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At a European conference on the emancipation of homosexuals in The Hague, an Amsterdam alderman has called for all religious leaders in the world to take their responsibility regarding the acceptance of homosexuals and transgendered people.
“As long as the Pope and most Muslim leaders do not accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation, millions of people will consider violence against gays, lesbians and transgendered people to be justified,” Andrée van Es (pictured), who holds the diversity and integration portfolio in the Amsterdam city council, said. This sweeping generalisation, putting religious leaders in all their diversity in the same corner, is not only a gross misrepresentation of reality, but also a worrying example of the imposition of one society’s political philosophy on others.
Writing as a Catholic and as a blogger with some knowledge of Catholic teachings on these matters, I will limit myself to the Church and her faith, leaving Muslim thoughts about homosexuality aside.
To begin with the very first words of the statement quoted above, I must explain that the Church does accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation: she accepts that it exists, that people can experience sexual attraction to people of the same gender. However, she does not accept it as a true expression of the ordered nature of man as created by God. That is why she will always be opposed to same-sex marriage, for example, as it is an impossibility. However, that is far from the same thing as advocating violence against homosexuals. The Church always upholds that ancient teaching of hating the sin, loving the sinner. Whatever a person’s sexual orientation, he or she has an innate dignity and should always be treated in accordance with that dignity that all men have been given. The Church will always defend that dignity, which is most visibly in her pro-life attitude, but also in her pastoral relations between individual faithful, laity and clergy alike.
However, and this is an important distinction that is often misunderstood or overlooked, this loving understanding of people’s equality in their human dignity is far from the same as accepting everything a person does (not is or has, but does). Indeed, when we love someone, we are bound to correct that person if he or she makes mistakes, and we should guide and help them in their lives, whatever the difficulties are that they may face over the course of it. Be it illness, poverty, social issues or a disordered sexuality, we must be there to stand with them, help them in their lives, to achieve the fulfillment of life as God has willed it. We are people with a purpose, created for that purpose, and God has given us the possibility to achieve that purpose, to live in unity with Him for all eternity, despite the obstacles and barriers that we find on our path. He has given us the means to overcome them, and we often find those means through the help of others.
That reality governs the actions of the Church. God has willed to reach out to us through her, that she may be there to lead us to Him. As members of His Church, we are called to make that possible. We do so through the love that Christ has showed us, and that is not a sappy kind of love which sees everything through rose-tinted glasses and accepts everything. No, that love wants the best for its object: us. And therefore it guides, corrects, teaches.
The Church accepts reality, but does not accept that that is all there is. We can and must always strive for something better, for the very best. God is that very best, and He is what we strive for.
All of the above commits us to something which is not easy, certainly not in our modern society. It can come across as discriminatory, hateful even. But just like a parent correcting a child, there can be no hate between God and man. The Church does not hate homosexuals. She loves them like she loves all men, and she teaches them through the faculties given to her by the Lord, in love, like a parent teaches, guides and sometimes has to correct a child.
When suggesting someone to do something, the first step to is to make sure you know what you are talking about. Ms. van Es has clearly failed to do this, as she so clearly links the Pope, and thus the Catholic Church, to violence. A cursory search soon comes up with Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
In 2008, while offering some criticism, the Holy See welcomed
“the attempts made in the statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity – presented at the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2008 – to condemn all forms of violence against homosexual persons as well as urge States to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them” [source].
In 2009, the Permanent Mission to the UN reiterated much the same sentiments:
“The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. The murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State” [source].
Three quotes found through a short search via Google and Wikipedia. Ms. van Es could and should have known much better.
Photo credit: Gemeente Amsterdam
While giving an address and participating in a debate about blasphemy at the ULB University in Elsene, Brussels, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard was assaulted by four women of the notorious action group ‘Femen’. Topless, they splashed him with water from bottles shaped like the Blessed Virgin. They had slogans written over their bodies that were intended to protest homophobia, but had the main effect of insulting people.
It is clear that notions like respect and freedom of speech, and even of civilised debate, are only applicable to people with the same opinions as these women. If you disagree with them, you are open to assault and insult, and to them that is fully justified.
In the meantime, a more civilised audience will recognise this as sheer lunacy and even a dangerous development. This women do not care about individual rights, they care about being right. It is very selfish behaviour. Perceived rights trump everything, from the rights of others to the integrity of and respect for their own bodies.
And Archbishop Léonard? He let the water fall, kissed one of the bottles as the women were removed and continued with what he came for. Exemplary.
