Who’s Who? A Look at the LGBT Records of Global Bishops at the Synod on Youth

With the Synod on Youth now underway in Rome, Bondings 2.0 explores the LGBT records of a sampling of delegates from outside the U.S. The following bishops are just a sampling of the 300-plus delegates participating in the Synod (a full list is available here). It is unclear if and how LGBT issues will be addressed, who might be the key bishops involved in any discussion, and what the outcomes will be. For an analysis of U.S. bishop-delegates’ records on LGBT issues, click here.

I noticed a trend while compiling this post. While exceptions remain, many bishops have developed significantly on LGBT issues in the past five years under Pope Francis. Bishops who were somewhat positive have become more bold, some bishops who were gay-negative have grown, and other bishops have joined the conversation. If Pope Francis has changed nothing else in the church, at least he is having a wide and deep positive impact on the global episcopate, encouraging a number of new voices.

Bishop Nicolò Anselmi, auxiliary of Genova, Italy.  In 2017, Anselmi in his role as diocesan vicar general, participated in that city’s prayer vigil for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints.  As deputy in the Secretariat of State in 2016, Becciu reprimanded an Italian priest for claiming  that horrific earthquakes in that country were “divine punishment” for the legalization of civil unions. He said such beliefs are “dated to the pre-Christian period and are unresponsive to theology of the Church because they are contrary to the vision of God offered to us by Christ who revealed to us the face of God’s love, not a capricious and vengeful God.” In 2016, Becciu also tweeted, “How much sadness on the pope’s face when I read him the news of the two married ‘nuns’!” in response to reports that two former Italian nuns had entered a civil union.

Bishop Patricio Buzon of Bacolod, Philippines.  Buzon once said, “It’s now okay to kill; to allow couples to go on divorce; honor the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community; tolerate same-sex union, among others, where I am scared of these present situations.”

Cardinal Kevin Farrell

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family, and Life. As the Vatican point-man on family life, Farrell’s words hold added weight when it comes to LGBT issues. Most recently, this past March, the cardinal rejected a women’s group’s request to hold a meeting on Vatican grounds as it had done in the past in part because some of the planned speakers were LGBT advocates, including former Irish President Mary McAleese and  Joanita  Ssenfuka Warry, a lesbian Catholic activist in Uganda. Farrell has endorsed Fr. James Martin, SJ’s, book on LGBT issues in the church, and seemed to re-affirm such a bridge-building approach when asked by Bondings 2.0 about LGBT pastoral care during the 2018 World Meeting of Families. However, as one of the lead organizers of that event, he remained silent about the exclusion of LGBT Catholic exhibitors despite saying earlier that no one should be excluded from the Meeting. Farrell has rebuked publicly some U.S. bishops who used Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia to release guidelines restricting the involvement of LGBT Catholics in the church. He directly called out Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput (a delegate at the Synod on Youth) for doing so.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia. Fisher has been a harsh opponent of LGBT equality, especially amid Australia’s long debate over marriage equality. After legislators legalized same-gender marriages in 2017, the archbishop called it a “horrible year.” He said the postal survey results preceding legalization which showed popular support for equal rights were wrong because some Australians did not participate and that many pro-equality voters had been pressured to do so. Before the survey, the archbishop mailed hundreds of flyers to churches and published articles against marriage equality in an effort to encourage Catholics to vote no. It is reported that he threatened to stop archdiocesan business with companies which came out in support of marriage equality. At a 2015 Mass, he said LGBT advocates sought to “silence any alternative to thesilence any politically correct position. . .to bully us all” who oppose equal rights. In 2014, he said marriage equality would lead to polygamy and incest. Fisher referred to the Synod on the Family as a “dangerous strategy.”

Cardinal Oswald Gracias

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India. A member of Pope Francis’ inner circle, Gracias has a positive record on LGBT issues. Before India’s Supreme Court struck down a law criminalizing homosexuality this year, Gracias had repeatedly spoken against the law. A participant in the Synod on the Family, he told Bondings 2.0 that his message to LGBT people is “The church embraces you, wants you, needs you.” Towards the end of the 2014 Synod, Gracias was asked whether lesbian and gay people were welcomed to the church. He replied, “The answer is an unequivocal yes. Of course they’re welcome.”He has directed his priests to speak more sensitively about LGBT issues, and met with LGBT Catholic advocate Ruby Almeida to discuss pastoral outreach. However, he has said that marriage equality is a threat to the family.

