In the context to the CTEWC exchange program, I was able in September-October to spend 6 weeks of teaching, lecturing, tutoring and research at De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines. It took my local contacts in the persons of Agnes Brazal and Rito Baring a serious effort to get the application being approved by the University, but once I was there the admin part went very smooth and for the rest of the time, there were no surprises. Having a room in a condominium right next to the campus on Taft Avenue and a small office of my own with PC and printer in the vicinity of the TRED (Theology and Religious Education Departement) secretariat turned out to be a real blessing. And this part of Manila – just as probably everywhere else in the Philippines - offered many options for daily shopping and obtaining good and cheap meals.
My first task at DLSU was to teach: planned were a course on intercultural ethics and a class/seminar on moral methodology. Unfortunately, the first didn’t materialize but for the second, 9 very dedicated students were prepared to break their heads over “Living the Truth – A Theory of Action” by Klaus Demmer. I promised them ‘blood, sweat and tears’ but also a great reward… and both turned out to be true! It was very satisfactory for a teacher like me to see how the students one by one were getting into the theological hermeneutics as developed by Demmer and how they in their concluding presentations wrested with it, but they succeeded.
A second task consisted in giving three academic lectures: “Hegemonic Masculinities”; “Ethics of Care”; “Secularization” – they were well attended and also sparked some further discussion. Next to these, I was also lecturing in the religious education program where I gave a class on “Catholic Social Teaching 101” in which I managed to get the attention of the 17-18 years old who are the majority of the senior college students (around 250 in total). A second lecture for this group on “Amoris Laetitia” was cancelled because on that very day DLSU was closed in view of super-typhoon Haima and the possible massive rain and wind it might bring to Manila (in the end, it was not that bad – luckily).
During my stay, I was also invited on Wednesday October 5 to facilitate a seminar on “Gender justice” and give a lecture on “Amoris Laetitia” at the SJ Ateneo University of Manila situated in the north of Metro Manila and this also exposed me to the almost permanent traffic congestion from which this collection of cities suffers. The very dense traffic is also the main cause for the pollution which on days without wind becomes very difficult to bear. Add to this temperatures above 30°C and a humidity between 85% and 99%: I got my fair share of being in a tropical country! The seminar at Ateneo went well and as for the lecture: the room had 400 seats but students and even faculty were sitting on the stairs and standing at the sides – quite impressive. The talk was followed by a serious time for discussion which left all of us with a feeling of satisfaction and with some the dedication to get deeper into studying Amoris Laetitia. For me personally, there was also the joy of meeting with one of my former professors from the Catholic University of Leuven, Georges De Schrijver SJ who was recovering from an infection but only needed rest before he would resume his teaching at Ateneo. It was a heart breaking shock to learn on Friday morning that he passed away and the only consolation was being present at both the funeral mass and the interment – he had asked to be buried in the Philippines where he rests at the Jesuit graveyard of Manila: RIP father Georges.
At DLSU, I was also invited to give a lecture for faculty and students of the philosophy department on “The Islamic Headscarf”: again the room was not big enough and the Q&A had to be cut of… it ended by the famous phrase: please come again!
The third part of my tasks was to be a resource person for papers that were in the process of being prepared by students and junior staff. After two meetings with 10-12 participants, we continued with a more person-to-person approach and again having this office at my disposition was most useful! Arrangements were also made to continue this tutoring for a couple of students after my return home – and they do continue.
Finally, there was the project of writing an article together with members of the staff on ‘social order’ as it is perceived by students in terms of what they think would be the ideal situation and how this differs from the actual situation. The first part of this in terms of the setting up and the formulation of a questionnaire was finished during my stay; the article itself is work in progress. It was also agreed that my lecture on “Ethics of Care” will be offered for publication in the newly established DLSU Journal of Theology and Religious Education.
Next to these various ‘official tasks’, it was a joy to participate in some events at DLSU: the festive opening of the academic year, a staff meeting of TRED, the celebration of outstanding scholars, a graduation ceremony… At all occasions – and others such as birthdays or saying farewell – Pinoys make sure there is something to eat and this sharing is at the core of what struck me from day 1: hospitality in capital letters – SALAMAT PO!
In the final week, I travelled to the south and was hosted in Cebu by San Carlos University and in Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol by Holy Name University, both under the leadership of SVD. This also added to my ‘cultural exposure’ which was already very present in Manila but now got the addition of visiting in Cebu the rightly famous Jesuit House of 1730 and in Bohol the fascinating ‘Chocolate Hills’ (a real treat for a Belgian…!).
Conclusion? Nope – one cannot do justice to 7 extraordinary weeks in a few lines: do I add my conversations with street children, being crushed on the packed Light Rail Transit or getting scared in a Tricycle (I did not try JeepNeys), being baffled by the contrast between the beauty of Bonifacio Global City and the appalling poverty of the nearby shanty shelters, …? It was a grace and a blessing, including the thorny sides. And I learned about bahala na.
