Archive for the ‘Homosexuality’ Category

“How Catholic Fillon will remain during his campaign remains to be seen”

12/12/2016

A piece notes how Catholics in France are backing the presidential contender, “François Fillon will carry the standard for Les Républicains in France’s presidential election next spring. Competitors and commentators — indeed, many voters — were surprised by this outcome. Surprised because Fillon had long trailed in the polls; surprised because Fillon, a former prime minister, was long dismissed as the “eternal No. 2”; surprised because Fillon has promised, if elected, to starve the beast that the French fondly call l’état providence — the welfare state — a move that in France has not typically been a winning campaign strategy. But surprised, too, because, as the rest of the country is now discovering, Fillon is Catholic. Very Catholic. So Catholic, at least to the secular left, that a headline in the newspaper Libération screamed: “Help, Jesus has returned!” Fillon has never made any secret of his beliefs. He hails from the Vendée, the western region that was the site of a long and bloody resistance to the secular values, laws, and, ultimately, soldiers of revolutionary Paris. A lieu de mémoire, or site of memory, for French Catholics, the Vendée is famed for the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, where Fillon goes every year on retreat”.

It mentions that “In his campaign book Faire (“To Make”), Fillon, known for his reticence, nevertheless recalls with deep emotion his Catholic schooling, explains how it has shaped his worldview, and affirms: “I was raised in this tradition, and I have kept this faith.” And, as it turns out, legions of Frenchmen and women who have not kept their faith will nonetheless turn out in droves for a politician who has. These men and women are, in the controversial term coined three years ago by the sociologists Emmanuel Todd and Hervé Le Bras, les zombies catholiques of France. In their book Le mystère français, Todd and Le Bras tried to explain why, in a country where barely five citizens in 100 attend church, the weight of Catholicism is still evident. From the millions of parents who took to the streets in the mid-1980s to protest the Socialist government’s effort to merge private (and overwhelmingly Catholic) schools with public schools to the millions who, 30 years later, took to the same streets to protest the new (but hardly different) Socialist government’s effort to legalize gay marriage, these armies of French “zombies” would have overwhelmed the likes of Brad Pitt, let alone government ministers”.

The report notes that “But this is less World War Z than the newest chapter in the guerres franco-françaises — France’s long series of civil wars fought over the legacy of the French Revolution, which pit a secularist left against a traditionalist right. Todd and Le Bras marvel over the persistence of Catholic habits and values in regions where Catholicism has more or less vanished as an institution. “The most astonishing paradox,” they note, “is the rise of social movements shaped by a religion that has disappeared as a metaphysical belief.” Unable to resist the French weakness for paradox, Todd and Le Bras conclude: “Catholicism seems to have attained a kind of life after death. But since it is a question of a this-worldly life, we will define it as ‘zombie Catholicism.’” Zombie Catholics share certain symptoms: Not only do they hail from regions where resistance was greatest to the French Revolution, but they also have taken advantage of the benefits that flowed from that seismic event. Highly educated and meritocratic, they also privilege a traditional ordering of professional and domestic duties between husbands and wives; strong attachment to social, community, and family activities; and a general wariness over the role of the state in private and community affairs, including “free schools” (Catholic private schools)”.

Crucially the writer notes how “Fillon can check all of these boxes. His economic liberalism, in particular, has led critics to label him a French Margaret Thatcher. But Fillon’s genius was his recognition that France’s zombie Catholicism isn’t just a cultural identity but also a latent political one. Indeed, the zombies came out to vote for him in greater numbers than anyone had anticipated: In the second round of the primary, more than 4.3 million individuals went to the polls. For a party that had never before chosen a presidential candidate by primary, this was a stunning success. (It is important to note that the primary was partly open: Anyone who paid 2 euros and declared they held to right-wing or centrist values was allowed to cast a vote. Although estimates vary of the percentage of those from the left and center who voted, pollsters attribute the second swell of voters to those mobilized by Fillon’s candidacy.) Equally stunning is how the electoral map dovetails with the sociological map traced by Todd and Le Bras. For example, the Vendée and Brittany, the western regions that formed Fillon, are among what the authors call the most “anthropologically hardened” zombie Catholic enclaves — places where the church has vanished but its practices and values persist. Voters from these parts of France also rallied in greater numbers than elsewhere to Fillon, while in those regions identified by Todd and Le Bras as “anthropologically hardened” liberal enclaves — especially in the south, much of Paris (and the former “red belt” that surrounds it), and other large cities — voter turnout was significantly smaller. According to Jérôme Fourquet, the director of opinion and business strategies for French pollster IFOP, the takeaway was clear: Catholic, or at least zombie Catholic, voters played a “disproportionate” role in the primary”.

It goes on to mention how “Just how Catholic Fillon will remain during his campaign remains to be seen, but all signs point to his beliefs being both sincere and deeply held. When the French political scene was upended in 2012 by the monumental clash over the legalisation of same-sex marriage, Fillon never hid his opposition. Once the legislation was passed, Fillon acknowledged that the law must be respected, but he has also repeatedly voiced his opposition to the law’s so-called “excesses,” by which he means the right of same-sex couples to either adopt or use a surrogate mother. His hostility to the law attracted the support of Sens Commun (“Common Sense”), a deeply conservative Catholic organization tied to La Manif Pour Tous (“Protest for Everyone”), the political movement that led the massive protests against the same-sex marriage law. Frigide Barjot, the former leader of La Manif Pour Tous and a controversial figure, appeared at Fillon’s headquarters Sunday night to celebrate his victory. Fillon’s personal opposition to abortion — “Given my own faith, I cannot approve of abortion,” he said in early October — has also sent ripples of concern across the political spectrum”.

The piece contends “Equally unsettling have been Fillon’s remarks on Islam. Though not as provocative as Nicolas Sarkozy, who relentlessly played the “identity card” during his campaign, Fillon has nevertheless underscored what he considers to be the unprecedented challenge Islam poses for France. He insists on France’s “Christian roots,” a statement critics denounce as an implicit warning to French Muslims that they are not chez soi in France. He has claimed that there is a “concrete problem with radical Islam,” immediately adding, afterward, that “Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, and Sikhs do not threaten our national unity.” Not surprisingly, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France issued a warning about Fillon’s candidacy, declaring that anti-Islamic remarks made by Fillon spokeswoman Valerie Boyer — most notably, that only Muslim extremists wear headscarves — represented “a small taste of what to expect” from a Fillon presidency”.

Naturally “the centre and left, the takeaway from all this has been panic: It is as if real zombies have invaded France. Some of the headlines in French media following Fillon’s primary win were nearly as apocalyptic as those in the United States following Donald Trump’s victory. When not stammering over the large cross Boyer wore during a press conference, the co-owner of the left-leaning Le Monde newspaper, Pierre Bergé, tweeted that Fillon’s supporters were no better than the Pétainists of Vichy France. As for Le Monde itself, an editorialist observed, simply, that Fillon’s victory revealed “the emergence of a Catholic and patrimonial right.” And yet, given the lamentable state of the Socialists, bled white by infighting and tied to the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic, Fillon seems likely to be the only thing standing between France and a National Front presidency in next spring’s election. The question now is whether he will be able to convince voters from the center and left to overcome their worries about his religion and his austere economic plans”.

It ends “It’s also an open question whether French Catholics — zombie and non-zombie alike — will maintain their own resistance to the National Front’s anti-Europe, anti-Muslim, and anti-liberal siren call. Fillon does seem to have harnessed what the religion specialist Henri Tincq calls “identity Catholicism.” Those Frenchmen and women, he said, “uneasy with a modernity that has largely erased Christian values from issues like education, family, work, and sexuality,” and increasingly ill at ease with transnational institutions like the EU and the transnational flow of peoples — especially when they are Muslim and hail from the Middle East — have increasingly been retreating to the ostensible safety of traditionally national institutions like the Catholic Church. Fillon is now offering them what seems to be a compelling political alternative to the sclerotic secularism of the left and unsavory heritage of the extreme right. But if this activation of Catholic identity already marks a shift in French politics, its ultimate significance is not yet clear. Much depends on the long-term direction taken by the newly awakened horde of zombie Catholics. Will they retreat further to the right and into the arms of the National Front? The late and great historian of French politics René Rémond always insisted that the more observant French Catholics are, the less likely they are to vote for the National Front. But this truism has, with time, frayed dramatically; moreover, it never applied to the zombies to start with. An IFOP poll taken after last year’s regional elections revealed that 32 percent of practicing Catholics voted for the National Front. Not only was this higher than the national average — 28 percent — of National Front voters, but it was also more than double the percentage of Catholic votes tallied for the party in 2014. As a headline in the Catholic magazine Pélerin announced, the “Catholic dam is collapsing.”

It concludes “The same poll revealed, however, that western France, Fillon’s homeland, continued to resist the National Front’s rise. Many Catholics, regardless of their religious practice, continue to feel repugnance in voting for a party whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, thrived on values they consider antithetical to their worldview. But it bears noting that his daughter, Marine Le Pen, continues to reinvent the National Front, also known by its French name Front National or FN. It was no accident that when Le Pen the younger recently replaced the traditional logo of the blue-white-and-red flame of the National Front with a blue rose, she also removed the very names “Le Pen” and “Front National” from the party’s graphics. Now, her public appearances are framed by “Marine” and “Au nom du peuple.” (“In the name of the people.”) As one of her advisors remarked, “Marine Le Pen is not the candidate of the FN but of all Frenchmen and women.” Fillon may have ridden a wave of the undead to victory in the primary. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Catholics — dead and undead alike — will stick by his side this spring.

“Hard to tell whether the legislature will pass a same-sex marriage bill”

10/12/2016

A report note the gay rights progress in Taiwan, “October 2014, a crowd at an LGBT rights rally in Taipei, one of many, lobbed four large red balloons emblazoned with the Chinese characters for marriage equality into the fenced courtyard of Taiwan’s legislature. At that time, a comfortable majority of Taiwanese supported same-sex marriage; a number of polls in the self-governing island of 23 million indicated as much, with one showing as many as 71 percent in favour. But several initiatives to amend the law to achieve marriage equality, first mooted in 2003, have not been successful. Two years later, three marriage equality bills now sit on legislators’ desks; although international mediahave been quick to announce that Taiwan stands on the cusp of being the first government in Asia to achieve marriage equality, the island’s public seems deeply divided. In the latest poll on the subject, released on Nov. 29, 46 percent of respondents supported marriage equality, while 45 percent opposed it. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s lawmakers and its civil society have been more cautious than recent headlines in Western media suggest”.

It adds “Island-wide marriage equality initiatives have been unsuccessful in spite of growing support over decades. Even without national legislation, many local governments in Taiwan now allow same-sex couples to participate in collective weddings and to record their partnership in household registries across the island, although neither action confers any legal rights. To many, the election of President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in January portended a broader, deeper change. Tsai openly made statements that appeared to support marriage equality during and after her campaign. In an October 2015 Facebook video posted to coincide with Taipei’s annual LGBT pride parade, Tsai exclaimed, “Everyone is equal before love.” A year later, she posted a photo on her Facebook page showing a rainbow, adding that her “belief has not changed” post-election. In August, Tsai appointed the first transgender official in government, Audrey Tang, as executive councilor for digital policy, which looked like another step toward acceptance of different gender norms”.

The piece notes “Since Tsai took office this May, pressure has been building on her to deliver. Yet she has never explicitly promised that her administration would push for same-sex marriage legislation, and critics have feared that once in office, she would find herself unable to follow through on her progressive rhetoric. The party that Tsai leads, the DPP, “has neither devoted sufficient resources to communicate the issues of marriage equality nor to reconcile differences within the party,” Victoria Hsu, who heads the nonprofit Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), told Foreign Policy. It was therefore a setback when Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san announced in August that his ministry still intended to introduce its own same-sex partnership bill — but only in 2017, after studying the impact of such a law on Taiwanese society. (In Taiwan, ministries can introduce bills into the legislature.) The effort dates back to the previous, more socially conservative Kuomintang (KMT) administration of Ma Ying-jeou and is an attempt to compromise between supporters of marriage equality and religious groups opposed. Proposing a separate law for same-sex partnership is politically easier, as it leaves the institution of marriage as currently constituted unchanged”.

Not surprisingly it notes “In the absence of strong top-down leadership on the issue from Tsai, momentum for the bills currently under consideration has come from the bottom up. Audrey Ko, the chief editor of Womany, an online media outlet focused on gender issues and LGBT rights, says a stigma remains for gays and lesbians in Taiwan, one her company seeks to dispel. Other organizations, such as the Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBT) Hotline Association, perform peer counseling and advocacy work. Even corporations are chipping in; in March, McDonald’s released a commercial in which a son comes out to his father in one of its restaurants. (The father accepts it.) This summer, a number of Taiwanese pop artists organized a benefit concert to raise awareness for marriage equality; tickets sold out in minutes. Pop superstar Jolin Tsai performed a lesbian-themed song for the occasion. In the music video for the song “We’re All Different, Yet the Same,” she makes the case for marriage equality by describing the plight of a woman whose partner of more than 30 years is hospitalized; the woman is unable to sign a consent form for emergency surgery because she is legally not a spouse or family member”.

It points out that “A real-life version of this tragedy triggered public outcry and reinvigorated support for marriage equality. On Oct. 16, 67-year-old French professor Jacques Picoux fell to his death from the top of a 10-story building in Taipei, police said. He is thought to have committed suicide after depression caused by the death of his partner due to cancer; Picoux was unable to make medical decisions for his partner in his final days, as Picoux had no legal status. In a response to this outcry, legislators from the DPP and the KMT, as well as the caucus of the New Power Party (NPP), a young activist organization, all introduced similar marriage equality bills. All three proposals would amend the Taiwan Civil Code to open marriage to same-sex couples, but they differ in how to do so. DPP legislator Yu Mei-nu’s proposal introduces a general provision extending to same-sex couples the right to marriage, as well as other family law rights that accompany married status. But it leaves further gendered language across the civil code intact. The proposals of KMT legislator Hsu Yu-ren and the NPP would make references to “husband and wife” and “father and mother” gender-neutral throughout all relevant civil code provisions. These latter two proposals have great symbolic meaning, because they remove a heterosexual presumption from the code, but the legal effect is likely no different than Yu’s proposal”.

It mentions “There is still a long legislative road to travel before Taiwan can become the first Asian government to legalize same-sex marriage. The bills passed their first reading on Nov. 17, but the DPP caucus whip has said the proposed bills will next be reviewed on Dec. 26. During the review process, any legislator can introduce a competing same-sex partnership act. Even if the bills were to enter a second reading, they could still face a boycott and be removed from the agenda. The bills will only become legislation after passing three readings. As these bills went through their first reading in the legislature this month, thousands of people protesting against marriage equality, and only several hundred rallying for it, gathered on Taipei’s streets. Opposition to marriage equality in Taiwan largely comes from small but well-organized and vocal conservative religious groups. Four people reportedly even managed to storm into the legislative meeting room, shouting that the “legislators are monsters” and would want to change Taiwan “into an AIDS island.” It is hard to tell whether the legislature will pass a same-sex marriage bill this time, says Hsu of TAPCPR, partly because of internal opposition within the DPP and KMT. (The NPP caucus fully supports its bill but only holds five seats in legislature.) Tsai has reiterated that the bills are “clear evidence” marriage equality has support across all parties. But even Yu, who introduced the DPP bill, says she is only cautiously optimistic about the chances of passing a marriage equality law”.

It concludes “Outside lawmakers’ offices, the battle for public support continues. If anything, it seems to be waning precisely at the time when it will be most needed. “More and more people are confessing that they love gays but that they don’t support same-sex marriage,” said Ko, because they believe allowing same-sex partners to get married will harm traditional family values. She is therefore unsure whether Taiwan will manage to pass a bill in the next year. At least, Ko added, “people are talking [about it], and it is not a taboo anymore.”

Clinton and white Catholics

28/10/2016

A report in the New York Times notes how Clinton is gaining support amongst white Catholics, “Since the election of Ronald Reagan, white Catholics have flocked to Republican nominees for a raft of reasons, including their stances on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. But this year, something seems different. “Trump is the exception to the rule,” Carol Robinson, 67, said as she left an afternoon prayer meeting in this a Philadelphia suburb with other enthusiastic supporters of Hillary Clinton. “He’s a loose cannon.” Roman Catholics are the country’s second-largest religious group after evangelical Protestants, and they are as diverse as the country itself, with young liberals, cultural conservatives and, increasingly, Democratic-leaning Hispanics”. But now, the Clinton campaign senses a rare opportunity to block Mr. Trump’s narrow path to victory by making inroads with a core part of the church: white Catholics, a prized group of voters who have defied predictions this year. Though a string of polls had shown Mr. Trump opening a lead among white Catholics, a new poll released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute showed Mr. Trump hemorrhaging support”.

The piece notes that “The five-day poll, which ended two days after the release of a recording in which Mr. Trump joked about groping women, and before several women came forward to say he had forcibly kissed or touched them, showed him effectively tied with Mrs. Clinton. The poll showed 42 percent of white Catholics supported him, and 46 percent backed her, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. “That’s not where Trump wants to be in the homestretch, particularly with a core constituency in Midwestern battleground states,” said Robert Jones, a Public Religion Research Institute pollster. He added that white Catholics, much more than the white evangelicals who have largely remained loyal to Mr. Trump, seemed to be defying the Republican Party’s gravitational pull. Both campaigns see openings: Mr. Trump in hacked emails released last week in which members of the Clinton campaign spoke critically about Catholic conservatism, and Mrs. Clinton in Mr. Trump’s un-churchmanlike behaviour and his tussling with Pope Francis. The pope, on his way home from Mexico in February, suggested that Mr. Trump “is not Christian” if he preferred building barriers over bridges. Mr. Trump, not one to turn the other cheek, responded that Francis’ remarks were “disgraceful.” The episode did not hurt Mr. Trump’s standing in the Republican primaries; in fact, many Catholics believed the pope was improperly meddling in American politics”.

The report adds that “Francis may be more quietly influencing the Catholic vote in other ways. He has moved the church to emphasize inclusion and the welfare of the poor over divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality. And his personnel changes have effectively left Mr. Trump’s conservative backers without much support from prominent Catholic clergy members“It’s a concern among a lot of Catholics that maybe we’re not going to hear the kind of strong message that we heard in past elections,” said Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest who runs an anti-abortion group and is advising Mr. Trump. In 2004, a powerful group of Catholic archbishops publicly advocated the re-election of President George W. Bush. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis said that if given the chance, he would deny communion to Mr. Bush’s opponent, Senator John Kerry, because of his abortion stance”.

The article mentions how “Pope Benedict XVI elevated Archbishop Burke to the rank of cardinal, but Francis has since essentially demoted him from his Vatican position. And when Cardinal Francis George, a combative voice on social issues from his high perch as the leader of the Chicago Archdiocese, took ill in 2014 (he died the next year), Pope Francis replaced him with the more inclusive Blase Cupich, who has focused his energies on climate change, gun control and immigration reform. The pope announced this month that he would elevate Archbishop Cupich to the rank of cardinal, while passing over the United States’ reigning conservative heavyweight, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who has remained outspoken in his criticism of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Prominent Catholic lawmakers are now targeting voters on behalf of the Clinton campaign. This month, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, held a round-table discussion with nuns in Dubuque, Iowa. The campaign has also created “heritage” outreach programs to try to appeal to voters with immigrant backgrounds, such as Irish and Italian, who are often Catholic. The director of the Clinton campaign’s Catholic outreach program, John McCarthy, said that lay Catholic leaders he met with in Dubuque repeatedly said they were uncomfortable with Mr. Trump. “The divisive rhetoric is what is really pushing people away,” Mr. McCarthy said. But the Trump campaign has done its own outreach”.

Unsuprusingly it notes “The Trump campaign is also courting Catholic conservatives by highlighting a recent comment from Mrs. Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine — himself an observant Catholic — that the church will one day support gay marriage. And it is making the most of every mention of Catholicism in the hacked Clinton campaign emails being released by WikiLeaks. In one 2011 conversation about Rupert Murdoch in particular and prominent Catholics in general, Jennifer Palmieri, who later became the communications director of the Clinton campaign, wrote: “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.” The Trump campaign has also highlighted a 2012 email urging John D. Podesta, a former president of the Center for American Progress, to “plant the seeds of the revolution” against “Middle Ages dictatorship” within the Catholic church. Mr. Podesta, who is now Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, responded by writing that he and his allies had created groups for just such a purpose.

“Keep U.S. policy on LGBT rights out of the local media spotlight”

25/09/2016

An article discusses how the United States gay rights policy has negative consequences.

It opens “For decades, the United States has championed human rights abroad as part of its foreign policy. Yet Washington’s attempts to balance promoting human rights with realpolitik has often been messy and inconsistent, especially when dealing with rights-violating regimes that remain important geostrategic actors. During her famous 1995 “Human Rights are Women’s Rights” speech, First Lady Hillary Clinton riled a key economic partner, China, when she harshly criticized its treatment of women. By contrast, in 1974, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger rebuked the U.S. ambassador to Chile, David Popper, for raising the issue of torture with Chilean officials. Kissinger suggested that Popper “cut out the political science lectures.” Yet it remains an open question to this day as to how aggressively the State Department should promote democratic principles, an act that often infuriates foreign countries or leads to a backlash. Today, the inclusion of LGBT equality in Washington’s worldwide human rights-promotion package is highlighting precisely this dilemma”.

The author writes that “Despite its checkered past on gay rights—the State Department expelled gay employees in the 1950s—the United States under President Barack Obama has dramatically changed its policy. In February 2015, the State Department appointed Randy Berry as the first U.S. special envoy for LGBT rights. At the time, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized the importance of “defending and promoting” the rights of LGBT individuals to American diplomacy. More recently, the U.S. ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji marched in the Stockholm Pride Parade, and in India, the U.S. Embassy lit up its facade in rainbow colors after the June shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Yet in much of the Arab Middle East, where populations overwhelmingly oppose homosexuality (including 95 percent of Egyptians and 97 percent of Jordanians), LGBT-rights promotion is more complicated. There, widespread hostility to gay rights puts the United States in a difficult position. One might argue that just as Washington has aggressively advocated for women’s rights and the welfare of religious minorities across the globe, so too should it consistently and publicly back gay rights, even if that means rebuffing foreign governments. Such a forceful approach, however, contradicts the wishes of many LGBT people actually living in the Arab Middle East. In 2015, for instance, the U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Alice Wells, attended a small event in Amman organized by members of the local LGBT community. Many Jordanians were outraged, and after her public appearance a number of LGBT individuals were violently harassed, according to a Jordanian blogger who went by the pseudonym Ahmad. One popular local news program devoted an astonishing 70 minutes to bashing Wells, comparing her actions to visiting an Islamic State gathering on the grounds that both would be a violation of Jordan’s sovereignty and local laws”.

The writer argues that the support of Wells was seen as evidence that “gay rights are part of a “foreign agenda.” Ahmad explained that the ambassador stigmatized the local LGBT cause by associating it with the West and spoiled its chance of being regarded as an authentic Jordanian phenomenon. Ahmad compared the dynamics between the conservative elements of his society and the LGBT community to a high school brawl—just as a student engaged in a fistfight wouldn’t want someone else to jump in on his or her behalf, neither does a local activist want the United States to interfere with a campaign”.

The piece goes on to mention that “For the LGBT community in Jordan, any association with foreigners is tricky. Yet the situation is especially difficult when it comes to the United States. Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, points to the high levels of anti-Americanism in many Arab countries and the widespread perception in the region that the United States is an imperialistic power, especially after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Hamid explains that for people “as misunderstood” as the Arab LGBT community, association with the U.S. government can be problematic”.

He goes on to make the point that “When it comes to geopolitics, the United States has critical strategic interests in Amman and it should be wary of antagonizing its ally. Jordan has played an important role throughout the war against the Islamic State, such as heavily bombarding ISIS targets inside Syria. Amman also hosts, unofficially, thousands of U.S. military personnel, according to a report from Vice. The Jordanian government is less likely to cooperate with Washington if it feels that the latter’s diplomats are insulting and undermining it by publicly raising the issue of LGBT rights. If the United States truly feels it must take part in LGBT activism in Jordan or other Arab countries that have high levels of homophobia, community members have suggested discrete steps that U.S. diplomats can take. One activist, Nadine, recommended offering emergency relocation and job training for LGBT individuals who may be physically at risk. Neela Ghosal, a senior gay-rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, emphasized that private discussions with foreign governments through, for instance, health and justice ministries, can be a productive way for Washington to reiterate its concerns on the issue”.

It ends “Ghosal urged the United States to consult with local LGBT organizations before taking any action, to ensure that whatever it intends to do actually helps civil society. Most importantly, Washington should keep U.S. policy on LGBT rights out of the local media spotlight. (In what may be a sign of progress, both U.S. LGBT Special Envoy Randy Berry and Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells repeatedly declined to be interviewed about the United States’ support for LGBT rights in the Arab world.) Promoting LGBT rights is a cornerstone of the State Department’s human rights agenda. But, in Jordan at least, this promotion has had a damaging effect—delegitimizing the local LGBT community and putting it at even greater risk. Perhaps, when it comes to LGBT rights, Washington should ensure first of all that its policies do no harm”.

Clinton, pragmatism and gay rights

09/09/2016

A piece reports Clinton’s questionable gay rights record, “During her first run for president in 2008, Hillary Clinton had an opportunity to become an undisputed leader in the gay rights movement. As she prepared for a forum on the gay-oriented Logo network, she reached out to her friend Hilary Rosen, a political consultant who is a lesbian. Rosen expressed frustration that so many mainstream political figures opposed legalised same-sex marriage, and she challenged Clinton to speak out for a community that had strongly supported her. Clinton refused. “I’m struggling with how we can support this with a religious and family context,’’ Rosen recalled Clinton telling her. Clinton just wanted to know the best way to explain the position”.

The piece adds “The exchange was painful for Rosen, who had known Clinton since they worked on children’s issues together in the 1980s. “We took it personally,” Rosen said. “You try not to because it’s politics, but in this case, the politics is personal.” Rosen remains a Clinton friend and supporter, saying, “I know her heart is in the right place.” And Clinton eventually got where her friends wanted her to go, though her change of heart came when the political risk had disappeared — close to a year after similar shifts by President Obama and Vice President Biden. This year, as the Democratic presidential nominee, she is running as a forceful advocate for the LGBT community and a full-fledged supporter of same-sex marriage. The country’s leading gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, endorsed her early in the campaign, lauding her as a “champion” for its cause. Clinton’s path to get to this point frustrated many of her supporters. While most national politicians have been slow to evolve on gay marriage, Clinton’s handling of it was particularly saddening to some activists because they had expected more. Clinton and her husband, Bill, had stood out as being among the first to actively court the gay community as an interest group and donor base — and yet they were unwilling to stand with the community on one of its biggest civil rights issues”.

Pointedly the article notes that “Clinton’s approach to same-sex marriage illustrates the caution that has come to define her political career. It also reflects a central challenge for the 68-year-old candidate, who along with her husband helped to shape an era of centrist politics designed to appeal to culturally conservative voters but has struggled to adapt to a generation of Democrats who have moved further to the left. Among the Bill Clinton-era policies that Hillary Clinton has disavowed on the presidential campaign trail is the Defense of Marriage Act, the law signed by then-President Bill Clinton in the lead-up to his 1996 reelection effort that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. As Bill Clinton sought the 1992 Democratic nomination, LGBT activists were eager to align with the Clintons. The community had a strained relationship with the previous Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis, whom activists heckled at a campaign event when he said he didn’t see the need to issue an order banning discrimination against gays in the federal government”.

It mentions later that “The night before Roberta Achtenberg, then a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was scheduled to make history at the 1992 Democratic National Convention as the first openly lesbian person to ever address the gathering, Hillary Clinton called to give her a pep talk. “I’m rooting for you,” Achtenberg recalled Clinton saying. In 1993, Bill Clinton’s first year in office, relations began to fray. Members of Congress and military officials were arguing against lifting the ban on gays serving in the military. Many strategists thought the president didn’t have the political capital to push through his idea, so he had to compromise. The result was the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which allowed gay men and women to serve in the military as long as they were not open about their sexual orientation. Those who spoke to Hillary Clinton at the time said she encouraged her husband to find more support in Congress to avoid the compromise. But there was little she could do”.

