Italian archbishop endorses a ‘new pastoral attitude’ for L.G.B.T Catholics

Archbishop Matteo Zuppi (Photo/Community of Sant'Egidio website)Archbishop Matteo Zuppi (Photo/Community of Sant'Egidio website)

Un ponte da costruire—that’s the Italian translation of the work by James Martin, S.J., Building a Bridge. We can’t help but pay attention to the two halves of the title. First of all, the word “bridge” (ponte in Italian), an expression beloved by Pope Francis, one that brings into respectful communication, potentially empathetic and full of sensitivity, two different groups present in our own church: pastors, and the entire community (both variegated and complex) of homosexual persons, which Father Martin—as he explains in the text—prefers to indicate with the acronym L.G.B.T. He uses the term without ideological intent, but instead with the desire to call these communities by the same name they have given themselves.

It’s a necessary step for beginning a respectful conversation.

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One cannot deny that homosexual persons express a variety of positions concerning their circumstances, and that many of these positions cannot be accepted by the church. Even greater is the complexity of their lived experience as it relates to faith in God, whether within the Christian community or outside of it. The church’s teachings concerning the standing of homosexual persons are clearly and synthetically expressed in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. They serve as the starting point for Father Martin, who doesn’t wish to challenge them in any way.

Archbishop Matteo Zuppi calls Father James Martin’s ‘Building a Bridge’ ‘useful for encouraging dialogue, as well as reciprocal knowledge and understanding.’ 

These teachings have not been followed up with a commensurate pastoral program—one that doesn’t simply restrict itself to the cold application of doctrinal guidelines, but instead transforms them into a journey of accompaniment. Until now, the approach has often been ad hoc,merely a quick response to the appeals (some appropriate, and others not) of homosexual persons and groups, and often with a view toward their restraint, especially for believers (instructive examples, albeit with differing perspectives, can be found in the experiences of Catholic homosexual groups, like Courageand other groups hosted in parishes and dioceses across Italy).

The words of Pope Francis in “Amoris Laetitia”urge us to adopt a wider perspective, one that translates the same timeless doctrine into new pastoral journeys. “Families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives” (“Amoris Laetitia,” No. 250). As Pope Francis has reminded us many times, in pastoral settings we are not called to content ourselves with the simple application of moral norms. We must decide instead upon a true and patient accompaniment (“To accompany, To discern; To integrate…”), one that favors the comprehension and vital engagement of the Gospel message on the part of every person, but without reducing it.

To this end, we must use a wise pedagogy of gradualism that, while taking the particular circumstances of each person into account, does not take anything away from the integrity of faith and doctrine. This is the appropriate way to exercise the church’s ministry as mother and teacher.

The intent of the book is to help pastors develop an attitude of understanding, as well as a capacity for accompaniment.

The intent of the book is to help pastors develop an attitude of understanding, as well as a capacity for accompaniment, towards their homosexual brothers and sisters. And also vice versa, because there is also the mirror temptation to close oneself off or to assume ideological positions. The book aspires to support the Christian community’s yearning for a Gospel-driven life, and to cultivate pastoral relationships that yield fruit for the Kingdom. No authentic journey of spiritual growth can leave the truth of both the Gospel and church doctrine aside; but charity and the truth of the gospel demand both availability and the capacity for dialogue.

And so yes, there is indeed a bridge that needs continuous “building”—to come to the title’s other half—with this sizable segment of the people of God, L.G.B.T. persons, who express their belonging in the church in many different ways. Doing nothing, on the other hand, risks causing a great deal of suffering, makes people feel lonely, and often leads to the adoption of positions that are both contrasting and extreme. Such “building” is a difficult process, still unfolding, as we are clearly able to see from the Italian translation.

