Cardinal Seeks Vatican Correction of Bishops Open to Changing Homosexuality Teachings

Cardinal George Pell

A once-leading cardinal has called for the Vatican to correct two fellow prelates who have expressed support for changing church teaching regarding homosexuality.

Cardinal George Pell, formerly a top advisor to Pope Francis and also the former head of Australia’s Sydney Archdiocese, told a Catholic media outlet that the church must reject society’s “changing dictats (sic).” He then called for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to chastise two European bishops. Crux reported:

“Pell was referring to recent comments about sexuality by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, the president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, and [Limburg’s Bishop Georg Bätzing,] the head of the German bishops’ conference that have arisen as part of the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ of debate and dialogue with the laity. . .

“Pell, who was the Vatican’s top finance minister before he left in 2017 to stand trial in Australia [for alleged sexual abuse, for which he was acquitted], called for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to intervene and pronounce judgement on the ‘wholesale and explicit rejection’ of the church’s teachings on homosexuality and monogamous marriage, in an unusual dressing down of a fellow cardinal and bishop. . .

“‘The Catholic Church is not a loose federation where different national synods or gatherings and prominent leaders are able to reject essential elements of the apostolic tradition and remain undisturbed,’ a statement summarizing Pell’s points said. ‘This must not become a normal and tolerated situation.'”

Bondings 2.0 reported previously on the two bishops’ comments.

Cardinal Hollerich stated his openness to changing the teachings on homosexuality “because I believe that the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching is no longer correct.” He called therefore for a “fundamental revision of the doctrine.”

Bishop Bätzing said he favored “changing part of the catechism” because “sexuality is a gift from God, not a sin,” and the church must recognize that LGBTQ couples “living in fidelity and responsibility” were in good standing. Bätzing has been a vocal proponent of Germany’s Synodal Way which has presented increasingly LGBTQ-positive proposals.

Related to Pell’s comments, the Nordic Bishops’ Conference, which represents the roughly dozen Catholic bishops in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland, wrote an open letter to the German episcopate with their own concerns about the Synodal Way.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, the letter said the process must not touch “unchangeable parts of the church teaching” and the church must not be turned “into a project, into an object of our actions, through process-oriented thinking and structural change.”

There has been no response from the Vatican, Hollerich, or Bätzing to Pell’s criticism . Batzing did respond to the Nordic bishops saying “open letters irritate me,” and there would be a response “in an objective way.”

Preceding his trial for sexual abuse, Cardinal Pell had been a strong voice against LGBTQ equality. He has remained quieter on such matters until this interview, which makes clear he still desires the church of Francis’ immediate two predecessors. Fortunately, that church is fading away. The cardinal must realize that in the years between his leaving the Vatican and today, much has changed. From Pope Francis on down, there is a new openness to open discussions of gender and sexuality, as well as more acknowledgement that doctrine develops. Instead of condemning, he should now try listening and learning.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, March 22, 2022

4 replies
  1. Fr. Scott Hill
    Fr. Scott Hill says:

    As the German church has been teaching us these many months, the synodal journey is not neat nor easy. Cardinal Pell’s complaint falls back to the heavy handedness of John Paul II and Benedict. Edict’s will only stifle the movement of the Spirit of God. Engagement with the faithful and people of good faith, is a messy endeavor of the synodal process. Cardinal Pell, a man of fear, has appealed to Pope Francis to undo what the Second Vatican Council began. The Spirit is out of the bottle!!! Let God be God, “O, you of little faith.”

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  2. Vincent Couling
    Vincent Couling says:

    Cardinal Pell speaks of “the church’s” teachings on homosexuality, which he considers to be “essential elements of the apostolic tradition”!
    Fr Paul Surlis (who was professor of moral theology and social ethics at Saint John’s University, New York) wrote a Theological Note in Commonweal magazine (22 September 2000) wherein he examined the rather recent genesis of “the church’s” teachings on homosexuality. It is clear from his note that there was never unanimity on matters gay even among the theologians chosen to craft the Vatican declarations on homosexuality. Posting Fr Surlis’ Theological Note in full will be lengthy, but it gives crucial historical information, so hopefully the Editor will allow it:

    Here follow the Theological Note by Fr Paul Surlis
    Commonweal Magazine 22 September 2000

