Thursday, April 14, 2016

"For Every Sign of Hope, There is a Matching Disappointment"

The Catholic LGBTQ group Quest responds to Amoris Laetitia

I recently learned about a British organization called Quest, which describes itself as "a pastoral support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Catholics, their friends and families."

Founded in 1973, Quest offers pastoral, spiritual and social ministry through its a network of local groups throughout Britain, and its hosting of retreats, pilgrimages, and an annual conference. The group also maintains an informative website and a Facebook page. In many ways it seems to be the British equivalent of the U.S.-based News Ways Ministry.

I discovered Quest via Terence Weldon's excellent blogsite, Queering the Church. Terence recently shared an excerpt from Quest's well-written and thoughtful response to Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love").

The full text of Quest's response can be found here on the group's website. It's also reprinted in its entirety below.

In attempting to craft his Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis was faced with impossibly conflicting demands: intense pressure from the reformists to introduce changes to pastoral practice (if not actual doctrine) on some hot-button topics, competing with equally intense pressure from the conservative side to reaffirm both doctrine and the rules on pastoral practice. We should also remember that any direct change in doctrine was never in fact on the cards: that was not the purpose of the family synods, and is not the nature of an apostolic exhortation, which traditionally, is purely pastoral.

This is why it is very much a compromise, and reading the full text is very much an ambidextrous exercise: any fair assessment of the Exhortation must repeatedly assert, “On the one hand . . ., on the other hand”. For every disappointment, especially for LGBT Catholics, there is a more optimistic qualification. For every sign of hope, there is a matching disappointment.

For example:

• There is a firm restatement of the traditional requirement that “homosexuals” must be treated with respect, and that there must be no violence or aggression. On the other, there is no attempt to apply this to the well-known co-operation of some African bishops in the active persecution of LGBT people.

• There is a notable absence of the offensive terms “intrinsically evil” and “objectively disordered”, which have caused so much hurt to lesbian and gay Catholics. On the other, there is no attempt to reject those terms once and for all.

• There is a repetition of the bizarre term “gender ideology” (albeit in a softened form compared with its earlier use in the Synod’s report), but there is also some recognition for the first time that gender and biological sex do not always perfectly co-incide.

• The text begins with the familiar celebration of the family as comprising one man, one woman, and children – but much of the later discussion is a celebration of love and the unitive value of sex, coupled with a condemnation of the traditional obsession with procreation.

• There is also the familiar insistence that same-sex unions cannot be equated with marriage, but NO criticism of same-sex unions themselves. In fact, there are some statements that indirectly appear to accept the value of same-sex unions.

In avoiding directly satisfying either of the two competing factions, he in fact, cleverly dodged the bullet. Instead of either amending or reaffirming existing rules (for both doctrine and pastoral care), he simply downgraded their importance. Moreover, he did this not by ignoring established tradition, but by calling on it, citing extensively from impeccable Catholic authorities such as St Thomas Aquinas, and his immediate predecessors as pope, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

For LGBT Catholics, this is of fundamental importance. For far too long, we’ve been told in key Vatican documents the grossly offensive and harmful language of “intrinsically evil” and “objectively disordered”. We’ve been accustomed to fierce criticism from some quarters for contravening the Catechism. For living publicly in what is described as objectively sinful lifestyles, but what we ourselves see simply as lives of integrity and honesty in loving, self-giving partnerships, too many have been dismissed from Church employment or from pastoral ministry. Others, unable to reconcile the apparent conflict between what they know deep down to be their personal truth and Catholic teaching, have made a range of unhealthy choices. Some have resorted to suicide, others have left home. Some have made the mistake of contracting inappropriate heterosexual marriage, others have simply left the Church. Many more simply attempt to live their lives in an uneasy tension between what they know in their hearts and what they are told in church

Francis has turned all of this on its head. Widely celebrated for his first ever pronouncement on gay Catholics, “Who am I to judge?” he has now drawn on numerous strands of established and widely accepted doctrine, to reverse the question. He now asks of those who self-righteously criticize us and others in “irregular” situations, “Who are you to judge?” He goes further. In addition to questioning the right to judge others, he has changed the criteria for judgement. Where it is necessary to pass judgement (for example, on one’s own actions, or by a pastor on assessing one’s suitability for communion or parish ministry), the test is no longer is this person living in conformity with the rules, but are they living in accordance with their own well-formed conscience?.

To conclude, we leave Quest members with a single thought, and a challenge.

Everything that Pope Francis has said to change the criteria for moral judgments, and in challenging the competence of others to pass judgement in the first place, our people have been saying, for years. Buried in the lengthy text, are many other details of established but neglected doctrine that too, our people have been saying for years.