Photo credit: BELGA/Benoit Doppagne
With the conclave approaching rapidly, and Dutch Cardinal Wim Eijk being the sole voting Dutch cardinal, Amsterdam-based priest Fr. Pierre Valkering writes an ill-considered open letter to him, published today in populist newspaper De Telegraaf.
He writes to urge Cardinal Eijk to vote for a candidate who will change Catholic teachings on sexuality, and, as he admits in the opening paragraph, he is writing “based on my own understanding of [the] Holy Spirit in these matters.” Already there does a main problem become clear. As faithful Catholics, clergy or laity, we do not, first and foremost, act on our own understanding of the Spirit, but understand Him through the Church. Any personal understanding (or misunderstanding) must always be considered in the relationship between God and His people, as the one can’t contradict the other: God won’t be telling His people as a whole one thing, and tell an individual something else altogether.
Fr. Valkering criticises the previous Popes’ promotion of sexuality finding its fullest fruition within the marriage between a man and a woman who are open to new life. “All other forms of sexual experience, heterosexual and homosexual, are rejected.” This, he says, gives the vast majority of people the message that they don’t live properly. This, too, should not be surprising. It has become not done in modern society to criticise anyone about their personal life, but isn’t that what jesus Himself also did? Isn’t that what teaching is? Correcting people if necessary and teaching them what is right and wrong? The Church has been tasked with the same thing, and that has nothing to do with rejecting people. And if a person has a crisis of conscience about such matters, as the author writes about later, the right response is not automatically to disregard or change the teachings of the Church and follow your own wishes and desires. If you accept Christ as the Teacher you want to follow, you must also be open to letting Him teach you, even when the lesson is perhaps difficult to understand. The right course of action is then to try and find out why it is so difficult. Only then, by bringing our own motivations, conscience and obstacles to the light of Christ, can we start the process of change that Christ desires for all of us. And no, that is not always easy. But with trust and faith in the Lord, we know it is right.
Fr. Valkering continues,
“In an increasing number of countries, and certainly in the Netherlands, [...] the balance between the “moral right” and the sympathy in public opinion undoubtedly falls to people who live in all openness and honesty, even if they do not life in conformity to the Church’s sexual morals.”
This is a very slippery slope, and basically subjects the unchanging truths that Christ taught us to the wishes and opinions and, even vaguer, the feelings of the people. As if these truths are somehow changed as people think differently about them. As people of faith we profess that reality and truth are not what we make ourselves.
“People of the Church, on the other hand, make that same Church and everything she stands for implausible and unattractive when they do not really show themselves in their personal thought and action concerning sexuality, but do measure and judge the people who are honest and open, and do not approach them with the respect [...] that every person has a right to.”
As Christians and as people who strive to better ourselves we can’t sit down and adapt ourselves to our failings which keep us from following Christ in our actions and our entire being. But that is what Fr. Valkering is proposing. He essentially says that people can’t help who they are, that teaching people that they can change, that Christ asks us that, is akin to a lack of respect. That is, of course, rather at odds with what our faith has taught us over the centuries.
We must always respect and love our neighbours, regardless of who they are or what they do. However, criticising actions (or lack thereof) is never the same as criticising a person. Teaching a person that change is good and possible does not put a person down, but rather elevates him.
There is one thing that I will give Fr. Valkering credit for, and that is accusation that some workers in the Church can be hypocritical when they teach people about change but refuse it in themselves. But if a teacher has a failure, we can’t conclude that his teachings are incorrect, but we can ask ourselves if he is the right person to do the teaching.
Twice today did unexpected statements from Church leaders make headlines, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Cologne’s Cardinal Meisner was deceived into stating that the morning after pill would be allowable in some cases, or so a leading physician claimed. And the Pontifical Council for the Family’s Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia (pictured) spoke against discrimination of homosexuals and the rights of those who live together in other ways that marriage, which was picked up by some as if it was some major change in Church teaching. Archbishop Paglia also stated that his words were manipulated.
While many media undoubtedly have an agenda in reporting on the Church and what she teaches, I think this also points towards a problem that still exists in Church communication, both on the global and the local levels: We simply are not clear enough.
Archbishop Paglia’s situation certainly points in that direction, while Cardinal Meisner’s is more a case of acting on incorrect information. In both cases, however, we may speak of communication gone wrong. Whether the miscommunication is based on misinformation or a lack of clarity is secondary.