Bishop Stephen Lowe of Hamilton, New Zealand.  Earlier this year, Lowe told young adults at a church gathering that “young people are prophets of the Church” when it comes to seeking a deeper engagement between LGBT people and church leaders. Homosexuality, he said, was a “Galileo moment” for the church because the institutional church “has got to engage with the science and engage with the experience of couples with same-sex attraction.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland. Martin’s record is somewhat mixed. Earlier this year at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, he rejected the validity of “ex-gay” conversion therapy. He also said the institutional church “struggles to find a language by which it can relate to people,” including LGBT people. A delegate at both the 2014 and 2015 sessions of the Synod on the Family, Martin’s English language group at the latter session affirmed the need for the Synod’s final document to acknowledge homosexuality, but wanted it to be clear that same-gender unions are not marriage. He met with LGBT Catholic advocates in Ireland ahead of the 2015 Synod. Back home in Ireland, Martin has repeatedly affirmed the primacy of heterosexual relationships. When it comes to the nation’s marriage equality referendum, the archbishop’s record is again mixed. He publicly criticized Cardinal Raymond Burke’s characterization of the Irish people as “worse than pagans” for voting to legalize marriage equality, saying he “wouldn’t use that language.” Preceding the vote, he said religious liberty was being threatened but also publicly critiqued a fellow bishop who compared homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany. Marx, who is one of Pope Francis’ closest advisors, has had an ambivalent record on LGBT issues. He made headlines at the beginning of 2018 for offering what seemed to be an endorsement of blessings for same-gender unions, however several weeks later he clarified he did not in fact support them. Responding to a 2015 report from German lay Catholics which called for such blessings, he both condemned the blessings while affirming the need for discussion. In another 2018 interview, he appealed for the church to help form but respect people’s consciences, applying that teaching specifically to homosexuality. A key player during the Synod on the Family, Marx was a voice for greater pastoral outreach to LGBT people, but his support was again confusing at times as when he called for the church to take “a differentiated view” of homosexuality. Most positively, Marx said in 2017 that church leaders should focus more on how the church has aided homophobia, instead of putting so much energy to oppose marriage equality, which he himself opposed. In 2016, he called for the church to apologize to LGBT people days before Pope Francis made a similar statement.

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry, Northern Ireland. McKeown has taken a largely pastoral approach to LGBT issues. Ahead of Ireland’s 2015 marriage equality referendum, the bishop said, “I would hate for people to vote no for bad reasons, for sort of bigoted reasons, for nasty reasons, for bullying reasons. People have to make up their own mind, and I’m quite happy that they can do that in front of God, be it yes or be it no.” He has also said church leaders need to dialogue with reform-minded priests, like Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery and the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, as a way of being “willing to go way beyond our comfort zone” and “be constantly reaching out.”

Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier

Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, OFM, of Durban, South Africa. Napier is notably gay-negative. Last year, he tweeted approvingly about a book promoting “ex-gay” therapy. During the Synod on the Family, he opposed suggestions to change the language used about LGBT people in church teaching so that it would be more pastorally sensitive. He has previously claimed,  “I can’t be accused of homophobia because I don’t know any homosexuals.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster (London), England. Nichols supported same-gender civil unions as early as 2011, and has said he “rejoiced” at growing LGBT equality even though the church would remain “obstinate” in its teachings. In 2018, he restored ties with the U.K. LGBT Catholic group Quest, and has shown support for London’s LGBT-friendly Mass, which his diocese sponsors. At the Synod on the Family in 2015, Nichols commented on the Synod’s failure to seriously address homosexuality, saying, “I’m afraid that it didn’t get the attention that I would have hoped but I understand why,” noting that LGBT issues are highly political. Nicholas has, however, shown he needs to learn more about transgender issues given his comment that the world has less stable assumptions about life because of changing views on gender. That said, his representative for LGBTQI outreach, Monsignor Keith Barltrop, has said the church should fully support a transgender person who decides to transition.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. While not making headlines on LGBT issues since Pope Francis’ election, back in 2005 the cardinal said the church in his archdiocese would not baptize babies of same-gender couples. Two years later, he issued a surprise apology on behalf of the church for ways in which the institution had allowed discrimination against lesbian and gay people.

Archbishop Paglia

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Paglia, who is also the chancellor of the conservative John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family and formerly head of the now-defunct Pontifical Council for the Family, is notably transgender-negative but more open to lesbian and gay people. In 2017, he claimed that “transgenderism” was really about “the acquisition of greater power and the satisfaction of our own desires” related to people who are “maddened with dream of omnipotence” of playing God.  Since at least 2014, he has been critical of so-called “gender ideology.” But when it comes to LGB people, he has taken a more pastoral approach than some peers, saying at the end of the Synod on the Family in 2015 of people marginalized by the church, “We continue to walk together, to support and stimulate each other in this path where every journey and every seed of goodness must above all be valued and supported, whatever the story of the wearer.” Paglia called for same-gender couples to be protected legally back in 2013. He made his opposition to the criminalization of lesbian and gay people known then, too, and re-affirmed it in 2014. Also notable, he praised the ABC television show “Modern Family,” in which a gay couple with an adopted daughter are prominent chraracters, saying the show depicted the complex realities of family life today.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State at the Vatican. Parolin described Irish voters’ passage of marriage equality in 2015 as a “defeat for humanity,” and has said it was “essential” that Italian law reflect a difference between same-gender unions and marriage.

Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat on the Economy. Pell, who is facing criminal sexual abuse charges in his home country of Australia, has advocated a strict doctrinal orthodoxy on homosexuality rather than a pastoral approach. He organized a conservative letter signed by several prelates during the 2015 Synod on the Family that criticized Pope Francis and the process. In 2011, Pell said homosexuality was a “flaw” in a carpet maker’s otherwise perfect carpet.

Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, SDB, of Tegucigulpa, Honduras. Maradiaga, a close advisor to Pope Francis and a top Latin American church official, said in 2016 that a “gay lobby” existed inside the Vatican. Speaking about the 2015 Synod on the Family, the cardinal labeled suggestions that church teaching on homosexuality could change  as”crazy,” and said treating LGBT issues is “very complicated” given the staunch opposition to equal rights that exists in some places.

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Liturgy and the Disciple of the Sacraments. Sarah is among the most vocal and harshest opponents in the church onLGBT acceptance, especially on transgender rights. He criticized Fr. James Martin, SJ’s, book on LGBT issues in the church through a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Sarah has frequently condemned what he describes as “gender ideology.” At the 2016 U.S. National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, the cardinal said transgender rights are “demonic” and marriage equality is a “poison.” During the 2015 Synod on the Family, Sarah said the LGBT rights movement had “demonic origins” and compared it to Nazism and fascism.  Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo, who was part of the press corps at the 2015 meeting in Rome, deemed Sarah’s comments the Synod’s “most homophobic remark”.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, OP, of Vienna, Austria. Schönborn is a mostly positive voice when it comes to LGBT issues. In 2017, he said that the church must meet and welcome all families where they are, including same-gender couples, but also said that Austrian courts would be denying reality if they legalized marriage equality as it “ultimately harms everyone.” Schönborn has been involved with HIV/AIDS advocacy, leading a World AIDS Day memorial service last year, and previously acknowledging his friendship with a gay HIV/AIDS activist had “melted  away” prejudices against lesbian and gay people. In a 2015 interview, he called a close friend’s same-gender relationship “an improvement” as they share a life together, even if it is considered irregular by the church. After the 2015 Synod on the Family, Schönborn admitted LGBT advocates were likely “disappointed” by final report, but said “cultural differences must be respected.” At the 2014 Synod on the Family, Schönborn spoke about a same-gender couple that “was saintly” because of their love and care for one another. He has previously expressed support for civil unions, and in 2012 reinstated a gay man to a parish council after the local pastor had rejected him. Schönborn is a noted advocate of gradualism, and has said Amoris Laetitia does in fact show church teaching develops.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta. Scicluna’s record on LGBT issues has been somewhat positive in recent years. He called for the church to respect lesbian and gay people back in 2013 while still an auxiliary bishop. He called a lay Catholic’s claim that same-gender relationships are solely about lust, not love, “a caricature of the Church’s teaching on gay relationships.” He added, “Gay people are not called to marriage which is the permanent union between one man and one woman open to the gift of parenthood. . [but] they are indeed called to chaste friendship and chaste friendship is chaste love.” He elsewhere has said of LGBT people’s relationships, “Love is never a sin. God is love.” At other times, Scicluna did not punish and even affirmed the LGBT outreach ministry of a priest who blessed a same-gender couples union in 2015, said the church should apologize to LGBT people even while opposing civil unionscondemned the harmful practice of “reparative therapy” with an apology for a church report which supported it, and participated in the International Day Against Homophobia. For this work, the Malta Gay Rights Movement sought to award him for his LGBT-positive work, though the bishop declined. Still, Scicluna has remained a firm opponent of marriage equality and is reported to have said Pope Francis was “shocked” at the idea of gay couples adopting.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines. In 2015, Tagle told a gathering of young Catholics that the church needed to learn from the damaging attitudes and acts it had inflicted on marginalized groups, including lesbian and gay people.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development. At the 2015 Synod on Family, Turkson told Bondings 2.0 that lesbian and gay people should not be criminalized, and that countries where homosexuality is less accepted need more education. He criticized a proposed criminalization law in Uganda the year before, though this position was a reversal for his initial support of the “Kill the Gays” bill. He has simultaneously held the myth that Western aid money to developing countries has been withheld over LGBT rights. In 2015, Turkson had a meeting with representatives of English LGBT Catholics. In 2013, he said gay priests were a cause of the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, Italy.  Zuppi wrote the preface for the Italian edition of Fr. James Martin, SJ’s, book on LGBT issues in the church, saying it was “useful for encouraging dialogue, as well as reciprocal knowledge and understanding.” He also affirmed Martin’s decision to refer to LGBT people with the terms they use to call themselves  (e.g., lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender), saying it was “a necessary step for beginning a respectful conversation.”

Throughout October, Bondings 2.0 will provide coverage direct from Rome, where the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment is taking place.  Associate Editor Robert Shine will do most of the coverage this week.  Editor Francis DeBernardo will take over on October 8th until the synod ends on October 28th. To receive daily updates, subscribe to the blog entering your email address in the “Subscribe” box at the top of the right-hand column of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 4, 2018

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