Wednesday, March 14, 2007

New Ways Symposium in the News, Again

If you’re in the Twin Cities, then you’re no doubt already aware of the “controversy” surrounding Archbishop Flynn’s letter to New Ways Ministry stating that because the organization does not have his “permission,” it cannot celebrate Eucharist at its Sixth National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, scheduled to take place this weekend in Minneapolis.

In his February 23 letter to New Ways Ministry (and to the three retired Catholic bishops who were to preside at the symposium’s Eucharistic celebration), Archbishop Flynn said that he was “concerned about some of the topics listed, and also about some of [the] featured speakers who are known to have publicly contested Church teaching.”

“As a result,” the Archbishop said, “I am concerned that this symposium may well cause significant confusion to members of the faithful in this Archdiocese, as well as others who have knowledge of it.”

In response to the archbishop’s letter, Francis DeBarnado, executive director of New Ways Ministry, issued a media release yesterday in which he stated: “We believe the Symposium will not cause confusion, but instead, will offer clarity. New Ways Ministry and the speakers at its programs are pledged to responsible discussion on the issue of homosexuality, and we are very clear about what is presented as official Church teaching, what is presented as theological reflection, and what is the opinion of Catholics in the pews. None of the presentations at this educational event will differ significantly from discussions that occur daily at Catholic colleges and universities.”

New Ways Ministry’s media release goes on to say that “those attending the Symposium (over 500 registrants at the latest count) are clearly part of the Catholic mainstream – about half of the participants are priests or religious men and women; about half are lay members involved in professional ministry or are parents of lesbian daughters or gay sons. Almost all are highly educated people who are familiar with the issues being discussed and have the intellectual ability to make distinctions. Denying Eucharist to people who have committed their lives to the Church causes greater scandal to the Church than does a public discussion of homosexuality. The denial of Eucharist at this meeting is particularly sad since the theme of the event is sacramentality.”

Yet despite all of this, New Ways Ministry has agreed to comply with the archbishop’s directive. There will be no Eucharistic celebration at the symposium.

As executive director of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), I was asked yesterday by reporters from both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press to comment on this latest development.

Following are the two articles in which my comments appear. I’ve also submitted a commentary to the Star Tribune on this matter – one that, if not published by the paper, I will post on the Wild Reed on Saturday.


Gay Catholic Meeting to Obey Archbishop’s Communion Ban
By Pamela Miller
Star Tribune
March 14, 2007

The chief organizer of a symposium on ministering to gay Catholics planned for this weekend in Bloomington said Tuesday that participants will comply with a letter from Archbishop Harry Flynn forbidding communion at the event.

But Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministries, which organized the Friday-through-Sunday conference at the Sheraton Bloomington, said conferees are “very disappointed” by Flynn’s directive.

More than 500 people are registered for the sixth annual symposium, called “Outward Signs: Lesbian/Gay Catholics in a Sacramental Church.”

According to DeBernardo, Flynn wrote: “I am concerned about some of the topics listed, and also about some of your featured speakers who are known to have publicly contested church teaching. As a result, I am concerned that this symposium may well cause significant confusion to members of the faithful in this archdiocese, as well as others who have knowledge of it.”

Copies of Flynn’s letter were also sent to three retired bishops who were to be communion presenters – Leroy Matthiessen of Amarillo, Texas; Francis Hurley of Anchorage, Alaska, and Joseph Sullivan of the New York City borough of Brooklyn.

Archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath reiterated Tuesday that the archdiocese does not condone attendance at the conference and that the church already has standards for ministering to gays. He said that Flynn’s letter to DeBernardo was “confidential” and should not have been shared.

Meanwhile, Matthiessen said Tuesday that he will reluctantly honor a request from “Catholic authorities” to stay away from the conference.

“I had very much wanted to be there to support people who are ministering to parishioners of a different orientation,” said Matthiessen, who said he couldn’t reveal exactly who made the request.

Michael Bayly, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, said participants are likely to conclude that “gay people . . . can be sacrificed in the institutional church’s efforts to impose a very rigid and narrow idea of what it means to be Catholic.”

“All of this is a betrayal of the spirit of generosity and compassion at the heart of Jesus’ life and message,” he said. “It’s disheartening.”

Conferees will be urged to attend mass at churches near the Sheraton Bloomington, DeBernardo said. “We are not a conference of radicals out to destroy the church, but people, both gay and straight, who love our church.”

Note: You’ll notice that my comment was truncated. Here’s the quote in full that I provided Pamela Miller of the Star Tribune:

“I think [the symposium] participants will rightly perceive this directive as just another indication that gay people, along with divorced people and those who, for whatever reason, don’t ‘toe the party line,’* can be sacrificed in the institutional Church’s efforts to impose a very rigid and narrow idea of what it means to be Catholic. I think all of this is a betrayal of the spirit of generosity and compassion at the heart of Jesus’ life and message. It’s dehumanizing. I feel like we’re witnesses the eroding of the Church into a ‘leaner and meaner’ design – one that has no place for us. It’s very disheartening.”