Postdoctoral Research Scholar- at the Jesuit Institute-Boston College
From 13th September 2016 to 9th January 2017
Sr. Anne Celestine Achieng Oyier Ondigo FSJ
In early fall semester 2016, I was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at Boston College. My significant thanks goes to Professor James Keenan SJ, the initiator of the CTEWC program for the training of African Women without whom, the postdoctoral scholarship would not have been possible. I also give special thanks to those who worked with him to ensure that the program is a reality. These include Linda Hogan of Trinity College Dublin, Orobator E. Agbonkhianmeghe, Elias Opongo, and Caro Mwangi all from Hekima University in Kenya. My Boston experience would not have had a smooth success without Toni Ross who was instrumental in ensuring I had a great experience at the Jesuit Institute.
My postdoctoral research scholarship at Boston College was a unique opportunity that offered me four months of research and academic skill enforcement. It was both an exciting challenge and a pleasure being at Boston College. The College has a friendly academic environment with vast resources and facilities that enhanced and particularly reinforced my postdoc research. Most importantly, is that this postdoc did not require any teaching and as a result allowing me to devote solely to my research. Many thanks to Rose Mary Donohue for the convent house at Boston College. Residing at the main campus, the proximity of where I lived saw me get around the college for almost everything I needed within walking distances; the chapel at St. Mary’s, the libraries, the bookstore, the classes, and the offices. I therefore planned my research goals with specific timelines for the necessary output.
In this context, I accomplished several tasks in academic endeavor. I had a brief discussory talk on the experience that led to the topic of my PhD research work and the plan I had for the postdoc period at Boston including the research topics I was to engage in. After my first article paper was ready, I gave an expertise presentation on the work surrounded by professionals, PhD students and friends in the field. The question and answer approach on the papers widened my horizon of knowledge and also helped me to intentionally narrow my research focus. The feedback was great.
With strict time management, I managed to write four papers in peer reviewed journals. I also got time to work on the possibility of the publication of my thesis. Towards this end, I whole heartedly appreciate the time taken and availability given by professor James Keenan from his very busy schedule to give top notch advanced mentored training on how to assert ideas and thoughts into an article paper, what to emphasis and why. In this sense, I acquired competencies for undertaking highly developed research work and was able to work independently and tailor my research articulating vividly the message. I moved from mainly a consumer of ideas to complexly consume and produce ideas as well. Keenan also introduced me into the writing system with peer reviewed article editors which saw me within a short time ensconced within their networks. This has widened my academic networks within the field and enhanced my professional skills deepening my scientific, technical, empirical research and independence in the field. These leadership skills obtained in research while at Boston, will be utilized me in assisting the next generation of scholars. I appreciate the time taken by Keenan to support my academic work and career development positioning me as a driver of innovative research.
Apart from writing, I attended an ethics class for doctoral and Masters students by James Keenan where I was an observer each Tuesday auditing the course on Theological Virtue Ethics. It was a very interactive class that I looked forward to each Tuesday. The class advanced my postdoc mission on ethics as a lifestyle and life long focus. It was in deed a pleasure being at Boston College.
I also participated in college and departmental scholarly life by taking part in the doctoral students’ seminars where a variety of contemporary topics and works were discussed. In these seminars, there were feedbacks and encouragement given to students in progressing with their proposals. The great experience here was how the academic community at Boston interacted between the professors and the students to bring out the best of each student. Together we advanced the scholarly cause.
The Gasson lecture series “Engaging Islam” by Professor Gerhard Bowering SJ was one of the classes that I attended widening my knowledge on foundations, beliefs and characteristics of Islam, Muslims and their faith. I also had chance to identify and attend some other conferences, talks and workshops within the college that were of special interest to me.
The attendance of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE) conference in New Orleans from 5th to 8Th January 2017 was the last function of the postdoctoral experience. I was impressed by the diverse areas covered during the conference. The address of the various social dimensions articulated issues the way they are calling a spade a spade without coloring with subtle wording. Lastly, my special thanks to all the doctoral, masters and the professional academia in the department of Theology for the cordial relationship we formed within the short time at Boston. Thank you for taking your time to attend my presentations, for your support, advice and feedback. Thank you all, it was an experience of a lifetime.
The June Issue of the FIRST is dedicated to our friend Lúcás (Yiu Sing Luke) Chan, S.J.
Here are photos, articles, and reflections as well as a Homily by James Keenan and a Eulogy by Charles Chan.
"This is my own arrangement of a traditional piece of Irish liturgical music. it was originally written as a poem by Fr. Micheál Ó Síocháin in 1916, and was later set to music by Seán Ó Riada in 1968.
I dedicate this beautiful piece of music in loving memory of my late and beautiful friend, Fr. Lúcás Chan, SJ (06/07/1968 - 05/19/2015)"
Listen to the arrangement here:
Lúcás around the world with CTEWC:
Lúcás at Padua, July 2006
Lúcás at Trento, Italy (July 24-27, 2010
Lúcás at the Bangalore Conference, July 12-15, 2012
Lúcás at the Nairobi Conference, August 21-23, 2012
Lúcás on a safari in Kenya with Fr. Andrea Vicini
Lúcás presenting a paper in Berlin, June 27-29, 2013
Lúcás Presenting a paper at Krakow Conference, 2014
|Books by Lúcás Chan
|The Funeral Mass at the Church of Gesu in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
|On Thursday 5/28/2015 the Funeral Mass of Fr. Lúcás was celebrated at the Church of Gesu in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.|
|Share your memories
|If you would like to share an article, photo, or memory about Lucas, feel free to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it will be added to our website tribute.|
|A forum article dedicated to our friend Lúcás Chan, inspiration for others to be writers of their own story - Mg. Pablo A. Blanco Gonzalez
From Antonio Autiero: Amoris Laetitia: a new way of doing moral theology?