Pope Francis again reminds us of this reality in two passages from “Evangelii Gaudium,” both very profound: “Those wounded by historical divisions find it difficult to accept our invitation to forgiveness and reconciliation, since they think that we are ignoring their pain or are asking them to give up their memory and ideals. But if they see the witness of authentically fraternal and reconciled communities, they will find that witness luminous and attractive. […] Let us ask the Lord to help us understand the law of love. How good it is to have this law! How much good it does us to love one another, in spite of everything. Yes, in spite of everything!” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” Nos.100-101).

Father Martin’s book, one of the first attempts in this respect, is useful for encouraging dialogue, as well as reciprocal knowledge and understanding, in view of a new pastoral attitude that we must seek together with our L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters. Cardinal Farrell, prefect of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, has already said it well: this book is “much-needed” and “will help bishops, priests, pastoral associates, and all church leaders more compassionately minister to the L.G.B.T. community.” Furthermore, “it will also help L.G.B.T. Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church.”

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Robert Lewis
5 months ago

I recently wrote this on the blog of a gay friend:

‘You are absolutely correct that the modern obsession with romance as the only truly meaningful purpose of life is the main factor in killing all other forms of loving relationships. Have you ever considered how the modern Christian Churches help to facilitate this obsession by playing down the Gospels’ message of the greater importance of chastity and celibacy? Christ Himself occasionally denied His own mother, and seemed to insist that He was bent on changing the very meaning of “family.” In any case, I think the closet kills, in terms of stultifying…emotionally, and I also think [you and I both] have suffered from the Church’s unwillingness to welcome gay folk publicly; a public embrace could perfectly well substitute for [your] active sex life, because it enfolds one in what can substitute for a “family” –in what, it seems plain to me, Christ actually intended to substitute for family.
Soon I will be moving to a large city wherein there are chapters of both “Courage” and “Dignity.” While I appreciate the message of “Courage,” I do not like the secretiveness that they seem to maintain on their website–nothing public but the name and telephone number of the priest to contact–no “events,” no “organizations,” no directions to supportive parishes–just the name of a priest, with the implication that “confession” is all that is needed. What is the point of a “support group” that is kept out of sight of heterosexual brothers and sisters? On the other hand, “Dignity” is much more of a fellowship, apparently.’

Earlier, I wrote THIS:
‘[Perhaps] you need to FOUND a Caholic order for queer monks, brothers and priests–and for more reasons than just to preserve chastity in same-sex relationships. With the advent of hand-held technology, the world–particularly the developed world–is increasingly a lonely place for almost everybody.

And this order of “queer” priests must include your heterosexual friends. I think this is indicated by what Mr.________ says about his family; they may be good and wonderful people, but I suspect, from what he writes, that they’re leaving him our of their family relationships, at least from time to time. The Orthodox say that no one is “saved” alone, but that we are all saved “in community.”’

And, previous to that, I wrote the following, in reply to this friend’s comment that “'a sexual being' is not a being who wants sexual pleasure. It is someone who wants intimate personal union…”:

‘I think YOU should try to organize your own [organization], so as to become a better spiritual adviser to gay men than most priests I know. It can be argued that the sublimation of homoerotic impulses makes for much greater spiritual energy than what the proponents of the “Theology of the Body” are presently imagining. That’s part of the reason I advocate that a religiously renovated (and converted) “Sworn Brotherhood,” as described by Alan Bray, in his book "The Friend," be purposefully enacted, with the implicit understanding that it exist for two reasons: for public acceptance by the Catholic faithful, that “same-sex-attraction” is natural and potentially beneficial, spiritually; and that chastity is the highest expression of such an affection, because it is self-sacrificial.

I believe that it is the Catholic organization “Courage” that posits that every gay man needs a straight friend–basically, I suppose, to “sacrifice” his libido to, It makes more sense to me than it used to…’

Until the Roman Catholic Church discards the “intrinsically disordered” formulation, accepts that “same-sex-desire” is a naturally occurring human trait (and, therefore, in a sense, “God-given”), and—most importantly—agrees that loneliness later in life is the REAL gay “human rights issue”—rather than any genital “misbehavior,” (and that it can only be mitigated by the PUBLIC envelopment of these folks in a support group with an active spiritual discipline at its core), there will be no hope either for reconciling with this sexual minority, or for fortifying the respect for and acceptance of the Church by most millennials in the West.