    Making Doctrine. The 1975 declaration “Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” (Persona humana) is among the documents that are seen to constitute Catholic teaching on homosexuality. In light of its content, some theologians, and most recently Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry, are judged to be in error in teaching or pastoral practice. But does the document have the authoritative status the Vatican seems to think?
    A little history is in order. After the publication of Persona humana in 1975, certain facts concerning its methodology and official interpretation came to light – facts that would seem to reduce its authoritative status. Still, it continues to be cited by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as if it were securely in place as an indisputable part of official Catholic teaching on homosexuality.
    When the document was first proposed, theologians from different schools of moral theology were invited to collaborate in writing it. There were theologians from the more conservative manualist tradition who approach moral questions by deducing moral conclusions from abstract principles; in this case, they included Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, former professor of theology at the Lateran; Jan Visser, C.SS.R, professor of moral theology at Propaganda Fide; and Ermenegildo Lio, a Franciscan theologian. There were also theologians from the personalist tradition whose starting point is the human person, personal relationships, and, importantly, the human relationship with God; these theologians included Sean O’Riordan, C.SS.R., professor of moral theology at the Alphonsianum, and Joseph Fuchs, S.J., professor of moral theology at the Gregorian.
    In 1977, at a workshop on human sexuality conducted at Saint John’s University, Fuchs acknowledged that he was part of the original team of writers. He told us that after a few weeks of attempted collaboration on the declaration, he and other personalist theologians withdrew (O’Riordan says they were dropped) because of insurmountable disagreements with the more conservative theologians who then produced the document on their own. He also confirmed the assertions by O’Riordan in a 1976 Clergy Review article about the declaration concerning the writing of the document, its content, and its methodology.
    In O’Riordan’s article, he pointed out that the document “reproduces in large part a chapter in a book recently published by Cardinal Palazzini on Christian life and virtues. In this book the cardinal follows the old methodology ­ principles are stated, and conclusions are drawn more or less independently of human persons and the complexities of human existence.” According to some Roman newspapers, when questioned about this, the cardinal said that when writing his book, he had the document in mind, so that, strictly speaking, it was the document that was in his book, and not vice versa.
    But there is more to the story. Visser, one of Palazzini’s collaborators on the text, had something to say about the declaration, its interpretation and implementation, in an interview published in L’Europa (January 30, 1976). In his own work, Visser distinguishes between a moral theology that embodies absolute, inflexible principles, and a pastoral theology that concerns itself with persons and individual situations where the principles of moral theology could be applied leniently out of compassion and sensitivity to personal needs. Visser adheres to the view that, judged in terms of principles, homosexuality is intrinsically immoral. But when counseling a homosexual person, Visser is concerned with enabling this person to live a Christian life in his or her concrete situation. In the L’Europa interview, he explained, “when one is dealing with people who are so deeply homosexual that they will be in serious personal and perhaps social trouble unless they attain a steady partnership, within their homosexual lives, one can recommend them to seek such a partnership, and one accepts this relationship as the best they can do in their present situation.”
    O’Riordan, who cites this quote in his Clergy Review article, adds that Visser justifies this morally permissible option by an appeal to the lesser of two evils. Here, pastoral theology mediates between an absolute, abstract principle and a compassionate judgment concerning a real-life situation. Needless to say, some moralists would go from the absolute principle to a condemnation, regardless of the particular circumstances. Furthermore, this position of absolute condemnation is the one most commonly thought to represent the Vatican’s position on Catholic teaching regarding homosexual persons.
    Indeed, some readers were so concerned at the pastoral position attributed to Visser that they wrote to him, asking if O’Riordan had described his views correctly. In response, Visser quibbled a little with how O’Riordan had quoted him but went on to affirm that as a matter of sound pastoral practice, he would allow a stable relationship between two homosexuals to be maintained on the basis of the principle of the lesser of two evils.
    In any case, the Vatican has never revoked his interpretation of leniency in pastoral practice for homosexuals in a stable relationship, and it stands as a quasi-official interpretation of a curial declaration by one of its official authors. These facts lead me to conclude that we should challenge the position that the declaration Persona humana is an integral part of Catholic teaching on homosexuality when, in fact, it is the view of one school of Roman theologians, and, in particular, of one cardinal who would foist his personal views on the universal church as “Catholic teaching.” It is unacceptable that teaching documents formulated by a few curial officials and their theologians should be used to justify punitive treatment of theologians and pastoral practitioners like Gramick and Nugent. But it is also the fault of overly timid bishops and religious superiors if they fail to call the Vatican’s behavior what it is – a scandalous abuse of power.
    The Reverend Paul Surlis is associate professor of moral theology and social ethics at Saint John’s University, New York.

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  3. Grey
    Grey says:

    Well here it is again. Pell who just went thru the whole child abuse atrocity still does not get the condemnations from scripture and reason does not apply to committed loving people. But rather those who are part of abuse as he was. Just imagine if the church interpreted it correctly and condemned child abuse/rape the way it has loving homosexuality. That would have truly be pen Gods church!

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