Turning to DOMA, the piece makes the point that “Three years after “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the president faced another question about gay rights. Lawmakers were crafting legislation mandating that the federal government recognize only heterosexual marriage. Some White House strategists worried that if Clinton didn’t back the legislation, he might lose the support of the centrists who had helped propel him to the White House in the first place. LGBT staffers tried to change the president’s mind. Hillary Clinton, whose influence had dwindled after her failed attempt to overhaul the health-care system, mostly stayed out of those discussions, Socarides said. Still, some gay activists hoped that she might be a voice for them in the West Wing. Rosen, who at the time headed the recording industry trade association, asked Clinton whether she could help change her husband’s mind. Hillary Clinton was not receptive, Rosen recalled, because she thought she needed to stand with her husband while making tough choices”.

With DOMA signed the article posits Hillary’s run for the Senate would “undo” the mixed gay rights record of his husband, “Clinton’s potential opponent, New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, had made inroads with the city’s affluent gay community, opposing the military’s ban on openly gay members. Clinton followed suit, announcing at a fundraiser in the SoHo art studio of a gay donor that she, too, was against “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “Fitness to serve should be based on an individual’s conduct, not their sexual orientation,” Clinton said in a statement the next evening. A month later, she demonstrated the limits to her support for LGBT rights — declaring that she was unwilling to support legalised marriage”.

Pointedly it notes that “Clinton’s perpetual balancing act unnerved some supporters. When Clinton began holding fundraisers for her Senate reelection campaign in 2006, van Capelle urged gay donors to withhold their checks because “she didn’t earn it.” “If an environmental group [had] asked me to write a check for Hillary I would, and if reproductive rights group asked I would,” van Capelle said. “There was a strange relationship between politicians and fundraisers, and they thought they could use [LGBT activists] as an ATM machine and we didn’t want to be a part of it. I thought it set a bad example. What it said was you could do as little as you could at that time to get our support.” Clinton’s position was softening. She supported states that legalised same-sex marriage. As for her position on the federal ban, her staff noted that her position was in a “state of evolution.” Rosen, her longtime friend, said she pleaded with Clinton to stop discussing marriage in religious terms. The position seemed dogmatic and uncompromising, Rosen said”.

It mentions how “As secretary of state, Clinton allowed same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers the same travel benefits at married couples. She gave a speech in Geneva in 2011 in which she said, “Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights,” an echo of the women’s rights speech she had delivered in China as first lady. By May 2012, as polls showed more than half of the country supporting same-sex marriage, top Democrats began indicating their support. Biden declared in a television interview that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage. Obama followed soon after, saying that “same-sex couples should be able to get married.” Clinton stayed silent”.

It concludes “In 2013, before the Supreme Court struck down a key part of DOMA, Clinton released a video with the Human Rights Campaign stating that she had reconciled her feelings. She was fully behind marriage. Black, now a fundraiser for Clinton, could only smile when she saw Clinton’s video. But she had known it was coming. After she married her partner, Judy, in April 2012 — nearly a year before Clinton’s public announcement — Black came home to a note attached to her door. It was from Clinton. “At long last!” it read.

“LGBT rights in tandem with other civil rights”

16/08/2016
An interesting piece equates gay rights with the rise of democracy, “But in the Middle East, this debate began long before Orlando. LGBT people in this part of the world have been battling for their rights for years, and not without casualties. Across the region, sexuality has become one of the main battlegrounds in the broader confrontation between advocates for democracy and human rights on the one hand and authorities and conservative religious forces on the other. This is reflected in LGBT activists’ successful alliances with other progressive forces, and in the success they have found championing their own cause by casting it as part of a more general struggle for freedom and dignity. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s drive to concentrate power in his own hands is being accelerated in the failed coup attempt. Inherent to Erdogan’s growing authoritarian streak is his push to impose on the Turkish people a set of conservative, Islamist values that impinge on a raft of civil and personal rights. Since his ascent to power in 2003, discrimination has become widespread. Its manifestations range from public homophobic statements by ruling party officials — one former minister in 2010 labelled homosexuality “a biological disease” — to the blocking of gay social media apps and, in 2013, the punishment of a publishing house for releasing a novel with “homosexual content” under the pretext of “indecency.” The crackdown against the LGBT community is part of Erdogan’s grander ambition to Islamise Turkish society while quashing dissent, which many fear will now intensify in the wake of the coup attempt. One Ankara-based activist told me this week she was “highly concerned” about “police-backed” attacks by ruling party members on LGBT activists. Her group has closed its office due to “security concerns.” The harassment of communities that do not fit Erdogan’s Islamist vision has long characterised his rule. In response, LGBT activists have found solidarity with other marginalised groups and civil activists who reject Erdogan’s authoritarian drive and seek a Turkey that is tolerant, diverse, and respectful of individual liberties. This new alliance was on full display during the Gezi Park protests in 2013, when millions of Turks marched nationwide against the government’s autocratic policies”.

The article goes on to note “The LGBT movement was particularly active in organising rallies and workshops during the protests, presenting itself as a key civil society actor and opposition force. To increase visibility within the protests, various LGBT groups and activists formed an umbrella organisation. Among its varied activities, the group, known as LGBT Blok, distributed food and T-shirts, released regular statements and updates via social media, and liaised with other participating organisations, including (rather remarkably) soccer club enthusiasts, to prevent homophobic slurs in protest chants. These efforts were recognised soon after, when up to 100,000 people took part in Istanbul’s Pride Parade in June 2013, and again in 2014. While it has been an annual fixture since 2003, Istanbul’s pride march had barely been able to gather a few thousand people prior to the Gezi protests. The overt presence of the LGBT movement during the protests laid the foundations for solidarity with likeminded groups and activists”.

The author goes on to mention how “In the wake of these successes, Turkey’s LGBT movement became an important avenue through which Turks — and not just members of the LGBT community — could openly voice their dissent from Erdogan’s policies at a time when such avenues are being closed off. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Turkish authorities banned Istanbul’s Pride Parade in 2015, and maintained the ban this year. When organisers tried to revive the parade last month, officials confronted marchers with tear gas and detained 19, including two European legislators. As one Turkish activist wrote in response, “The crackdown was indicative of the fact that Erdogan and his [party] are now extremely scared of people coming together in solidarity, marching for their rights.” In Turkey, the LGBT question has become a focal point of tension between pro-democratic and its authoritarian political forces. The same pattern has been repeated in other Middle Eastern countries. LGBT activists in Lebanon, Egypt, and Tunisia have diligently sought alliances with other civil society actors by articulating their messages to broaden their struggle and gain a wider appeal”.

Interestingly the piece goes on to discuss other states in the Middle East, “In Lebanon, this strategy has been effective in amplifying LGBT rights in tandem with other civil rights. In 2012, Beirut’s police forces sparked a public outcry after raiding a gay adult cinema, detaining 36 men, and inserting eggs into their rectums as a brutal “test” of homosexuality. To attract public attention and support, activists steering the outcry prudently shifted the discourse away from LGBT rights and toward issues that would have greater public resonance, such as privacy and police abuse. “We didn’t go and protest about LGBT rights, but against police raping individuals and police violating our sexual lives,” said Georges Azzi, a renowned Lebanese LGBT and human rights activist. In the wake of the uproar, the Lebanese Medical Association banned anal probe tests. This strategy was also deployed in Egypt after 26 men were arrested during a raid on a Cairo bath house in December 2014. In a conservative country where homosexual acts are widely considered “indecent,” LGBT activists were again able to turn public opinion in their favour by shifting the focus away from homosexuality to privacy and government overreach”.

It reports that “The men were eventually acquitted, an outcome Long attributes to the movement’s success in swaying public opinion. “The state backed down because they realised that the ideological ground that they wanted to stand on — of protecting morals — was being cut out from under them by a pretty articulate defence on the right to privacy.” Enmeshing the struggle for LGBT rights with the broader push for democratic reform and human rights was a natural progression, given the conservative environment in the Middle East. “There was a general consensus among the people that were working on this issue that talking about LGBT rights per se wouldn’t get you anywhere,” Long said. “But talking about right to privacy, the right to autonomy on freedom from state surveillance and control, resonated with other political actors.” The relationship between LGBT activists and pro-democracy movements is mutually beneficial. For the LGBT movement, participating in a larger democratic project provides greater visibility and advocacy for LGBT issues. For the pro-democracy movement, including the LGBT cause within the broader struggle provides an extra avenue in which to challenge the authorities. If the battle for democratic reform in the Middle East is to be reduced to one over the rights to privacy and sexual rights, this is a battle pro-democracy activists are prepared to fight”.

Crucially it ends, “alliances between LGBT activists in both Turkey and Lebanon have also led to more durable progressive political projects. Turkey’s LGBT movement was a key enabler and supporter in the formation of the progressive, liberal Peoples’ Democracy Party, which successfully entered parliament in the June 2014 general elections. The party even ran openly gay candidates in the elections. While none of them were elected, the episode marked a significant advance for the prominence of LGBT issues and for the recognition of the movement as a key opposition and pro-democracy force. In Lebanon, LGBT activists have been heavily involved with other political initiatives, ranging from solidarity with domestic workers and women to high-profile activism during the mass anti-corruption protests in 2015 and the formation of an independent anti-corruption electoral list — Beirut Madinati — in this year’s municipal elections. Needless to say, the visibility won by the LGBT movement as a result of its pro-democracy activism has also attracted hatred and abuse from its opponents. A 2014 report on LGBT rights in Turkey noted that hate crimes against the community had spiked, with 41 murders between 2010 and 2014, 12 of which occurred in 2013 alone, the year of the Gezi protests. But some progress, albeit incremental, has also been made. Following the cinema fiasco in Lebanon, one of the country’s main television networks, LBC, decided to start using a dignified Arabic term for homosexuality — mithliyeh, which implies “sameness” — breaking from the previous practice in the Lebanese media of using derogatory terms such as “deviant.” These are not just victories for the LGBT community, but for all in the Middle East who seek reform based on shared democratic values”.

“Liberalism is in crisis and illiberalism in the ascendant”

29/07/2016

James Traub argues that liberalism is not working, “I was in Poland this year, I asked everyone how a nation that exemplified the commitment to liberal democracy had elected a party, called Law and Justice, which openly appealed to nationalism, xenophobia, and religious traditionalism. Quite a few people responded with a question of their own: “What about Donald Trump?” Wasn’t the United States, that is, heading in the same direction? Yes, I came back, but since liberal principles are more deeply embedded in American voters and institutions, Trump won’t win. Now I find myself wondering: Isn’t that more or less what David Cameron and other advocates of staying in the European Union told themselves about British voters? I wonder if the West is sleep-walking toward “illiberal democracy,” the ideology championed by Hungary’s Viktor Orban, emulated by Poland’s Law and Justice, and implicitly endorsed by Trump and many of the Brexiteers. Turkey’s increasingly autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone further down this road than anyone. These populists win elections by rallying citizens against what they describe as “liberalism” — secular hostility to majority religious values, a cult of individualism that undermines the collective good, a concern with immigrants rather than citizens, and a celebration of the free market that weakens state control. (See Orban’s 2014 speech on the subject.) It would be a mistake to think that those cynical tactics can’t work in the more evolved democracies of Western Europe. Austria, to take one more example, may elect Norbert Hofer, a frank Islamophobe who advocates widespread gun ownership to counter an alleged immigrant threat, in a presidential election to be restaged later this year”.

Traub goes on to point out “These are the stakes I was thinking of when I wrote last week that elites had a moral obligation to stand up to the politics of resentment rather than exploit them. I now understand, from the torrent of abuse I received, that a great many readers thought I was saying that people who take issue with the forces of globalization, whether from the left or the right, should defer to elites, the high priests of the globalized world. That’s a repellent thought. I regret the use of the word “elites,” which conjures up the Trilateral Commission or a Masonic temple. I won’t use it again. Now I will try to explain myself. Illiberal democracy is a highly effective political strategy because many of the constituent principles of liberalism, especially the ones seized on by the populists, are intended to serve as bulwarks against majoritarianism. Perhaps the first liberal was James Madison, who in the Federalist Papers made the case that democracies, by their nature, endanger the rights of political minorities and must design institutions to protect those rights. Over the course of the 19th century, liberalism evolved to include advocacy of civil liberties, free markets, and activist government. The high-water mark of liberalism was the mid-20th century, when the world was threatened by the totalitarian nightmares of communism and Nazism. For its great exponents, like George Orwell, liberalism meant anti-totalitarianism”.

He makes the argument that “there are good reasons why liberalism is in crisis and illiberalism in the ascendant. Political leaders must find a way of dealing with the breakdown of the liberal order if they are to protect and preserve its basic principles. As I’ve written in previous columns, even Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has bravely opened Germany’s doors to hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Afghan refugees, now understands that she has left her public too far behind and has instead struck a deal with Turkey to stanch the flow of migrants. And free trade has become politically toxic and will continue to be unless more is done to buffer the effects on factory workers and others who see themselves as getting the short end of the globalization stick. Policy must change both to cushion globalization’s effects and to create the political space so that liberal-minded leaders can pursue sound policies. But there is no policy change that will mollify people who can’t stand the way the world is going and want to return to a mythical golden age where women and Mexicans and refugees and gays and atheists didn’t disturb the public with their demands. Populist leaders have a message for them: Liberalism is a plot to keep you down. Social tolerance threatens traditional culture, an independent media tells self-interested lies, and extending rights to accused terrorists undermines public safety. (See this very bizarre 2006 speech by Polish politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski.) Above all, as Turkey’s Erdogan tirelessly repeats, those who don’t share the majority’s views — ethnic minorities, secular elites, journalists — are enemies of the state and must be marginalized or crushed”.

Correctly he points out that these trends are made more dangerous by the post-truth age in which we live, “This is why I argued that rationalism itself is at stake and that the cynical fellow travelers of the illiberal democrats are feeding an anti-intellectual narrative. Michael Gove, until recently a contender to be England’s next prime minister, answered predictions — correct ones, as it turned out — that Brexit would lead to disaster by saying, “People in this country have had enough of experts.” The word “expert” is, of course, the pejorative term for someone who knows what he or she is talking about — like Gove, I imagine, who graduated from Oxford and spent years as a minister in Conservative Party governments. What Gove was actually saying was that people should be free to build gratifying fantasies free from unpleasant facts. Similarly, the Republican Party has spent years carving the path down that Donald Trump is now careening by telling voters that America’s borders are being overrun, a national default would bring no lasting harm, global warming is a hoax, and so on and so on. It wasn’t only Trump, but Ted Cruz and others, who campaigned on the need for massive increases in border security. Republican primary voters ate up this rhetoric — even though net immigration from Mexico is now flat. America has had enough of experts”.

He argues that “Absent a collective faith in reason, very little stands in the way of the gratifying fantasy, or the dreadful nightmare, that populists’ forge from voters’ hopes and fears. Of course, I don’t believe that deference to expertise, to technocratic knowledge, or even to science will defeat the scourge of illiberal democracy. Only good politics drives out bad politics. Perhaps only good populism can drive out bad populism. An obviously irate President Barack Obama recently argued that he, not Trump, was the real populist in American politics — since he cared about working people and Trump doesn’t. In fact, Obama’s remote, cerebral manner has, if anything, whetted the public’s appetite for a snake-oil salesman like Trump. We will always have charming scoundrels among us, but reckless populism is more pernicious than it was a decade or a generation ago. That’s not because Donald Trump and Viktor Orban are worse than their predecessors, but because so many people in the West feel cheated or betrayed by the impersonal forces of globalization and are seeking an alternate reality to occupy, whether Little England or Industrial Age America. The cynics who provide comfort for those delusions are as dangerous as the extremists”.

 

 

Trump-Pence

23/07/2016

The New York Times reports that Trump has named Mike Pence as his running mate, “Donald J. Trump named Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana as his running mate on Friday, adding to the Republican ticket a traditional conservative who boasts strong credentials with the Christian right, and bringing an end to a vice-presidential selection process that seemed at risk of spinning out of control. Mr. Trump had said on Thursday night that he intended to delay the unveiling of his running mate out of respect for the attack in Nice, France. The moment, he said on television, was not right. On Friday, he proceeded with the announcement anyway”.

The piece mentions that “Instead of a showy rollout in a Manhattan hotel, as his campaign had planned, Mr. Trump named Mr. Pence to the Republican ticket by way of Twitter. He said they would hold their first joint event on Saturday morning. By choosing Mr. Pence as his partner, Mr. Trump has opted to bow to political convention and also to gamble on a comparatively untested choice. Mr. Pence cuts a far more generic political profile than Mr. Trump. He is viewed as a sturdy and dependable politician by Republicans in Indiana and Washington, and chided Mr. Trump for his proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States, calling it “offensive and unconstitutional” in a Twitter post in December. Before the Friday announcement, congressional leaders including the House speaker Paul D. Ryan and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, told reporters they would approve of the choice of Mr. Pence”.

Not supursingly the report mentions that “At the same time, Mr. Pence has a record of hard-line views on cultural issues that Mr. Trump has tended to play down in the presidential race. In Mr. Pence, Mr. Trump now has a running mate who has advocated for defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting abortion rights, and who signed a so-called religious freedom law that critics said would lead to discrimination against gay men and lesbians. Hillary Clinton’s campaign attacked Mr. Pence on Friday as “the most extreme pick in a generation,” citing his views on abortion, gay rights, immigration and the minimum wage. John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, said Mr. Trump had reinforced “some of his most disturbing beliefs by choosing an incredibly divisive and unpopular running mate known for supporting discriminatory politics and failed economic policies.” Both campaigns will scramble to define Mr. Pence over the next week. He is little known on the national scene, and a CBS News poll conducted before his selection found that nearly nine in 10 Americans did not have an opinion of him”.

It mentions “Trump and Mr. Pence, who have no personal friendship that predates the campaign, engaged in a whirlwind courtship over the last week, holding a rally together in Indiana and meeting several times in private. But Mr. Trump agonized over his final decision. Late Thursday, Mr. Trump wavered over his selection of Mr. Pence, people briefed on the discussions said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe Mr. Trump’s private venting. He expressed fury to campaign aides over news media reports that his advisers were informing political allies of the Indiana governor’s selection, and bristled at the idea that he was locked into the choice. In a phone call with members of the campaign leadership, Mr. Trump questioned whether Mr. Pence really was the right choice, and Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, reiterated the case for choosing Mr. Pence, according to a person briefed on the call”.

It goes on to make the point that “The newly forged ticket will face a grueling test in the coming days, as two very different political performers get accustomed to each other as teammates. The Trump campaign said both men will appear together at the Hilton Midtown on Saturday, and the campaign previously committed to a joint interview on “60 Minutes” on CBS. The chemistry between the two politicians, in the coming days, could determine just how extensively they will campaign together during the summer and fall. According to Republicans briefed on the Trump campaign’s deliberations, Mr. Pence could conceivably travel the country in large part on his own, shoring up support for Mr. Trump in conservative areas and Republican-leaning states, like North Carolina and Arizona, where Mr. Trump appears vulnerable. Within Mr. Trump’s inner circle, Mr. Pence is seen as a reliable sidekick for the presumptive Republican nominee, unlikely to cause trouble for the ticket or upstage Mr. Trump in any way”.

 Interestingly it notes “But the relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence remains a work in progress, and they could well form a closer bond over the course of the campaign. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump has preferred to work more or less as a solo act. Even on Thursday evening, with his vice-presidential announcement delayed and images of bloodshed playing across national television, Mr. Trump proceeded with his own political schedule: He addressed a fund-raising event in California and gave multiple television interviews, calling in one for a formal declaration of war by Congress against the Islamic State. Mr. Manafort, the campaign chairman, said on Fox News on Friday morning that the presumptive Republican nominee had responded emotionally to the violence in France in deciding to delay a formal event with his running mate. Yet with Mr. Pence as the favored candidate, Mr. Trump could not afford a long delay in announcing his decision. The Indiana governorship is on the ballot in November, and state law required Mr. Pence to file paperwork by noon on Friday in order to withdraw from the race and be replaced on the ballot by another Republican”.
It concludes “Without a public affirmation of his partnership with Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence could have been placed in an uncomfortable position — forced either to end his bid for re-election without an irreversible commitment from Mr. Trump, or to abandon his quest for the vice presidency due to an accident of scheduling. Mr. Trump appeared to hesitate over his decision throughout the week, flying to Indiana for an extended visit with Mr. Pence, and then summoning several other potential running mates to meet with him in Indianapolis after his private aircraft broke down. Advisers to Mr. Trump indicated to Republicans in Washington on Wednesday night that they planned to make an announcement with Mr. Pence, but on Thursday both Mr. Trump and his press officers stressed that he could still change his mind. Mr. Trump said Thursday evening on Fox that he had not made a “final, final decision.” And when his final announcement came on Friday, Mr. Trump caught at least one other vice-presidential finalist by surprise. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, said in an email a few minutes before 11 a.m. that he had yet to hear directly from the Trump campaign about its decision”.

Crucially it reports that “Even as Mr. Pence endured as the clear favourite of Mr. Trump’s advisers, both Mr. Gingrich and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey lingered as alternative possibilities — tempting options for a presidential candidate drawn more to feistiness and loyalty than to workmanlike political diligence. Choosing Mr. Christie or Mr. Gingrich would have armed Mr. Trump with a proven political brawler on the ticket, as well as a longer-tenured personal friend as his running mate. Trump advisers argued that both men were too volatile and too risky for an already freewheeling campaign”.

Francis ducks and dodges

09/07/2016

A piece notes how Francis reaches out to margalised gays but without altering Church teaching, “Pope Francis on Sunday essentially backed a cardinal’s suggestion that Christians owe LGBT persons an apology for past mistreatment or neglect, but suggested apologies are probably in order to other constituencies as well, including the poor, exploited women and divorced families. Francis was speaking in response to a question that linked the call for an LGBT apology to the recent massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub”.

The article adds “The pontiff said gay persons must not be discriminated against, conceding that there are “some traditions and cultures that have a different mentality,” and said apologies are in order whenever there are “people we could have defended and we didn’t.” The suggestion for a mea culpa came from German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who in a recent speech in Ireland said that both Church and society have treated gay persons poorly and that the Church should say it’s sorry”.

It goes onto mention “On other matters, Pope Francis said on Sunday:

  • Despite a senior Vatican official’s recent suggestion that retired Pope Benedict XVI might be part of an “expanded papacy,” in fact “there’s only one pope,” while praising his predecessor’s “courage” and “intelligence.”
  • On the recent Brexit result, while not directly criticizing the U.K.’s decision to withdraw from the EU, Francis did insist that “brotherhood is better than being enemies or distant” and that “bridges are better than walls.”
  • The pope denied that his recent agreement to create a study commission on women deacons means the Church has “opened the door” to the idea, and said that more important than the “functions” women hold is the Church’s determination to hear their voice.
  • He said that he felt that he used the term “genocide” to describe massacres of Armenians by Turks in 1915 because it’s the term widely used in Argentina, and since he’s used it before, it would be “very strange” not to have done so in Armenia.

Francis made the remarks during a roughly hour-long news conference on the plane flying back to Rome Sunday after a June 24-26 trip to Armenia. During the trip, Francis earned strong applause from Armenians and swift blowback from Turkish officials for using the word “genocide” to describe the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, in what they claim was a deliberate campaign and Turkey sees as the fallout of a broader war”.

The report notes “The pontiff insisted, however, that he doesn’t use it with “offensive intent” but rather “objectively.” The idea of an expanded papacy came from German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the personal aide of Benedict XVI, who recently suggested that the papal ministry now includes both an “active” and a “contemplative” dimension in Francis and Benedict. Insisting “there is only one pope,” Francis said that Benedict had promised to be obedient to his successor and “he’s done it.” Laughing, Francis then said he’s heard, without being absolutely sure if it’s true, that some people have gone to Benedict to try to complain about his own leadership, “and in great Bavarian style, he kicked them out!” Noting that he plans to take part in a small event on June 28 marking the 65thanniversary of Benedict’s ordination as a priest, Francis called him a “man of prayer,” “courageous” and “intelligent.” On Brexit, Francis had spoken briefly about the results at the outset of his Armenia trip on Friday, saying only that they reflected the “will of the people” and represented a call to “great responsibility” to work for both the good of the U.K. and the coexistence of European peoples”.

The article mentions that “On Sunday Francis went further, making a distinction between the sort of decolonization that occurred in Latin America and Africa earlier in the century and secessionist movements in Europe today, such as those in Catalonia and Scotland, suggesting that the latter risks becoming a kind of “Balkanization.” While saying he doesn’t know “what the reasons are for which the U.K. wanted to make this choice,” he said that in general he believes “bridges are better than walls.” Francis also said the outcome represents a challenge to the EU to become “more creative and flexible,” including by allowing greater independence to its individual members, and also overcoming problems such as widespread youth unemployment”.

 

Homophobia and Islam

23/06/2016

Islam’s homophobia problem has been noted, “Though it was nearly 3,000 miles away, it was with great sadness and growing concern that I read the news about last weekend’s shootingby an American Muslim citizen at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, that left 49 people dead and 53 others injured, with some still clinging to life. That devastating attack has imparted an ironic importance to a conversation I’ve had more than once with my good friend Rob Wells, a human rights activist. We’ve talked about what would happen if such an attack befell a gay bar here in Edmonton, Canada. It’s the kind of winding speculation that inevitably leads us to wonder what the certain backlash against the Muslim community in Alberta might look like as well. Though we’ve been friends for 11 years, in many ways Rob and I are very different — he’s a retired white man in his 60s and a committed Christian, while I am a Muslim gay man of color and an assistant professor of economics at MacEwan University”.

The writer mentions “But we both care deeply about the impact of hatred stoked in the name of our respective religions on vulnerable minorities. Rob goes out alone with his placards to protest issues that affect vulnerable LGBT youths, and I’ve spent the past decade studying the nexus of Islamic law and same-sex unions. We’re both volunteer members of the Edmonton Police Service’s sexual and gender minorities liaison committee in Alberta”.

The author goes on to note “Unfortunately, whether the tranquility of Edmonton is kept intact or not, the Orlando attack is not going to be the last of such dastardly acts. Concerted and sustained actions that directly counter hatred are urgently required — whether they’re between Vancouver and New York, or just broadly across North America. And those efforts cannot wait. Attacks like the one in Orlando — and Fort Hood and San Bernardino — have the potential to foment anti-Muslim bigotry, which is increasingly being witnessed in the circles that support the rhetoric of Donald Trump. And it’s incumbent upon the leaders of Muslim communities to not only respond but to be proactive. To be sure, the fact that extremist Muslim murderers are ignoring the Quranic proscription against wanton killings and anarchy on Earth, and those people from Muslim backgrounds who are violating the sanctity of the holy month of Ramadan by engaging in senseless violence, is alarming for Muslim community leaders. But some remain on the defensive each time such carnage is perpetrated in the name of their faith, opting to dissociate the actions of terrorists from Islam and relinquish any responsibility to unite diverse communities”.

The author notes how some Muslims have tried to separate Islam and homophobia, “But there are Muslim leaders, predominantly from the United States, who have been swift to denounce the latest in the never-ending series of terrorist acts undertaken by people who claim an affiliation with Islam. Such condemnations are necessary but not sufficient for the urgent task of building bridges between diverse communities. The Council on American-Islamic Relations expressed solidarity with the LGBT community in the wake of the attack and even urged Muslims todonate blood for the injured victims”.