Ken Spreitzer
5 months ago

Hi. I find much to agree with in your comment, in both attitude and text. However, I wanted to highlight out this sentence, which I feel gets to the heart of how the Church's position is unrealistic (and unintentionally cruel): "It can be argued that the sublimation of homoerotic impulses makes for much greater spiritual energy than what the proponents of the 'Theology of the Body' are presently imagining." Man, that's easy for *you* to say! It seems to me that this is poetic mumbo-jumbo that perhaps sounds inspiring, but is completely detached from reality. (Please note that I'm not sure if you're suggesting that only *some* gay people can/should sublimate their desires, or if *all* gay people should; my comments are intended for anyone assuming the latter.)

How about if we insist that *all* straight people "sublimate their erotic impulses;" surely this would be a good thing because it would always bolster their spiritual energy, and (apparently) that's the most important thing? If you're confusing all erotic/sexual impulses with spiritual/liturgical impulses, then you're doing sex wrong. 😉

It's simply not fair to demand that an entire class of people go their entire lives without sex — or heavy-petting-but-not-going-all-the-way, or kissing, or dating, or flirting, or cuddling their partner after they had a bad dream, or even holding hands — when they have not chosen this for themselves. Indeed, the New Testament makes it clear that abstaining from this is a gift that only few are given, and which cannot be forced on others. Celibacy (chastity?) for all is preferred, and marriage is given almost grudgingly because (straight) people need it. Don't gay people have the same basic human needs?

Also, I'd like to suggest that demanding sublimation of desires will have a disheartening outcome because when people inevitably fail at this *impossible* standard, they may be made to feel insufficient and a failure. This leads to despair and separation from the Church and God. (Of course, people should feel guilty when they do something wrong, but it's cruel to set up an impossible standard and then judge people when they fail.)

Anyhow, I hope this strikes you as containing some truth. Thanks!

Robert Lewis
5 months ago

"Some"--not all; it's voluntary, but optimal. I really don't think it terms of "sin," because I've lived for too long amongst Buddhists. I call it being "skillful" with what energy you've been given to use.

Theodore Seeber
5 months ago

I assume all straight people should. Thanks to pollution, pregnancy is dangerous from time to time, and rather than contracept or abort, the Church asks married couples to abstain from sex and sublimate their desires into love for their spouse.

I don't understand why you seem to think this is an impossible standard. It's a standard we ask every priest, monk and nun to go through, it is a standard that any chaste heterosexual married couple must adhere to.

I'd say marriage is given grudgingly not because straight people need it, but because children need it; the natural end of marriage is children, not the spouses involved.

I think you have a very American view of sexuality; one that I have found in my life to be so false as to be damaging. Romance and sex isn't the end-all-be-all of life; it has a purpose, and that purpose is to create the next generation of human beings. It isn't about guilt and innocence, it's about ensuring that there IS a next generation of human beings.

Kind of paints a different picture, don't you think? Like most things in religion, what we really need to sacrifice is *selfishness*. The whole point of any religious edict is to get us to look outside of ourselves, and seek truth.

Michael Barberi
5 months ago

Let's pray that this loving intention by the Italian Bishops to engage and understand L.G.B.T. Catholics will produce meaning fruit.

As for the U.S. Bishops, they should be reminded that they are in opposition to Amoris Laetitia when then discriminate again our L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters when their dioceses fire Teachers who are gay or lesbian. It is hypocritical for bishops when their dioceses fire L.G.B.T teaches and then say in defense of their actions 'if these teachers would have kept their gay and lesbian unions private, we would not fire them'. We could argue forever why these diocese don't fire divorced and remarried teachers, teachers who practice contraception, or teachers who don't go to Mass anymore. Do these bishops really think that if any of these things would become public and known by their fellow teachers and their principal that they would be fired? I think not. The bishops and their treatment of L.G.B.T Catholics have a long way to go, and I pray that this comes quickly.