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the cardinal and the archbishop for their efforts to clarify Catholic teaching. I simply that more care is in order when such efforts are undertaken. Ours is a message that is quite specific and not always easily grasped in a headline or quote. If we want to share the Good News, we must not only take it into account, but also our audience, and that audience is one used to short sound bytes and catchy headlines. Careful academic expositions about some sensitive subject (such as contraception, sexuality or marriage) have their place and audience, but do not always, or rather rarely, translate well into the media
Instead of limiting ourselves to lamenting the state of modern media, we must make use of it. It is a tool that we too can, and should, use. And that use includes guarding ourselves against possible misinterpretation, having ways to efficiently correct media and audience if necessary, and having the knowledge available to communicate what is true.
The markedly strong-chinned Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán marks his 80th birthday today and so looses his position as a cardinal elector. There are now 118 electors remaining.
Born in Toluca in Mexico’s heartland, Javier Lozano Barragán attended seminary in Zamora and subsequently studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, earning a doctorate in theology. In 1955 he was ordained to the priesthood.
Returning to Mexico, Fr. Lonzano Barragán taught dogmatic theology and history of philosophy at the seminary of Zamora. He later headed the Pastoral Institute of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference.
In 1979 he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of México with the titular see of Thinisa in Numidia. In 1984, Bishop Lozano Barragán was transferred to Zacatecas to become ordinary there. After twelve years, he once more returned to Rome as President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance of Health Care Workers. Two months later, at the start of 2007, he was granted the personal title of archbishop.
Pope John Paul II created him a cardinal in his last consistory, in 2003. Cardinal Lozano Barragán received the title church of San Michele Arcangelo. In 2009 the cardinal retired as president of the health care council. He remained a member of the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, the Congregation for Causes of the Saints, and the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses until today.
Cardinal Lozano Barragán made headlines several times, mostly in defence of life. He is strongly opposed to abortion and euthanasia and received criticism over his stance on homosexuality, although he never advocated discrimination towards homosexuals. The cardinal anticipated Pope Benedict XVI several times, in his advocacy for a quick beatification of Pope John Paul II, and also in his alleged preparation of a report which would state that the use of condoms would be a lesser evil if one of two partners was infected with HIV. That report was never published, and the pope would later state that the use of condoms could signal a moral improvement on the part of the user.
After some badly timed computer issues, I’m back on the blog. Hopefully it won’t be indicative of the rest of the year!
Closing the year off on a high of 7,723 views in December (the highest number since June), here’s an overview of the ten best-viewed blog posts of that month:
1: Kerstgroet aan de Curie: 1,015
2: Papal attack on the Nativity ox and ass: 125
3: Does the Pope support the killing of gays?: 122
4: State of the Church, 2012 – or the media’s failure at reporting the truth: 68
5: ‘Bel Giorgio’ takes over the household: 66
6: Nieuwjaarstoespraak 2010 van Paus Benedictus XVI: 58
7: Het probleem Medjugorje: 55
8: In Regensburg, a new bishop in the style of Benedict: 53
9: Why am I Catholic?: 47
10: College of Cardinals: 39
Because of its importance, remaining at the top of the blog for now: what the pope really said in his Christmas address to the Curia.
In the Dutch media today, the first reports came in that the pope didn’t actually say anything about homosexuals or gay marriage. This after gay rights association COC asked the government to take steps against the Holy See, a number of Catholics quite loudly announced they were now ‘de-baptised’ and some even suggested we should stop sending flowers to the Vatican for Easter…
Much damage has been done, not least in the hearts of people, faithful and others, who assumed they could take media reports seriously… Sadly this was not so, as preconceptions and agendas took precedence over factual reporting. As the issue remains current (strikingly enough, mostly in the Netherlands), this post will remain at the top of my blog, in order to easily access the text of Pope Benedict’s address.
Edit [3 January]: Although most of the initial debate and outrage has died down, it is clear that much ignorance about what the pope actually said, coupled with unawareness of the meaning of what he did say, still exists. In part, this is due to people, unavoidably, forming opinions which they have no reason to change, but a significant cause is also the failure of the Church herself to be clear or to clarify, or, if necessary, to protest strongly. I don’t think the Holy See should have come out with any fo the kind since the outrage is quite exclusive to the Netherlands. But the authorities within the Netherlands should have done more than a single five-line statement with links to the English text and the Dutch translation available at rkdocumenten.nl. While availability of the texts is important (hence my own translation linked above), it is not enough to explain and clarify the lies and faulty assumptions in media reports.
I found that many people still act surprised when informed that the media reports were, in fact, completely incorrect. A sure sign that not only we, as Catholic faithful, must enter into debate and conversation about these topics, but that the institutional Church as a whole should do likewise. I think the latter dropped the ball here.