He argues that “more needs to be done from within the Muslim leadership — from the community to the national level — that addresses bullying, discrimination, and violence against the LGBT community in general and LGBT Muslims in particular. There are several influential Muslim leaders who continue to be indifferent to the targeted abuse and murder of gays when they refuse to renounce draconian punishments of homosexuals or by depicting them in the worst possible ways. Terrorism and extremism do not emerge out of a vacuum, but are either based on or later rationalized by a pre-existing and readily reinforced warped narrative, one that is stoked by homophobic leaders who hide behind the thin veneer of religious freedom. According to the Muslim scholar Farouk Peru, who teaches Islamic studies at King’s College London, when prominent Muslim leaders condemn terrorism but support draconian punishments for gays under Islamic law, they cause a cognitive dissonance for the Muslim community. And this, he warns, is especially harmful to those who are struggling with their sexuality. In the most extreme cases, he wrote in a blog post following the Orlando attack, the issue may have deadly results. It’s this dissonance created by “‘moderate scholars,” he wrote, that will inevitably “create hatred in the hearts of their followers which will then erupt in the way the Orlando shooting most probably happened.” We must draw Muslim, LGBT, and the LGBT Muslim communities together to work on areas of common concern and to work together to issue coordinated and consistent messaging to their communities in the aftermath of violence or in the face of bigotry. However, our objectives can be realised only when we make the effort to know one another. We cannot tarry, as lives are at stake, especially those of vulnerable LGBT Muslim youths who must contend with both homophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry”.

He concludes “Indeed, when it comes to the LGBT and Muslim communities, I’m encouraged by some of the bridge-building already in the works. And I can say from personal experience that those at the intersection of having a Muslim and LGBT identity are in the best position to do this work. The statement by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity that emphasizes such intersections and the need to avoid pitting the LGBT and Muslim communities against each other and the statement by Muslims for Progressive Values that calls for addressing the mass shooting in Friday sermons are examples of such work. But this work needs to become mainstream within Muslim communities. As concerned citizens, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike, we need to ensure that we do not allow hateful speakers to dole out hatred like poisoned candy bars to impressionable youths. We cannot afford to let hatred fester in our cities by our complacency with people who have narrow viewpoints on the world. Just as Christians and Jews are in the best position to counter bigotry within their respective communities, it is incumbent upon members of the Muslim community to rail against Muslim fearmongers, especially those who seek control through religious leadership. The Quran cautions Muslims against taking priests and scholars as lords besides Allah”.

He finishes “Events like the Orlando shooting should wake us all up —Muslim and non-Muslim alike — to positive action that allows us to embrace all communities. Indeed, when we nurture diversity, the more extreme voices get drowned out. The need of the hour is to get a grand coalition of Muslims — Sunni, Shiite, Ismaili, Ahmadi, Bohra, Sufi, among others — to work with one another against hatred of any community, specifically the LGBT. If we simply condemn terrorism but fail to address the warped religious narrative that destroys lives, then the fears that Rob and I have shared in the course of regular exchanges between two friends may sadly someday be realized and perhaps even in our peaceful city of Edmonton”.

Bangladeshi gay rights activist murdered

18/05/2016

Bangladesh police say a top gay rights activist and editor at the country’s only LGBT magazine is one of two people who have been hacked to death. The US ambassador to Bangladesh condemned the killing of Xulhaz Mannan, who also worked at the US embassy. Another person was also injured when the attackers entered a Dhaka flat. Since February last year suspected militants have killed several secular or atheist writers and members of religious minority groups. The two men were murdered two days after a university teacher was hacked to death by suspected Islamist militants. So-called Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility – but the Bangladeshi government insists there is no IS presence in the country.

“social and family pressures drive 80 percent of gay men to marry women”

25/04/2016

An unusual article notes the reasons why Chinese people support gay marriage, “In June 2015, two Chinese men filed a lawsuit after their local civil affairs bureau refused to register their marriage. When in early 2016 a district court in the southern province of Hunan agreed to hear the case, it marked the first time a Chinese court accepted a case about same-sex marriage. But on April 13, after just a few hours of deliberation, the judge ruled against the couple”.

It goes on to note “It’s a blow, albeit an expected one, to the growing number of supporters of marriage equality in China. Chinese attitudes toward same-sex unions reflect similar U.S. trends — a younger generation, less traditional than their parents, who believe that all love between two consenting adults should be recognized, and growing acceptance throughout society for individual choice and personal happiness. When the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in June 2015 effectively legalizing gay marriage around the country, Chinese netizens celebrated in droves, expressing hope that China might itself one day legalize such unions. But one major driver of Chinese support for marriage equality reflects a social issue that is virtually nonexistent Stateside: the estimated millions of Chinese women, known as tongqi, or “wives of gays,” who are trapped in loveless marriages with gay men. In the hours after the April 13 ruling, many comments on microblogging platform Weibo placed tongqi front and center in the debate about same-sex marriage. “Those who oppose same-sex marriage are just producing more tongqi,” wrote one user in a comment that received more than 10,000 likes. “I don’t admire homosexual behaviour, but if same-sex marriage is forever prohibited, won’t the tragedy of gay wives be more and more common?”asked another, adding, “The country should at least consider some reform measures on behalf of the poor women who are tongqi.” Sham marriage is a serious problem in China, where social and family pressures drive 80 percent of gay men to marry women, according to estimates from Zhang Beichuan, who directs the Beijing-based nonprofit academic society China Sexology Association. Women married to gay men often face heavy emotional and social tolls, compounded in a society where divorce and homosexuality still carry strong stigmas”.

The piece adds “Gay men married to straight women may have intentionally misled their wives in order to build a public image that conformed to societal and family expectations, but in some cases, the men may not yet have come to terms with their own sexuality. Online chat groups and support groups, such as the Beijing-based Pink Space, have helped women deal with the shock of such discoveries. While some women, like Li and Qiu, seek divorce, others remain in the marriage, especially those with children. While the online focus on tongqi suggests concern for women’s rights, the reality underlying the phenomenon is more complex. Tongfu, or “husbands of gay wives,” also exist, but less is known about their experiences.According to research by sociologist Tang Kuiyu and others at the Harbin Institute of Technology, that’s because tongfu are “less likely to take their complaints online” or seek out others in the same situation. The researchers also found that tongfu had greater financial independence than tongqi, making it easier for them to obtain divorces. The fact that middle-aged divorced men face less stigma than their female counterparts also has made it easier for tongfu to remarry”.

It ends “The pressure to marry, and to create the appearance of a life that conforms to social and family expectations, has also led some gay men and lesbians to enter into sham marriages with one another, again largely for appearances’ sake. Some couples may live together only when family is in town, though others may opt for in-vitro fertilization in order to have a child together. Li, the sexologist, who has advocated for marriage equality since 2003,believes that legalizing same-sex marriage would go far in reducing the ranks of tongqi. Many of China’s netizens seem to agree. “For every married gay couple,” wrote one Weibo user in a comment that garnered more than 8,000 likes, “there are two fewer miserable tongqi.” Not to mention two fewer men unable to pursue true happiness”.

Walt on Obama

15/04/2016

Stephen Walt, somewhat ironically, argues that President Obama is not a realist.

He opens “Obama is in the homestretch of his presidency, and it is only human for him to care about how he will be judged after he leaves office. That impulse probably explains his decision to participate in a series of interviews with the Atlantic in which he defends his approach to foreign policy and explains why he has been reluctant to use American power as widely as his critics would have liked. Not surprisingly, this story has rekindled the recurring question of whether Obama has been running a “realist” foreign policy for the past seven-plus years — or at least one heavily informed by realist thinking. (One of our country’s sillier pundits once suggested I was the secret George Kennanguiding his actions; anyone who reads this column regularly knows that U.S. foreign policy would have been markedly different if that were in fact the case.) I understand why many people regard Obama as some sort of realist, but from where I sit, the nonrealist dimensions of his presidency are as prominent and important as any realist elements. And it is those nonrealist features that account for his most obvious foreign-policy failures”.

Walt makes the bold assertion that “future historians will rate Obama highly. He will be remembered for being America’s first nonwhite president, of course, and for conducting his office with dignity, grace, and diligence. His administration was blissfully scandal-free, and he didn’t make a lot of hasty decisions that turned out badly. He was admirably thick-skinned and charitable toward most of his critics, despite the abuse and thinly veiled racism he faced from some of them. And no matter who wins in November, he is likely to look mighty good by comparison”.

Indeed the reality is almost the complete opposite to what Walt claims, Obama is thin skinned, arrogant, full of scandals, some of which Walt himself has hypocritically criticised notably the Libya debacle. On the “lack” of hasty decisions the opposite is true, he took almost a year to decide on a short lived surge in Afghanistan, only to tell the Taliban his strategy on live television, he has done nothing on Syria which in and of itself has cause irreparable harm to US leadership globally and if it cannot be stopped will instead herald a new age in multipolar rivalry and instability that will be largely, though not solely, the fault of Obama.

Walt does correctly point out the significant domestic achievements, “As we look back, Obama will get credit for health care reform, for rescuing the country from the brink of another Great Depression, and for promoting greater tolerance toward minorities through legalization of gay marriage”.

Walt goes on to describe Obama’s foreign policy as a “mixed bag” he argues “relations with China have been mostly tranquil despite the U.S. “pivot” to Asia; and the nuclear deal with Iran is a qualified success so far. I’d also give Obama props for ending America’s long and counterproductive effort to ostracize Cuba”,

Correctly he notes that “Obama’s foreign-policy record also contains a sizable number of depressing failures, beginning with Afghanistan. Obama agonized over this issue during his first year in office and ultimately sent nearly 60,000 additional troops there. He promised this temporary “surge” would turn the tide against the Taliban and enable the United States to get out with honour. It is now 2016, the Taliban control more territory than at any time since 2001, and the United States is still fighting there with no end in sight. As some of uswarned at the time, this policy was destined to fail and fail it did. Similarly, Obama’s well-intentioned efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians were a series of humiliations: Israeli settlements kept expanding, Gaza kept getting pummeled, moderate Palestinians were discredited, Hamas grew stronger, and the two-state solution that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama all favoured is now dead (if not quite buried). Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry wasted a lot of time and energy on this problem and got bupkis”.

He goes on “Obama’s response to the “Arab Spring” was no more successful. The United States helped push Hosni Mubarak out in Egypt and backed the newly elected government of Mohamed Morsi, only to reverse course and turn a blind eye when a military coup ousted Morsi and imposed another thuggish dictatorship. U.S. air power helped topple Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya (a decision Obama now regrets), and the result is a failed state where the Islamic State is active. Obama declared “Assad must go” in Syria, despite there being no good way to ensure his departure and no good candidates to replace him, and then United States helped block the initial U.N. efforts to reach a cease-fire to end the fighting. Today, Syria is in ruins, and Assad still rules the country’s key areas. Obama and his team were also blindsided by the emergence of the Islamic State and by the Houthi rebellion in Yemen. It pains me to say so, but the Middle East will be in even worse shape when he leaves office than it was when he arrived. The United States is not solely responsible for this unfortunate trend, but our repeated meddling sowed additional chaos and alienated both friends and foes alike”.

Walt goes on to mention “Obama deserves low marks for his handling of Russia. I’m no fan of Vladimir Putin, but U.S. officials erred by openly siding with the demonstrators seeking to oust former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and by failing to anticipate how Russia was likely to respond. The result was a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, an embarrassment for the United States, and a more precarious situation in Europe, which hardly needed another problem on its agenda”.

Somewhat more controversially Walt writes that “Obama does have certain instincts that are consistent with a realist outlook. He recognizes that U.S. power is not unlimited and that military power is a crude instrument that cannot solve every problem. Like most contemporary realists, he thinks the United States is extremely secure and that nuclear terrorism and climate change are the only existential threats it faces for the foreseeable future. His belief that Asia is of rising strategic importance shows an appreciation for the key role that economic and military capability — that is, hard power — play in shaping world politics. Indeed, his emphasis on “nation building at home” reflects an acute awareness that domestic strength is the bedrock of national security and international influence. And like most realists, he thinks the idea that the United States needs to fight foolish wars in order to keep its “credibility” intact is dangerous nonsense. But on the other hand, the Atlantic story shows that Obama never fully embraced a realist worldview either. He thinks there are four main strategic alternatives for the United States: realism, liberal interventionism, internationalism, and isolationism. He rejects the latter completely and believes foreign-policy making involves picking and choosing from among the first three. And though he offers some tart criticisms of the interventionist “D.C. playbook,” Obama believes (along with most of the foreign-policy establishment) that the United States is an “exceptional” power and that American leadership is still “indispensable.” At bottom, he wants to have it both ways: to acknowledge there are limits to U.S. power and some problems it can safely ignore, but to still stand ready to intervene when vital interests are at risk or when U.S. power can produce positive results”.

While this criticism is valid, Walt overlooks the fact that for years he has called for greater “off shore balancing“. This policy, which has been carried out by Obama has led to a disaster that has endangered the credibility of American power and emboldened Russia, China and a host of other nations. Obama, and Walt, have paid no attention to the consequences of the actions they propagate on the global system of which the United States is the lead player. Time cannot move fast enough for Obama to leave and for a more strategic foreign policy to be enacted in 2017. The result of Obama’s foreign policy has been a half baked interventionism, or worse a half baked isolationism.

Walt does correctly write that “seven-plus years in office, this most articulate of presidents never articulated a clear and coherent framework identifying what those vital interests are and why and spelling out how the United States could advance broader political ideals at acceptable cost and risk. To be specific: What regions of the world were worth significant commitments of American blood and treasure? Why were these regions more important than others? Under what conditions is it advisable to put U.S. citizens in harm’s way in order to keep the rest of us safe? When will the costs and risks of action outweigh the potential benefits? And don’t forget the flip side: What regions or issues are of little or no importance to the United States and can safely be left to others? The Atlantic story suggests that Obama has asked himself these questions more than once and is comfortable with the answers he has come up with for each. He is said to believe the Middle East is of declining importance, for example, and that Asia is rising. But Obama never shared his overarching vision with the rest of us, and he never openly stated that some parts of the world lay outside the sphere of vital U.S. interests and were therefore not worth sending Americans to fight and die for. Instead of laying out a hierarchy of interests and explaining the logic behind his thinking, Obama’s public utterances mostly echoed and reinforced the familiar tropes of U.S. liberal hegemony”.

Walt does make the valid criticism that “His failure to define U.S. interests clearly and his tendency to recite the familiar rhetoric of liberal hegemony had several unfortunate consequences. First, it meant Obama faced constant pressure to “do something” whenever trouble beckoned in some distant corner of the world, but he had no overarching argument or principle with which to deflect the pressure (save for the correct but unhelpful dictum to avoid “stupid shit”). The danger, as the Libya debacle shows clearly, is that advocates of intervention will sometimes manage to override more sensible instincts and convince even a reluctant president to act, even though vital U.S. interests are not at stake and Washington has no idea what it is doing. In the absence of a clear strategy, stupid shit sometimes happens anyway. Second, because Obama kept saying U.S. leadership was indispensable, he was vulnerable to hard-line criticism whenever he tried to end a failed policy or avoid some new quagmire”.

Walt argues that “Free-riding and “reckless driving” by U.S. allies clearly bothers Obama, yet he spent considerable time and effort trying to convince many of these same allies they could count on Uncle Sam no matter what happened or what they did. What was the predictable result? U.S. allies continued to misbehave in various ways while getting angry and upset because Washington wasn’t doing everything they wanted. Foreign governments might have been equally disappointed had Obama told them why they had to do more to defend themselves, but at least they would have known where they stood (and so would the American taxpayer). Most importantly, because Obama never publicly embraced an unvarnished realist outlook or tried to explain this view to the American people, he never disrupted the “D.C. playbook” that he now disparages. During his first presidential campaign, he said he didn’t want to just end the Iraq War; he also wanted to “end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.” The American people are in some ways already there, but the foreign-policy establishment hasn’t gotten the memo. The Atlantic story describes Obama as openly dismissive of the D.C. “think-tank complex,” but he appointed plenty of its members to prominent positions and embraced many of its shibboleths — most notably the indispensability of “U.S. leadership” — throughout his presidency”.

He ends “In short, Obama did not in fact run a “realist” foreign policy, because he doesn’t fully embrace a realist worldview, didn’t appoint many (any?) realists to key positions, and never really tried to dismantle the bipartisan consensus behind the grand strategy of liberal hegemony. As I’ve noted before, a genuinely “realist” foreign policy would have left Afghanistan promptly in 2009, converted our “special relationships” in the Middle East to normal ones, explicitly rejected further NATO expansion, eschewed “regime change” and other forms of social engineering in foreign countries such as Libya or Syria, and returned to the broad strategy of restrained “offshore balancing” that served the United States so well in the past. Of course, even if Obama had explained the logic behind this strategy carefully and followed it consistently, he might still have failed to transform the foreign-policy establishment’s interventionist mindset. After all, that worldview is supported by plenty of wealthy individuals, powerful corporations, influential think tanks, and well-connected lobbies. A more ambitious effort to change how Americans think about foreign policy might not have succeeded. But as his presidency approaches its close, I still wish he had tried.

“Pope Francis trusts Catholics to make their own decisions”

15/04/2016

A piece argues that Pope Francis, with his new Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia may have introduced a sort of Catholic democracy.

It opens “The three years since his election, Pope Francis has forcefully called the laity to action on issues like the fragility of the environment and spoken out on the dangers that capitalism poses for the poor and vulnerable. Until last week, he had not yet sought concrete change to church teaching on marriage and family — two of the most contentious issues for Catholics worldwide. Released on March 8, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, titled Amoris Laetitia or “Joy of Love” is the follow-up to the two synods on the family held in Rome in 2014 and 2015, where church leaders discussed issues such as the ability to take communion for the divorced, and pastoral care of LGBT Catholics. In the document’s opening paragraphs, Francis clarified that, as the head of a church with over 1 billion followers, he knows that the issue of inculturation and individual conscience — that church teachings must be adaptable to local circumstances, and that Catholics must mature in their faith, and thus be able to think for themselves — is paramount. As the first Latin American pope, writing for a global audience, he recognized that when it comes to issues of marriage, divorce, and so-called “irregular unions … each country or region can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.” In de-emphasizing the Vatican as the ultimate arbiter of personal decisions about marriage and family, Pope Francis offered the clergy more choices about ministering to the faithful. But he is also empowering the faithful themselves”.

Correctly the author notes that “To be clear: This is not the bombshell some commentators have made it out to be. Amoris Laetitia does not change church doctrine on communion for the divorced. Nor does it impact its positions on same-sex marriage, abortion, or birth control. However, it does represent what might be considered a step in Francis’ larger strategy of gradualism. The pope is trying to change the structure of authority in the church but is doing so incrementally, rather than in large, sweeping shifts. The risk of this strategy, however, is that individuals have different approaches to his notions of reform. Francis could potentially wind up undermining his authority, or subjecting his broader agenda of shifting the church to regional whims”.

The piece adds “Throughout the Amoris Laetitia, the pope re-emphasized the notion that “new pastoral methods” are needed so that pastors can “avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations” of family life. For example, divorced and remarried Catholics should consult with pastors about communion, in what the church referred to as an “internal forum,” effectively giving them permission to prayerfully examine their consciences about participating in the sacrament rather than simply forcing them to decline it. Francis also stated that the church has sometimes foisted an “artificial theological ideal of marriage” on couples. The result: an idealized image of a nuclear family”.

The article goes on to mention, “The solution proposed for the growing number of families that do not fit traditional modes is to put these decisions into the hands of the laity and their priests. Although there is sometimes a perception from non-Catholics that Catholicism is a tradition of “pray, pay, and obey,” historical precedent demonstrates that private decision-making about church teaching has long been a part of how people live out their faith. The Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae, released under Pope Paul VI in 1965, told Catholics that they are not “to be restrained from acting in accordance with [their] conscience, especially in matters religious.” For Catholic families, that has long meant that decisions about divorce and birth control were mostly made privately, because church doctrine’s emphasis on the primacy of conscience trusted in believers’ mature discernment about these issues. Amoris Laetitia did not explicitly encourage either of these things, but instead emphasised the notion of individual discernment: In plain terms, this means that Pope Francis trusts Catholics to make their own decisions”.

Interestingly the writer notes that “Francis’ emphasis on discernment reflects his Jesuit background. In his essay “Discernment: A Key to Amoris Laetitia,” Jesuit writer Father James Martin said discernment involves “prayerful decision-making” that “takes into account the richness and complexity of a person’s life.” Along those lines, Francis cautioned against “black-and-white thinking” and emphasized that moral laws are not “stones to throw at people’s lives.” For an example, “it can no longer simply be said,” according to Francis, “that all those living in any ‘irregular situation’ are living in a state of mortal sin.” Here, the pope referred to situations like couples living together before marriage and single mothers. However, he did not specifically refer to same-sex couples, although he did stress the need for compassion and sensitivity toward LGBT people. All of this suggests that Francis understands that traditional church doctrine can often conflict with the complexities of modern life. He is a reformer who believes the church can adapt to better serve those complexities, but he knows the only realistic way to bring about change is to do so gradually and subtly”.

The author makes the valid point that “The potential pitfalls of Francis’ strategy, however, are twofold. Handing this measure of flexibility to the clergy is a risky way of bringing about reform. The clergy are, after all, as diverse in their opinions about family life as the people they serve. Therefore, Francis’ emphasis on inculturation is doubtlessly strategic. Indeed, the Amoris Laetitia seemed to go to great lengths to make bishops and priests from around the world feel a part of his mission of incremental change. The text included quotations from global groups of bishops, including those from Chile, who critique the “perfect families” depicted in “consumerist propaganda that has nothing to do with the realities faced by the heads of families” — echoing Francis’ attacks on consumerism as a“throwaway culture.” By making global church leaders feel included in the document, Francis again emphasized the notion of locality, and of a church that is adaptable to different cultural norms. On the other hand, Francis is aware that nations with more draconian laws about the LGBT community may not welcome the idea that such people should be “respected in his or her dignity” and provided with “respectful pastoral guidance.” In a nation like Uganda, for example, this will be a challenge and could upset the church hierarchy there. It could, theoretically, also cause local church leaders to act more independently and harshly toward LGBT Catholics as a result of that independence — as the bishops in Malawi recently did when they denounced the government for failing to imprison LGBT citizens”.

He ends noting that “Many of the church leaders emphasizing the need for reform on family issues are European. Germany’s Cardinal Walter Kasper, often described as a progressive member of the hierarchy and a close confidant of the pope, has called for the church to serve as an “outstretched hand” rather than a “raised moral finger.” But European Catholics have long been leaving the church behind when it comes to decisions about family life. Italian Catholics have some of the lowest birth rates in Europe. They have also distanced themselves from the Vatican politically, and divorce is increasingly common in their country. Thus, many European and North American Catholics alike have already been following their consciences for decades by continuing to take communion after a divorce, or participating in the church while taking birth control. The statistical evidence that a large percentage of American Catholics support marriage equality, for example, means that much of the new document may turn out to be redundant. Francis’ strategy of gradually devolving the Vatican’s authority down to priests and laypeople might be comparable to issues of states’ rights in America. When a social issue like abortion or marriage equality is complex and affected by the culture and politics of a particular region, the Supreme Court or the president is likely to kick that issue back to state leaders. It is at the more local level, therefore, that the groundswell for change can begin — this, it seems, is Francis’ attitude toward provoking change in the Catholic Church”.

He concludes “He is unlikely to change church teaching, however. What he is doing, instead, is emphasizing the pastoral approach to an evolving global notion of family life. And a pastoral approach requires one-on-one listening and dialogue, another of the pope’s favorite topics. There is only one pope, but there are 1 billion Catholics. Unlike the celibate, unmarried leaders of their faith, many of them have families of their own. By entrusting them to consider making their own decisions about the complexities of family life, Pope Francis has revealed that he’s playing the long game when it comes to reform. What Amoris Letitia reveals is a leader who trusts in his followers’ judgment. That, in and of itself, may be the most radical change of all”.

America’s new nuncio?

10/03/2016

Rocco writes about the new, though yet to be announced nuncio to the United States, “Less than two months since Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano reached the retirement age of 75 – and, indeed, all of two days after that came up here – the choice of his successor as Nuncio to the US is reportedly at hand: in a piece published earlier today on his Settimo Cielo blog, the conservative Italian vaticanista Sandro Magister said that Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the 70 year-old French-born legate to Mexico, is the Pope’s selection for the DC posting, with an announcement said to be “imminent.” A mission-chief for 20 years – and the Vatican’s man in Mexico since 2007 – the reported choice would mark another move by Francis to highlight the “peripheries” toward which the pontiff has ceaselessly prodded the church; Pierre’s first assignment as a Nuncio was over four years (1995-99) in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere”.

Rocco goes on to make the point that “two weeks after the Pope’s long-desired stop at the US border and subsequent doubling-down on it, what would be a provocative transfer north given the US’ political climate would bring a figure intimately familiar with matters of immigration as the Holy See’s representative to the US government, to say nothing of the Nuncio’s role as the Pope’s eyes, ears and voice to an American Catholic fold which has been transformed by an influx of Hispanic migration. On yet another key front, unlike the prior lead occupants of 3339 Massachusetts Av NW, Pierre would arrive in the States with an unusually well-steeped understanding of the church in the Southern and Western US, which have jointly surpassed the old bastions of the Northeast and upper Midwest over recent years in becoming the majority bloc of the nation’s 70 million faithful. All at once, the prospect of Pierre’s appointment would both come as a surprise and not as one. While the name of the Frenchman has circulated in authoritative quarters only over the last six weeks or so, from the outset of the succession talks the most widely cited name for the DC post has been Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the bubbly Italian who won great acclaim and affection in New York’s church and diplomatic circles over his eight years as the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations headquarters there”.

Rocco adds however that “Now 63 and transferred to Poland since 2010, the onetime “deputy foreign minister” in the Secretariat of State notably became the first quarterback for the Vatican’s amplified environmental push under Benedict XVI, which Migliore championed on the Holy See’s behalf in the UN’s deliberations. That said, a current of opposition to Migliore’s appointment to the US began circulating early this year, and given the word of Pierre’s selection, the Mexico rep.’s experience with migration issues – and the Pope’s ostensible desire to send another message on their import – would appear to have tipped the balance in his favour”.

Interestingly, he goes on to make the point “As Francis marks the third anniversary of his election on Sunday, it bears recalling that Papa Bergoglio has not followed the tradition of his predecessors in his choice to stick with the US representative he inherited for a lengthy period of time. Over the last half-century and more, each new Pope has traditionally placed a diplomat of his own choosing in Washington within the first year of his pontificate, reflecting the assignment’s immense import both on civil and ecclesial fronts, above all in the Nuncio’s most consuming function: compiling the massive amounts of consultation, research and reports which set the stage for every appointment of a bishop”.

He then gives the requiste background “Named to Washington in October 2011, Viganò’s assignment to the post was widely perceived as an “exile” from Rome in the wake of his unsuccessful campaign to combat mismanagement and graft in Vatican City’s finances and contracts as the city-state’s deputy mayor. Following his arrival, the archbishop’s pleas to Benedict for support in the cause became a centerpiece of the incendiary “Vatileaks” document drops, which destabilized the Curia for the bulk of 2012 while winning Viganò a significant amount of praise for his forceful efforts. In the wake of Francis’ election, the new Pope’s push for Curial reform and a financial cleanup led to well-placed expectations that Viganò would see his triumphant return to Rome in a leading post. The speculation turned to naught, however, after a smear campaign by the archbishop’s enemies and circulated in the Italian press is believed to have short-circuited the move”.

Crucially he writes that “Having laid the groundwork for the Pope’s markedly successful East Coast trip last September, the career diplomat landed in the center of another ferocious storm in the visit’s wake when it emerged that Kim Davis – the Kentucky clerk who was briefly jailed for refusing to perform same-sex marriages on religious freedom grounds – was quietly greeted by Francis at the DC Nunciature between public engagements. In a remarkable clarification issued in response to the furore caused by word of the meeting, a Vatican statement said that, with Davis among “several dozen” people present, “such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. While the release emphasized that “the Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.” it likewise revealed that “the only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.” The former student was later found to be openly gay and had brought his partner to the encounter”.