The challenge now, is to continue saying these things, louder and more insistently than ever, but for the first time, with authoritative papal backing. Predictably, neither the Bishops’ Synod Assemblies of 2014 and 2015 have changed any element of church doctrine – but the groundwork for change has perhaps been laid. A report on LGBT reaction at Bondings 2.0 notes that this is the beginning of a process, not the end. As the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics stated in their response, “If the door (to change) is still not unlocked, maybe the key is under the mat?”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
On Eve of Amoris Laetitia's Release, "A Moment of Pause and of Prayer"
An Erotic Encounter with the Divine
Quote of the Day – April 11, 2016
James Alison on the Likely "Really Big Deal" of Synod 2015
Quote of the Day – October 30, 2015
Beyond the Hierarchy: The Blossoming of Liberating Catholic Insights on Sexuality (Part 8)
"Trajectory is More Important Than the Current Status"
Quote of the Day – October 20, 2014
LGBT Catholics Respond to Synod 2014's Final Report

Related Off-site Links:
Pope Francis' Love Letter is an Opportunity Lost – Mary E. Hunt (Religion Dispatches, April 11, 2016).
Do the Pope's Latest Words on Marriage and Homosexuality Go Far Enough? Not for Me – Charles P. Pierce (Esquire, April 8, 2016).
Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia is a Closeted Argument for Gay Marriage – William Saletan (Slate, April 8, 2016).
Seven Notes re: Amoris Laetitia and the Papacy of Pope Francis as a Project to Shore Up Waning Heterosexual Male Power and Privilege – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, April 10, 2016).
Catholic Families Need More from Pope Francis – Michele Weldon (USA Today via Religion News Service, April 11, 2016).
Pope Francis' "The Joy of Love" Falls Short – Gina Messina (Feminism and Religion, April 12, 2016).
LGBT Faith Community Voices Disappointment Over "Joy of Love" – Bill Daley (Chicago Tribune, April 12, 2016).
The New Morality of Pope Francis – James Carroll (The New Yorker, April 8, 2016).


Michael said...

I really like your blog.
In relation to this article from Quest. Again and again the "Who am I to judge" reference is rolled out, but how many have actually read the full context of that comment? It comes after the Pope being questioned about a Priest whom he had appointed to a position in the Vatican. Allegations that the Priest had been in homosexual relationships when he was younger were made. All the subsequent comments related to the Priest or others having confessed their sins(in this instance being involved in homosexual relationships)and then comes the question about a Gay Priest following God and we Get "who am I to judge" but all this comes after comments about someone involve din homosexual relationships having confessed their sin!! If a previous pontiff had made the same comments the media would be leading with title of "Gay men should confess their sin"

Terence Weldon said...


Please excuse the delay in responding. I wrote the piece on behalf of Quest, as webmaster and editor of the Quest Bulletin. But as I published it at our website, and was not aware it had been republished here, I was not aware of your comment - until our chair drew my attention to Michael Bayley's not on our facebook page.

I am well aware of the full context of that comment, having gone through it carefully when first reported and since, and have just taken another look to check my memory. It is simply not so that "All the subsequent comments related to the Priest or others having confessed their sins". There are a few sentences along those lines - but that's to be expected, as it was the obvious premise of the question. The important point about "sin" though, is one has to identify what it is. Nowhere in the text does he say that being gay is in fact "sinful".

Of far greater concern to him is the first part of his famous sentence, "If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, (then who am I to judge him?)"/

He then summarizes and paraphrases the much neglected Catechism bits about the need for "respect, compassion and sensitivity", and opposition to lgbt discrimination - and describes the words as "beautiful":

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying ... wait a moment, how does it say it ... it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society" ".

Then, there was more. He went on to deny the existence of a gay lobby (which had also been part of the question), and pointed out that there are other lobbies to be taken much more seriously: "The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem".

So yes, as always it's important to look at the full context - but then, let it be the full context, which in my view is much more than the bit about sin.

Far too often in Catholic discussions about gays, people on both sides get hung up about the question of sin. In fact, this obsession totally overlooks the fact that the sexual rules occupy a relatively low place in the levels of Catholic teaching, one that (arguably) we are not actually obliged to take on board; it ignores the primacy of conscience, by which we cannot be sinning if we act in accordance with conscience; and does not take account of the sensus fideii (sense of the faithful) - a doctrine that Francis has frequently reminded us of, and which states that any teaching that does not have the support of "the Church as a whole", does not in fact qualify as authentic doctrine in the first place. I am not aware of any evidence that taken as a whole, the Church's sexual doctrines do have this support of the Church as a whole.

In my view, this whole fuss about the "sin" of homosexuality is grossly overplayed - and everything I have read about Francis remotely relating to this, suggests to me that he might agree. In effect, he's not changing Church teaching on the issue, but he's clearly moving concerns about the gays to the periphery - which is where, formally, they actually are.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Michael and Terence,

I appreciate the discussion you're engaging in.