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Just last weekend Just Sustainability was the subject of a panel presentation at the annual meeting of the College Theology Society in Portland, Oregon. The conference theme was "An Unexpected Wilderness: Seeking God on a Changing Planet," and so Tobias Winwright of the CTEWC North American regional committee convened a panel to probe such themes and mark the publication of Just Sustainability: Technology, Ecology, and Resource Extraction (March 2015), edited by Christiana Z. Peppard and Andrea Vicini, S.J., volume 3 of the CTEWC Series published by Orbis. Stay tuned for the next issue of "The First" where we will report on the panel's discussion of the book's pedagogical usefulness for infusing cross-cultural theological ethics-about the planet and from Catholic perspectives from elsewhere around the planet-into classrooms in a North American context. The panel included Nancy M. Rourke, who authored "A Catholic Virtues Ecology," Daniel R. DiLeo, who wrote "Fostering Just Sustainability through Ignatian Spirituality," and Daniel Scheid, who has written extensively on the subject elsewhere.
This month at the annual meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the "Beyond Trento: North American Moral Theology in a Global Church" interest group will continue the conversation we reported on last summer with its second of three sessions. If you plan to attend the CTSA in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, feel free to join us on Friday, June 12 at 11:00-12:45 as we further address the "The Cross-Cultural Challenge to North American Theological Ethics." Christine Firer Hinze, Anne Arabome and Victor Carmona will take up the questions of what it means for North American Catholic ethicists to recast teaching and scholarship in light of cross-cultural and global contributions and perspectives, and by what criteria to evaluate the adequacy of North Americans' engagement with such perspectives in order to safeguard against misappropriation or tokenism. The group will also launch the Just Sustainability volume at the session's conclusion.
An interview conducted for Light of Truth (Sathyadeepam) (A Catholic fortnightly published from the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, Kerala, India), Vol. 5/21 (November 1-15, 2014), Pages 3 and 13.
Change in Language Can Effect Changes
in Doctrinal Approach
Shaji George Kochuthara CMI, Dharmaram, Bangalore
What are your expectations about the Extraordinary Synod on the Family?
We do not know what the outcome could be. But, at the same time, we hope there could be some change in the approach to the whole issue and that is visible especially in the style or the language required. For example, in the preparatory document itself, there was a questionnaire inviting answers from the whole Church and not from the members of the hierarchy only; the faithful were included. So the style is that of listening to people, learning from their experience, and in that way is more open. Instead of adapting a judgmental or condemnatory style, we have an approach of compassion, understanding and openness to the problem on hand. That itself is a positive change.
Do you foresee some sort of doctrinal change?
That is possible. For example, when you speak about style or language, this is not something new in the Church. It was there in the Second Vatican Council. Historians like John O’Malley would say that the most unique feature of Second Vatican Council is the change in the style or the language, and that brought about changes even in the approach to doctrinal issues. Perhaps that style was forgotten after the Council to a great extent and the Synod is to rediscover it.
Don’t you think this new style was already in the Council and in its decrees, but the charism of the present Pope perhaps reinvented it and people started thinking along the Pope’s line?
We could see it that way. We cannot say that the others or the previous Popes completely ignored it. Somehow, it was not discerned by the people. Their emphasis was more on the doctrinal or judgmental style, and that was perhaps the impression the people got in these decades. The present Pope very consciously and very carefully uses that style and people identify it, like it and they rediscover the beauty of it.
Is it not simply the style of Jesus and the Gospels?
Surely, sometimes when we speak about the Fathers of the Church, we speak about them as very dogmatic, but many would say that even the Second Vatican Council surely reflected the language of the Fathers of the Church. They have more of an invitational style while dealing with issues and discussing them. Perhaps, with Thomism or Scholasticism, although surely it has its own merits, somehow that style was lost. More philosophical or rhetorical style was adopted and that became gradually perhaps the language of the Church.
The benchmark for teaching on the family comes from Humane Vitae of 1968. The history of the encyclical says Pope Paul VI decided in spite of the Commission’s recommendations. Now do you think this Synod will think in a more pastoral line and go beyond the benchmark once again?
The fact that the Synod is considering this issue very seriously, inviting even wider discussions, itself is a sign that somehow the Church feels the need of thinking about people. Sometimes it is said that the teaching of Humane Vitae is not communicated very clearly to the faithful or somehow there is a gap between what the Church teaches and what people practise. That itself is a recognition of the situation. But I think we have to approach or understand this issue historically also. First of all, the so called natural family planning is not a Catholic method. It is a method some doctors discovered or introduced and the Church somehow found it acceptable at that time. The natural family planning method is actually a combination of different methods like rhythm method, temperature and mucous method. These are not Catholic methods, but methods which the Church found more acceptable. At the same time, till the 20th century the Church or Christianity as a whole could never think about any attempt or method at all to limit the number of births. Perhaps for the first time in the 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii, at least in principle the possibility of limiting births was accepted. Once again no definite teaching even on the method was given. That comes only in 1951 in Pope Pius XII’s Address to Midwives. In the Second Vatican Council, the idea of responsible parenthood, that is, limiting the number of children is accepted. A clear teaching about a method is given only in Humane Vitae. That itself represents progress. But, at the same time, I do not know if it can be taken as the final teaching on the subject.