Rocco ends the piece “Having won wide esteem among the US bishops with his gracious style, quiet assists and commitment to a heavy travel schedule to take part in local church events, Viganò was feted by the bench at last November’s plenary in Baltimore with the traditional champagne reception which the USCCB accords to a Vatican representative attending his final meeting. That said, as the archbishop’s success at ultimately obtaining the appointments of those he’s recommended has largely been stymied by the influence of the Stateside cardinals on the Congregation for Bishops – who vote on the ultimate endorsement of a candidate before the file reaches the Pope – Viganò’s “swan song” pick on these shores is understood to have been the July elevation of one of his favorites, Fr Robert Barron, as auxiliary of Los Angeles, a move that stoked widespread shock among the American hierarchy”.

Interestingly, Rocco does not mention the fate of Vigano. There are, as ever, a number of posts available should Francis wish to reward Vigano. Notably these are the archpriest’s job at Santa Maria Maggiore. However, in light of the chaos seemingly favoured by Francis he may wish to not reward/punish Vigano for his Davis stunt and his preference for favouring ecclestical no-bodies.

“Agreed to revisit a previous judgement that upheld a law criminalising gay sex”

07/02/2016

India’s Supreme Court has agreed to revisit a previous judgement that upheld a law criminalising gay sex. Three senior judges said the 2013 ruling would be re-examined by a larger bench of judges, in a move that has been welcomed by activists. The judges said that the issue was a “matter of constitutional importance”. According to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a 155-year-old colonial-era law, a same-sex relationship is an “unnatural offence”. In deeply conservative India, homosexuality is a taboo and many people still regard same-sex relationships as illegitimate.  There has been a very vocal campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in India”.

“They don’t have the pope’s explicit endorsement, they’re at least not defying him”

05/02/2016

A piece in Crux by John Allen notes how Pope Francis is sending mixed signals on civil unions for gays, “Last weekend, tens of thousands of Italians took to at least 100 piazzas up and down the country to demonstrate their support for a measure currently before the Italian parliament, and backed by the governing center-left majority, to provide civil unions for same-sex couples along with full adoption rights. On Saturday, another wave of demonstrators is expected to flood Rome’s Circus Maximus to oppose that measure, in a rally known as Family Day. It was originally set for the square outside St. John Lateran, for centuries the seat of the papacy, but organizers say they were forced to relocate due to the high number of people planning to take part. The event is expected to be so big that the Italian train company is offering a 30 percent discount to people traveling to Rome using the code “Family30”, which is standard practice for large national happenings. When backers of the civil unions bill protested in this case, the company apologized but did not withdraw the discount”.

Allen writes that “Backers believe they have enough support to pass it, although since parties have indicated that members are free to vote their consciences, hard counts are illusive. This is Italy, so from the beginning of the ferment, one question above all has loomed over the debate: “Where does Pope Francis stand?” Early on, it seemed plausible Francis might just sit this one out”.

Allen goes on to remind readers that “when Argentina geared up for a national debate over gay marriage in 2010, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was publicly critical, but privately signaled he’d be willing to live with civil unions as a compromise measure. In the end that didn’t happen, and Argentina became the first nation in Latin America to legalise gay marriage. Yet memories of the future pope’s position have endured. When a precursor to Saturday’s Family Day rally was staged last June, the pope’s man within the powerful Italian bishops’ conference, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, was seen as distinctly cool to the idea. The assumption was he was acting with at least the tacit support of the pope, if not his outright blessing”.

The confusion of where Pope Francis stands comes from when he “abruptly canceled a meeting last Wednesday with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the president of the Italian bishops’ conference and a vocal proponent of Family Day. Many took that as a snub, suggesting that Francis wants to keep his distance from the fight. Two days later, however, Francis reversed course and stepped directly into the debate. In an annual speech to a Vatican court, Francis issued a blunt warning that “there can be no confusion between the family willed by God and any other type of union,” which was taken by Italians as a criticism of the Cirinnà bill and, at least indirectly, an endorsement of Family Day”.

Allen makes the point that “There’s already some indication that the latest signals coming from Francis may be changing the political landscape. Late last week, backers of the civil unions bill presented a packet of modifications, including language clearly distinguishing the relationships from marriage, and also requiring that a family tribunal evaluate all proposed adoptions to be sure they’re in the child’s best interests. Other amendments include that if a couple in a civil union splits up, they will no longer be entitled to use the same last name, another effort to make it different from marriage. Those revisions, however, have not satisfied the bill’s critics. In the meantime, some backers of the bill are now threatening to vote “no” if it’s watered down any further”.

Allen tries to unpick the reasons for Francis’ mixed messages, “In Argentina six years ago, the alternative to civil unions was full marriage rights; in Italy, no one has put gay marriage on the table, and at least for now, it’s a political non-starter”.

The second point he notes is that the Church in Italy is divided, “the Italian media has made a great deal of a perceived rupture between Galantino and Bagnasco, and more broadly a divide in the Italian Church, with some dioceses participating heartily in Family Day and others effectively ignoring it. In that context, Francis may feel the need to demonstrate solidarity with Bagnasco by not undercutting his position”.

He adds that the Church has influence in Italy, “For all its travails, the Catholic Church still has significant social capital and packs a political punch. That doesn’t mean the Italian Church wins all the time; famously, it lost referenda in 1974 over divorce and in 1981 over abortion, and prevailed in 2005 over stem cell research only by persuading Italians not to vote in order to invalidate the ballot. Yet Mass-going Catholics remain a sizable chunk of the national population and are well represented in both major political parties, and their sentiments have to be at least considered. Certainly the pope himself still has some political muscle in his own backyard. It was a perceived rebuke from Francis in September, after all, that’s credited with bringing down Rome’s former mayor Ignazio Marino. Perhaps the calculation on the civil unions proposal — to paraphrase a Star Trek “Borg” reference — is that resistance is not futile”.

Allen ends “For now, the pro-family demonstrators planning to turn out in Rome on Saturday can feel that if they don’t have the pope’s explicit endorsement, they’re at least not defying him … and in Italian political life, now as ever, that’s no small thing”.

Yet this lack of a clear position makes Francis meaningless to the debate. Either Francis stands with the hypisocracy of the Church’s teaching or he says nothing.

How Latin America accepted gays

01/02/2016

An interesting article discusses how homosexuality become normal in Latin America, “From the early 1970s through the late 1980s, no place in the world was more unfriendly, dangerous, and potentially lethal for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people than Latin America”.

This is of course a sweeping statement. Swathes of Asia were, and still are openly hostile to gay people to say nothing of Africa and the Middle East.

He goes on that those in Latin America, “Viewing homosexuality as the ultimate sign of bourgeois decadence, Communist Cuba imprisoned and tortured gays by the truckloads, a horror captured in novelist Reynaldo Arenas’ gripping memoir, Before Night Falls. Argentina’s right-wing military regime targeted gays through the so-called Proceso Nacional, a dirty war waged between 1976 and 1983 to rid the country of political dissidents and so-called social undesirables. By the late 1980s, the scale of deadly violence against homosexuals in Brazil was so vast that it prompted gay rights activists to declare a “homocaust” and instigated a 1995 Amnesty International report, Breaking the Silence, about worldwide violence against LGBT people. This marked the first time that a major human rights organization had shined a spotlight on gay issues”.

He writes that “Today, however, Latin America stands, alongside Western Europe and the United States, among the most progressive regions on LGBT rights. All Latin American nations have decriminalized homosexuality, with Panama being the last country to abolish an anti-sodomy law, in 2008; and all of them have laws in the books protecting gays and lesbians against discrimination. Same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and in several Mexican states and the Federal District of Mexico City. Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador allow same-sex civil unions that offer same-sex couples all the benefits of marriage save for the name”.

The writer notes that asks how attitudes changed in Latin America, “External influence has certainly played a big role in Latin America’s “gay rights revolution.” For starters, for several decades now, the region has been engulfed in a tidal wave of “global queering,” a term that refers to the worldwide spread of homosexual identities and cultural practices launched by the gay liberation movement born with the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Widely known as the launch pad for the contemporary gay rights movement, Stonewall inspired a generation of Latin American gay activists to import the gospel of gay liberation to the region. They were led by the Frente de Liberación Homosexual (FLH), Latin America’s first viable gay rights organization. Founded in Buenos Aires in 1971, the FLH promoted sexual nonconformity, pride in being gay, and repeal of the infamous edictos policiales, federal ordinances that made homosexuality a crime in practice although not in law. (Argentina, like most of Latin America, decriminalized homosexuality in the nineteenth century, influenced by France’s Napoleonic Civil Code). Although the FLH was viciously crushed by the military in 1976, after the return of democracy to Argentina in 1983, its legacy inspired a new generation of gay activists to pick up the cause”.

He adds that “Pressure and shaming from international human rights organizations has also facilitated gay rights by aiding in the “socialization” of Latin American governments into human rights norms and practices. During the 1980s, gay activists at the Inter-American Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission created a splash by pushing the United States and Canada into granting political asylum to a number of Latin Americans who claimed that their lives were endangered by the fact that they were homosexual. The most famous of these cases was that of Marcelo Tenorio, a gay male from Brazil, the first person to be granted asylum in the United States on the grounds of his sexual orientation. Tenorio told U.S. immigration officials that he fled Brazil in 1990 after he was stabbed outside of a gay bar in Rio de Janeiro in 1989 and that he feared for his life if forced to go home. In coming to his rescue, activists were aiming as much to save gay lives as to embarrass the Brazilian government for its horrid treatment of gays and lesbians. International pressure has also encouraged Latin American nations to enact policies and legislation specifically intended to advance gay civil rights. In 1991, after denying legal recognition to the Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (CHA), Argentine President Carlos Menem was treated to a shaming campaign while traveling in the United States. It was waged by ACT-UP Americas, an offshoot of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), the New York-based organization famous for its attention-grabbing activism. Menem was accosted virtually everywhere he went, including at the Argentine consulate in New York”.

He then mentions that “the timely intervention by several individual foreign nations, most notably Spain. After 2005, when Spain became the first Roman Catholic nation to legalize same-sex marriage, the Socialist administration of José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero made LGBT rights a priority in its diplomatic relations with Latin America. This intervention, ably aided by a host of Spanish NGOs, such as Fundación Triángulo and the Federación Estatal LGBT, is credited with spurring gay rights policies throughout Latin America, especially same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage. No other Latin American country was more impacted by this “diffusion” effect than Argentina, a country that is predominantly populated by people of European descent, has high levels of social and economic development, and possesses Latin America’s richest history of organized activism around the issue of homosexuality”.

He then argues that since the “homegrown” factors also helped such as the rise of democracy on the continent and “the growing secularisation of the public, as can be seen in the rise of so-called lapsed Catholics, also known as “cultural Catholics.” These are self-professed Catholics who do not see themselves as beholden to the Church’s teachings. In countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, about two-thirds of all Catholics fall into this category. These religious trends, which have undoubtedly have been accelerated by the Church’s loss of moral authority ensuing from its support of bloodthirsty dictatorships and sex abuse scandals, have made the public more accepting of homosexuality and more supportive of gay rights”.

He ends “Latin America’s gay rights successes cannot be fully understood without accounting for the smart advocacy by gay rights activists. What Latin American gay activists have lacked in the way of organizational resources relative to their counterparts in the United States and Western Europe—such as large membership bases and political connections—they have more than compensated for by crafting some of savviest gay rights campaigns around. Most notably, whereas gay activists in the United States have waged a “civil rights struggle” to advance gay rights, including same-sex marriage, in much of Latin America gay activists have waged a “human rights crusade.” The former seeks to legitimize gay rights through national law while the latter finds the legitimacy of gay rights in the universality of human rights. The framing of the struggle for gay rights as a human rights crusade was most expertly realized in Argentina. After the transition to democracy, in 1983, Argentine gay activists folded their aspiration for ending antigay discriminatory policies and for extending civil rights protections into the large and influential Argentine human rights community born from the political excesses of the Dirty War. To drive home the point that gay rights are human rights, activists adopted the slogan “the freedom of sexuality is a basic human right.” That slogan foreshadowed the popular idea that “gay rights are human rights” in European and American gay politics”.

 

 

 

 

Schism in Anglicanism

23/01/2016

A report in the Washington Post reports on the effective schism within the Anglican Communion, “For the first time, the global organizing body of Anglicans has punished the Episcopal Church, following years of heated debate with the American church over homosexuality, same-sex marriage and the role of women. The Anglican Communion’s announcement Thursday that it would suspend its U.S. branch for three years from key voting positions was seen as a blow to the Episcopal Church, which allows its clergy to perform same-sex marriages and this summer voted to include the rite in its church laws. It was also seen as a victory for conservative Anglicans, especially those in Africa,, who for years have been pressing the Anglican Communion to discipline the U.S. body”.

The piece notes that ““The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union,” the leaders of the Anglican Communion, which represents 44 national churches, said in a statement during a meeting in Canterbury. “The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.” Although it’s too early to predict what will happen three years from now, when the Episcopal Church could vote on its response to the suspension at its denomination-wide meeting, observers say it is unlikely that the U.S. church will reverse its position on same-sex marriage. This could prompt the Anglicans to continue the suspension or make it even harsher, not allowing the Episcopal Church to fill key positions on the global body”.

The report goes on to mention “The decision in England will have little impact on Episcopalians in the pews, who have grown increasingly liberal after the 2003 consecration of the openly gay priest Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire. That action prompted dozens of U.S. churches to break off and declare their allegiance to conservative rival groups. Michael Curry, the Episcopal Church’s newly-elected presiding bishop told the other primates –top bishops from each of the national churches — that the Anglican’s sanction would be received painfully by many in the U.S. denomination”.

The piece adds “In remarks he has made available to Episcopal News Service, Curry said the Episcopal Church has a “commitment to be an inclusive church.” “I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society,” Curry, the church’s first African American presiding bishop, told the primates. “And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.” The Anglican Communion is a global family of churches that historically descended from the missionary efforts of the Church of England. Unlike the Catholic Church, Anglicans do not have a hierarchical head in a pope, but it has a leader in Canterbury that gathers church leaders together. The constituent churches, which preside over a membership of about 85 million, are self-governing”.

By way of background it mentions that “Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby announced in September that he had summoned Anglican leaders to a special meeting, seen as an attempt to stop a larger Anglican schism. A spokeswoman for Welby said he will be holding a news conference Friday. Ahead of the meetings this week, some expected the primates on the more conservative end of the church to walk out of the meetings if the Episcopal Church was not sanctioned. Like other mainline denominations, the Episcopal Church, home to U.S. presidents and the nation’s elite, has struggled to fill its pews in recent years. It has lost more than 20 percent of its members since it consecrated Robinson, and new statistics suggest that membership continues to fall, dropping 2.7 percent from 2013 to about 1.8 million U.S. members in 2014″.

Unsupuringly the author notes “The Communion has been divided globally and in the United States for years over issues from gay rights to women’s ordination to how to read the Bible. The dispute has led to multimillion-dollar lawsuits over who has the right to church properties. Episcopalians and breakaway Anglicans in Falls Churchwere embattled over tens of millions of dollars in property, a court dispute which the Episcopal Church eventually won. The suspension stipulates that the Episcopal Church can no longer represent the Anglican Communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee or take part in decisionmaking “on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion.” The primates on the more conservative end of the church wanted the Episcopal Church’s full withdrawal from the Communion for three years, a period during which they would not be able to be present or vote at meetings, according to a spokesperson for Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church of North America, a breakaway group of conservative churches in the U.S. The group has not been formally recognized by the Anglican Communion”.

 

Gay marriage in Taiwan?

21/01/2016

An article notes that Taiwan could be the first in Asia to legalise gay marriage, “Austin feels lucky to be Taiwanese. A gay man, he freely enjoys Taipei’s vibrant club scene, centered around Red House, an historic theatre from the early 20th century. At night, groups of male friends parade the square and frequent its numerous gay bars before heading to a nearby club, where they dance to female K-pop bands. In many ways, Taiwan is already more free than other countries, he said. He is “not afraid someone will hurt me” because he is gay. But marriage equality for Taiwanese like Austin is not yet a reality, and proposals to legalize same-sex marriage have gained little traction in Taiwan’s legislature. The idea’s popularity is rising, however, and island-wide elections on Jan. 16 — when the more liberal Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is projected to oust the long-ruling Kuomintang (KMT) from the presidency and possibly the Legislative Yuan — could put Taiwan one step closer to becoming the first Asian nation to permit same-sex marriage”.

The article mentions “Previous attempts at marriage equality on the self-governing island have failed. First proposed in a draft amendment to human rights legislation in 2003, marriage equality was put on the table again in 2013 by DPP legislators, this time in the form of a proposal to amend Taiwan’s Civil Code. It stalled. But public support for same-sex marriage equality on this self-governing island of 23 million is on the rise. In July 2015, thousands of LGBT activistsmarched through the capital, Taipei, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, effectively legalizing it nationwide. A 2015 poll sponsored by Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice found that 71 percent of respondents favoured legalising same-sex marriage, and imminently”.

Interestingly it adds “Other initiatives in Taiwan have sought to advance same-sex partner rights. Cities across Taiwan last year began to accept civil partnership household registration for same-sex partners, and allowed same-sex couples to join in mass marriage ceremonies, though both the household registration and the marriage ceremonies do not carry legal weight. The Ministry for Health recently allowed a special interpretation of the Medical Care Act to permit same-sex couples visitation rights and to make medical decisions for each other. Support for marriage equality also runs relatively strong within the DPP. Although the party has not formally adopted a party-wide stance on the issue, many of its candidates support the current draft of same-sex marriage legislation. “A little less than [75 per cent] of all DPP legislators support the bill,” according to Michael Cole, senior editor and researcher at Thinking Taiwan, a DPP-funded nonpartisan think tank. “And the chances that it would be passed will be substantially higher if, once the new legislature opens on Feb. 1 the DPP and the third force parties have succeeded in securing a majority of seats in the Jan. 16 elections,” Cole said, using a term for third parties besides the KMT and DPP. According to a survey by Pride Watch Taiwan, an LGBT rights advocacy group, an overwhelming majority of supporters for the bill are DPP candidates. Most opponents are KMT candidates”.

The report notes that “Opposition to same-sex marriage has come from a small but vocal minority of conservative religious groups. In November 2013, when a marriage equality bill originally proposed by Cheng Li-chiun and Yu Mei-nu, both DPP legislators, first entered parliament for consideration, tens of thousands of anti-gay marriage protesters took to the streets. But those groups are quite marginal in broader Taiwanese society, Dafydd Fell, director of the Taiwan Studies Centre at the School for Oriental and African Studies in London, told Foreign Policy via email. The marriage equality question in Taiwan, as elsewhere, often splits along a generational divide. Yu, a long-time advocate of women’s and LGBT rights, told FP that supporters of the bill “are from the younger generation,” while those decision-makers over 40 or 50 years old tend to oppose it. It so happens this generational divide is deepening, for reasons that include but go well beyond the marriage equality question. Dissatisfaction with the administration of current President and KMT member Ma Ying-jeou — in particular, his mounting coziness with mainland China — culminated in the occupation of Taiwan’s parliament by students and civic activists in March and April 2014, and at least 100,000 protesters rallied in the streets, a series of events known as the Sunflower Movement. Fledgling political parties founded in its wake have focused on social justice issues such as indigenous rights, environmental protection, women’s rights, and LGBT issues. The New Power Party, established in early 2015, has rapidly risen in the polls to become Taiwan’s third most popular”.

It concludes, “Tsai’s embrace of the issue does not extend fully to the lower levels of the DPP. When the Green Party/Social Democratic Party Alliance asked all political candidates to pledge their support as sponsor or co-sponsor of a marriage equality bill during these elections, only nine KMT and 13 DPP candidates agreed; but all candidates from liberal third parties have signed the pledge, including all 11 candidates put forth by the New Power Party (NPP). That puts its passage in continued doubt, even with a DPP victory. “To pass this bill, it must have the major parties’ strong political will,” said Victoria Hsu, candidate for the Green Party-Social Democratic Party Alliance and one of the authors of the 2013 Marriage Equality Bill. Tsai’s support, at least, appears genuine. She promised support for same-sex marriage during her unsuccessful campaign in the island’s previous presidential election. In an October 2015 Facebook video, she directly expressed support for marriage equality — just in time for Taipei’s Gay Pride parade. “Everyone is equal before love,” she said. Tsai’s running mate, Chen Chien-jen, is a prominent member of the Catholic community, but in November 2015 quoted Pope Francis, saying everyone has the right to pursue happiness. “The Lord loves everyone, so he loves homosexuals,” Chen said“.

Ukraine: Homophobia over realism

21/11/2015

A piece notes that Ukraine has chosen homophobia over closer links to the EU, “On Nov. 10 the Verkhovna Rada refused to pass a law that would have allowed Ukrainian citizens to have the long-awaited privilege of visa-free travel in the European Union. The reason behind the legislation’s resounding defeat? A provision preventing discrimination against gays in the workplace. This provision, which is a precondition for visa-free travel set by the EU, ignited a vociferous outcry, and ultimately turned into a red line which the Rada refused to cross. “As a country with a thousand-year-old Christian history, we simply cannot allow this,” is how Rada deputy Pavlo Unguryan, a member of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s own party, explained it after a previous attempt to pass the legislation on Nov. 5 failed”.

The report adds “This isn’t the first homophobic news to come out of Ukraine this year: On June 6, members of the ultranationalist group Right Sector attacked Kiev’s gay pride parade, brutally injuring numerous marchers as well as police. In July, when a pair of gay activists decided to test the extent of Ukraine’s new Western values by holding hands in the middle of Kiev, they were quickly assaulted by thugs. On Nov. 2, the Kyiv Post profiled Mykola Dulskiy, the founder of a vigilante group called Fashion Verdict, whose mission, according to the article, is to “sweep promiscuity, gambling, sexual offenders and homosexuality from the streets of Ukraine’s cities.” The “verdict” is delivered in a rather straightforward manner: Members of the organization track down and beat anyone they deem degenerate”.

The implications of this can be seen when he notes “But the damage caused by the Rada’s refusal to pass anti-discrimination laws extends far beyond generating just one more negative headline for Ukraine. It undermines the two biggest factors that enabled the country to survive the horrors of the two previous years: Western support and the dream of European integration. EU association is the issue that ignited Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution in November 2013. “Ukraine is Europe” was the rallying call for the hundreds of thousands who flocked to Kiev bearing EU flags following then-president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to go against the will of his people and cast Ukraine’s lot with Russia. Today, billions of dollars, over 2 million refugees and internally displaced persons, and thousands of lost lives later, a new group of politicians is once again dealing a blow to the dream of EU integration — all in the name of homophobia”.

The report goes on to argue “Some politicians, such as Oksana Syroyid, the Rada’s deputy speaker, hinted in a Nov. 9 remark that the anti-gay discrimination requirement had been suddenly sprung on the Rada. In reality, the EU made it clear as early as 2010 and continued reminding the Rada of its importance in the lead-up to the vote. It must also be noted that Moldova — another former Soviet republic mired in post-Soviet corruption and malaise — already enjoys the privilege of visa-free travel because it managed to pass a similar law. For the past two years, Ukraine has asked the West to provide it with billions of dollars, material support, and training, as well as to enact and sustain sanctions against Russia — sanctions that hurt not only the Russian economy but also the economies of Western Europe. Time and again, Ukrainian politicians fought to keep themselves at the forefront of Western agendas by reminding the West that Ukraine has been fighting not just for its sovereignty, but also for democratic values”.

Crucially the piece argues “By turning down the chance to pass reforms that would enable visa-free travel to Europe, the Rada undercuts the very EU and American support that is keeping Ukraine alive. This couldn’t have come at a worse time. Over the past several months, public statements by American leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, have made it clear that Kiev’s window of opportunity to battle the corruption that continues to plague the ex-Soviet republic is growing smaller. Europe, already strained by dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis and rehabilitating the Greek economy, is also running out of patience. “You keep reforming and we will keep supporting. That is the contract we are making with you,” is how Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, put it during a visit to Kiev earlier this year. There is a not-so-veiled flip side to that statement: Support, dear Kiev, is conditional. You stop reforming, we stop supporting”.

Sadly the report adds later that “The ultimate irony in all this is that Eastern Europe already has a country with organizations of homophobic thugs and politicians who use conservative Christian traditions to justify an atrocious record of violating the rights of the LGBT community. That is the very country Ukraine is trying to separate itself from: Russia. In perusing websites and statements by both Russian and Ukrainian far right groups and politicians, one is stunned by the identical tone: Both invoke the imagery of a nation with “a thousand-year history of Christianity” battling back the encroachment of decadent Western values in order to justify their cause. Both use the same derogatory terms for homosexuals. Both insist that their country can have a future only once it is cleansed of “foreign” influences. The only difference is, one set of slogans is written in Russian, the other in Ukrainian”.

It ends “Ukraine’s politicians just squandered the opportunity to justify the bloodshed and horror that so many of their people have endured over the past two years. Instead — and in spite of their loud declarations of being European — they chose to embrace homophobia, placing themselves firmly in line with Russia. Big sister would be proud”.

 

Francis risks civil war

21/11/2015

Damian Thompson writes in the Spectator that Pope Francis is risking a Catholic civil war, “Last Sunday, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica carried an article by Eugenio Scalfari, one of the country’s most celebrated journalists, in which he claimed that Pope Francis had just told him that ‘at the end of faster or slower paths, all the divorced who ask [to receive Holy Communion] will be admitted’. Catholic opinion was stunned. The Pope had just presided over a three-week synod of bishops at the Vatican that was sharply divided over whether to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacrament. In the end, it voted to say nothing much”.

Thompson goes on to write “On Monday, the Pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said Scalfari’s report was ‘in no way reliable’ and ‘cannot be considered the Pope’s thinking’. Fair enough, you may think. Scalfari is 91 years old. Also, he doesn’t take notes during his interviews or use a tape recorder. Of course he’s not ‘reliable’. But that didn’t satisfy the media. They pointed out that the Pope knew exactly what he was letting himself in for. This is the fourth time he has chosen to give an interview to a man who relies on his nonagenarian memory. In their last encounter, Scalfari quoted the Pope as saying that two per cent of Catholic priests were paedophiles, including bishops and cardinals. Poor Lombardi had to clean up after that one, too. Last time round, Catholics gave Francis the benefit of the doubt. This time many of them are saying: never mind Scalfari, how can you trust what the Pope says? We’re two and a half years into this pontificate. But it’s only in the past month that ordinary conservative Catholics, as opposed to hardline traditionalists, have started saying that Pope Francis is out of control”.

Correctly Thompson makes the crucial distinction, “Out of control, note. Not ‘losing control’, which isn’t such a big deal. No pontiff in living memory has awakened the specific fear now spreading around the church: that the magisterium, the teaching authority vested in Peter by Jesus, is not safe in his hands. The non-Catholic media have yet to grasp the deadly nature of the crisis facing the Argentinian Pope. They can see that his public style is relaxed and adventurous; they conclude from his off-the-cuff remarks that he is liberal (by papal standards) on sensitive issues of sexual morality, and regards hard-hearted conservative bishops as hypocrites”.

Thompson goes on to argue that “All of which is true. But journalists — and the Pope’s millions of secular fans — get one thing badly wrong. They assume, from his approachable manner and preference for the modest title ‘Bishop of Rome’, that Jorge Bergoglio wears the office of Supreme Pontiff lightly. As anyone who works in the Vatican will tell you, this is not the case. Francis exercises power with a self-confidence worthy of St John Paul II, the Polish pope whose holy war against communism ended in the collapse of the Soviet bloc. But that’s where the similarities end. John Paul never hid the nature of his mission. He was determined to clarify and consolidate the teachings of the church. Francis, by contrast, wants to move towards a more compassionate, less rule-bound church. But he refuses to say how far he is prepared to go. At times he resembles a motorist driving at full speed without a map or a rear-view mirror. And when the car stalls, as it did at the October synod on the family, he does a Basil Fawlty and thrashes the bonnet with a stick”.

