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Kevin ClarkeJune 30, 2016

The fallout continued this week following the pope’s suggestion that the church should apologize to gay and lesbian people during his flight home from Armenia on June 26. (In fairness, Pope Francis also said an apology was due from the church “to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labor…for having blessed many weapons.”)

In a development which may be related, on June 29 Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius, which broke away from the church following Vatican II, firmly squashed suggestions that the society was considering a rapprochement with Rome. In a communique released by the society, he said it would abandon any further dialogue with Rome, noting continuing doctrinal error that the society could not overlook and complaining that Pope Francis was sowing too much confusion in the church.

But not everyone is confused. The pope’s call for Christians to offer an apology to gay and lesbian people was also carefully welcomed this week by Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. “I think it opens up a very helpful pathway to dialogue and hopefully healing,” he said. Pope Francis, Bishop McElroy said, brings to this dialogue with L.G.B.T. Catholics who feel marginalized by or alienated from the church a “renewed and deepened focus on the questions of accompaniment and the mercy of God for all of us.”

“We all walk together in a life of virtue and discipleship,” Bishop McElroy said, “and all of us fail at times.”

He adds: “We have to begin to incorporate that mercy into the depths of our hearts and souls in ways that are going to be uncomfortable for us…. We all need to be shown mercy; it is something that binds us together, not differentiates us.”

“What we need to project in the life of the church is ‘You are part of us and we are part of you.’ [L.G.B.T. Catholics] are part of our families.”

That is not going to be an easy process, he acknowledged. It is one that will require preparation and “a lot of discussion and accompaniment and reflection in the church.” Bishop McElroy emphasized that he does not mean that reflection and accompaniment should be limited to L.G.B.T. Catholics. He said all members of the Catholic community who will be struggling with the idea of apology and welcoming gay and lesbian Catholics will similarly require accompaniment and reflection.

In the past, he argues, diocesan and parish leaders have struggled with two tendencies regarding L.G.B.T. people: “whether you had to sacrifice fidelity to the teaching of the church or sacrifice effective outreach to the L.G.B.T. community.”

“My own view,” the bishop said, “is that much of the destructive attitude of many Catholics to the gay and lesbian community is motivated by a failure to comprehend the totality of the church’s teaching on homosexuality.”

That teaching includes the conviction that “moral sexual activity only takes place within the context of marriage between a man and a woman.”

But “that’s not a teaching which applies just to gay men,” Bishop McElroy said. “It is teaching across the board and there is massive failure on that.”

Bishop McElroy argues that all Christians are called to a life of virtue, in emulation of Christ. Chastity is among the virtues of that life—others include self-sacrifice, service and piety—and it is an important one, “but it does not have the uniquely preeminent role in determining the character of a disciple of Christ nor one’s relationship with the church” that some may believe, according to Bishop McElroy.

Finally, and most poignantly in light of the recent attack in Orlando on a gay nightclub that claimed 49 lives, the totality of the church’s teaching includes the understanding that all Christians are “called to build a society in which people are not victimized or violence visited upon them or unjustly discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.”

The bishop noted “a human but destructive tendency to exclude and label people as the ‘other,’ but the accompaniment that Pope Francis teaches points away from that” in a manner that can help root out violence and unjust discrimination against L.G.B.T. people. Bishop McElroy adds, “In fairness Pope John Paul II reiterated this many, many times.”

The bishop appreciates the notion of an apology as an opportunity “to try to really create an understanding and a reality in the life of the church that members of the [L.G.B.T.] community are welcome, and genuinely so.”

A practical step toward the apology by the pope, Bishop McElroy thought, might be a re-evaluation of the language the church uses in even talking about L.G.B.T. Catholics. “We are not talking about some group or person who is the ‘other,’ he said. “It has to be language that is inclusive, embracing, it has to be pastoral.”

While The Catechism of the Catholic Church on homosexuality and other teaching on pastoral care for L.G.B.T. Catholics deplores violence or unjust discrimination against people who are gay or lesbian, it also describes homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered.”

Bishop McElroy thinks that phrasing ought to be carefully reconsidered. “The word ‘disordered’ to most people is a psychological term,” he explains. “In Catholic moral theology it is a philosophical term that is automatically misunderstood in our society as a psychological judgment.” He thought the term evidence of “very destructive language that I think we should not use pastorally.”

Another relatively easy step for most dioceses to take by way of institutional apology would be “to seek to collaborate with those in society who are working to banish discrimination and violence leveled against people because of their sexual orientation.”

He added, “The church has already been doing that, but we have to step it up.”

Some church leaders may worry that the pope in his recent comments on outreach and apology to gay and lesbian Catholics may be moving too quickly, too far ahead of his flock. Bishop McElroy is not so sure, noting the many Catholic families he has met with have been longing to hear something positive about the church and its pastoral relationship with L.G.B.T. Catholics. “When I go out and meet with laypeople,” he said, “so many of them have family members, brother and sisters and sons and daughters, mothers and fathers who are gay or lesbian.

“For them it is a great and painful thing to feel excluded from the life of the church, and for that element…we are not moving fast enough.”