Don’t you see that kind of an approach has its echo in the present interim report of the Synod?
On the one hand the Church considers procreation or transmission of life as integral to the family. That is very clear. We cannot deny that. But what does inseparability of love and life really mean? It is also clear at least from 1930s or more clearly from 1960s, that somehow there is acceptance that a limit in the number of children could be there or has to be there.
One of the big predicaments we face is that love and life have been separated by science. They were originally inseparable, but science separated them. That created all the problems.
Isn’t there a natural separation actually?
Perhaps naturally there is a separation, but it was made easy and available through scientific procedure.
Yeah, but what is the norm for distinguishing between natural and artificial? That itself is a big theological and philosophical issue.
We are going to interpret natural law in a broader concept, aren’t we?
Also, SOME theologians would say today that St. Thomas’ interpretation of natural law was often misinterpreted, because traditionally we speak about the primary and secondary ends of marriage; primary is procreation and secondary is love. Now, normally, how do we understand the term primary? That it means more important. But that was not the real meaning given by St. Thomas, it is said. By primary he perhaps meant something that is common to all animals and secondary as that which is specific to human beings. That is love and it is the unique feature in marriage or sexuality. Somehow that was misinterpreted by subsequent theologians. So, even the concept of natural law has to be correctly understood. Many of the principles of natural law were developed or formulated on the basis of the scientific knowledge of those days. Now, when the scientific knowledge changes, should we hold on to the norms based on the old scientific knowledge? I am not saying that we have to change all the ethical norms according to scientific knowledge. We have to consider a number of factors. Actually, a number of surveys were conducted in preparation for the Synod. In many places, 80 to 90 percent of the married couple who are really faithful Catholics find it difficult to practise, and support natural family planning. We cannot say that for all these faithful procreation is not important or they do not give value to any of the Catholic principles. Whether teaching changes or not, the question is, how we can understand these people and how we can dialogue with them. The so called Gospel of the family doesn’t appear a Good News for them when we insist too much on rigid principles. How it actually will become a Gospel for them, that is the real question.
Do you expect some sort of a reinterpretation or a better understanding of what Pope Paul VI did at that time?
I believe that at least there will be a beginning to open up and understand better how the concept of responsible parenthood can dialogue with the real experience and difficulty of the people in their actual life situations. I hope that attempt will be there.
That will create better situation where the teaching of the Church will become Gospel to the married people.
Yeah. Whether it is a secular teaching or not is not the primary question; rather, it is whether people are listened and whether they are understood.
Even in India, we know well the situation of our own married sisters and brothers. The Pope’s approach tells that we have to teach them, guide them and help them in the family life showing a different attitude.
Yeah, that is the question: how do we communicate? It is not merely the message that we communicate; how we communicate is equally important. Change in the language or style is very important. That is why for the Synod the first step is listening. Only by listening we can look into Christ. From there, we begin the discussion. Whether the immediate step to follow is decision making, that I do not know.
How do you see the issue of the divorced and remarried couples in the Church? Though this may not be a big problem in Kerala, it is a real problem in the Western countries and even in Africa.
On the one hand, we believe in the indissolubility or inseparability of marriage. Based on Jesus teaching, we believe that a marriage is an inseparable union, but at the same time even in the Biblical times or in the Bible itself we find some kind of exceptions. For example, in 1Corinthians 7 St. Paul says that ok, this is the teaching, but at the same time on my own authority I say that there may be some situations of exceptions, which we often refer to in technical language as the Pauline privilege. Even in the practices of the Church and in the traditions we find it. Even today, the Orthodox churches and the Eastern churches practise that based on the approach of compassion or, as they call it, the second chance. They give a possibility. That is why on the one hand we believe in indissolubility and on the other hand we consider what is to be done in case a marriage fails due to human fragility. Here again the question is not one of ignoring the basic principles or values or the Catholic understanding, but an attempt to be near to people who are already suffering. So what can we do? Surely, many bishops also have publicly asked for a change. For example, late Cardinal Martini was publicly asking for some change even before Pope Francis took charge. What change I do not know, but at the same time we feel that a change in the approach to these couples should be there. For many of these couples, Christian principles are very important and they want to continue in the sacramental life. So, what can we do or how can we respond to these people who are already suffering? That question has to be answered I think. Now I have known personally many couples who really suffer these situations and who really want to be active members of the Church. How do we respond in their case? The Synod is already recognising that there are situations where a return to the previous marriage is no more possible, for example, the remarried already have children in the new marriage. So, what is to be done? These are real questions and in India we have started facing it. People already have started saying that Bangalore is also the divorce capital of India.
It happens in priesthood. It is tolerated. So why don’t you use that in the case of married people?
