Monday, May 17, 2010

Sister Jeannine Gramick Asks: "Who Speaks for Catholics?"

The April 2010 issue of the Call to Action newsletter features a timely and helpful commentary by Jeannine Gramick, SL, co-founder with Robert Nugent, SDS, of New Ways Ministry.

Gramick’s commentary in CTA News is a rebuttal to Cardinal Francis George’s recent denouncement of New Ways Ministry as a pseudo Catholic organization. As the executive coordinator of CPCSM, a Twin Cities-based gay Catholic organization that has been similarly denounced by the local clerical leadership, I appreciate Gramick’s informed and measured response to Cardinal George. I also recommend her commentary for its overview of the latest statistics regarding the views of Catholics on “homosexual behavior” (or “activity”), gay marriage, and gay rights.

In addition, her response to those who incessantly declare that the church is not a democracy and that therefore opinion polls don’t matter, is well-grounded in both history and theology, and, as a result, welcomingly encouraging. Here’s what she says:

If the Church is not a democracy, this is because of human engineering, not divine design. The early Christian community democratically debated issues such as circumcision and the Jewish dietary laws. Historically, religious communities have elected their leaders, and by recommending that diocesan pastoral councils and parish councils be established, the Second Vatican Council was setting a more democratic agenda for the Church.

If we truly believe that God’s Spirit speaks through the Church, i.e., the community, then the whole community needs to hear what the Spirit is saying to individuals within the community.

Amen, Sister!

Following is Gramick’s commentary in its entirety (with thanks to my friend Frank for bringing it to my attention).

_____________________________________


Who Speaks for Catholics?

By Jeannine Gramick

CTA News
April 2010



On February 5, 2010, Cardinal Francis George, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, denounced New Ways Ministry, a national ministry of justice and reconciliation between lesbian/gay people and the Catholic Church, for its “lack of adherence to Church teaching on the morality of homosexual acts” and stated that new Ways Ministry “cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.

Cardinal George’s criticism highlights, I believe, two crucial points. Who speaks on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States? And, are homosexual acts moral?

All baptized Catholics make up the “Catholic faithful.” Cardinal George is right when he says that New Ways Ministry cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.” But neither can the US bishops speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful. And Catholic theologians cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful. Only the Catholic faithful can speak on behalf of themselves.

A recent poll of U.S. Catholics showed that 58% of Catholics believed that “homosexuality” should be accepted by society. On the specific issue of lesbian/gay marriage, 43% of Catholics responded favorably. When the survey question was narrowed to respondents between 18 to 29 years of age, 60% of Catholics supported marriage equality. When the question was broadened to ask about benefits and protections associated with marriage, such as hospital visitation, health insurance, and pension coverage, support among Catholics jumped to over two-thirds.

We often hear it said that “the church is not a democracy,” so “opinion polls don’t matter.” If the Church is not a democracy, this is because of human engineering, not divine design. The early Christian community democratically debated issues such as circumcision and the Jewish dietary laws. Historically, religious communities have elected their leaders, and by recommending that diocesan pastoral councils and parish councils be established, the Second Vatican Council was setting a more democratic agenda for the Church.

If we truly believe that God’s Spirit speaks through the Church, i.e., the community, then the whole community needs to hear what the Spirit is saying to individuals within the community.

Theologians need to take the community’s experiential data, reflect on it, explain the belief residing in it, and show how this belief is, or is not, a development of the Christian tradition. When a sufficient consensus emerges around a particular opinion, Church leaders need to teach or articulate this conviction as the faith of the People of God. For most issues, not just those regarding sexuality, this data gathering, reflection, elucidation, articulation and teaching of belief takes centuries.

The second question, “Are homosexual acts moral?” does not admit of a simple “yes” or “no” answer. The Christian community has been engaged in an intense debate on this question for the last half century, with divergent views among the Catholic faithful, the theologians, and the bishops. In August 2009, the Pew Research Center reported that only 39% of Catholics said that homosexual behavior was morally wrong. That compares with 61% who responded that homosexual behavior was “not a moral issue,” “Morally acceptable,” or “OK.” Most Catholic moral theologians now hold that, in the context of a loving, committed relationship, homosexual activity can be morally good. While the views of the Catholic faithful and theologians have shifted over time, the Catholic hierarchy continues to maintain that homosexual activity is always morally wrong because it is not open to procreation.