Theodore Seeber
5 months ago

What is the purpose of Catholic education, if not to teach the faith honestly? I'd say fire the divorced and remarried teachers as well, fire any teacher who teaches contraception, and yes, a requirement of teaching in the school or sending your children there should be Sunday Mass. I have no problem with enforcing moral contracts in our Catholic school teachers- in fact, I'd have no problem limiting Catholic School Teachers to celibate monks and nuns. Solves the problem entirely.

Rosemari Zagarri Prof
5 months ago

Hope you enjoy worshipping by yourself. But won't you be surprised in heaven to see all those you condemned and excluded being showered with God's boundless mercy and love?

Michael Barberi
5 months ago

Theodore,

Your position is the position of the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church where under the past two popes it was taught that being a good Catholic was to follow every moral teaching of the magisterium without any consideration to the human person integrally and adequately considered as Guadium et spes teaches. It is easy to throw stones at those who disagree and want a more welcoming, merciful and pastorally conscious Church.

My point was this: we live in a divided Church and in a crisis in truth. Even St. JP II said at least this much. However, we see a different set of rules being followed that contradict teachings. Let's get real here. No Catholic school fires every divorced and remarried Catholic nor every Catholic couple who practice contraception. Equally important, no Catholic teacher (of math or science or religion) is preaching contraception et al. Teaching the truth to young elementary school students is all about the fundamental principles of our faith, not moral theology or controversial issues.

Your 'no problem' of limiting Catholic school teachers to celibate monks and nuns is ridiculous and unrealistic.

You also missed the point that Pope Francis has said in Amoris Laetitia that there should be no form of discrimination towards L.G.B.T Catholics. If any diocese insists that every Catholic teacher sign a moral contract, lets make sure that it covers all the moral laws of the church and not cherry pick one of two of them. Of course, this suggestion will never happen and that is the problem.

Jaroslav Lunda
5 months ago

Please note you have erred. You have written "there should be no form of discrimination towards L.G.B.T Catholics" but this is not true. Instead, CCC 2358 speaks clearly: "Every sign of UNJUST discrimination in their regard should be avoided." So, there are possible some forms of discrimination which are JUST and perfectly valid: not being hired as a teacher, for example.

But it is not something bad for affected humans, quite contrary, it is great gift from God - if it leads to humility and so on. This is Christianity in its best.

Michael Barberi
5 months ago

If you carefully read my comments you would notice that I believe that firing a married gay teacher is unjust and prejudicial in particular when the policy focuses on L.G.B.T Catholics and ignores other grave sins. We can argue over what is 'unjust discrimination' but if you want to fire a teacher because his or her actions are sinful and known, then you should include all actions that are grave sins that may be known such as the practice of contraception, divorce and remarriage, etc.

How do you square the circle when Amoris Laetitia permits reconciliation and Eucharistic reception to divorced and remarried couples under certain circumstances without an annulment, when at the same time a bishop may permit the firing of such a person who is a teacher of math in a Catholic elementary school? On the other hand, how do you square the circle by only limiting the firing to gay teachers who are civilly married while ignoring other grave sins of teachers that may be known? Equally important, how is keeping a sin a secret justify employment? Is it not a known fact that 80% of Catholics practice some form of contraception and that many teachers are divorced and remarried? Are these things a complete secret and not known by their fellow teachers? Frankly, I find the idea of keeping sins 'a secret' a ridiculous reason for not being fired.

What I am doing is this: I am drawing attention to and calling for an employment policy that is fair and not unjustly discriminatory. If you cannot see the hypocrisy in such examples, then we will have to leave our argument for another time.

Jaroslav Lunda
5 months ago

Please note: we do not need to argue about 'unjust discrimination'. It was settled down in 80s and the result is simple. There are occasions in which it is perfectly valid to "discriminate" these persons - military, schooling, and so on.
Possible "hypocrisy" - and it is well possible - does not belong under Church-homosexuality relation.
Remember, it is better to stay with True than with world. World does not help you. Of course, it is not necessary simple or comfortable but crucifixion was not either.