He goes on to write “The Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’ gave a temporary boost to climate activists. It was the conference on the family that was historic, but not in a good way. During the synod, ordinary devout Catholics began to wonder if Francis’s judgment had deserted him — or whether he’d always been a far stranger man than his carefree public image suggested. In church circles the worries began in October last year, when the Pope staged an ‘extraordinary’ preparatory synod that fell apart in front of his eyes. Halfway through the gathering, the organisers — hand-picked by Francis — announced that it favoured lifting the communion ban and wanted to recognise the positive aspects of gay relationships. Cue media rejoicing, until it emerged that the organisers were talking rubbish. The synod bishops, who included senior cardinals, didn’t favour either course. Cardinal George Pell, the Australian conservative who serves as the Pope’s chancellor of the exchequer, hit the roof — and when Pell is angry you really know about it. The final vote ditched both proposals. Francis, however, demanded that this year’s synod should revisit the question of communion for the divorced”.

Thompson goes on to note “This first synod wasn’t just humiliating for the Pope; it was also weird. Why did Francis let his lieutenants, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri and Archbishop Bruno Forte, arrange a briefing that basically told lies? Any other pontiff would have sent Baldisseri and Forte to parishes in Antarctica after screwing up so badly. Instead, to general amazement, the Pope invited them to take charge of the main synod last month. Also invited back was Cardinal Walter Kasper, an 82-year-old ultra-liberal German theologian who wants to sweep away all obstacles to remarried divorcees receiving communion. To cut a long story short, Francis made it clear that he agreed with Kasper. Yet he also knew that most bishops at this year’s synod wanted to uphold the communion ban”.

The report goes on to mention “The synod ended messily, with a document that may or may not allow the lifting of the communion ban in special circumstances. Both sides thought they’d won — and then the Pope, in the words of one observer, ‘basically threw a strop’. In his final address, Francis raged against ‘closed hearts that hide behind the church’s teachings’ and ‘blinkered viewpoints’, adding that ‘the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter but its spirit’. The implication was clear. Clergy who wholeheartedly supported the communion ban were Pharisees to Francis’s Jesus. The Pope was sending coded insults to at least half the world’s bishops — and also, it seemed, giving priests permission to question teaching on communion and divorce. One priest close to the Vatican was appalled but not surprised. ‘You’re seeing the real Francis,’ he said. ‘He’s a scold. He can’t hide his contempt for his own Curia. Also, unlike Benedict, this guy rewards his mates and punishes his enemies.’ Clergy don’t normally refer to the Holy Father as ‘this guy’, even if they dislike his theology. But right now that’s one of the milder conservative descriptions of Francis; others aren’t printable in a family magazine”.

Worryingly Thompson writes “Never before has the Catholic church looked so much like the Anglican Communion — which broke up because orthodox believers, especially in Africa, believed that their bishops had abandoned the teachings of Jesus. In the case of Catholicism, the looming crisis is on a vastly bigger scale. For millions of Catholics, the great strength of the church is its certainty, coherence and immutability. They look to the Vicar of Christ on earth to preserve that stability. If successive popes come across as lofty and distant figures, that’s because they need to, in order to ward off schism in a global church that has roots in so many different cultures. Now, suddenly, the successor of Peter is acting like a politician, picking fights with opponents, tantalising the public with soundbites and ringing up journalists with startling quotes that his press officer can safely retract. He is even hinting that he disagrees with the teachings of his own church. A pope cannot behave like this without changing the very nature of that church. Perhaps that is what Francis intended; we can only guess, because he has yet to articulate a coherent programme of change and it’s not clear that he is intellectually equipped to do so”.

He ends “Loyal Catholics believe that the office of Peter will survive irrespective of who holds it; Jesus promised as much. But after the chaos of the last month, their faith is being tested to breaking point. It’s beginning to look as if Jorge Bergoglio is the man who inherited the papacy and then broke it”.

Francis chooses Brussels and Barcelona

15/11/2015

Rocco Palmo writes about the new appointments in Brussels and Barcelona made by Pope Francis. These come on the heels of new archbishops in Bologna and Palermo.

Rocco opens, “While Rome’s chattering circuit is consumed with the latest round of leak theatrics surrounding Vatican finances and the excesses of some prelates, the Pope has instead taken to doubling down on work and complete a “lightning round” of appointments to several major European posts”.

Rocco adds “Francis named Bishop Josef De Kesel of Bruges, 68, as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and head of a Belgian church that might just be the most bitterly polarised in the Catholic world. In the capital post of the linguistically-split, heavily secularised nation of Dutch and French-speakers, the incoming primate succeeds Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, who only reached the retirement age of 75 in May, after a five-year tenure which has been dogged by controversy from the outset on fronts ranging from the prelate’s comments on the moral culpability of AIDS patients to clergy sex-abuse, which saw Leonard civilly ordered to pay €10,000 earlier this year after being found to have failed to act on an allegation in his prior post in the 1990s. Highlighting the tensions on the wider scene, in two incidents that went viral the archbishop once was hit in the face with a pie during a liturgy and subsequently had water bottles dumped on him by topless feminists who stormed the stage at one of his speaking engagements”.

Rocco adds vitally that “A protege of Leonard’s predecessor, the famously liberal Cardinal Godfried Danneels – whose auxiliary De Kesel had been from 2002-10 – the archbishop-elect (a Gregorian-trained theologian) was the first choice on the terna for the last Brussels succession, but the then-Nuncio, Archbishop Karl-Josef Rauber, was overruled by Benedict XVI, who personally chose the more traditional Leonard. Shortly after the appointment and his retirement shortly thereafter, a clearly displeased Rauber himself disclosed the face-off in an Italian magazine interview, going on to criticize both Papa Ratzinger and his eventual pick. Now 81, as a coda it bears noting that the former Nuncio was given a non-voting red hat by Francis at last February’s Consistory”.

The report goes on to note “In today’s other major move, Francis has reportedly spurred shock in the Spanish church’s Establishment by tapping 69 year-old Bishop Jose Omella of Calahorra as archbishop of Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest diocese, ground zero in the ongoing fight over independence for Catalonia, the region based in Gaudí’s city, where the 2010 dedication of the architect’s Basilica of the Sagrada Familia provided one of the monumental moments of the last pontificate. Named to succeed the native son Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach, now 78, according to local reports Omella was raised on the peripheries of the region and grew up speaking its distinctive Catalan tongue, but isn’t said to be given to his new fold’s widespread nationalist tendencies. In keeping with Francis’ usual identikit for his picks, the Barcelona nominee has a long history in the church’s social action work, including a stint as a missionary in Zaire. The Pope’s move on the 2 million-member archdiocese is Papa Bergoglio’s third major shift in Spain – whose hierarchy he knows well, having preached one of its retreats before his election – following last year’s bombshell appointments on the same day to Madrid and Valencia, the latter going to Rome’s then-Liturgy Czar, Cardinal Antonio Canizares”.

Rocco reminds the reader that the appointments “close out a cycle of top-level nods which began last week as – in his first turn at Italy’s traditional “cardinalatial sees” – Francis yet again stunned the natives by naming an auxiliary of Rome, Bishop Matteo Zuppi, 59, as archbishop of Bologna and a 53 year-old Sicilian parish priest, Msgr Corrado Lorefice, to the archbishopric of Palermo, the island’s premier post. As with today’s appointees, both have significant records of pastoring the church on the margins, with Zuppi – a lead figure in the progressive Sant’Egidio movement – having led one of Rome’s largest outskirt parishes, while Lorefice has frequently cited his inspiration in the figure of Fr Pino Puglisi, a searing critic of Sicily’s Mafia bosses who was gunned down outside his church in 1993. Beatified in 2013, “Don Pino” is buried in the cathedral where Lorefice will soon have his seat. When the assassinated cleric’s name was raised following his appointment, the archbishop-elect interjected to reporters that his selection was Puglisi’s “fault.”

Interestingly Rocco adds that “In both appointments, meanwhile, it is understood that the Pope tossed aside the shortlists compiled during the formal consultation process, choosing instead to find his choices after taking his own soundings among the clergy of each place”.

Pointedly he concludes “Given his determination to not be “chained” to the custom of certain dioceses nearly guaranteed a spot in his Senate, as Francis has chosen to send his Italian red hats to places which have never had a cardinal or not seen one in generations, whether the duo will follow their respective predecessors into the College is an open question. In any case, while a February Consistory is again said to be on-deck, the mid-month timeframe when Francis has gathered the cardinals both in 2014 and 2015 is off the table next year due to the Pope’s now-confirmed trip to Mexico, during which the first American pontiff is widely expected to make his long-desired stop somewhere along the US border… and possibly cross over it”.

Synod winners and losers

05/11/2015

John Allen writes about the winners and losers of the recently concluded Synod on the Family.

He opens “The most significant and contested gathering of Roman Catholic bishops in the past 50 years formally ended on Sunday after three weeks of debate and dispute, but the arguments over who “won” and who “lost” are only beginning. The synod of 270 cardinals and bishops from around the world was the second in a year called by Pope Francis to address how and whether Catholicism could adapt its teachings to the changing realities of modern family life. Traditionalists had taken a hard line against any openings, especially after last October’s meetingseemed to point toward possible reforms. While the delegates made hundreds of suggestions on a host of issues, two took center stage, in part because they represented a barometer for the whole question of change: Could the Church be more welcoming to gays, and was there a way divorced and remarried Catholics could receive Communion without an annulment? The synod was never going to provide definitive answers; it is only an advisory body to the pope and cannot legislate or bar changes in Church policies”.

He goes on to mention “Yet some on the right saw the lack of an explicit recommendation to allow divorced and remarried Catholics a pathway to Communion as evidence that “conservatives basically ‘won’ this synod,” as Damian Thompson wrote in The Spectator. “…divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can’t receive the sacrament and that’s that,” Thompson wrote. Similarly, The Wall Street Journal’s report called the document passed Saturday evening “an embarrassing defeat” because it did not specifically authorize the pope to approve Communion for the remarried and for his “liberalizing agenda.”

The lack of almost any opening to gays and lesbians was certainly a setback for progressives who had been cheered last fall that so many top churchmen had used unprecedented language in speaking in positive terms about gays and same-sex couples.

But the broader reality is that conservatives, as many of them acknowledged, did not get what they wanted or needed at this synod, and their prospects going forward look even dimmer.

Here’s why:

1. Divorced and remarried Catholics made some gains.

The final report from the synod contained key phrases about individual Catholics in “irregular” situations — such as being remarried without an annulment — using the “internal forum” of their conscience, in consultation with a pastor, to consider their status in the Church.

For decades, the Vatican had effectively barred priests and penitents from using the “internal forum” in the remarriage context for fear it would be abused.

Also, the final document doesn’t mention Communion explicitly, but it was clear — and numerous Church officials confirmed privately — that the language refers to the sacraments and, most important, it gives Francis an opening to take further action, which Church officials expect him to do.

Moreover, if the three paragraphs (out of 94) in the final document dealing with the remarried were not problematic, why did so many bishops speak out so strongly against them in the final closed-door session before the vote? And why did those paragraphs get the fewest “yes” votes of all — in one case, just one vote above the necessary two-thirds threshold for official passage?

2. Silence on gays is preferable to harsh words.

The absence of any breakthrough language on gays was a tactical retreat by progressives who saw that they did not have the support in the synod to get close to a two-thirds threshold.

Even getting close to half would have been hard if not impossible, and would have revealed the deep divisions in the synod on the issue and left the pontiff with an unpalatable option of choosing one side or the other — those who spoke warmly about gay couples and others, such as African Cardinal Robert Sarah, who used harsh and almost apocalyptic language about gays and lesbians.

“It was better to leave the question open for further study and reflection than blocking it with bad paragraph or bad text,” Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny, a point man for those favoring change, told reporters. “That is a point for next time.”

Bonny was in the same small language group as Sarah, for example, and Bonny and others in that group said sentiment against homosexuals was so strong that “there was no way of discussing it in a peaceful way.”

Time may be on the side of those seeking a Church that is more welcoming to gays, even if it will never endorse gay marriage.

While many Africans stood out for their blasts at homosexuality, other African churchmen said that their views were developing on this issue and were catching up with the more accepting attitudes in the West.

Conservatives, on the other hand, painted themselves into a corner at the synod by arguing that the only satisfactory outcome was for the synod to reiterate current Church teachings and practices and bar any future flexibility. That didn’t happen, and they are left trying to explain.

3. The synod showed that the Church can, and has, changed.

That change can seem obvious when viewed from the perspective of history, but it’s been a neuralgic point for those who fear that admitting to any evolution can lead to a slippery slope. Francis hammered home the need to change in his forceful closing address to the synod Saturday, in which he declared that “the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit,” and he called on the Church to adapt to different cultures and conditions.

“A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts,” as he said in his closing homily at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday.

Many cardinals and bishops welcomed what they said was an end to a judgmental Church and the start of a more pastoral Church that considers people first and rules second.

But change is never easy for the Catholic hierarchy.

“We are discombobulated. Some defend the past, others dream of a different future,” Cardinal Francesco Montenegro of Sicily, a strong supporter of the pope, said in explaining the reactions of some of his brother bishops. “The fact that there have been so many reactions is a sign that what he is proposing is something new and powerful.”

4. The synod is dead. Long live the synod.

This synod ended, but synodality — the ongoing process of dialogue, discernment, collaboration, and collegiality that leads to new approaches and possibly even doctrinal shifts — isn’t over.

Francis made that clear in what was viewed as a landmark talk during the synod to mark 50 years since these meetings were begun after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). But synods had become routine, almost “rubber-stamp” affairs. No longer.

The pope said that the “Church and synod are synonymous,” and that the journey of discernment is ongoing. Church leaders were free to speak their mind, whereas in past years they would have been silenced. Once the flock hears pastors disagreeing and speaking openly about, for example, the value of families led by gay couples or single parents, it’s hard to “unring” the bell.

“The real takeaway from this synod is that Pope Francis has changed the way the Church goes about reflecting on her pastoral ministry. That’s no small thing,” Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl said on Sunday. “You had all this open discussion about issues that the Church is struggling with. You’re not going to be able to close that door in the future.”

That’s not to say that the future won’t be messy at times, and anxiety-producing, especially for traditionalists and for those who prefer a neat and tidy Church.

5. It’s Francis’ turn now.

As long as Francis is the pope, he makes the final call, and he is expected to take the suggestions he has heard in this synod, and in last year’s synod, and the various consultations he has held since he was elected in March 2013, and use them as a launchpad for further, more concrete reforms.

Perhaps the biggest question is how long Francis has and how many like-minded cardinals and bishops he can appoint before he dies or retires. He turns 79 in December and openly acknowledges that his may not be a long papacy.

Vatican expert and author John Thavis last week crunched the numbers and found that Francis has appointed 13 percent of the world’s active bishops in his 31 months in office and 26 percent of the voting members of the College of Cardinals who would elect his successor.

At this pace, the pontiff would probably need six or seven more years to reach a tipping-point majority of cardinals and bishops.

“I’m sure the pope realizes that, for quite some time, he will have to work with an episcopate that may at times act as a check on his innovative pastoral proposals,” Thavis wrote.

Francis likes to say that “time is greater than space.” The synod gave him space, but he may need much more time to do with it what he wants.

The Synod’s ostriches

18/10/2015

A piece from Crux notes the progress of the Synod, “Given the blindingly obvious fact that there are deep divisions at the 2015 Synod of Bishops, various ways of analyzing those fault lines have been proposed. Some see them in terms of the difference between a deductive and inductive approach, some between meeting the world halfway versus not being swallowed up by it, and so on. As the synod rolls into its second week, yet another way of understanding the fundamental divide is coming into focus: The gap between those who believe the demands of classic Catholic teaching on sex, marriage, and the family may be unrealistic or inappropriate for some share of the contemporary population, and those convinced that it’s widely attainable in the here-and-now”.

In his classic style Allen writes, “Perhaps one could call the latter position the “Yes We Can!’ brigade at the 2015 synod. (Presumably, the irony of applying Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan to a bloc of folks who would generally be seen as cultural conservatives isn’t lost on anyone.) Many in this camp suspect that advocates of a more “pastoral” approach on matters such as homosexuality and divorce have quietly thrown in the towel on the idea that it’s reasonable to expect lifelong faithful marriage to be the norm, or that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics shouldn’t be sexually intimate, and so on. The “Yes We Can!” faction wouldn’t deny that many people don’t actually live those teachings, but they insist that it can be done, and fear that by not encouraging people to do so, the Church clearly risks selling them short”.

Allen goes on to add “We caught an early glimpse of this position in the first cycle of reports from the synod’s small working groups, which were released last Friday. The base text for the synod, known as the Instrumentum Laboris, came in for fairly withering criticism in those reports — as a colleague in the press corps put it, had this been a college term paper, the kid who wrote it would have flunked. A key point was the assertion by several groups that the document portrays an overly negative assessment of the situation facing the contemporary family, seemingly more focused on where families break down than where they flourish”.

However, this group of single men, whom Allen calls the “Yes we can group” know nothing about the real lives of the people that they are supposed to be leading. To pretend that all is well in the Church’s teaching in this regard is simply to bury their heads in the sand.

Allen gives an example, “The group led by Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto arrived at a similar conclusion. “Most of our group felt the Instrumentum Laboris should begin with hope rather than failures, because a great many people already do successfully live the Gospel’s good news about marriage,” it said. On Monday night, I attended an event organized by one of the participants in the synod featuring a couple of well-known Roman experts on issues pertaining to marriage and sexual ethics, where the refrain was much the same. One of the evening’s most powerful moments came when a speaker complained that in its debate over the issue of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried — known in shorthand fashion as the “Kasper proposal,” since its leading advocate is German Cardinal Walter Kasper — the synod risks treating such believers as “second-class” Catholics, incapable of living out what the Church asks”.

 

Correctly he mentions that “No one in the synod would deny that there are Catholics out there, perhaps more than one might imagine, who do accept the full version of Church teaching. Virtually everyone could probably agree that such folks deserve whatever pastoral backup the Church can muster. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who’s also at the synod, posted a blog item on Monday suggesting that these people form a “new minority” in the contemporary world, writing that “they are looking to the Church, and to us, for support and encouragement.” The question is, how should the Church treat people who can’t, or don’t want to, make those choices? For one side of the synod’s debates, it might be time for the Church to honestly acknowledge that such folks are likely to be the majority, and often for understandable and morally defensible reasons”.

Allen concludes “Without giving up on the ideal, this group would say the Church needs to make better accommodations for those who fall short. The “Yes We Can!” camp, however, believes Church teaching isn’t just an ideal, but a practical way of life, though without minimizing the sacrifices it may entail. As they see it, the synod’s message ought to be, “You’re called to this, and we’re going to have your back in pulling it off.” How those two instincts might be reconciled, and whether that’s even possible, will help shape the drama of the synod during the two weeks left on its calendar”.

The Teflon pope

08/10/2015

A report notes that Pope Francis is playing with “house money” in the 2015 Synod, “In the abstract, Pope Francis might have reason to be a bit nervous that his much-ballyhooed Synod of Bishops on the family, an Oct. 4-25 summit he’s been touting as a potentially defining moment of his papacy for almost two years, might be about to run off the rails. We’ve already had confirmation, for instance, that a clash among the bishops over the hot-button question of allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to Communion is far from resolved”.

Allen reports that “On day one, Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő basically tried to bury the issue. Yet on day two, Italian Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli used a Vatican news conference to say that it remains “completely open,” and pointedly asked that if all the bishops were going to do was to echo Erdő’s line, then “what are we doing here?” Similarly, there was enough blowback against changes to the synod process on the opening day that Francis felt compelled to take the microphone to insist that he’d personally approved the new rules, which critics feel are designed to limit the information flow and stack the deck in favour of desired outcomes”.

The piece continues “Much like the last edition of the synod in 2014, there’s also a risk that expectations are being created that might not be realised. On Tuesday, for example, a Vatican spokesman said some participants have called for rejecting “exclusionary language” on homosexuality. “These are our children, our family members,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, summarising points made inside the synod. “They aren’t outsiders, but our own flesh and blood. How do we speak about them [positively] and offer a hand of welcome?” It remains to be seen, however, if a majority of bishops are on board. As Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, put it on Tuesday, for every prelate seeking to overcome a “growing gulf” between Church teaching and the realities of family life by meeting the world halfway, there’s another worried about not being swallowed up by it. For them, the challenge isn’t rephrasing doctrine so much as reinforcing it”.

Naturally Allen notes that “Francis is no naïf, so the question has to be asked: Knowing how easy it would be for things to go wrong, why would he put his credibility on the line by allowing a potentially rancorous summit to play out this way? Part of the answer may be that Francis is in a position to ride out whatever storms may come because he’s insulated by his own narrative. That narrative, of course, is that Francis is the “People’s Pope,” a humble, simple reformer trying to steer Catholicism toward greater compassion and mercy. It’s made him a moral hero outside the bounds of the Church, as well as something of a “Teflon” figure to whom no criticism ever seems to stick for very long. Recent days have brought confirmation of the point by inviting a comparison with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI”.

Allen expands on this point “At different moments in their respective papacies, each has faced criticism for a move with regard to a previously little-known bishop. The controversies involved two chronic sources of anguish for the Catholic Church — its record on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in the case of Benedict, and its reaction to the clergy sexual abuse scandals for Francis. In 2009, Benedict lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including one, Richard Williamson, with a history as a Holocaust denier. That decision sparked global outrage and became a front-page story for weeks, deepening impressions of Benedict as out of touch and insensitive to public opinion. The outcry became so intense that two months later, Benedict released an unprecedented letter to the bishops of the world, apologizing for mishandling the affair and revealing how isolated he was from information anyone could find easily on the Internet. Flash forward to 2015, when Pope Francis named a new bishop for the diocese of Osorno in Chile who critics believe covered up crimes by his country’s most notorious abuser priest. The appointment triggered protests in Chile and objections from some of the pontiff’s own advisors on anti-abuse efforts, but has had little echo anywhere else”.

Pointedly Allen argues “Francis hasn’t responded with a heartfelt mea culpa like Benedict, but with defiance. In a five-month-old video, Francis is heard telling an employee of the Chilean bishops’ conference that people criticizing his move are being “led around by the nose by leftists,” and that the country has “lost its head.” While the substance of the two situations may be very different, the potential for backlash is eerily similar. Just imagine what the reaction would have been had Benedict blamed his own woes on “leftists,” and you’ll understand the difference between the narratives the two pontiffs carry around. It’s striking that outside the Spanish-speaking media, there’s been relatively little reaction to the Barros affair, certainly nothing like the firestorm Benedict faced six years ago”.

Allen then relates this to the Synod “No doubt, Francis would prefer that the summit reach an inspired result on the contentious questions, such as divorce and pastoral approaches to gays and lesbians, and also to generate momentum toward a renewed commitment to supporting families both in their struggles and their triumphs. Yet it’s entirely possible that’s not how things will end. It could be that the synod produces heartache and acrimony, with bishops walking away unsatisfied and Catholics at the grassroots left dazed and confused. The experience of the last 18 months, however — reinforced both by the relatively mute reaction to the Barros controversy, and by the perceived success of the pontiff’s outing to the United States — suggests such a scenario might not put much of a dent in Francis’ own political capital. In terms of broad public opinion, it’s plausible to believe that if the synod is seen as a success, Francis will get the credit. If it’s seen as a shipwreck, the takeaway may be that it’s despite his leadership rather than because of it”.

He ends “At least in part, it may be because Francis grasps that when he rolls the dice these days, he’s basically playing with house money. If he loses, he’ll still be flush; if he wins, he just might break the bank”.

“Francis appears to want two things from the synod”

04/10/2015

As the Synod on the Family opens today, John Allen writes that “In the wake of bitter controversy surrounding a private meeting with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis during his trip to the United States last week, Pope Francis has a chance beginning Sunday to get back “on message” with the opening of a Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome. The Oct. 4-25 summit of prelates from around the world is a critically important moment for the pontiff, one he’s been building toward for more than a year. If past is prologue, however, he may face a stiff challenge in steering it toward his desired outcome. On Friday, the Vatican issued a brief statement on the encounter with Davis, saying it was not intended to endorse her position “in all its particular and complex aspects.” Whatever one makes of how the meeting happened, or what it ultimately says about Francis’ views – and theories on both matters abound – the big picture remains intact and works to validate a fairly firm conclusion about this pope”.

Allen mentions that “Francis clearly upholds traditional Catholic teaching on marriage and the family. He believes those doctrines don’t make the Church the great “Doctor No” of the modern world, but rather mark out a path to genuine human fulfillment. He also believes strongly in religious freedom, one of the core messages he came to the United States to deliver. At the same time, Francis is also the pope of “Who am I to judge?” with regard to gay people trying to live faithful lives, recoiling from anything that makes Catholicism seem intolerant or merciless. After all, although he met Davis, he also met a same-sex couple and voiced no objection when Mo Rocca, an openly gay TV personality, delivered a reading at his Mass at Madison Square Garden”.

Crucially Allen writes “Francis appears to want two things from the synod. First, he wants a balanced approach to hot-button issues such as homosexuality and Communion for the divorced and remarried, blending defense of tradition with new language and a new pastoral approach that emphasizes inclusion. Second, he doesn’t want synod debates to be consumed by those issues”.

Yet with his missteps and misinterpretation he seems to have made these subtle, admirable goals achieveable in the climate in which the Synod takes place.

Allen makes the valid point that “If recent experience is any guide, the pope may have his work cut out for him. This synod is actually round two of a process that began last October with a first summit on the family. Back then, fierce debate broke out over homosexuality, the pastoral care of divorced Catholics, and what to make of other “irregular” relationships. The hope had been that the year between the first synod and the second one might allow time to cool those tensions and find common ground, but there’s not a great deal of evidence that things have played out that way”.

Allen admits that the hopes of the Synod of Francis might not come to fruition, “there seems to be a mounting tendency on all sides to suspect skullduggery and underhanded tactics. In the run-up to this summit, a well-known journalist in Rome published an e-book asking whether last year’s edition of the synod had been “rigged,” implying that a cabal of progressives had tried to stack the deck in favour of a more permissive line on matters such as homosexuality and divorce. On the other side, a minor Vatican aide announced on Saturday that he’s gay and happily in love, and called on all gay Catholics who have been “persecuted by the Church” to fight for their rights. Predictably, the official in question, Polish Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, was swiftly fired from his Vatican position”.

Pointedly he adds “Whenever topics such as homosexuality and divorce are on the docket, feelings will run strong. What’s new now is a sense, however exaggerated, that movement might actually be possible. That’s elicited strong passions both from those who see such movement as desirable, and those who view it as alarming.  On Friday, a synod official tried to play down impressions of division. “There’s no surprise about the fact that there are opposing opinions,” said Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who briefed reporters on the synod process. True enough – there are more than 5,000 Catholic bishops in the world, and the idea that they’ll ever be in complete agreement is fantasy. What’s a bit more unusual, however, is to put those divisions on full public display. Yet that seems to be the forecast in Rome. If Francis is to get the synod he wants, he may need to spend some political capital along the way to bring people together. Over the next three weeks, we’ll see if he’s got enough left in the bank to pull it off”.

 

 

 

 

 

Francis muddies the waters over homosexuality

04/10/2015

Having met Kim Davis, the Holy See issued a press release. John Allen reports that the Church is walking back from this, “Facing mounting controversy over a brief private meeting between Pope Francis and Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis last week, the Vatican broke its silence Friday with a statement saying the pontiff did not intend the encounter as a form of support for her case “in all its particular and complex aspects.” Meanwhile, CNN reported — and the Vatican confirmed — that the day before Francis met Davis, he held a private meeting with a longtime friend and former student from Argentina who has been in a same-sex relationship for 19 years. Davis, an Apostolic Christian, is the clerk who spent five days in jail in September for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the US Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized gay marriage nationwide. The meeting with Davis was thus seen as the pontiff wading deeply into America’s culture wars”.

However, the statement from the Press Office of the Holy See trying to muddy the waters and reduce the significance of the meeting is odd. It would be hard to construe the meeting between Davis and Francis as anything other than an endorsement of the actions of Davis. Thus, the question is why did the press office put out such a statement. The bishops in the United States have had no compunction about doing so.

