Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, OFM, Conv. of the Diocese of Parramatta, Australia, has been a leading voice in the Pacific region of the globe in regard to welcoming LGBT people in the Church. At his installation Mass in 2016, he called for better pastoral responses to LGBT people and criticized the language of “intrinsically disordered” used by church documents. And in the recent postal plebiscite on marriage equality in Australia, he advised Catholics to vote their consciences, noting the long history of discrimination against LGBT people.
The National Catholic Reporter recently carried an article about an August 30, 2017, talk decrying clericalism that Bishop Long Van Nguyen gave to the National Council of Priests of Australia meeting. The talk was recently published in the Council’s journal, The Swag. (The published text of his talk is behind a pay wall on the site, however, the National Catholic Reporter article quotes the speech extensively. You can read their excerpts by clicking here.)
Following the style of Pope Francis who frequently criticizes bishops and priests for clerical attitudes and practices, the Australian bishop urged the assembled priests to become servant leaders. If the following section of advice were implemented even somewhat, I think we would see great improvements in regard to the institutional church’s relationship with LGBT people. The news article reported the bishop’s comments:
” ‘Unless we have the courage to see how far we have drifted from the vision of Jesus, unless we are prepared to go beyond the symptoms and explore the deeper issues that lurk behind the surface, unless we genuinely repent of our sins and face up to the task of reclaiming the innocence and powerlessness of the servant-leader, we will have failed the test of our integrity, discipleship and mission,’ he said.
“Van Nguyen added, ‘When privilege, power and dominance are more evident than love, humility and servanthood in the church, then the very Gospel of the servant Jesus is at risk.’
“He urged priests to see their ministry as a counterweight to the human lust for power and domination, to stand, like Jesus, with the outcast and the vulnerable.
” ‘If one can detect the direction of Pope Francis’ pontificate, it has something to do with the movement from security to boldness, from being inward looking to looking outward, from preoccupation with the present status and safeguarding our privileges to learning to be vulnerable, and learning to convey God’s compassion to those who are on the edges of society and the church,’ said Van Nguyen.”
“He asked that priests be willing to ‘bridge the yawning gap between the ideal and the real, between what the church teaches and how the people respond.’
” ‘The new wine of God’s unconditional love, boundless mercy, radical inclusivity and equality needs to be poured into new wineskins of humility, mutuality, compassion and powerlessness. The old wineskins of triumphalism, authoritarianism and supremacy, abetted by clerical power, superiority, and rigidity, are breaking,’ he said.”
The bishop’s comments are an important reminder that it is not only church teaching and language about LGBT people that needs to change in order for their to be a better relationship between pastoral leaders and sexual/gender minorities. The attitudes and approaches of clerical leaders also has to change. In fact, a change in attitude is very likely a needed prerequisite for any change in teaching and language. Until church leaders recognize that they do not have all the answers in regard to gender and sexuality, and then listen humbly and compassionately, the possibility for doctrinal change will remain a very distant hope.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 15, 2017