Dolores Pap
5 months ago

Are you really saying that “some forms of discrimination which are JUST and perfectly valid:(such as) not being hired as a teacher, for example.', are justified and it is not something bad for affected humans, quite contrary, it is great gift from God - if it leads to humility and so on. This is Christianity in its best. “
I can’t believe that a practicing Catholic would have no problem with such a exclusionary, self righteous judgmental measure..
I give thanks for this wonderful pope, who is truly humble and recognizes that every single soul has the same value as any other.

Jaroslav Lunda
5 months ago

Don't be fooled. Still, he is pope.
After all, those statement is not mine. It was issued in the blue catechism and in instructions from Rome.
As for me, I greatly admire people who can combat even unjust discrimination with love.

Will Niermeyer
5 months ago

At lot of catholic Schools would close if you limit attendance to just catholic Christians or just Christians.

alan macdonald
5 months ago

Love the sinner; hate the sin.
All sexual activity outside of a marriage between a male/female is a mortal sin in Roman Catholic theology.

Jorge Luis Luaces Rabaza
5 months ago

Congrats for mastering one sin. How are you doing on the OTHER sins? You do know there are OTHER sins right? pride, gluttony, sloth, wrath, greed, envy.

Tell us how you are doing on these because frankly all Americans are doing terribly on them, including me. Thankfully I am not gluttonous (Body Mass Index less than 25), slothful (avid athlete and gym bunny), and greed (I share to a fault). But the OTHER sins? I am in trouble.

How about you?

Ken Spreitzer
5 months ago

"All sexual activity outside of a marriage between a male/female is a mortal sin in Roman Catholic theology." Well... not *quite*. My understanding is that sexual activity (within a marriage, obviously) needs to be *both* procreative and unitive.

Have you ever wanted to have sex with your wife just for fun or passion, but didn't want to conceive (another?) child? Likewise, have either of you ever pleasured the other sexually in *any* way that wouldn't possibly be open to conception? Ever used a contraceptive? Ever had sex after getting a vasectomy or hysterectomy? All of these things are morally equivalent to same-sex sexual activity.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to "it is not good for Man to be alone." Some people are born gay, and they should be allowed to fulfill their basic need for a (romantic) relationship. I just can't believe that God would make someone gay (as the Catechism acknowledges), and give them the standard set of desires and needs (not just sexual), but then condemn them if they ever tried to satisfy these God-given needs. What a cruel and unloving God that would be!

Richard Crank
5 months ago

This seems, to me, a significant improvement on the Jesuit vocation director telling me (admittedly several decades ago), “This isn’t a homo church and it never will be one.” I am unable — still — to overcome the absolute disgust and hate in his voice as he said those words.

Will Niermeyer
5 months ago

Why so much to do about whom is have sex with whom. Can we ever concentrate on gluttony! It all comes down to one sentence: Religion was not created to make you feel good about yourself and if you do then that is the sin of pride. Now if you feel bad about that then religion is working.

Mike Theman
5 months ago

One of the strategies that worked to get homosexuality accepted in secular society was desensitization. Pick your sin and apply the formula. Here are 6 steps outlined in a well-known article written in 1987 that worked in secular society and are now being employed by homosexualists in the Church:

STEP 1: TALK ABOUT GAYS AND GAYNESS AS LOUDLY AND AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE.
STEP 2: PORTRAY GAYS AS VICTIMS, NOT AS AGGRESSIVE CHALLENGERS.
STEP 3: GIVE PROTECTORS A JUST CAUSE.
STEP 4: MAKE GAYS LOOK GOOD.
STEP 5: MAKE THE VICTIMIZERS LOOK BAD.
STEP 6: SOLICIT FUNDS: THE BUCK STOPS HERE
http://www.massresistance.org/docs/issues/gay_strategies/overhauling.ht…

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