Allen adds that “The temptation to read the meeting as an endorsement of Davis was especially strong given comments made by the pope aboard the papal plane returning to Rome that conscientious objection on same-sex marriage, including for government officials, is a “human right.” Davis and her lawyers also trumpeted the meeting as support for her cause. Earlier this week, Davis said that when she and her husband met the pope at the Vatican ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC, where the pontiff was staying, he encouraged her to “stay strong.” She later told ABC: “Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we’re doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything.” The Vatican statement Friday made clear the pope intended no such validation”.

Allen makes the point that “The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, made it clear that Davis was one of several dozen people the pope greeted at the residence as he prepared to depart for New York City, and was not an “audience” with the pope. “Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the pope’s characteristic kindness and availability,” the statement read. “The only real audience granted by the pope at the nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.” That student, according to CNN, was Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man who brought his partner, Iwan, as well as four friends to the Vatican embassy Sept. 23. A video of the meeting shows Grassi and Francis greeting each other with a warm hug”.

Interestingly Allen reports that “Grassi, who said he is not Catholic, said he decided to make his meeting public because he felt Davis was misrepresenting her encounter with the pope. An audience differs from a meeting in that it is a planned, somewhat formal affair. Popes have audiences with heads of state. They have meetings and greeting sessions with benefactors or Catholic VIPs. So the fact that Lombardi described Grassi’s encounter as the only “real audience” in Washington made clear that Francis wanted to emphasize that encounter over Davis’ “brief meeting” with several dozen other people invited to the embassy at the same time”.

All this do is muddy the waters further, which is presumably what Francis wants to do.

The piece goes on to note “As for the Davis meeting, the Vatican statement said that the pope “did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.” However, Davis’ attorney, Mat Staver, disputed the Vatican’s description and interpretation of the meeting. The Liberty Counsel released a statement early Friday that said the meeting was an affirmation of the Kentucky county clerk’s right to be a conscientious objector”.

He continues “Staver said an unnamed Vatican official initiated the meeting on Sept. 14, the day Davis returned to work after being jailed, saying the pope wanted to meet her. He said Vatican security picked up her and her husband from their hotel and told her to change her hairdo so she wouldn’t be recognized since the Vatican wanted the meeting kept secret. Staver said the couple was in a separate room with Francis and Vatican security and personnel, and that no member of the general public was present, to keep the meeting secret. He said the Vatican official who arranged the meeting insisted that it not be made public until after Francis had left the United States, and gave him the “green light” to make it public after Francis was back in Rome. The dispute may center on what Staver means by the term “Vatican” and what the Church means. The Rev. Thomas Rosica, who assists the Vatican with English-speaking media, seemed to indicate that the meeting had been arranged by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who serves as the pope’s ambassador in the United States”.

The article ends “Since news of the meeting was first reported on Tuesday by Inside the Vatican magazine, the Vatican had refused to comment — not denying the meeting, but declining to elaborate on how it happened or what it meant. That changed Friday with the statement from Lombardi, which Rosica elaborated on later. Rosica denied that anyone had attempted to manipulate the pope into meeting Davis, but said there had been a failure to advise the pope properly on the magnitude of the encounter. “I don’t think anyone was willfully trying to trick the pope,” he said, “nor was the pope briefed properly on who he was meeting. He wasn’t properly briefed on the person or the impact of such visit.” Rosica said he has heard the US bishops were not aware of the meeting, and suggested it may have been “orchestrated” by Davis’ legal team. Rosica also said that Francis had personally approved issuing Friday’s statement after learning the reaction the encounter had generated”.

 

“Support by the pope for conscientious objection from gay marriage laws”

01/10/2015

A report from Crux notes that Pope Francis has met Kim Davis and praised her stance on refusing to register gay couples for weddings.

Allen begins “If anyone suspected that Pope Francis didn’t really mean the strong words he spoke on religious freedom last week in the United States – that he was phoning it in, while his real concerns were elsewhere – claims that he held a private meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis certainly should lay that suspicion to rest. The meeting was first reported by Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican magazine. A Vatican spokesman said Wednesday, “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no comments to add,” which, in effect, is a way of allowing the report to stand”.

Allen writes that “Taken together with his unscheduled stop to see the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Davis encounter means Francis has expressed personal support to leading symbols of the two most contentious fronts in America’s religious freedom debates – the contraception mandates imposed by the Obama administration, and conscientious objection on gay marriage”.

Allen then rightly notes the important caveats “First of all, the fact that someone arranged a brief encounter between Francis and Davis does not necessarily mean that Francis initiated the contact, or even that he necessarily grasps all the dimensions of her case. By her own account it was an extremely brief greeting, just long enough for the pope to tell Davis to “stay strong” and to give her a rosary. Asking for prayers and offering a blessed rosary to individuals following a meeting is a customary gesture for Pope Francis. It would be over-interpreting things to read the meeting as a blanket endorsement of everything Davis has said or done”.

Allen’s point is certainly true but it would be hard to argue that he was against what she had done. If it was not made public there might be some truth to what Allen is saying but the fact that they met, however informally, says much.

Allen then rightly mentions “there’s no way to view the encounter other than as a broad gesture of support by the pope for conscientious objection from gay marriage laws, especially taken in tandem with his statement aboard the papal plane that following one’s conscience in such a situation is a “human right” – one, he insisted, that also belongs to government officials”.

The meaning of the meeting, he argues is that “Francis has significantly strengthened the hand of the US bishops and other voices in American debates defending religious freedom. In the wake of a massively successful trip in which Francis was lauded for his stands on issues ranging from climate change to immigration to fighting poverty, it will be more difficult for anyone to wrap themselves in the papal mantle without at least acknowledging his concerns vis-à-vis religious freedom”.

He goes on to make the point that “Francis may also have smoothed the waters in advance for round two of the Synod of Bishops on the family, which opens on Sunday. Last time around, the question of how welcoming the Church ought to be to gays and lesbians was a major flashpoint, in part because conservatives worried it might lessen the Church’s resolve to resist a “redefinition” of marriage. By holding the Davis meeting, Francis has probably reassured conservatives that he’s not priming the pump for going soft on same-sex marriage. Ironically, the Davis meeting may actually increase the odds of the synod recommending a more pastoral approach to same-sex relationships, since there won’t be the same fear about where such an opening might lead. Third, Francis has also debunked impressions of a rift with the American bishops when it comes to the “wars of culture.” Yes, Francis called the bishops to spurn “harsh and divisive” rhetoric and to embrace dialogue as a method. That does not imply, however, that he believes the substance of their concerns is mistaken, and by meeting both the Little Sisters of the Poor and Davis he drove that point home”.

Perhaps most interest of all is that “the Davis meeting confirms that the US trip amounted to the public debut of “Francis 2.0,” meaning a pope more clearly perceived as standing in continuity with Catholic teaching and tradition, as well as in solidarity both with previous popes and with the bishops. To put the point in crudely political terms, Francis is a figure who utterly defies the usual left/right divides, equally capable of meeting Kim Davis and embracing poor immigrant children at a Harlem school – seeing both as part of a continuum of concern for human dignity. That will be a source of consolation to some and consternation to others, but in any event it’s now officially part of the Francis narrative”.

“Executed nine men and a boy it accused of being gay”

29/09/2015

The Islamic State jihadist group executed nine men and a boy it accused of being gay in central and northern Syria on Monday, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jihadists shot dead seven men in Rastan, a town in Homs province of central Syria, “after accusing them of being homosexual.” IS also executed two men and the boy in the town of Hreitan, in the northern province of Aleppo, for the same reason, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. He said the executions were carried out in public, but that IS fighters destroyed any cameras that had been used to film the killings”.

Fanning as Army Secretary?

27/09/2015

Just four years after the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the Pentagon reached another milestone in its campaign to better integrate gay, lesbian, and transgender personnel into its ranks with the nomination of Eric Fanning, an openly gay official, to the Army’s top civilian post. If confirmed to be the next secretary of the Army, Fanning he would become the first openly gay civilian to head a branch of the U.S. armed forces. Fanning has been serving as acting undersecretary of the Army since June, after a brief three-month stint as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s chief of staff earlier this year. In a relatively short career, Fanning has amassed an impressive multiservice résumé, having served as Air Force undersecretary and acting secretary from 2013 to 2015, and deputy undersecretary of the Navy from 2009 to 2013. “Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,” Obama said in an announcement Friday.

Francis on immigration

25/09/2015

A report in Foreign Policy discusses the recent address of Pope Francis on the subject of immigration, “Pope Francis’s historic address to Congress on Sept. 24 was wide-ranging, covering topics from racial justice to the plight of refugees to the environment, but it repeatedly returned to a surprising refrain: Addressing the packed chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, he called himself “the son of immigrants.” He reminded his audience, composed of lawmakers, Supreme Court justices, and White House officials, of the thousands who make their homes in the United States from Latin America and elsewhere. He asked them to “view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories.” He repeatedly urged his audience to “enter into” dialogue with the poor, the elderly, and, of course, with immigrants. Time and again, his words were met with standing ovations and rapturous applause”.

The report adds that “The pontiff had delivered a similar message the previous day — but before a very different audience. Addressing the United States bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Francis acknowledged their efforts to “welcome and integrate” immigrants. He also told them to “step back, away from the center,” and be “promoters of the culture of encounter.” In his comments, he reiterated his often-stated notion that the place of the church is on the edges of society, where it can stand up for the poor and the marginalised. Many of the bishops remain hesitant over Francis’s decision to make his central message one of mercy — of listening and being present to those not always listened to — rather than focusing on issues of sexuality. (In his address to Congress, the pope barely hinted at Catholic teachings on marriage, briefly mentioning the importance of “fundamental relationships,” before turning again to focus on the poor and vulnerable.) Some have raised the question of whether the so-called “Francis effect,” a phrase used by Catholics to describe the potential impact he might have on the global church, will ever fully take hold among American bishops. Their public perception is often one of being culture warriors, staging a long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign against same-sex marriage and battling the Affordable Care Act over access to birth control and abortion. They have alienated enough American Catholics that half of the laity have left the church at some point in their lives, and the vast majority cannot imagine returning”.

The Church, at least in the United States has little credibility on these issues and is widely ignored. Cardinal Burke’s statement that the Church can never speak enough about gay marriage not only flies in the face of what Pope Francis has said but also done little to either attract people to the Church, or persuade people to come back.

Crucially the writer notes “there is one issue on which the bishops and the pope have been able to find common ground: the importance of church outreach to immigrants. The tone and language of American bishops have often been in extreme contrast to Francis’s focus on mercy. In an interview just prior to the pope’s arrival in Washington, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco referred to same-sex marriage as “the ultimate attack of the evil one.” The conservative Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who heads the Philadelphia archdiocese where the pope will travel later this week, also opposes same-sex marriage and is known for taking a harsh tone with Catholics who disagree with him”.

Incorrectly the writer notes of Pope Benedict that “The American church hierarchy was overwhelmingly appointed by Francis’s predecessors. It is mostly white and rapidly aging. Popes John Paul II and Benedict spent much of their papacies focused on issues of the body and sexuality, and the American bishops’ theology reflects this. These bishops heard and absorbed that message and expected Francis to carry it forward, which he surely has — but not as his primary focus”.

The author goes on to mention “As the first Latin American pope, Francis has obvious appeal to Latino Catholics. The fact that he has chosen to deliver several important addresses in his native tongue demonstrates that he knows his audience. The United States is now the fifth-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. And yet, only about 3 percent of American priests identify as Latino, according to CARA, the Georgetown University center. Evangelical churches have been aggressively reaching out to Latinos for decades, and younger Latinos are almost as likely as their white peers to be religiously unaffiliated — members of the so-called “Nones.” To reverse the pull of Latinos away from the church, both the pope and the bishops must help immigrants not only feel safe, but welcomed”.

He ends “The pope has asked the American bishops for dialogue and “encounter.” Dialogue implies deep listening and meeting people where they arrive, rather than drawing a line and placing the hierarchy on one side and the people on the other. The pope modeled this encounter as he drove through the streets of Washington on Wednesday. When 5-year-old Sofía Cruz, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, made her way through the barricades surrounding the pope, he told security to “let her come to me.” She handed him a note, which began with the words, “I am [an] American citizen with Mexican roots.” It also told the pope that immigrants like her parents deserve to live with “dignity” and “respect.” Francis embraced her”.

 

Francis speaks to Congress

25/09/2015

A report in the New York Times notes the speech given by Pope Francis yesterday, “Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, challenged Congress and by extension the mightiest nation in the world on Thursday to break out of its cycle of paralysis and use its power to heal the “open wounds” of a planet torn by hatred, greed, poverty and pollution. Taking a rostrum never before occupied by the bishop of Rome, Francis issued a vigourous call to action to lawmakers who have spent years stalemated over major issues and even now are days away from a potential government shutdown in a dispute over the moral boundaries of federal spending. “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples,” he told a joint meeting of Congress in an address that cited American icons like Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.” If his words of unity struck a lofty note, though, his choice of issues effectively fed the very divisions he assailed.

The piece adds that “He emboldened liberals with a passionate defense of immigration, an endorsement of environmental legislation, a blistering condemnation of the arms trade and a plea to abolish the death penalty. For their part, conservatives chose to focus on his defense of religious liberty, the traditional family and the sanctity of life at “every stage of its development.” In the end, both sides could walk away taking vindication from parts of his message. But the liberal references in his speech were explicit and extended while the conservative ones were more veiled and concise. As a result, Democrats cheered and led standing ovations more often in a somewhat more dignified version of a presidential State of the Union address. Afterward, liberal groups wrapped themselves in the glow of Francis’ speech and claimed momentum for their initiatives, while Republicans largely focused on the majesty of the event and played down policy implications”.

The writer mentions that “Despite the spectacle, there are limits to any pope’s ability to move an entrenched political system, and there was little sign that he had done so here. Within hours, the Senate was back to business, conducting another stalemate vote as Republicans failed to break a Democratic filibuster of a measure to cut off federal money from Planned Parenthood. Francis’ address, delivered in slow and heavily accented English, may have lost some of its power as lawmakers strained to make out his words. Vatican officials said that the Argentine-born pope wanted to speak the primary language of the United States in the people’s house and that he spent much of the summer practicing. But afterward, he switched to his native Spanish when he appeared on the Speaker’s Balcony of the Capitol to wave and share a prayer with tens of thousands of people who had gathered on the West Lawn to watch his address on jumbo televisions”.

The piece mentions that “Wrapping up his visit to Washington before flying to New York, the pope visited St. Patrick’s Church, a short distance from the Capitol, to address the plight of the homeless.  “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” Francis said. “We know that Jesus wanted to show solidarity with every person.” He waded into a crowd of mostly homeless men and women, including felons, mentally ill people, victims of domestic violence and substance abusers. He stopped to lay his hand on the heads of children who had kept quiet for hours of waiting with special pope colouring books. With his speech to lawmakers, Francis became the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress, a milestone in the journey of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, and it generated enormous interest. Lawmakers, aides and invited guests jammed the historic chamber of the House of Representatives. Sitting behind Francis were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and House Speaker John A. Boehner, both Catholics. Flanking the aisle at the front were Secretary of State John Kerry and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and not far behind them was Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, all Catholics. Francis, who spoke with Mr. Kerry at the White House on Wednesday, stopped to shake his hand. Mr. Boehner, who invited the pope earlier this year, wept repeatedly”.

Poinetly the author notes “Francis devoted the greatest share of his speech at the White House on Wednesday to climate change, but he made immigration the most pronounced part of his remarks to Congress, alluding to his own family’s history of moving from Italy to Argentina. “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” Francis said. “I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.” He cited “do-unto-others” and then added, “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” While that represented typical code for abortion, Francis segued immediately and at length to a call for the abolition of the death penalty. “Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said”.

The author mentions that “He was less restrained in calling for an end to the arms trade. “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” he asked. “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money — money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” While he never used the words abortion, homosexuality or same-sex marriage, he offered a strong statement supporting those who share the church’s views of those issues”.

 An related piece notes that Francis has told Congress of Catholic doctrine which has resulted in his speech was used “to subtly tweak both Democrats and Republicans, with Pope Francis framing some of the most explosive political issues of the day in starkly moral terms. Speaking in English, a language the pope has never mastered, Francis gave a speech that touched on many aspects of American politics but did not come off as overtly partisan. It created some awkward moments to be sure, with Democrats applauding when the pope spoke about doing more to help immigrants, while many Republicans sat motionless. When Francis reiterated his anti-abortion views and spoke about the sanctity of marriage, by contrast, Republicans reacted more enthusiastically than Democrats. Francis, a 78-year-old Argentinian who assumed the papacy in 2013, called on U.S. lawmakers and the American people to do more to assist the poor and to combat environmental degradation caused by “human activity.” He invoked the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” calling on lawmakers to do more to help immigrants, though he offered no specifics. He also criticised the pursuit of wealth and linked it to climate change, something the pope wants the United States to do more to combat. Many Republicans, in a break with Francis, refuse to acknowledge that mankind contributes to climate change”.

Interestingly the piece notes that “Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who is also running for president, stood and applauded when the pope called for compassion for those trying to enter the United States. At the same time, the pope made a point of saying he supported the sanctity of life at every stage of its development, an anti-abortion remark that doesn’t sit well with pro-abortion rights Democrats. And without explicitly saying so, the pope took a veiled swipe at same-sex marriage, a right most Democrats, including President Barack Obama, support. The pope met with Obama for 40 minutes in the Oval Office on Wednesday in a closed-door meeting”.

The power of the words of Francis were seen when the article adds “Even members of the Supreme Court were swayed by Francis. The justices typically don’t applaud during joint sessions of Congress. But when Francis called the United States “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” they stood and clapped. Although Francis challenged Republicans and Democrats on key issues, lawmakers departing the speech sought to downplay those differences and offered praise for his message. “It was really very historic. I really enjoyed it,” Sen. Ron Johnson, a conservative Republican from Wisconsin, told Foreign Policy on the steps of the House chamber. Despite the pope’s explicit references to environmental degradation “caused by human activity,” a point Johnson is skeptical of, he found a way to comfortably interpret the pope’s message into his own worldview. “We share the goal; we want a clean environment. How we achieve it there are some differences of opinion,” he said”.

“Syrian and Iraqi gays tell of their terror-filled lives”

05/09/2015

UN Security Council members on Monday heard Syrian and Iraqi gays tell of their terror-filled lives under the Islamic State, in the first-ever council meeting on LGBT rights. Subhi Nahas told the meeting that gays in his Syrian hometown of Idlib were being hurled from rooftops and stoned by cheering townspeople, including children. “In the Islamic State, gays are being tracked and killed all the time,” said Nahas, who escaped and now works for a refugee organization in the United States. Gays in Idlib were targeted by the Syrian government, then by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front after it took over the city in 2012 and finally by IS jihadists who seized control in 2014. “At the executions, hundreds of townspeople including children cheered jubilantly as (if) at a wedding,” Nahas recounted. Adnan, an Iraqi who spoke by phone from an undisclosed location in the Middle East, said he had suffered brutality at the hands of Iraqi security forces before IS fighters showed up and feared his family could have turned him in to IS jihadists”.

The realist case for gay marriage

27/07/2015

An interesting article by Dr Stephen Walt argues that realists should celebrate the recent gay marriage decision by the US Supreme Court, the “SCOTUS decision on gay marriage is one of them. For starters, the decision is consistent with the defining feature of American democracy: its emphasis on individual freedom and personal choice. As the court made clear, if consenting adults are not free to fall in love with whomever they are drawn to and to express that love openly in the institution of marriage, then they are being denied the full rights that other citizens enjoy and they are not in fact truly free. Today’s decision eliminated this obvious contradiction between our ideals and our practices, and it should be celebrated for that reason alone”.

Walt goes on to make the point “Second, along with U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to permit gay Americans to serve openly in the armed forces, the decision is a blow in favour of fairness and efficiency. Prejudice and bigotry are bad in and of themselves, but they also impede the optimal use of human resources. When gay people could not serve openly in the military, our country was denied the talents that these patriotic individuals could have brought to important national security tasks. Similarly, when gay Americans could not marry or live together openly without fearing persecution, and when companies discriminated against gay employees, it meant that our society could not reap the full benefits of their unfettered participation. Whenever we remove another plank of prejudice, we help the best people rise as far as their abilities can take them, and all of us benefit as a result”.

Walt argues that the “decision is also a tribute to the power of America’s oft maligned democratic institutions and the ability of reasoned discourse to triumph over ancient stigmas. Gay marriage did not come about by accident or just because two gay people decided to file a lawsuit a few years ago. It came about because courageous writers like Andrew Sullivan wrote powerfully in its favour, because an array of people — both gay and straight — organised to carry these arguments forward, and because more and more gay people came out and the straight world learned to relish their friendship and see them as equals. Once these things happened, the contradiction between our values and our laws — and the obvious injustice of the latter — was increasingly apparent. The American political system does not change direction quickly or easily, but it is open to reasoned discourse and responsive to changing sentiments. Even a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives could not fail to see that the ground had shifted, and today’s decision reflects that welcome reality”.

He concludes “establishing gay marriage as a fundamental right removes one of the practices that has separated the United States from many of its democratic partners (the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, Iceland, Portugal, Denmark, Brazil, England, Wales, France, New Zealand, Uruguay, Luxembourg, Scotland, and Finland). It will increase pressure on some other countries to follow suit, especially within Western Europe. At the same time, it is likely to broaden the gulf between states where homosexuality is becoming a nonissue and those where it is still persecuted and even same-sex unions are illegal. For gay people around the world, the struggle is far from over”.

Bonny at the Synod, a lone voice

23/07/2015

A report from Crux notes the appointment of those bishops who will attend the Ordinary Synod on the Family in October. It begins “A Belgian bishop who has called on the Church to welcome same-sex couples will get to bring his case straight to Pope Francis. The Vatican announced Tuesday that Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp will serve as a delegate to October’s Synod on the Family. His appointment adds intellectual heft and star power to the liberal flank of bishops pushing for the Church to change how it approaches Catholics living in “irregular situations.” Bonny’s views, however, may be vigorously resisted by other synod members announced by the Vatican Tuesday, including prelates from Africa and Poland”.

The danger among those who seek change in Church doctrine is to misread this minor appointment and see trends that are simply not there. Bonny may attend the Synod in October but it would be a mistake to see his influence as something more than it is, minor. Some may construe the appointment of Pope Francis as a sign of support for change in doctrine but others have simply stated that it is part of the plan of Francis to be more pastoral.

It goes on to mention that “Bonny, 59, made waves in December when he said the Church must accept “a diversity of forms” when it comes to relationships, according to an interview he gave to a Belgian newspaper, translated by the National Catholic Reporter. “Personally, I find that in the Church, more space must be given to acknowledge the actual quality of gay and lesbian couples; and such a form of shared life should meet the same criteria as found in an ecclesiastical marriage,” he said. “We have to acknowledge that such criteria can be found in a diversity of relationships, and one needs to search for various models to give form to those relationships.” Bonny is one of 65 bishops named in a Vatican bulletin today who will participate in the synod, which is a continuation of a synod on families held last October that featured sometimes-rancorous discussions of Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, same-sex relationships, and various societal and economic pressures facing families. Bishops’ conferences in each country or region select delegates and submit them to the Vatican for approval, which is done on a rolling basis. Announcements of other participants were made earlier this year”.

The report goes on to make the point that “Last September, Bonny released a 22-page letter laying out his hopes for last October’s synod and offering clues about what he may bring to this year’s session. Concerning marriage, for example, Bonny wrote that it has changed through the centuries, undercutting activists who say marriage hasn’t changed for millennia. He suggested the Church has something to learn from same-sex couples: “The present day legalisation of civil partnership and marriage between people of the same gender has led to new situations and insights concerning marriage and family life.” Bonny also suggested that the Church should admit Catholics who divorced, but remarried without an annulment, to Communion”.

The article notes that “The first part of the synod on the family provided a platform for an unprecedented discussion of sensitive topics related to family life. A report issued halfway through the two-week event said that bishops had discussed the pastoral needs of gay Catholics, opening up Communion to the divorced and remarried, contraception and family planning, as well as the theological notion of “graduality,” or highlighting the good in relationships that might not live up to the Church’s ideal. Conservatives at the synod slammed the mid-term report, saying it was incomplete and did not reflect the wide range of views expressed during the meeting to that point. The final report approved by bishops watered down some of the more liberal language, so it’s unlikely that Bonny’s views will go unchallenged this fall”.

Needless to say these views are not shared by all, “For example, members of Poland’s delegation, also named officially Tuesday, have promised to fight any attempts at change, noting specifically their opposition to proposals from German bishops to loosen Church rules. “We certainly won’t be going in the theological direction presented by certain German-speaking circles,” Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki told the Catholic Herald Monday. “We believe the output of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, and recent statements by Pope Francis, are enough to view Church teaching as a continuum, not as a revolution.” Some African prelates, too, have said they will toe the party line come October”.

Shintoism and homosexuality

19/07/2015

An interesting piece discusses Shintoism and gay marriage in Japan, “In January 1999, a Shinto priest unofficially married two men in a shrine in Kawasaki, an industrial city near Tokyo. Literally “the way of the gods,” Shinto is one of Japan’s major religions, but it does not influence modern Japanese life the way that Christianity dominates in the United States. Rather, it’s more a matter of a shared culture — of ritual practices and belief in spirits — against which some people define themselves”.

The author goes on to write “The ceremony took place at Kanamara Shrine, best known for its annual Festival of the Steel Phallus, during which participants pray for easy childbirth or protection from sexually transmitted diseases. Hirohiko Nakamura, the priest who performed the rites, told local media then that this was probably the first time a wedding ceremony had been held for two men in Japan. “This may become a call to seriously think about the diversity of sex,” he said. Fast-forward 16 years. On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, overturning decades of often active and religiously motivated government discrimination against a minority of Americans. In Japan, gay marriage remains illegal — except for in one district, or ward, in Tokyo, which began recognizing same-sex marriages in March. A month earlier, conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been arguing for revising Japan’s Constitution to allow a more assertive military, said that reforming the Japanese Constitution to allow for gay marriage would be difficult”.

The report goes on to mention that “Across Japan, opinions about gay rights diverge. Technically, homosexuality is legal, Kazuyuki Minami, a lawyer in Osaka, reminded a journalist from the Associated Press, “but the atmosphere is such that most people feel homosexuals should not exist.” Reuters, citing a mid-2013 poll by the research firm Ipsos, reported that while 60 or 70 percent of people in most Western nations say they know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, only 5 percent of Japanese do. Kanae Doi, the Japan director for the advocacy organization Human Rights Watch, told Foreign Policy that while many Japanese are not opposed to homosexuality, “they don’t really see it.” And while Shinto doesn’t have a clear stance on homosexuality, it “advocates that it’s not natural,” as one Shinto priest told me in Tokyo’s prominent Meiji Shrine in early June, a few weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The Association of Shinto Shrines, the administrative body that oversees Japan’s estimated 80,000 shrines and 20,000 priests, tend to be conservative on social issues, the priest said. But it’s trying to be more active on social issues — he cited an internal debate on euthanasia as proof”.

The article goes onto note that there seems to be a debate within Shintoism emerging, “a younger priest at the same shrine told me that homosexuality has recently become a topic of debate. He said that ancient tales of Shinto do not include men laying with men, or women with women. (Scholar Louis Crompton in the 2003 book Homosexuality and Civilization, writes of Shinto that “[e]arly law codes penalized incest and bestiality but not homosexual relations.” The Shinto gods “were themselves highly sexual.”) And because men can’t procreate with each other, the priest said, homosexuality is bad for the future”.

By way of context the author notes that “Shinto advocates cleanliness, as opposed to spiritual pollution. Homosexuality “is not unclean, but it’s unnatural,” the priest concluded. Nakamura, the priest who performed the Shinto gay wedding in 1999, has since passed away, but his daughter Hisae Nakamura, 38, now watches over Kanamara Shrine in his place. “In Shinto, it says make many children, expand humanity, and be prosperous,” she said. “And yet, it’s not explicitly written anywhere that homosexuality is wrong or a sin.” Since 1999, Japanese have grown more accepting of the idea of gay-marriage ceremonies. Famously, in early 2013, two women staged a same-sex wedding at the popular Tokyo Disney Resort to much social media acclaim”.