* My reference to divorced people and “those who, for whatever, don’t ‘toe the party line’” was made in response to the recently released papal Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. In this document, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirms the Church’s teaching that Catholics who divorce and remarry cannot receive communion. He also states that Catholic politicians have a moral duty to oppose such things as gay marriage, abortion, and euthanasia.

No Mass at Event About Gay Catholics
By Tad Vezner
Pioneer Press
March 14, 2007

A national symposium to explore the conflict between homosexuality and Catholicism is set to take place in the Twin Cities area this weekend.

But one thing participants won’t be able to do — as they have in every other city where the symposium has taken place since 1977 — is celebrate Mass.

The symposium, “Outward Signs: Lesbian/Gay Catholics in a Sacramental Church,” is the sixth such meeting sponsored by New Ways Ministry — an organization dedicated to creating “a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics,” according to the organization’s literature.

Archbishop Harry Flynn, of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, sent a candid letter last month to New Ways, stating concern about the symposium's topics and featured speakers “who are known to have publicly contested Church teaching.”

Flynn prohibited symposium participants from celebrating Holy Eucharist, saying to do so might mislead Archdiocese members into believing the speakers’ views had the church’s sanction.

“Hopefully, that will at least minimize potential confusion and scandal,” Flynn’s letter concluded.

Archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath said the reason for prohibiting the Eucharist at the symposium was simple: “There’s certain rules of the church that are inviolate. The Eucharist is the heart of our faith. There just isn’t much elbow room there.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said the group tried for several weeks to negotiate with the archbishop through several bishops who were to attend the symposium.

“This does seem a little harsh for a couple of reasons,” DeBernardo said of Flynn’s decision. “We have known Flynn as a good and pastoral man when it comes to lesbian/gay issues. So we were surprised that he made this decision. He has been willing to dialogue and compromise. He hasn’t been a stone wall, as some other bishops have been.”

The negotiations failed late last week.

And Tuesday, one of the bishops expected to attend the symposium left a voice message with DeBernardo saying he had “been told not to come.”

“I think there was a Vatican intervention,” DeBernardo said late Tuesday, saying he had yet to reach Bishop Leroy Matthiesen, of Amarillo, Texas, to get an explanation for his dropping out.

Matthiesen did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday evening.

Two other bishops scheduled to participate in the symposium — Archbishop Francis Hurley, of Anchorage, Alaska, and Bishop Joseph Sullivan, of Brooklyn, N.Y. — were still expected to come, DeBernardo said. And participants were urged to attend Mass in nearby churches rather than at the hotel where the symposium will take place.

Michael Bayly, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, a grass-roots coalition promoting acceptance of gay people in the Catholic Church, said Flynn’s decision was reflective of a trend.

“I think it reflects a wider change in climate in the Catholic Church. There’s a more narrow and rigid interpretation of what it means to be Catholic,” Bayly said.

Flynn’s decision “is a betrayal of the core of our Catholic faith,”* Bayly said. “The church should be big and wide enough to support diverse opinions. For God’s sake, it’s Catholic — it’s universal.”

The symposium has been organized every several years on different topics relating to homosexuality and Catholicism, with an emphasis on finding common ground. The Eucharist has been celebrated in Washington, St. Louis, San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Louisville — though the New Ways Ministry did run into problems at its most recent event in Kentucky.

There, DeBernardo said, Archbishop Thomas Kelly told New Ways Ministry that he had been told by the Vatican not to allow the Eucharist — a decision that lies with the head of the diocese under church law.

Kelly invited conference participants to instead attend Mass at his cathedral — but New Ways Ministry declined and conducted the Eucharist anyway, saying Kelly’s letter fell short of forbidding the sacrament.

“We saw it as a loophole,” DeBernardo said.

DeBernardo said he sees the same Vatican influence being exerted in the Twin Cities, given that Flynn’s letter was copied to three top Vatican officials.

McGrath said he didn’t know whether Flynn had consulted with the Vatican and was not able to reach the archbishop Tuesday.

But regardless, “the Archdiocese has policies that are fully in accord with the teachings of the Vatican,” McGrath said.

This is not the first time issues related to homosexuality have created controversy with the Archdiocese. Last year, Flynn supported a proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The year before, Flynn ruled that gay-rights supporters could not receive Holy Communion while wearing rainbow-colored sashes because the practice was seen as a protest of Catholic teaching.

The symposium will begin at 7 p.m. Friday and end at 2 p.m. Sunday at Sheraton Bloomington, 7800 Normandale Blvd. New Ways Ministry said more than 500 people have registered, about half of them church leaders.

* What I noted (but was left out of the Pioneer Press article) was that the spirit of generosity and compassion at the heart of Jesus’ life and message is at the core of our Catholic faith. It is this spirit that is “betrayed” when Eucharist is denied.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the News
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ”
Who Gets to be Called “Catholic” - and Why?
My Rainbow Sash Experience
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
Casanova-Inspired Reflections on Papal Power - at 30,000 Ft.
Beyond a PC Pope
Authentic Catholicism: An Antidote to Clericalism

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