That is one way of understanding the issue. One difficulty is that in our pastoral care of the family or married couples, we don’t have any programme. We don’t have any clear plan on how they are to be accompanied. We don’t foresee things. When problem crop up, we throw up our hands and say we cannot do anything. So that itself has to change. That is why pastoral care of the family is made a main focus of the Synod. Now I could not go to the extreme of what could be implied in your question that after ten years or twenty years there will be or there can be radical changes so that we can think of a short time commitment instead of a perpetual commitment in the case of marriage as a whole. We cannot hold to such extreme views.
A parallelism exists between a laicized priest and a divorced couple, except that children are involved in the latter. Do you consider it a serious matter?
Although there does exist such a parallelism, there is a difference: in the case of a priest, apart from the commitment to the Lord, there is also commitment to the community. In the case of marriage the commitment is to a particular person or two or three persons including the children. Sometimes, the injustice or the suffering caused to them is more severe. I think first of all we need to change our judgmental attitude. Very often we say that marital problems are caused because one partner is just seeking pleasure or the other partner is just ignoring his or her partner, looking for someone more beautiful. Very often the reasons are very different. As I already said, there are changes or development in the personality or difficulties in the communication, sometimes as a solution some other relation is sought, not just for reasons of finding pleasure. Such kind of understanding of the complexities involved need to be developed. Not that we have to accept every situation or we don’t need any norm, but there is a need for more understanding and compassion.
There are same sex partners and transgenders in the Church. They even appear in public media demanding their rights and some accuse that they are not considered part of the Church. What should be the approach towards them?
That is a very complex and controversial issue to deal with. Now, here again one of the major focuses in sexual ethics is the concept of natural law. In the preparatory document, in the questionnaire and also in the instrumentum laboris of the Synod, we can find it. Very often we say homosexuality is “against nature”. The concept of natural law is very difficult to understand. Now, when we say “against nature” another question that immediately should come is, have you understood human nature completely? It is in the process of evolution, not the human nature but our understanding of it. Our understanding of human nature is still evolving. Now, with regard to homosexuality, why do we say that it is “against nature”? Very often it is because of the sexual roles of man and woman. So, between man and man or woman and woman, often it is said, the sexual act itself is against the natural process. Another aspect to be considered is procreation. If in the sexual act, procreation is not possible, it is said to be unnatural generally. So, there are different ways of understanding “against nature”. Again, the basic question is that of the need for human intimacy and love. Even today, in the scientific field I don’t think that there is a clear understanding of the causes of homosexuality. Some would say that there is some genetic or biological basis, but that is not proved. Some would say that there are psychological reasons but we do not know. In some cases it may be changed, in some cases it cannot be changed. Even in the Vatican documents we find different positions. For example, sometimes it is said that these people have to be changed or cured through counselling or psychological treatment. In some other documents they would say that there are incurable situations. So what should these people do? With regard to the percentage of these people, some would say that it is only 2%, some others would say more than 10%, because many do not reveal their real sexual orientation due to homophobia. We do not have clarity with regard to this. If somebody has a particular same sex orientation and if he or she finds it difficult to be changed, what is to be done? What about the needs of love and intimacy of these people? These are questions to be answered. On different occasions Pope Francis himself has made this comment: who are we to judge? Even in the interim report we find we have to approach these people with compassion, but, at the same time, with prudence. Whether the solution is immediately recognising gay unions, that we cannot perhaps say. More important than that is how their need of intimacy and love can be responded positively by the Church. These are questions to be addressed, because there are people who suffer because of them. No discrimination should be there and they should experience the compassion of Jesus through the Church. So, it becomes very important to consider how we can become more compassionate towards who are caught up in special situations.
By: Celso Perez
The recent assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family has brought renewed attention to Catholic approaches to gay and lesbian persons. During the synod, church leaders discussed pastoral and theological perspectives regarding the place of homosexual persons in the church, and church teaching vis-à-vis homosexuality. Given the text of the midterm report and the final report, called a relatio, much of the conversation focused on the extent to which homosexual persons were welcome within the church and in local parishes.
Despite a significant opening in dialogue, the synod discussions made relatively little mention of the violence that sexual and gender minorities regularly face in communities around the world. (In this essay I use the term sexual and gender minorities as a shorthand to refer to all individuals who identify as something other than heterosexual or cisgender.) Sadly, violence is still a lived reality for Catholics and non-Catholics who fail to conform to certain expressions of sexuality or gender. International entities like the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have noted alarming rates of physical aggression against these individuals. Additionally, in at least 76 countries, laws still criminalize particular expressions of sexuality and gender. These laws often make people vulnerable to prosecution by the state, as well as to attack and persecution by members of the public. Governments often use sexual and gender minority groups as convenient scapegoats for social, political and economic ills, thus increasing their vulnerability.
Growing awareness of such discriminatory practices underscores the importance of having Catholics reiterate a message of care and nonviolence toward these individuals when discussing issues of sexuality and gender. As church leaders have noted, these calls are consistent with Catholic doctrine on the dignity of all human beings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls on Catholics to treat “homosexual persons” with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” (1986) mandates respect for the intrinsic dignity of each person in word, in action and in law and condemns violence against homosexual people. While some church leaders and faith communities have stressed a message of dignity and respect, many others have not. In recent years, both religious and lay Catholics, through their actions and words, have promoted policies and practices that seem to contribute to a climate of indifference or even hostility, in which violence against members of sexual and gender minorities can occur.