Bold headlines in the news yesterday. A brief selection from the ones I came across: “Pope wants to unite religions against gay marriage“, “Pope: Homosexuals destroy human nature“, “Pope: Gay marriage bad for future of family” and “Pope considers gay marriage threat to world peace“.
What was the reason for this flood of headlines? Pope Benedict XVI’s annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, often considered to be the Holy Father’s ‘State of the Church’ address. In it, he looks back on the past year, summarising some of the high points and expounding on the general trends and topics that he considers significant. This year, the pope spoke about his visits to Cuba, Mexico and Lebanon, the International Meeting of Families in Milan, the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation and the Year of Faith. The bulk of the text, however, is a reflection of gender and the family, and how the understanding of both is interconnected and how they have changed in recent years. Rather than the male and female nature of humanity as a God-given reality, gender is now treated as something we can decide for our own. ”Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will,” the Holy Father writes.
A second topic is that of the dialogue between religions and what form it should take, and a third issue is that of the proclamation of the Good News. Especially the latter passages can be considered good food for meditation and prayerful reflection.
Upon reading the text, something which I strongly suggest you do (be it in English via the link above, or in Dutch) you will find that not once does the pope raise the topic of homosexuality or marriage, or any combination of both. The headlines I mentioned above are therefore strongly deceptive, the product of willful ignorance, laziness or suggestive reporting.
This is a very serious issue. When the media so easily chooses pandering to what they perceive the masses should think about a topic, in this case the pope, over reporting what was actually said and done, they have become unreliable sources, little better than paparazzi and gossip magazines. The text of the address in question was available online on the very same day it was read out, in seven languages no less, and although it requires some concentration, it is not a difficult one to understand. There is really no excuse for reporting these untruths. Sadly, many readers will accept what these media write without question, assuming they write what is true.
It is up to as, as Catholics faithful to the Church and the magisterium, to correct these wrongs, because, quite simply, no one else will. That is why I worked hard to present a Dutch translation so soon, and publish it quite visible on Facebook on Twitter. The truth not only deserves, but also must be known. What the media failed to do yesterday not only hurts us and the Church, but also the truth.
More than two years ago, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, suggested in a different context that we should not rely on what the secular media tell us if we can read what the pope himself actually said. That is no less true in this case.
There’s been some upheaval in various media about Pope Benedict XVI allegedly blessing Ugandan politician Rebecca Kadaga and thus supporting the proposed law which she supports, a law that would punish homosexuals in Uganda with either life imprisonment or the death penalty. In order to discover if the Holy Father truly supports such draconian measures against people with same sex attraction, let’s take a look at what really happened.
Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament Kadaga attended last Wednesday’s general audience. She was in Rome for an international meeting. At the audience she was able to shake hands with the pope and exchange a few words with him. This is fairly standard, as a selection of politicians, bishops and other people usually briefly meet the pope at the end of the Wednesday proceedings. In essence, it is an opportunity to say hello and exchange some well-wishes. The Holy Father may bless individuals, I imagine when people ask him to, although he also offers his blessings over all who attend the audience before meeting with individual. The brief meeting is pertinently not an official discussion requiring support for or condemnation of anything.
What does the blessing in this case mean? In the first place, it is not a sign of approval. Secondly, it is specifically granted to either an individual or a set group (for example, the attendants of the general audience). A blessing is the granting of Gods mercy and strength to a person. Ideally, a blessing will help someone in doing or saying what is right. It is not a computer program overwriting someone’s intentions and actions, but it may well help in realigning someone according to God’s will. In the case of the Rt. Hon. Kadaga (although it is not clear if she was indeed blessed by the Holy Father), it is hoped that the blessing she received will help change her mind.
The Catholic Church supports and upholds the sanctity of life, all life, regardless of age, sex, skin colour or, indeed, sexual preferences. The death penalty, for example, is incompatible with this. A legal bill that would allow the killing or imprisonment of people for the sexual orientation (or skin colour, sex, age or whatever) should then be opposed by Catholics.
But does the Church then not oppose homosexuals? No, she does not. She does, however, criticise homosexual acts. Not the person, but his or her actions. This is an important difference, and easily understood. Acts have consequences, even legal ones, but people have an innate dignity which must be protected.
So no, Pope Benedict did not give his blessings over the proposed bill that would so harshly punish homosexuals. He did greet the Ugandan delegation, received a gift from them, and possibly blessed the persons making up the delegation. The persons, not their actions.