 

Clinton courts the gay vote

17/07/2015

A report in the New York Times notes how Hillary Clinton is trying to attract the gay vote, “In honour of Gay Pride Month in June, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign held a “Broadway Brunches” fund-raiser in Manhattan, featuring a performance from the stars of the drag queen musical “Kinky Boots.” The campaign also opened a “Pride” section on its website, with rainbow-print merchandise including a “Loud and Proud” shirt with a young Hillary with a bob haircut silk-screened, Andy Warhol-style, against a yellow background. Later in the month, Mrs. Clinton posed with Lady Gaga at a fund-raiser, and her campaign promoted a kitschy pro-Clinton video made by the gay quartet Well-Strung”.

The report adds that “Mrs. Clinton does not have the most cutting-edge record when it comes to gay rights. She did not speak out on behalf of same-sex marriage until 2013. But what she lacks on the policy front, she is trying to make up for partly with a tongue-in-cheek recognition that in her decades in the public eye she has developed a certain pop culture status, particularly among some gay men who identify with her triumphs over adversity, her redemption, and her evolving personal style. The difference between her current campaign and her 2008 effort is that Mrs. Clinton, 67, seems to be playing up this cultural connection, whether it is making jokes about being a “hair icon” or sending around the Well-Strung tribute video on social media”.

The article goes on to make he point that”Clinton will attend a fund-raiser in Provincetown, Mass., hosted by Alix Ritchie, a prominent gay rights activist, and Bryan Rafanelli, an event planner who oversaw Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. The seaside enclave, often called “P-town” — in the state that was the first to legalize same-sex marriage — has long been a Shangri-La for gays, and the event will highlight Mrs. Clinton’s ties to the powerful gay Democratic donors who vacation there. The 2012 census reported that Provincetown had 163.1 same-sex couples per 1,000 people, the most of any city or town nationwide”.

Pointedly the report adds that “As some Republican presidential candidates issued measured responses to the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide and others attacked the ruling in the name of religious freedom, Mrs. Clinton was effusive in her praise. She called the ruling a “historic victory” and celebrated “the courage and determination of L.G.B.T. Americans who made it possible.” Her campaign gave out free bumper stickers with the “H” logo in rainbow colors spelling out the word “History” and had a huge presence at pride parades across the country, including four such events in Iowa. Chelsea Clinton and much of the Brooklyn-based campaign staff attended the New York City parade. Of course, gay life is incredibly diverse, and the cliché of the strong woman with diva appeal does not speak to everyone, or cancel out more substantive concerns about Mrs. Clinton’s policy positions”.

Obviously the report makes the valid point that “Some people criticized Mrs. Clinton’s response to the court’s same-sex marriage ruling as politically opportunistic and overkill, given her relatively late arrival to the cause. “Shout out to Hillary Clinton who opposed gay marriage until 2013. Truly a visionary,” Hamilton Nolan, a writer at Gawker, posted on Twitter. Others pointed to President Bill Clinton’s signing of the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, two of the most significant setbacks in the modern gay rights movement”.

Interestingly it goes on to note, “It is hard to measure gay support for candidates; until recently, most pollsters did not collect that data. But in the 2008 Democratic primaries, voters who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual favored Mrs. Clinton over Senator Barack Obama by 23 percentage points in New York and by 34 points in California, the only states that asked voters about their sexual orientation in exit polls. In the four years she served as secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton prioritized gay rights, including in a 2011 speech in Geneva in which she urged nations to accept gays and lesbians. She has now made the issue central to her 2016 campaign”.

The piece adds that “Several of Mrs. Clinton’s gay supporters cautioned against generalizations. But at the same time, they suggested that there was something visceral about Mrs. Clinton’s appeal to some of her most ardent gay supporters. The campaign’s positioning of Mrs. Clinton as a “fighter” plays into this idea. “She has had to overcome a whole lot of setbacks and personal attacks, literally, since she came into public life,” said Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign and a former Clinton aide. “If you look at the L.G.B.T. experience, there are a lot of parallels.” George Chauncey Jr., a professor of history and American studies at Yale and author of “Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World,” said that while he had not noticed his students to be particularly enthusiastic about Mrs. Clinton, that resonance of the long-suffering woman with older gay men, in particular, cannot be underestimated”.

Ireland’s referendum: right result, wrong method?

13/07/2015

Omar Encarnación argues that the recent gay marriage referendum was bad for gay rights.

He begins, “In yet another example of the apparent paradox of Catholic nations leading the world on gay rights, Ireland, a quintessential Catholic society, has legalised same-sex marriage. Before Ireland, there was Uruguay, France, and Brazil (the world’s largest Catholic nation as well as the largest same-sex marriage state) in 2013; Argentina and Portugal three years before that; and Spain, the country that inaugurated the trend of overwhelmingly Catholic nations legalizing same-sex marriage, five years before that”.

The writer should take more care in labelling nations “quintessential Catholic”. Gay marriage began in 2004 in the United States, it was in the UK in 2013 and in South Africa before that. To equate Catholicism with leadership on gay rights should not be seen as “set in stone”. Moreover, Ireland voted on gay marriage long after France and Spain introduced it.

He goes on to argue interestingly that “When Spain’s same-sex marriage law was enacted in 2005, only two other nations, the Netherlands and Belgium, had extended to same-sex couples the right to marry, with the Netherlands having done so only in 2001. As of now, and including Ireland, 19 countries protect that right. Of the almost 600 million people who today live in nations that allow same-sex marriage, more than 60 percent are in Catholic-majority nations—and that tally does not even include the “mini” state of Mexico City, a metropolis of some 20 million people, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, or Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador, which allow for same-sex civil unions with benefits that are very similar to marriage”.

He makes the valid point that Catholic countries favour gay marriage not just because of “the decline of the Catholic Church’s moral and political authority across the Catholic world. In Ireland, it came as a result of sex and child abuse scandals; in Spain and Latin America, because of the church’s support of military regimes with reputations for wanton human rights abuses, including the disappearance of left-wing dissidents. But this is only part of the story. Polling data also suggest that Catholics, as a religious group, are more accepting of homosexuality than Protestants and Muslims.According to Pew: “On average, Catholics are less morally opposed to abortion, homosexuality, artificial means of birth control, sex outside of marriage, divorce and drinking alcohol than are Protestants.” It is further noted that: “The differences between Catholics and Protestants on most of these issues hold true even when accounting for levels of religious observance. For example, Protestants who participate in religious services at least once a week are somewhat more likely to oppose abortion and divorce—and considerably more likely to oppose homosexuality, sex outside of marriage and drinking alcohol—than are Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly.” Certainly, it isn’t unusual that an overwhelmingly Catholic country such as Ireland decided to back same-sex marriage”.

He argues that “What is unusual about Ireland, however, is the process through which the country settled the matter—not through the courts and the legislature, but via a national poll. In doing so, Ireland has claimed the title of the world’s first country to gain same-sex marriage by popular demand. This is, arguably, a dubious honour. As I wrote in the pages of the Irish Times,Although inspiring, Ireland’s referendum is not a step forward for gay rights.” There is, in fact, something unseemly about a nation putting the civil rights of a historically oppressed minority (it is worth remembering that homosexuality was regarded a crime in Ireland as recently as 1993) to a popular vote. Most civilized nations would never conceive of putting the rights of racial and ethnic minorities to a vote”.

Firstly, the implication that only civilised nations enact rights through legislation or the courts and therefore excludes Ireland is outrageous and should not be tolerated to any degree. Secondly, the author seems to lack the ability to see that having a referendum strengthens the rights of people by making them truly democratic.

For some reason he then describes the recent history of gay rights in the United States, even though the article is meant to be about Ireland. He appears to get around this by noting that several anti-gay ballot measures were passed in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States.

He mentions that “The infamy that surrounds gay rights referendums begs the question of why the Irish would choose a popular poll to settle the issue of same-sex marriage. By 2004, Republican operative Karl Rove cynically managed to put a same-sex marriage referendum on the ballot in ten states, including the all-important swing state of Ohio. He hoped to gin up support for George W. Bush’s reelection campaign by motivating so-called value voters. The gay community was more than a little incensed at the idea that the public should have any say in whether or not a gay person could marry the person of his or her choosing”.

He continues with the example of the United States and Proposition 8 in California to overturn gay marriage in that state. Yet in a somewhat self defeating reference the vote was later overturned, as he admits “the victors in the Prop 8 fight have fared worst. After public opinion turned in favour of same-sex marriage, those who supported the referendum have found themselves fending off characterisations as retrogrades and bigots. Having lost the same-sex marriage war”.

He finally gets to the point and argues that “The infamy that surrounds gay rights referendums begs the question of why the Irish would choose a popular poll to settle the issue of same-sex marriage. According to conventional wisdom, consulting the public on same-sex marriage was the only way to prevent same-sex marriage from being declared unconstitutional, since the constitution did not provide for same-sex marriage, a point that was stressed to me repeatedly by readers to my article in the Irish Times. I am not an expert on Irish constitutional law, but this reasoning strikes me as unconvincing. After all, Irish politicians had previously rejected a referendum on the issue because they feared it would prove too divisive, and instead decided to pass a same-sex civil unions law, enacted in 2011″.

He bizarrely rejects the notion of a democratic referendum “because they recognize that despite the appearance of being a democratic way to decide a contentious issue, gay rights referendums are actually demeaning to a democratic society”.

To say this does little to affirm the value of democracy when it is, in so many ways, under pressure. He seems to reject the way that gay marriage became not just law but part of the Irish constitution, and yet at the same time presumably welcome the result. A strange dichotomy.

He ends on the self defeating point “Let us hope that Ireland’s referendum is one example of settling gay rights that we will not see repeated anytime in the near future. The best-known case is Spain, where the 2005 same-sex marriage law survived a 2012 test by the Constitutional Tribunal. A conservative government had come into office pledging to overturn the law and arguing that it had “denaturalized” marriage as defined in the Spanish constitution as the union of a man and a woman. In the end, the tribunal refused to hear the appeal, leaving the same-sex law intact”.

He concludes “In fairness to the Irish, one big difference between Ireland and Argentina, Mexico, and Spain is the liberalism of the courts. Largely because of the latter countries’ recent experience with military dictatorship and the horrendous legacy of human rights abuses, the courts in Latin America and Spain have been extraordinarily receptive to arguments made by gay activists that “gay rights are human rights.” Additionally, and also in contrast to Ireland, anticlericalism runs deep in the political culture of Latin America and Spain”.

Again he seems to want it both ways, Ireland is a Catholic country fighting against the traditional morality of the Church but then say that Ireland is a clerical country. It cannot be both.

He finishes, “It seems that Irish politicians did not have the stomach for a political brawl and a protracted legal fight over same-sex marriage of the likes seen in Latin America and Spain and that they instead chose the least confrontational but most morally suspect path, which is understandable given Ireland’s history of civil and political conflicts. Moreover, Ireland is a peculiar place, a point underscored by the fact that virtually the entire Irish political class was fully united behind the “Yes” campaign, making the outcome of the referendum certain, if not preordained. To their credit, those manning the “No” campaign resisted the temptation to demonize the gay community, which has not been the case in the United States. Actually, the losing side has been very gracious in accepting defeat. Signaling a willingness to reflect and move on, Dublin Archbishop and Primate of Ireland Diarmuid Martin noted that “we [the church] have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of realities.” All of this said, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that although things could have gone tragically wrong, things have instead played out very well in Ireland for the government, the LGBTQ community, and the nation as a whole. The triumph of the “Yes” campaign appears to be one not just for the gay community but for Ireland as a whole. Marriage equality is rightly held as a milestone in Irish history, a monumental achievement in the country’s social and political development, and a repudiation of the Catholic Church’s outmoded views on homosexuality. So we can rejoice in the outcome while decrying the process by which this outcome was attained. But just because the gay marriage referendum worked well for Ireland does not mean that it should be emulated by the rest of the world”.

Gay marriage in America

26/06/2015

In a momentous judgement today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that there can be no discrimination that would otherwise allow gay couples to marry. The ruling comes just weeks after the people of Ireland voted by referendum to allow gay marriage.

A report in the Washington Post opens “The Supreme Court on Friday delivered a historic victory for gay rights, ruling 5 to 4 that the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry no matter where they live and that states may no longer reserve the right only for heterosexual couples. The court’s action marks the culmination of an unprecedented upheaval in public opinion and the nation’s jurisprudence. Advocates called it the most pressing civil rights issue of modern times, while critics said the courts had sent the country into uncharted territory by changing the traditional definition of marriage. “Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. He was joined in the ruling by the court’s liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. All four of the court’s most conservative members — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — dissented and each wrote a separate opinion, saying the court had usurped a power that belongs to the people”.

The report goes on to mention that “Reading a dissent from the bench for the first time in his tenure, Roberts said, “Just who do we think we are? I have no choice but to dissent.” In his opinion, Roberts wrote: “Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration. But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening.” Scalia called the decision a “threat to American democracy,” saying it was “constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine.” In a statement in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama hailed the decision: “This ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are truly treated as equal, we are more free.” Obama said change on social issues can seem slow sometimes, but “sometimes there are days like this when that slow and steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt. This morning the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality. In doing so they’ve reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law. . . . Today we can say in no uncertain terms that we have made our union a little more perfect.”

The piece continunes “There were wild scenes of celebrations on the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court, as same-sex marriage supporters had arrived early, armed with signs and rainbow flags. They celebrated the announcement of a constitutional right to something that did not legally exist anywhere in the world until the turn of the new century. Jim Obergefell, who became the face of the case, Obergefell v. Hodges, when he sought to put his name on his husband’s death certificate as the surviving spouse, said: “Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court affirms what millions across the country already know to be true in our hearts: that our love is equal.” “It is my hope that the term gay marriage will soon be a thing of the past, that from this day forward it will be simply, marriage,” he said. “All Americans deserve equal dignity, respect and treatment when it comes to the recognition of our relationships and families.’’ But Austin R. Nimocks, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a pro-traditional marriage group, said: “Today, five lawyers took away the voices of more than 300 million Americans to continue to debate the most important social institution in the history of the world. That decision is truly unfortunate. . . . Nobody has the right to say that a mom or a woman or a dad or a man is irrelevant. There are differences that should be celebrated. Millions of Americans still believe that.’’ This country’s first legally recognized same-sex marriages took place just 11 years ago, the result of a Massachusetts state supreme court decision. Now, more than 70 percent of Americans live in states where same-sex couples are allowed to marry, according to estimates. The Supreme Court used cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, where restrictions about same-sex marriage were upheld by an appeals court last year, to find that the Constitution does not allow such prohibitions”.

It concludes “The questions raised in the cases decided Friday were left unanswered in 2013, when the justices last confronted the issue of same-sex marriage. A slim majority of the court said at the time that a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act — withholding the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages — was unconstitutional. In a separate case, the court said procedural issues kept it from answering the constitutional question in a case from California, but that move allowed same-sex marriages to resume in that state. Since then, courts across the nation — with the notable exception of the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court that left intact the restrictions in the four states at issue — have struck down a string of state prohibitions on same-sex marriage, many of them passed by voters in referendums. When the Supreme Court declined to review a clutch of those court decisions in October, same-sex marriage proliferated across the country. Public attitudes toward such unions have undergone a remarkable change as well. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll showed a record 61 percent of Americans say they support same-sex marriage. The acceptance is driven by higher margins among the young. When the justices declined in October to review the string of victories same-sex marriage proponents had won in other parts of the country, it meant the number of states required to allow gay marriages grew dramatically, offering the kind of cultural shift the court often likes to see before approving a fundamental change. The Obama administration had urged the court to find that the Constitution requires such restrictions be struck down, and Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. made the case on behalf of the administration at the court’s oral arguments in April. “In a world in which gay and lesbian couples live openly as our neighbours, they raise their children side by side with the rest of us, they contribute fully as members of the community . . . it is simply untenable — untenable — to suggest that they can be denied the right of equal participation in an institution of marriage, or that they can be required to wait until the majority decides that it is ready to treat gay and lesbian people as equals,” he said”.

In a related piece the way conservatives gave up fighting the movement is assessed, “The incredibly swift public opinion battle on same-sex marriage appears to be over — even moreso than you might think. A new Pew Research Center survey released this month reinforced what we already know: That a clear and growing majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. But here’s something perhaps even more telling: Even those who don’t support same-sex marriage (mainly, religious conservatives) also thought it’s inevitable same-sex marriage will soon be legal across America — something that came true Friday”.

The piece goes on to mention that “The empathy factor also plays in gay marriage supporters’ favour. A majority of Americans now think gays are born that way, according to a recent Gallup Poll. That helps supporters shift the debate to a civil rights issue. Perhaps most importantly, this month’s Pew survey found that nine in 10 Americans know someone who is gay. And simply knowing someone who’s gay is a major indicator when it comes to whether people opposed to gay marriage will change their minds, according to the 14 percent of Americans (a large number for such a partisan entrenched issue) who told Pew in 2013 that they changed their mind in support of gay marriage”.

A report questions if the GOP can get back into step with modern America, “Mike Huckabee — former Fox News personality, Arkansas governor and Baptist preacher — gathered with a modest crowd here in the back of Breadeaux Pizza on his “Main Street American Family” tour and opened the floor to questions. The very first one set the tone. Jeff Hontz, 49, a Baptist pastor in town, said he has been anxious because he sees “America going down the wrong roads morally.” God decreed unchanging standards in Scripture, Hontz argued, but society keeps changing — and fast. “I saw a commercial this morning about a transgender show, and everybody was praising it,” he said, prodding the presidential candidate. Huckabee responded by declaring that the standard of all truth is the Bible. Distorting the laws of nature, he said, is akin to playing the piano without a tuning fork — or baking a cake without the proper measurements of salt, flour and sugar. “You’re going to have a disaster on your hands,” he said. The exchange illustrates the vexing challenge now facing Republican presidential candidates and the GOP itself: how to get in step with modern America”.

It continues noting that “The GOP’s activist base wants its leaders to fight loudly for traditional, Christian values and sew together a moral fabric they see as frayed, even shredded. This is especially true here in Iowa, which hosts the first caucuses and where candidates will not easily avoid pressure from the far right. Yet political survival demands evolution with popular opinion. So far, many contenders are giving the base what it wants”.

Francis to meet a gay activist

16/06/2015

Pope Francis will meet a gay married activist in Paraguay next month, according to an LGBT rights group in that country. The pontiff is due to meet Simon Cazal, co-founder and executive director of SomosGay, on July 11 at the Paraguayan Episcopal Conference in Asuncion, the country’s capital. Catholic conference organizers approached Cazal earlier this month with an invitation in which they noted the “impact of your organization on Paraguayan society.” SomosGay said the letter marked a significant shift in the Catholic Church’s attitude towards gay rights groups. The invitation “symbolizes an openness and progress towards the LGBT community, remembering the ultraconservative context that has always characterized the Vatican,” the organization said in a statement. The group said it wanted to “pursue the democratic construction of a culture of dialogue,” working towards a diverse and inclusive Paraguayan society. Francis’ visit to Asuncion is part of his upcoming South American tour, which will include stops in Ecuador and Bolivia. He was last in the region in 2013, on an official trip to Brazil”.

“The reality might not be all gloom and doom”

14/06/2015

Michael Sean Winters writes that Ireland, after the historic gay marriage referendum has given the world and the Church a reality check. He opens “The vote in favour of same sex marriage in Ireland was overwhelming. The Irish people, especially Ireland’s young people, turned out in large numbers to support a measure that was unthinkable ten years ago and unheard of twenty years ago. There is a palpable sense that the Catholic roots of Ireland are no more, that traditional marriage was not the only thing on the ballot this past weekend, but Ireland’s Catholic heritage. There will be plenty of hand wringing in the days ahead. People will seek out a scapegoat. True, the clergy sex abuse crisis took an enormous toll on the moral credibility of the Irish Church. True, catechesis there, like catechesis here, has been weak the past few decades – although, in Ireland, most of those young people voting for same sex marriage went to Catholic schools. But, everyone, especially the leaders of the Church, should try to avoid making anyone or anything a scapegoat: The results point to a deeper reality”.

Winters notes the comments from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on the need for the Church to face a reality check, “It is impossible to disagree with +Martin’s call for a reality check. Is it possible that those Irish young people did not vote for same sex marriage despite their Catholic education but, in part, because of it? At a time when the face of religion on the nightly news is the face of inhumane intolerance, perhaps we should not bemoan a victory for tolerance, even if that tolerance extends to something the Church does not endorse. It is not an easy question. The Church teaches that sexual relations find their full and proper place within the marriage covenant, and that the procreation of children is, like the unity of the spouses, an integral aspect of those sexual relations, a participation in God’s on-going creation. It is a beautiful teaching and, as I have written before, I think society can and should privilege traditional marriage. But, how often, instead of simply proclaiming our faith, have we wrapped it in judgment of others”.

The danger of as Winters’s argues that there should be a “privilege traditional marriage” results in a new level of bias against gays. The tiny number of people that identify as gay should not, and do not, discriminate against straight marriages. To then say that this number, which is so small, means that straight marriage needs to be elevated seems odd.

Winters adds “What does a reality check look like? The first thing the hierarchy – in Ireland and in the United States – should do is have some long listening sessions with young people. Ask them why they support same sex marriage. They are not trying to destroy Western civilization. Most of them are not gay or lesbian themselves. To them, society must be first and foremost about mutual respect and religion should learn to be more tolerant. They are not wrong to think that. It is good Catholic theology. Bishops and pastors and lay leaders should ask them how they seek to follow the Lord Jesus in their romantic and sexual lives. Do they keep religion and sex separate? Do they think God has something to say about the subject? Before preaching to the next generation of Catholics, Church leaders are well advised to listen to them first, and not just to the choir a la Mrs. Clinton, but a real listening session with people who are not hand-picked for their docility”.

He then makes the correct point that “The second thing the leaders of the Church must do is stop using phrases like “intrinsically disordered” which have been a disaster pastorally and misunderstood theologically. They should have the courage to admit in public what many will admit in private, that the Church’s theology on homosexuality is woefully inadequate. They must stop acting as if knowing this one discrete fact about a person, the fact that he or she is gay, is enough to form a judgment about the whole person. We don’t think our society is justified in sentencing Dzohkar Tsarnaev to death on account of his one, truly terrible act; We should not justify societal exclusion based on one characteristic. The Church at Her best never ceases proclaiming the integrity and dignity of the human person, the whole human person, no matter their choices and their preferences, still less something over which they have no choice whatsoever”.

He adds rightly that “The third thing the hierarchy must do actually sit down with same gay and lesbian Catholics and listen to their stories, find out how they reconcile what the hierarchy currently sees as irreconcilable. Look for areas of commonality, instead of starting with how different each others’ views on human sexuality are. What do they mean when they say “marriage” and “equality”? And, the bishops are well advised to do this before both the Synod on the Family and, here in the United States, before the Supreme Court issues its ruling on same sex marriage at the end of next month. Their statements after that decision should be scrubbed of negativity and hand wringing”.

He ends “I confess I would be more supportive of the fight for same sex marriage if it did not seem so trendy. I worry that the support for gay rights may be inch deep, a passing fad, and could, in the wrong set of circumstances, fail to grow deep roots and be unable to protect gays and lesbians from new hatreds. (The anti-immigrant fervor in Europe will not long be content with only one scapegoat.) If a nation as schooled in the faith as Ireland reaches the conclusion it did, then it truly is time for a reality check, but the reality might not be all gloom and doom. I do not know where such a reality check would lead. I know that our Catholic understanding of human sexuality will always be different from that achieved by merely human reason. But, I suspect the result in Ireland contains more good news for the Christian faith than many realize at first blush. It is not a catastrophe. Wake up calls are always unwelcome, but they help us avoid catastrophes”.

 

The rise of Radcliffe?

08/06/2015

Reports note that “Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, a Dominican priest who led his order for ten years and has stirred controversy in the past for his stance on certain ecclesial issues, was appointed May 16 as a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Consultors to the pontifical councils are officially appointed by the Pope, and while it is not formally acknowledged, such appointments are typically made at the suggestion of the heads of the councils. With Fr. Radcliffe, the number of consultors of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace comes to 14”.

The report goes on to note “The pontifical council’s goal is to “promote justice and peace in the world in accordance with the Gospel and the social teaching of the Church,” and its consultors “can be called upon to participate in working groups on specific topics.” The appointment of Fr. Radcliffe as a new consultor is an impromptu one, as Benedict XVI appointed nine consultors to the body  on Sept. 29, 2012, almost completely renewing the list of consultors in doing so. Consultors are appointed to five-year terms, and since the nine appointed by Benedict XVI in 2012 will conclude their service in only two years, Fr. Radcliffe’s appointment sounded strange to some”.

It would be wrong to assume this appointment to be more than it is. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is an effective think tank within the Roman Curia. While it has taken on new prominence during the pontificate of Pope Francis, it is still merely a pontifical council, if and when, it becomes something else. Therefore to be a consultor to Justice and Peace is a sign of esteem but should not be read as a whole sale endorsement of the ideas of Fr Radcliffe as the usual “balanced” websites have done.

The piece adds “A source in the top ranks of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace stressed to CNA May 20 that “the Pontifical Council is always seeking new collaborators,” and that “when you find a good one, you don’t want to lose him.” The source added that “Fr. Radcliffe has already collaborated with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.” According to another source in the same Vatican office, Cardinal Peter Turkson – its president – had intended Fr. Radcliffe as the successor to Bishop Mario Toso. Bishop Toso was the pontifical council’s secretary: its number two position. Bishop Toso had served from 2009-2014, and was appointed Bishop of Faenza-Modigliana on Jan. 19. According to a Vatican source, Bishop Toso had been offered the chance to continue on in the Vatican after curial reform, but he himself preferred to become a bishop of a diocese”.

Pointedly the report notes that “the appointment of a new secretary at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is stalled, as the curia reform underway is almost certain to touch upon its structure and functions. The pontifical council is expected to merge with the Pontifical Councils Cor Unum, for Migrants, and for Health Care Workers, to form a Congregation for Charity, Justice and Peace, which would be composed of five secretariats: Justice and Peace, Charity, Migrants, Pastoral Healthcare and Human Ecology. Waiting for any decision to come, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace asked the Pope to enroll Fr. Radcliffe among its consultors, as a first step toward a more important commitment within the anticipated congregation”.

The piece goes on to mention “According to a third source in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Fr. Radcliffe is intended to take over the department of human ecology, as he was “entrusted last summer by Cardinal Turkson’s office to draft a first draft of Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on ecology.” The source added that “ever since then, Fr. Radcliffe has been consulted more and more by Cardinal Turkson’s office, and at one point it had become clear that Cardinal Turkson thought of him as the ideal candidate to take over the post of ‘number 2’ in the dicastery.” Ordained a priest of the Dominican order in 1971, Fr. Radcliffe has authored several books, including “What is the Point of Being a Christian?” From 1992 to 2001 he was head of the the Dominican Order, and has been a long-time contributor to Vatican Radio. His statements, particularly those on homosexuality, have invited controversy in the Church, often challenging traditional teachings or attitudes. His prominent social justice work has been overshadowed at times by his comments on homosexual relationships”.

It mentions “He has also spoken up in support of the German bishops’ desire admit the divorced and remarried to Communion, a contentious suggestion which has been recently opposed by the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, as it was by Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II”.

 

Parolin’s historic mistake

02/06/2015

After the historic referendum on gay marriage Secretary of State, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, has “attacked the legalisation of gay marriage in Ireland. The referendum that overwhelmingly backed marriage equality last weekend was a “defeat for humanity”, he claimed. “I was deeply saddened by the result,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said at a conference in Rome on Tuesday night. “The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelisation. I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity.” The remarks by the Vatican’s top diplomat, who is seen as second only to the pope in the church’s hierarchy, represent the most damning assessment of the Irish vote by a senior church official to date”.