Since his election in March of 2013, Pope Francis has repeatedly voiced his concern for the most vulnerable people in society. In his first apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” the pope emphasized the need to “draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ.” The pope cited Jesus’ example in Matthew 25, explaining the need to identify with the downtrodden. In less formal public statements, Pope Francis has frequently repeated this message as central to the Christian life.
Pope Francis seems to have been applying this concern for the vulnerable to his treatment of sexual and gender minorities. In summer 2013, when asked about gay priests in the church, the pope famously replied, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” In a subsequent interview published in America, he elaborated on these remarks, emphasizing the need to love and accompany gay people, not categorically reject and condemn them.
Other church leaders have more explicitly spoken out against the physical violence and harassment experienced by sexual and gender minorities. Last summer, for instance, the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya, Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo, stressed that while the church does not approve of homosexual conduct, it recognizes and respects everyone’s individual dignity. In the wake of growing reports of anti-gay violence in parts of Africa, the archbishop said that “homosexuals should be defended against violation of their dignity and human rights; they are human beings like any one of us.” In Brazil, the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of São Paulo, a group composed of both lay people and clergy, strongly condemned the alarming number of attacks against sexual and gender minorities reported in the country.
Others have spoken out against laws criminalizing sexual acts. Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, has openly criticized India’s anti-sodomy law. After India’s Supreme Court reinstated the law, the archbishop was quoted as saying that the church “is opposed to the legalization of gay marriage, but teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity as every human being, and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse.” According to the archbishop, this includes the criminalization of consenting sexual acts between people of the same sex, because the church “has never considered gay people criminals.”
Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica, and Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice, have made similar comments regarding the criminalization of sodomy in Dominica and Uganda, respectively. Bishops in South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Ghana have called on Catholics this year to stand with the powerless in the face of draconian legislation being passed around the African continent.
Numerous Catholic communities have also embraced sexual and gender minorities, creating a safe space for them in the church and in society at large. In the United States, for instance, an unofficial survey by Catholic groups found over 200 “gay-friendly” parishes across the country. U.S. priests have reported growing acceptance of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (often grouped together under the acronym LGBT)—particularly among younger parishioners. Even church leaders who have publicly opposed same-sex relationships on moral grounds have called for respect and compassion toward LGBT people. In New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan welcomed the move to allow LGBT groups to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. Cardinal Dolan, who has publicly opposed same-sex marriage, will be the parade’s grand marshal next year.
Similar trends have also been observed in Europe. Earlier this year, the bishops’ conferences in Germany and Switzerland published reports on the beliefs and practices of parishioners. The reports were based on extensive surveys of German and Swiss parishes and were put together in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the Family. In both cases, parishioners voiced considerable support for homosexuals. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops’ conference, has said that the church “has not always adopted the right tone” toward homosexuals, and he has promoted a more welcoming approach.
The meaning and scope of unjust discrimination against homosexual persons is still subject to debate in Catholic circles. But church teaching suggests that, at a minimum, this includes a need to refrain from and condemn violence against people on account of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender expression. As Catholic leaders have noted, this includes the criminalization of consenting sexual behavior among adults.
In 1986, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church’s pastors wherever it occurs.” Subsequent teachings by local bishops’ conferences, including a letter by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reiterated this message of condemning violence.
While this message is not official teaching, the Holy See has also publicly opposed unjust criminal penalties for homosexual people. In 2008, at the U.N. General Assembly, the Vatican representative publicly stated that it “continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges states to do away with criminal penalties against them. Governments should do away with unjust criminal penalties.”
Although the statement did not give examples of these unjust criminal penalties, the Vatican spokesperson pointed out that they include “not only the death penalty, but all violent or discriminatory penal legislation in relation to homosexuals.” At a United Nations side event in New York in 2009, the Holy See reiterated its opposition to all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual people, including discriminatory penal legislation that undermines the inherent dignity of the human person.
Despite these positive examples, many Catholic leaders and communities have ignored or seemingly contravened the church’s stated position toward sexual and gender minorities. Instead of upholding church teaching on sexual ethics while decrying violence and a respect for human dignity, many have remained silent in the face of terrible atrocities committed against vulnerable minorities.
In Cameroon, for example, human rights organizations have routinely reported on citizens who are arrested and prosecuted simply for “being gay”—ostensibly determined by their dress, mannerisms or personal tastes. Organizations that work to defend the rights of sexual and gender minorities face horrific attacks. Last year, a well-known human rights activist, Eric Lembembe, was brutally tortured and murdered.
Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Cameroon has not only failed to denounce these deplorable acts; he has actively contributed to an environment of hostility toward sexual and gender minorities. In February 2013 Archbishop Kleda joined a group of Catholic legal professionals to publicly endorse the government’s criminalization of homosexuality. During a panel discussion with jurists, the archbishop cited a passage from Lv 20:13 that calls for the death penalty for sexual relations between two men. In Cameroon’s penal code, a person who engages in “sexual relations with a person of the same sex” can already face a prison term of up to five years.