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Barry Blackburn
7 years 10 months ago
While in the seminary and studying Theology at the Toronto School of Theology in the early 1970s I asked my Scripture Professor (while we were beginning the Epistle to the Romans): "Is St Paul (in Romans 1) condemning homosexuality or its abuse ie homosexual rape etc.?" After a pause, he muttered "this again (or something like that) St. Paul is condemning homosexuality." Being Gay myself I felt hurt because I was hoping for some exegesis and commentary/context etc. I disagreed with the professor and felt like running out of the room as a dramatic gesture of disagreement. I stayed put and chose patience and hope for change. I still stay put after 42 years but active to complete or build on that change that is now happening in the Church. For 40 plus years I've joined our LGBTQ Catholic community by being Church not waiting for the Church to grant me some sort of permission. Faith like the "mills of God" grind "exceeding small" ie God's Grace is at work in all of us who witness to our Faith.
7 years 10 months ago
Beautiful comment Fr Blackburn. Thank you for being Christ for those marginalized by church members, 75% of whose clerics at a minimum are closeted homosexuals. Thus we pray for us all
Tim O'Leary
7 years 10 months ago
Guillermo - where do you come up with the 75% figure? Here is a recent formal study from the National Health Interview Survey (recently published in JAMA. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2530417. They inverviewed just under 70,000 people. 1.65% claimed they were gay or lesbian. So, you jump from under 2% in the general populatin to 75% of priests. Is it wishful thinking, or do you think you can make an argument out of pure prejudice?
Joseph Sciambra
7 years 10 months ago
My take on this matter, as someone who not just studied the life, but who lived it: https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/should-the-catholic-church-apologize-to-gays
Tim O'Leary
7 years 10 months ago
Joseph - What a thoroughly honest article. It should be required reading for every bishop, priest, religious and lay Catholic who wants to opine on this topic. The damage being caused by feel-good philosophy, sloppy theology and fantasy science to so many of our brothers and sisters who are ideologically trapped in the so-called “L.G.B.T.Q.I.A… “community” does indeed deserve an apology. But, so many of our priests and bishops simply lack the courage to tell the truth and deal with the blowback. They feel compelled to subordinate the fullness of the teaching to the political pressure, and are hurting so many in the process. Years from now, there will be much questioning on how wrong they got this.
Tim O'Leary
7 years 10 months ago
Bishop McElroy starts well, with Church teaching that “moral sexual activity” can only be in marriage between a man and a woman” and “that all Christians are called to a life of virtue, in emulation of Christ” including chastity, “self-sacrifice, service and piety.” But, then he runs for cover or political orrectness, going well beyond what the Holy Father said, somehow associating faithful Christians who adhere to Church teaching on this matter with the Islamic jihadi-inspired Orlando massacre. He decries “the destructive tendency to exclude and label people as the “other” but then uses the segregating label of L.G.B.T. – a sure way of manufacturing an “other.” Of course the call to a chaste virtuous life is for all Christians, and not just “gays” but why raise such a straw man and then call it “a massive failure.” I know of no one who says the call to chastity is just for homosexuals. The Orlando massacre has been sanitized from its Islamic jihadi connection – the central motivation in the atrocity – into a cause célèbre, just like the Matt Shepherd tragedy. In both cases, the motivations have been completely mischaracterized (the Shepherd killing was a gay-on-gay drug-related crime) in order to use the tragedy for political advantage. The Orlando victims were human beings first and last, killed because they were Americans by an ISIS-inspired killer in a very “soft target”. Their ethnic background, sexual interests, age, sex, etc., were beside the point. Does anyone believe the killer would have held his fire to distinguish the sexual orientation of his victims while he focused on his supposed target? No, he tried to kill everyone there.
7 years 10 months ago
I often marvel at how people castigate homosexuals while failing to realize they are in their midst: their relatives, their priests and bishops, catechists, teachers, pharamacists who dispense the medications the pontificators necessitate due to their prideful, slothful, gluttonous life choices (cardinal sins), and the many more members of society who fear being discovered as gay. Gays are in our midst everywhere we go, often serving our very families who beg for mercy. The irony of it all is striking.
Tim O'Leary
7 years 10 months ago
There seems to be a campaign in this journal and the general secular media to distort what the Holy Father said. He did not make a suggestion, as in “pope’s suggestion that the church should apologize to gay and lesbian people.” He also never used the word lesbian and most importantly, never used the LGBT acronym. It was his questioner (Cindy Wooden) who brought up the apology idea from Cardinal Marx (the pope said “Marxian” - a pope joke, Cardinal Marx said "homosexual, not gay or LGBT!). The Holy Father responded by first reiterating the teaching in the Catechism. He also stressed the moral legitimacy of Christian opposition to the homosexual political agenda. He then emphasized that we must accompany (he never says condone) those who have that “condition” (later edited to “situation”) who want to lead a moral life (“has good will and seeks God”). He then turned Ms. Wooden’s phrasing around and said all who do not accompany those who are exploited (gay, poor, women, children, war victims) should ask for forgiveness (“Christians must ask for forgiveness for many things, not just these.”). He brings up Mother Teresa as the ideal example of how to accompany the inflicted in a really Christian way. This journal has completely missed this context, accidentally or otherwise. Here is a link to the pope’s comments for those who have good will and seek the fullness of what he said (it is at the end - the ninth & last reporter question):http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/full-text-pope-francis-in-flight-pr...
Jimmy Chonga
7 years 10 months ago
This pope appears to be casting the nets over the shallowest waters; but, i don't see the "marginalized" coming to church; rather, i see the marginalized justifying their lives of sinful endeavor now empowered by papal blessing.

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