), a general affiliation with Christian beliefs or practices (nine percent) or the idea that their religion is rooted in Catholicism (15 percent).

The 2015 Pew survey was conducted between May 5 and June 7 among a national sample of 5,122 adults reached on conventional cellular phones, including 1,016 Catholics. The margin of sampling error for results among Catholics is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the error margin is 5.5 points among the sample of 425 “Cultural Catholics” and among the sample of 413 “Ex-Catholics.”

Complete Article HERE!