Since 2006 politicians in Nigeria have debated a series of statutory measures that would criminalize same-sex civil marriage, impose harsh penalties on same-sex couples and even criminalize participation in a group that advocates the rights of sexual and gender minorities. Earlier this year, in a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan on behalf of the Nigerian Catholic Church, Nigerian clergy praised a new law that imposes severe criminal penalties on public displays of affection between people of the same sex as “courageous and wise.” Nigerian church leaders have made no effort to condemn violent attacks against sexual and gender minorities after the law was passed earlier this year.
In Uganda the Catholic Church has wavered in its position on a similar bill. In December 2009 Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga opposed Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which initially proposed the death penalty for same-sex sexual acts. Archbishop Lwanga called the bill “at odds with Christian values” like “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” At the time the Holy See also condemned the bill as unjust discrimination. In June 2012, however, a coalition of Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches asked the Ugandan parliament to speed up the process of enacting a version of this same bill.
The Ugandan bill was passed in early 2014. It contained provisions calling for more severe sanctions against people who engage in homosexual acts, including life in prison. The bill also criminalized related offenses like the promotion of homosexuality and the “attempt to commit homosexuality.” Human rights groups reported an escalation in evictions, violence and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities after the bill became law.
Rather than condemn these attacks, several Ugandan bishops categorically supported the legislation during their Easter homilies. Some came close to tacitly endorsing—or at least excusing—acts of violence. Archbishop Lwanga has more recently published a manuscript noting the need to respect and care for homosexual people, yet as of this writing, the Ugandan church as a whole has done little to condemn the abuses that sexual and gender minorities face. While the 2014 law was struck down by Uganda’s Constitutional Court in August, Ugandan lawmakers have proposed a similar bill, which they intend to pass before the end of the year.
In the Caribbean, the archbishop of Kingston, Jamaica, Charles Dufour, has also refused to condemn both the endemic violence sexual and gender minorities face in Jamaica and the Jamaican government’s criminalization of private sexual acts between consenting adults. In recent years, human rights organizations, the Organization of American States, the U.S. State Department and other governments and organizations have criticized this violence. Beatings, police brutality, torture and murder of people in sexual and gender minorities are commonplace.
As in other parts of the Caribbean, local advocacy groups are challenging Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law. When asked by advocates to clarify the Catholic Church’s position on the criminalization of consensual acts between same-sex partners, Archbishop Dufour said he felt no “need to make any special declaration” regarding the debate in Jamaica. Archbishop Dufour, however, did call attention to the vilification and persecution of religious groups that oppose rights for sexual and gender minorities. Such statements are disheartening. Archbishop Dufour and other leaders in the Jamaican church missed an important opportunity to give substance to the Holy See’s position.
The statements and actions of church leaders have a profound impact on the social environment in which people belonging to sexual and gender minorities live. Church leaders need to distinguish between morally condemning certain acts and relationships and implicitly or explicitly condoning violence and persecution. The failure to do so not only contravenes church teaching, but contributes to a climate of hostility that threatens lives. In the upcoming year, the Synod of Bishops will continue to discuss the church’s family pastoral practices. As church leaders continue to discuss the morality of same-sex unions and whether homosexuals are to be welcomed into the church, they would also do well to condemn clearly and categorically the violence that sexual and gender minorities face in communities around the world.
It will undoubtedly take some time to assess the work of the 2014 Synod of Bishops. In order to promote the openness of episcopal debate, there was very little information made available during the actual event. Even its public documents, the midterm relatio and the final ‘message’, went through doubts about proper translation and created a certain confusion because of the tension between the content of the texts and the reports that many bishops refused to approve them.
The little reporting that did emerge during and immediately after the Synod gave the impression that there were basically two topics being discussed: the status of divorced and re-married Catholics and the Church’s policy with respect to homosexual persons. Neither issue was resolved, but two, somewhat surprising impressions were created.
The first was that, despite the pastoral approach that Pope Francis seemed to be calling for, some of the bishops appeared to be more concerned with the canonical (legal) issue of whether divorced Catholics could be admitted to the sacraments than they were about looking after their spiritual needs.
The second, regarding the ‘welcoming’ of homosexual persons, must, of course, be seen against the background of the wide divergence of opinion on that issue in diverse parts of the world. Not only the bishops, but large portions of the faithful have clearly defined attitudes toward homosexuality that no one could reasonably expect to be overcome in a meeting of two weeks.
What is surprising here is some bishops’ reluctance openly to welcome homosexual persons into the community of believers. If the church is founded upon the teaching and example of Jesus Christ taken from the gospels and the witness of the early community, how could one hesitate for a moment to embrace any child of God wishing to join in worshiping the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
The elephant in the room
The issue that many people thought would play a major role in the discussions, however, hardly seemed to surface. The teaching on the regulation of fertility, something that needs to be addressed by any couple seeking to practice responsible parenthood, has been an issue of contention for a huge portion of the faithful for generations. The relatio gave the impression that the teachings of Paul VI in Humanae Vitae (1968) and that of John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio (1980) had settled the issue and that nothing more needs to be said.