Somebody needs to tell Cardinal George that he is obviously not speaking for the Catholic faithful or Catholic moral theologians. Perhaps he knows this and, like other bishops, imagines that constant repetition compels belief. I, for one, prefer the more honest approach of New Ways Ministry, which continues to educate the public about homosexuality. I am pleased that Francis DeBernardo, the Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, responded t Cardinal George’s censure by saying, “For almost 33 years New Ways Ministry has been sustained spiritually by the prayers of millions of Catholics, and we owe it to these supporters to continue the work to which God has called us.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, along with Fr. Robert Nugent, co-founded New Ways Ministry in 1977.


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Here Comes Everyone - Robert McClory on a democratic Catholic Church.
Robert McClory’s Prophetic Work - Two reviews of Robert McClory’s book, As It Was In the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church.
The Holarchical Church: Not a Pyramid But a Web of Relationships
Beyond Papalism
Many Voices, One Church
How Times Have Changed


8 comments:

Terence Weldon said...

Michael, thank you for your observations on church democracy. As you point out, it is clear from Scripture that the early Christians were intensely democratic and communal in all things. For centuries, communities chose their ministers and elected their bishops.

When I hear the old refrain, "The Church is not a democracy", I answer, "Why not?"

On Sr Grammick's own observations, I will come back to those later I'm pressed for time right now.

Anonymous said...

In his denunciation, Cardinal George referred to homophobia as "a central aspect of church teaching." That is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of his actions. Does he really believe that? What else is "central" for him, and what isn't?

Mark Andrews said...

"[I] it is clear from Scripture that the early Christians were intensely democratic and communal in all things."

What ever St. Paul was, he was not a Jeffersonian Democrat. The ancients had a particular view of community based on family, but that is worlds away from what we moderns call "democracy."

Mareczku said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful article by Sister Jeannine Gramick. She is so on target with her observations. Did Cardinal George actually refer to homophobia as a central aspect of church teaching? I find this difficult to believe. What did he say exactly?

Michael J. Bayly said...

"[It was] worlds away from what we moderns call 'democracy.' "

Perhaps. but the democratic impulse was there. One thing's for sure, the structure and spirit of the early Christian community was worlds away from the imperial/monarchical caste system that now passes for leadership within the church.

Aaron said...

First an observation and then a couple of question.

I honestly am confused and somewhat frustrated by the use of the term "homophobia".

My understanding of a phobia is that it is an irrational fear of someone or something that leads to avoiding that someone or something. I honestly don't believe Cardinal George or most others of his reasoning actually have an irrational fear of homosexuality.

Why then is this term thrown out as an insult against persons or positions that disagree with legalizing or normalizing of homosexual actions? Is it not possible to disagree with Cardinal George, et al. without resorting to name calling?

In my experience the use of terms like "racist", homophobe", "socialist", etc. in a debate are only thrown out when there is nothing else to back up an argument. It attempts to shame one's opponent into submission or docility.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Aaron,

Thanks for your observation and questions. They're very important, and I appreciate you sharing them here.

Contrary to what "Anonymous" said, I doubt that Cardinal George referred to actual "homophobia" as a "central aspect of church teaching."

Nevertheless, what is central to church teaching on homosexuality are ideas and words and actions that are experienced by many people - regardless of gender or orientation - as extremely negative, hurtful, and inaccurate. These ideas, words, and actions on the part of the official church undoubtedly result in the perpetuation of fallacies and stereotypes, discrimination, and even acts of violence.

Given this, I believe it is indeed correct and appropriate to label the official church's understanding of homosexuality and homosexual relationships as homophobic - especially when one takes into consideration the definition of homophobia.

According to the organizers of the International Day Against Homophobia, homophobia comprises:

"All the negative attitudes that can lead to rejection and to direct or indirect discrimination towards gay men, lesbians, and bisexual, transsexual or transgender people or toward anyone whose physical appearance or behaviour does not fit masculine or feminine stereotypes."

Of course, homophobia can manifest itself in different ways. Some of which are outlined here.

A discussion on the term "homophobia" and its use can be found in the comments section of this previous Wild Reed post.

Finally, for the purpose of clarification and for the record, I think it's important to note that Sr. Jeannine Gramick did not use the word "homophobe" to describe Cardinal George, or the term "homophobic" to describe church teaching. The term "homophobia" was introduced into this discussion by "Anonymous" in his comment.

Peace,

Michael

Mareczku said...

I can see where Aaron is coming from in regard to the term "homophobia." Some would see it as a fear of homosexual persons. But many people don't want to be referred to as "homophobes." What would be a better term towards those who are not really afraid of homosexuals but just have a strong dislike for them and think them disordered and inferior human beings?