Have none of the bishops attending the Synod noticed that there has been a ‘lively debate’ (in the words of Paul VI) raging on this topic for the past 45 years? While many of those bishops may believe that the only thing necessary is to explain the teaching clearly, the simple fact is that many, many people – including clergy and other bishops – do not agree with the teaching.
The automatic response to this observation – that ‘teaching’ is not dependent upon majority opinion – is inadequate, for it fails to address the very essence of this kind of teaching itself, namely to communicate with and hopefully to convince one’s audience that what is being taught is important for the well-being of the community and its individual members. If there is a message here, in either of the documents referred to, that the standard teaching on contraception is beneficial for the community, it is evident that most of the members of the community simply do not get it. No such message has been ‘received’.
The understanding that a teaching needs to be received – the doctrine of ‘reception’ – is a traditional position of most of the Eastern churches. Though it is frequently referred to by many theologians, especially those who specialize in the study of the church itself – ecclesiology – most bishops are either unaware of it or believe that it somehow undermines their authority. The idea that an un-received teaching might in fact be an inappropriate teaching doesn’t seem to have occurred to the episcopal college.
Acknowledging that such a specific teaching has not been received is only the first step in dealing with this issue, for the bishops should then have felt compelled to ask why this is the case. Pretending that it is merely a matter of people’s inattention, or perhaps their unwillingness to ‘obey’, is no excuse for not asking what has gone wrong here.
Examining the elephant
Many have observed that the failure of the teaching on the regulation of fertility has undermined the credibility of official teaching in the entire area of sexual ethics. The traditional standpoint about not having sex before marriage seems to carry little weight for many – and not simply younger – persons. Then, we should count it as a positive sign that in most instances even the clergy have given up trying to scare young people with the threat of eternal damnation for an act of masturbation.
Beyond such traditional issues, the church’s leadership still has not even acknowledged the existence of a wide variety of non-coital sexual practices engaged in by many Catholic couples. This hitherto ignored range of human behavior used to be treated as a universal taboo, with the tacit agreement that we simply would not talk about it. More open, and yes, we should admit perhaps often too lax, standards of decorum have not only made such activities discussable, in many circles they have led to the realization that many forms of sexual encounter are in fact considered by many people to be an intimate part of married love-making.
However, the core of the issue at hand is not a more detailed examination of sexual mores. It is, plain and simple, the manner of reasoning that previous popes have used to defend their condemnation of ‘artificial contraception’. At the heart of that thinking are two fundamental ideas, one brand new (in 1968) and the other pre-conciliar, upon which the entire teaching rests and which are in dire need of re-examination.
The first of these is the statement in Humanae Vitae, 12 that there is an “inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning.” This statement, which can now be traced back to the early writings of John Paul II when he was still Karol Wojtyla in Poland, has no foundation in the traditional teaching of the church.
Going back to St. Augustine, it is easy to trace a line of thought that claims that the only ‘justification’ for an act of male sexual climax is the potential (some would even say intention) to bring about the conception of a child. Later, pastors and moral theologians had to ignore this teaching to accommodate the ‘weaker’ members of the faithful who might be tempted to have sexual relations even though a pregnancy had already been established. But the teaching stood for nearly 1500 years and can even be detected in the statement cited above.
But where can one find an explicit statement by the teaching authority of the church that marital sexual relations had anything to do with love – presumably the ‘unitive’ meaning – before the encyclical of Pius XI in 1930, Casti Connubii? As far as the exact terminology is concerned, I have as yet to see any evidence of a ‘unitive meaning’ in church teaching before 1968.
The second and more important idea that underlies the difficulties for the reception of this teaching is the notion that one can conclude that a sin has taken place merely on the basis of the description of a physical activity. Presumably, if there is something that is non-good, dare we say ‘evil’, connected with what we do or fail to do, one already has sufficient grounds for declaring the presence of an ‘objective sin’.
To reinforce this notion, some people like to add the adjective ‘intrinsic’ to their observation that there is something amiss. Thus, an ‘intrinsic evil’ may never be done, no matter what the circumstances or the intention of the acting person.
Does this mean that there are two kinds of evil, one intrinsic and the other … pedestrian? Can we further conjecture that the things not labeled ‘intrinsic evil’ may very well be done, like killing, imprisoning, depriving persons of consciousness or their legally earned money, or failing to disclose the activities of a pedophile? Is there one kind of evil that may never be done and another kind of evil that one can justify with a good reason? And how does one tell the difference?
In theological terms, this second idea supporting the condemnation of artificial contraception is referred to as a ‘method’ of (moral) reasoning. It is a method that was widely used in moral theological textbooks before Vatican II. It was thought to have been abandoned after the council because it was too mechanistic, too legalistic, and certainly not scriptural. It was a form of reasoning associated with natural law – an approach that was consciously avoided in the later conciliar documents, especially by Gaudium et Spes which only uses the reference to address matters of international politics.
If the leaders of the church wish to take on these issues in a fundamental way, they need to do much more research into various methods for pursuing moral theology. Perhaps they should listen to some of the moral theologians whom they have been attempting to silence since the appearance of Humanae Vitae. The episcopacy has nearly another year before they come together again and take up these issues under the gaze of a faithful who will be expecting much more than they received in October 2014. Much work needs to be done in preparation for 2015.