The report notes that “It was a far more critical response than the circumspect reaction offered by archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who said: “It is very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people … [then the church needs] a reality check.” Ireland became the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote after a referendum found that 62% of voters were in favour of changing the constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. While the results were celebrated by advocates of gay rights in Ireland and around the world, it was also seen as a stark symbol of how wide the chasm has grown between young people in what has traditionally been a staunchly Catholic country and the church itself, which says that homosexual acts are a sin and vehemently opposes gay marriage”.

The piece goes on to state incorrectly, “Parolin’s comments are sure to revive the debate about the church’s attitude to gay rights and equality under the papacy of Pope Francis, who once famously said “who am I to judge?” when asked about the existence of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican. That remark spurred hope among progressive Catholics that the church was entering a new era of tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality. For some, that hope has been dashed by an ongoing controversy involving a French diplomat and practising Catholic named Laurent Stefanini, who is gay. The Vatican has refused to accept Stefanini’s nomination as France’s ambassador to the Holy See because of his sexual orientation, according to media reports in France and Italy”.

The report continues “The Vatican has declined to comment on the matter, but there has been speculation in recent weeks that the pope could make an abrupt change and accept the nomination, after all. The Vatican recently told the Guardian that any news on the appointment would be made available on the Vatican’s bulletin, where such appointments are usually publicised. On Tuesday night, Parolin said the dialogue between the Vatican and France was continuing in regard to the controversial nomination, and that he hoped it would come to a conclusion in a “positive manner”. Parolin’s remarks on the Irish vote are significant given the broader role Parolin plays in crafting the church’s message on major diplomatic and social issues”.

It ends “Among other issues, the Italian cardinal has been an outspoken advocate for action to combat global warming. In recent remarks, he denounced the “globalisation of indifference and the economy of exclusion” that has put the planet in peril. He has also been the public face of Francis’s diplomatic efforts, including the church’s role in helping Cuba and the US restore diplomatic ties. But on Tuesday, with his choice of words, Parolin differed from the pope in one respect: the Argentinian pontiff has also used the phrase “defeat for humanity”, but he was talking about war, not the legalisation of gay marriage”.

 

Pre-Synod games

31/05/2015

Edward Pentin writes that there are pre-Synod games already taking place, he opens “A one-day study meeting — open only to a select group of individuals — took place at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Monday with the aim of urging “pastoral innovations” at the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family in October. Around 50 participants, including bishops, theologians and media representatives, took part in the gathering, at the invitation of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of Germany, Switzerland and France — Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Bishop Markus Büchel and Archbishop Georges Pontier”.

He reports that “One of the key topics discussed at the closed-door meeting was how the Church could better welcome those in stable same-sex unions, and reportedly “no one” opposed such unions being recognised as valid by the Church. Participants also spoke of the need to “develop” the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and called not for a theology of the body, as famously taught by St. John Paul II, but the development of a “theology of love.” One Swiss priest discussed the “importance of the human sex drive,” while another participant, talking about holy Communion for remarried divorcees”.

Pentin’s idea of these talks is clear but many have merit. If all believers are equal before God why are gay unions considered second class? Equally the danger of the teachings of John Paul II is they turn the Church into a fertility cult with the entire focus on the procreation of children with little thought given to their quality of life and other attendant issues.

Pentin goes on to report that “Marco Ansaldo, a reporter for the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, who was present at the meeting, said the words seemed “revolutionary, uttered by clergymen.” French Biblicist and Ratzinger Prize-winner Anne-Marie Pelletier praised the dialogue that took place between theologians and bishops as a “real sign of the times.” According to La Stampa, another Italian daily newspaper, Pelletier said the Church needs to enter into “a dynamic of mutual listening,” in which the magisterium continues to guide consciences, but she believes it can only effectively do so if it “echoes the words of the baptised.” The meeting took the “risk of the new, in fidelity with Christ,” she claimed. The article also quoted a participant as saying the synod would be a “failure” if it simply continued to affirm what the Church has always taught”.

Interestingly he writes that “The closed-door meeting, masterminded by the German bishops’ conference under the leadership of Cardinal Marx, was first proposed at the annual meeting of the heads of the three bishops’ conferences, held in January in Marseille, France. The study day took place just days after the people of Ireland voted in a referendum in support of same-sex “marriage” and on the same day as the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops met in Rome. Some observers did not see the timing as a coincidence. The synod council has been drawing up the instrumentum laboris (working document) for the October synod on the family. Integrated into the document will be the responses of a questionnaire sent to laity around the world. Those responses, particularly from Switzerland and Germany, appeared to be overwhelmingly in favour of the Church adapting her teachings to the secular world”.

Some perspective is needed in this final statement. The Church is not jettisoning the death and resurrection of Christ or the foundations for the papacy, transubstantion, women’s ordination, the episcopacy or the Creed. It should simply be seen as refining Church teaching in light of scientific advances.

Pentin goes on to question why the meeting was held before closed doors, ” No one would say why the study day was held in confidence. So secret was the meeting that even prominent Jesuits at the Gregorian were completely unaware of it. The Register learned about it when Jean-Marie Guénois leaked the information in a story in Le Figaro. Speaking to the Register as he left the meeting, Cardinal Marx insisted the study day wasn’t secret. But he became irritated when pressed about why it wasn’t advertised, saying he had simply come to Rome in a “private capacity” and that he had every right to do so. Close to Pope Francis and part of his nine-member council of cardinals, the cardinal is known to be especially eager to reform the Church’s approach to homosexuals. During his Pentecost homily last Sunday, Cardinal Marx called for a “welcoming culture” in the Church for homosexuals, saying it’s “not the differences that count, but what unites us.” Cardinal Marx is also not alone, among those attending the meeting, in pushing for radical changes to the Church’s life. The head of the Swiss bishops, Bishop Büchel of St. Gallen, has spoken openly in favour of women’s ordination, saying in 2011 that the Church should “pray that the Holy Spirit enables us to read the signs of the times.” Archbishop Pontier, head of the French bishops, is also known to have heterodox leanings”.

If there is a problem it is with Pope Francis. He seems to favour smaller families but then reverse his statement and back large ones. His mixed messages do little to inspire clarity. Perhaps this is the purpose? Alternatively, Francis is so naïve as to think the Synod will not air any differing views other than Church thinking on these issues.

Pentin continues, “Among the specialists present was Father Eberhard Schockenhoff, a moral theologian. Some are particularly disturbed about the rise to prominence of Father Schockenhoff, who is understood to be the “mastermind” behind much of the challenge to settled Church teachings among the German episcopate and, by implication, at the synod on the family itself. A prominent critic of Humanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth), as well as a strong supporter of homosexual clergy and those pushing for reform in the area of sexual ethics, Father Schockenhoff is known to be the leading adviser of German bishops in the run-up to the synod. In 2010, he gave an interview in which he praised the permanence and solidarity shown in some same-sex relationships as “ethically valuable.” He urged that any assessment of homosexual acts “must take a back seat” on the grounds that the faithful are becoming “increasingly distant from the Church’s sexual morality,” which appears “unrealistic and hostile to them.” The Pope and the bishops should “take this seriously and not dismiss it as laxity,” he said”.

The final section of the report, Pentin addresses the participation of the media, “Also noted were the large number of media representatives. Journalists from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, German broadcasters ZDF and ARD, the Italian daily La Repubblica and French-Catholic media La Croix and I-Media were also present. Their presence was “striking,” said one observer, who predicted they will be used to promote the agenda of the  subject matter under discussion in the weeks leading up to the synod. Monday’s meeting is just the latest attempt to subtly steer the upcoming synod in a direction opposed by many faithful Catholics. A statement on the study day released by the German bishops’ conference May 26 said there was a “reflection on biblical hermeneutics” — widely seen as code words for understanding the Bible differently from Tradition — and the need for a “reflection on a theology of love.” This, too, is seen as undermining Church teaching. By replacing the theology of the body with a “theology of love,” it creates an abstract interpretation that separates sex from procreation, thereby allowing forms of extramarital unions and same-sex attractions based simply on emotions rather than biological reality. Gone, say critics, is the Catholic view of marriage, which should be open to procreation”.

 

“The church needs to take a reality check”

29/05/2015

After the passing of the historic gay marriage referendum in Ireland a piece from the New York Times examines where the Church goes after the referendum, “The morning after Ireland learned it had become the first nation to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, looked out at the future of the Roman Catholic Church. It could be found at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral here, in downtown Dublin, as two rows of children awaited confirmation before him in the lofty, column-lined church. “Boys and girls, I made my confirmation 60 years ago,” he told them, adding, “Your world is different from mine.”

It adds “The size of the victory energized supporters, with the referendum affirmed by 62 percent of the electorate and passed in all but one of Ireland’s 43 districts. After the votes were counted, the carefully planned and executed campaign by activist groups seemed as much about putting behind a past entrenched in theocracy and tradition as it was about marriage for gays and lesbians. And it underscored how different Ireland is today for the young, who turned out in droves to vote. In a little more than a generation, Ireland has both distanced itself from the church and sharpened its secular identity”.

The report goes on to note “At St. Mary’s, the results of the referendum, as one might expect, did not come up — the archbishop instead quipped about his first experience with a cellphone. But afterward, speaking at a house next to the church, he conceded that much had changed. “The church needs to take a reality check,” Archbishop Martin said after the Mass, repeating a comment he had made Saturday. “It’s very clear there’s a growing gap between Irish young people and the church, and there’s a growing gap between the culture of Ireland that’s developing and the church.” The country’s cultural evolution reflects a blend of disaffection with the church, and Ireland’s willingness to embrace a wider vision of itself in the world. As the church lost many people in its scandals and its unwillingness to yield to sexual freedoms, the European Union found itself with a willing and eager member”.

Yet the reason Ireland was a “theocracy”, which of course it wasn’t, was because 95% of the people were Catholic. The Church gave people hope and provided services that the State were either unable or unwilling to provide.

When Same-Sex Marriages Became Legal

About 20 countries have already legalised same-sex marriages. Here is a list of when each did.

The Church still has much to give Irish society, through its teachings on poverty, the common good, care for all people irrespective of their status (economic or otherwise) but the obsession with sexual morality is unhelpful to both the Church and Irish society.

It continues “Or, as Mr. Flannery put it, “The day when the church had the power to influence social debate in Ireland, or to swing it, is gone.” The legal system began to chip away at the laws restricting homosexuals. In 1988, a lawyer named Mary Robinson successfully argued a case in the European court system challenging Ireland’s law that made homosexuality a crime. Five years later, after Ms. Robinson became Ireland’s first female president in 1990, she signed a law decriminalizing homosexuality. At the same time that the church’s moral authority was flagging, the Irish were finding a new identity within the European Union. They share the euro, and are more willing to take advantage of low-cost airfares for weekend jaunts to the Continent and beyond, broadening an outlook that for their parents and grandparents had been molded by the church and Britain”.

It mentions that “An influx of young people from Eastern Europe and elsewhere has made Ireland more diverse. The Irish political scene has largely avoided the toxic anti-immigrant rhetoric that has surfaced in much of Europe. In large part, that is because Sinn Fein, the opposition party that was once the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, has gained ground by attacking austerity instead of immigrants. The same-sex marriage referendum had broad support across the political parties”.

It ends “Even as it widely celebrates the change that the same-sex marriage vote indicated, Ireland is not entirely beyond the kind of cultural battles that have led to far more contentious political campaigns in the past. Many believe there will be a much more fierce cultural debate over legalizing abortion. With the vote for the same-sex referendum going nearly two to one in favor, Archbishop Martin said Sunday that the church needed what he called “a new language that will be understood and heard by people.” Many young people, he added, “go in today and find a church that is for the like-minded,” as opposed to being inclusive”.

It concludes “he did not offer a solution for attracting young people back to the church, and reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage. “For many, and I’ve said this before, inside the church becomes almost alien territory to them in today’s society,” he said. “If the leadership of the Irish Catholic church don’t recognize that, then they’re in severe denial. Have I got a magic formula? Certainly not.”

Gay marriage in Ireland

23/05/2015

In a historic referendum, with no precedent in the world, Ireland has voted to allow gay marriage in a constitutional referendum held yesterday.

The Irish Times reports Ireland has officially passed the same-sex marraige referendum with 1.2 million people voting in its favour. The result was confirmed just before 7pm on Saturday although the result was clear from very early in the count. The Yes vote prevailed by 62 to 38 per cent with a large 60.5 per cent turnout. In total, 1,201,607 people voted in favour with 734,300 against, giving a majority of 467,307. The total valid poll was 1,935,907″.

It goes on to report “Roscommon-South Leitrim was the only county to reject same-sex marriage. The No vote there finished with 51.4 per cent. Donegal, against some expectations, approved the amendment to the Constitution by a small margin. Donegal South West was on a razor edge with 50.1 per cent voting Yes, representing a margin of just 33 votes. A referendum presented simultaneously on reducing the permissible age for presidential candidates was roundly defeated. The Yes vote in Dublin in the same-sex marriage referendum was particularly pronounced”.

It adds that “Dublin Midwest recorded a Yes vote of 70.9 per cent, Dublin South West returned 71.3 per cent, Dún Laoghaire 71.6 per cent, Dublin North West 70.6 per cent and Dublin South Central 72.3 per cent, all in keeping with the 70 per cent-plus positive vote that had been anticipated in the capital. As the result emerged on Saturday afternoon thousands of people gathered in the courtyard of Dublin Castle amid scenes of widespread jubilation. Senior politicians welcomed the result, with Minister for Health Leo Varadkar saying the overwhelming Yes vote makes Ireland a “beacon of light” for the rest of the world in terms of liberty and equality. “It’s a historical day for Ireland,” he told RTÉ, a “social revolution”, adding that had any constituencies voted No, it would only have been a handful. In the end there was just one. Mr Varadkar revealed publically during the referendum campaign that he was gay”.

Gracious in defeat, “Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said it was now time to focus on other myriad inequalities in Irish society. “I have the strong belief – there is a strong belief in the church – about the nature of marriage and the family,” he said, after the result was beyond dispute. “I would like to have seen that the rights of gay and lesbian men and women could have been respected without changing the definition of marriage. That hasn’t happened, but that is the world we live in today.” The eyes of the world have been trained on Ireland with the story featuring prominently in international media throughout the weekend”.

The piece adds “Paul Moran of Millward Brown told RTÉ voter turnout had proved vital and that youth had driven the result, if not entirely deciding it. Social media has played a central role, he said. No campaigners congratulated the Yes side. Prominent No campaigner and director of the Iona Institute David Quinn seemed to concede the vote shortly after counting began when he tweeted: “Congratulations to the Yes site. Well done.” The Iona Institute issued a statement congratulating the Yes side “on their win” which they described as “a handsome victory”. “We hope the Government will address the concerns voters on the No side have about the implications for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience,” it concluded”.

The report continues “Yes campaigner and Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power said gay campaigners who told their stories on the doorsteps of voters had “helped to change Ireland for all of us”, not just the gay community. She said she had seen many of them reduced to tears by the experience they had during the campaign. For them, it was often “an incredibly difficult thing to do”. Senator David Norris, who fought from the 1970s to 1993 to have homosexuality decriminalised, welcomed the result. “I believe that by the end of today gay people will be equal in this country. I think it’s wonderful,” he said. Minister for Children James Reilly said while the same-sex marriage referendum yes vote is strong in Dublin, it is also strong around the country. He says a lot of voters have been thinking about their grandchildren and giving them the same opportunities in life, should they be gay”.

It goes on to mention that “US vice president Joe Biden tweeted: “We welcome Ireland’s support for equality #LoveWins.” As with the last referendum, media facilities were made available at Dublin Castle, and a large international contingent was in attendance. Following calls from politicians and members of the public on Friday Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW Simon Harris announced that Dublin Castle would also be open to 2,000 members of the public”.

An opnion piece notes why young people were so invoved in the debate, it begins “On a bleak November afternoon, hundreds of students lined up to fill in voter registration forms at a stand in University College Cork (UCC). They smiled as they posed for selfies in the queue, proud to be doing their civic duty. By the end of the 15-day student-run registration drive, 3,677 first-time voters — nearly 20 per cent of the UCC student population — had been signed up. James Upton, the outgoing auditor of the UCC LGBT society, had manned the stand with other volunteers from 10am until 4pm every weekday for the duration of the three-week campaign. The efforts of UCC activists are just one strand in the story of how young people mobilised in historic numbers ahead of yesterday’s marriage referendum. Speaking on Newstalk about yesterday’s high voter turnout, Minister for Communications Alex White, the Labour Party director of elections, said there had been a “remarkable” galvanisation of young voters in recent weeks. “We couldn’t have won it without them,” Colm O’Gorman, director of Amnesty International Ireland, told Morning Ireland earlier today. At least 27,633 young people were directly registered to vote this academic year by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), which secured a unanimous mandate from its members to support marriage equality in 2012. Laura Harmon, the USI president, attributes the success of campus registration drives to the momentum created by student campaigners. “We have had a very engaged LGBT student community for many years now,” she says. “You only need to look at the way people have campaigned for LGBT flags to be flown on different campuses and tried to get exam dates changed so students could vote in the referendum.” Young people engaged in the campaign for marriage equality because they understood the direct impact it would have on gay friends and family members, adds Ms Harmon. Ian Power, the executive director of youth information website SpunOut.ie, agrees. “Personal testimonies have been very important,” he says. “Previous referenda — on the Seanad, the Court of Appeal, judges’ pay and Oireachtas inquiries — were all about the system, which young people can find hard to connect with on a personal level. But with this referendum, people understand the consequences”.

Fintan O Toole writes “The overwhelming victory for the Yes side in the marriage equality referendum is not as good as it looks. It’s much better. It looks extraordinary – little Ireland becoming the first country in the world to support same sex marriage by direct popular vote. But actually it’s about the ordinary. Ireland has redefined what it means go be an ordinary human being”.

O’Toole goes on to argue that “We’ve made it clear to the world that there is a new normal — that “ordinary” is a big, capacious word that embraces and rejoices in the natural diversity of humanity. LGBT people are now a fully acknowledged part of the wonderful ordinariness of Irish life. It looks like a victory for tolerance. But it’s actually an end to mere toleration. Tolerance is what “we” extend, in our gracious goodness, to “them”. It’s about saying “You do your own thing over there and we won’t bother you so long as you don’t bother us”. The resounding Yes is a statement that Ireland has left tolerance far behind. It’s saying that there’s no “them” anymore. LGBT people are us — our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends. We were given the chance to say that. We were asked to replace tolerance with the equality of citizenship. And we took it in both arms and hugged it close”.

Poientently he adds “It looks like a victory for articulacy. This was indeed a superb civic campaign. And it was marked by the riveting eloquence of so many people, of Una Mullally and Colm O’Gorman, of Mary McAleese and Noel Whelan, of Ursula Halligan and Colm Toibin, of Averil Power and Aodhan O Riordan and of so many others who spoke their hearts and their minds on the airwaves and the doorsteps. The Yes side did not rise to provocations and insults, it rose above them. Many people sacrificed their privacy and exposed their most intimate selves to the possibility of public rejection. Their courage and dignity made the difference. Even so, this is not a victory for articulate statement. Deep down, it’s a victory for halting, fretful speech. How? Because what actually changed Ireland over the last two decades is hundreds of thousands of painful, stammered conversations that began with the dreaded words “I have something to tell you…” It’s all those moments of coming out around kitchen tables, tentative words punctuated by sobs and sighs, by cold silences and fearful hesitations. Those awkward, unhappy, often unfinished conversations are where the truths articulated so eloquently in the campaign were first uttered. And it was through them that gay men and lesbians became Us, our children, our families”.

He goes on to aruge that “It looks like a victory for Liberal Ireland over Conservative Ireland. But it’s much more significant than that. It’s the end of that whole, sterile, useless, unproductive division. There is no longer a Liberal Ireland and a Conservative Ireland. The cleavage between rural and urban, tradition and modernity that has shaped so many of the debates of the last four decades has been repaired. This is a truly national moment — as joyful in Bundoran as it is Ballymun, in Castlerea as it is in Cobh. Instead of Liberal Ireland and Conservative Ireland we have a decent, democratic Ireland. It looks like LGBT people finally coming out of the closet. But actually it’s more than that: it’s Ireland coming out to itself. We had a furtive, anxious hidden self of optimism and decency, a self long clouded by hypocrisy and abstraction and held in check by fear. On Friday, this Ireland stopped being afraid of itself. The No campaign was all about fear — the fear that change could have only one vehicle (the handcart) and one destination (hell). And this time, it didn’t work. Paranoia and pessimism lost out big time to the confident, hopeful, self-belief that Irish people have hidden from themselves for too long”.

He ends “It looks like a victory for global cosmopolitanism. But actually it’s a victory for intimacy. It was intimacy that made Ireland such a horrible place for gay and lesbian people, for all those whose difference would be marked and spied on and gossiped about. But intimacy is a tide that is just as powerful when it turns the other way. Once LGBT people did begin to come out, they became known. Irish people like what they know. They like the idea of “home”. On Friday, the wonderful spectacle of people coming back to vote, embodied for all of us that sense of home as place where the heart is — the strong, beating heart of human connection. Finally, it looks like a defeat for religious conservatives. But nobody has been defeated. Nobody has been diminished. Irish people comprehensively rejected the notion that our republic is a zero sum game, that what is given to one must be taken from another. Everybody gains from equality — even those who didn’t think they wanted it. Over time, those who are in a minority on this issue will come to appreciate the value of living in a pluralist democracy in which minorities are respected. By pushing forward on what only recently seemed a marginal issue, the LGBT community has given all of Irish democracy one of its greatest days. It has given our battered republic a new sense of engagement, a new confidence, an expanded sense of possibility. It has shown all of us that the unthinkable is perfectly attainable”.

After the defeat it has been reported that Archbishop Martin said that “The Catholic Church needs “a reality check” in the wake of the same-sex marriage referendum and needs to ask if it has drifted away from young people, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said. “I think really that the church needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board, to look at the things it’s doing well, to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, ‘Look, have we drifted away completely from young people?’ ” he told RTÉ News. He said the referendum result was “an overwhelming vote in one direction” and he appreciated how gay men and lesbian women felt after the endorsement of same-sex marriage – “that they feel this is something which is enriching the way they live”, he said”.

The report adds that ““I think it’s a social revolution… It’s a social revolution that didn’t begin today,” he said. “It’s a social revolution that’s been going on, and perhaps in the church people have not been as clear in understanding what that involved. “It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young people, not just on this issue, but in general.” Dr Martin said it was important that the church must not move into denial of the realities. “We won’t begin again with a sense of renewal by simply denying,” he said”.

When he met Pope Benedict after he became archbishop, the pope asked him where were the points of contact between the Catholic Church and the places where the future of Irish culture was being formed, he said. “And that’s a question the church has to ask itself here in Ireland,” Dr Martin said”.

The report ends “Dr Martin added that “we tend to think in black and white but most of us live in the area of grey, and if the church has a harsh teaching, it seems to be condemning those who are not in line with it. “But all of us live in the grey area. All of us fail. All of us are intolerant. All of us make mistakes. All of us sin and all of us pick ourselves up again with the help of that institution which should be there to do that. “The church’s teaching, if it isn’t expressed in terms of love – then it’s got it wrong,” he said”.

The inevitable rise of Tagle?

19/05/2015

After the recent election of Luis Cardinal Tagle as president of Caritas Internationalis, John Allen writes that he will dominate Catholic politics for decades, “Right now, the Irish betting firm Paddy Power has Cardinal Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle of the Philippines as the favuorite to be the next pope, giving him 11/2 odds. Already dubbed the “Asian Francis,” Tagle got another boost this week with his election to lead a global federation of Catholic charities. (For the record, Paddy Power has Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston as the American with the best odds, at 10-1.) Granted, such forecasts don’t have a particularly good track record. Papal elections occur only when the incumbent either dies or resigns, and at the moment Francis seems perfectly healthy with no sign of slowing down. Between today and whenever a conclave might occur, any number of things can happen to change the landscape. That dose of caution, however, rarely stops “next pope” rumours from being the Church’s favorite parlor game. So if we’re going to go down that route, there’s a great deal to be said for Tagle, who would make a strong runner if the key issue next time is continuity with Francis”.

Allen goes on to make the point “Seen as the Catholic rock star of Asia because of his high media profile and wildly successful TV and internet broadcasts, Tagle on Thursday was elected president of Caritas Internationalis, a network 165 Catholic charitable organizations around the world based in Rome. Building a “poor church for the poor” is the motto of the Francis era, and from his perch at Caritas, Tagle is now poised to become one of the most influential architects of that push after the pontiff himself. Serving as president of Caritas doesn’t mean Tagle will move to Rome, or abandon his position in Manila. It does mean, however, that he’ll often be asked to visit disaster zones or conflict areas, articulating a Catholic response. He’ll be more in demand on the lecture circuit, more sought after by the media, and generally will enjoy an ever higher degree of visibility”.

Allen notes the point that “Inside the Vatican, it means that Tagle will be more involved at the big-picture level in terms of fleshing out the pope’s broad social, political, and humanitarian agenda. Tagle won the May 14 ballot at the Caritas General Assembly by a wide margin, a reflection of two points: First, that he enjoys great respect and affection among the Church’s charity leaders; and second, those leaders are smart enough to know that Tagle has the pope’s ear and can move the ball. The Filipino cardinal wasn’t in Rome on the day of his election, because he was in Chicago to receive an honorary doctorate from the Catholic Theological Union. He knows the United States well, among other things having earned a doctorate in theology at the Catholic University of America in 1991”.

He adds that “Having hosted a triumphant papal visit to the Philippines in January that drew an eye-popping six to seven million people to the final Mass – in the teeth of a typhoon, no less – Tagle is a lock as the pope’s most important ally in Asia. The parallels with Francis are indeed eerie. Before taking over in Manila in 2011, Tagle served as bishop of the smaller Philippine diocese of Imus, where he was famous for not owning a car, preferring to either walk or to hop on one of the cheap minibuses known as a “jeepneys” working-class Filipinos use. He was also renowned for inviting beggars in the square outside his cathedral to eat with him. Theologically and politically, Tagle is a moderate. He’s open to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to communion on a case-by-case basis, and he also resisted calls to take a more pugnacious line during a recent national debate in the Philippines over a controversial “Reproductive Health” law featuring public support for contraception”.

Yet, caution should be drawn about the equating Francis with Cardinal Tagle. Firstly, there is a saying, “after a fat pope, a lean pope”. This means that the new pope is nothing like the old pope. As Benedict XVI was a shy academic and curialist who chose his words carefully, Francis is the opposite of all of this. Therefore, in order to look for the next pope starting with what Pope Francis is not is a good place to start. Secondly, the issues of the next conclave will not be known. In 2013 it was governance and the Curia. Next time it could be relations with Africa or Islam which would lead to a dramatically different outcome. This is not to say that Tagle could not become pope but it is less likely.

Allen ends “Nobody at Tagle’s level is without critics, and he’s drawn fire on multiple fronts. Some question Tagle’s theological pedigree, noting that he was a member of the editorial board for a controversial progressive history of the Second Vatican Council criticized by Pope Benedict XVI. Last month Tagle blasted what he called the “harsh words” the Church sometimes has used for gays, unwed mothers and divorced and remarried Catholics. That remark drew blowback from pro-life Catholic groups. Whatever one makes of Tagle, because of his young age, 57, as well as the multiple leadership posts he holds, he will be a force in Catholicism for a long time”.

Franciscans at the UN?

17/05/2015

A report argues that Pope Francis wants to move the Church away from sexual battles but, a piece argues that the mission of the Holy See to the UN is dealing with little else.

It begins “In August 2013, just months after being selected to lead the Catholic Church, Pope Francis told an interviewer that the Holy See’s clergy and diplomats should be less fixated on questions of sexual morality and show greater concern for the fate of billions of people abandoned by a modern “throwaway” culture that pays little heed to the world’s poor and persecuted. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods,” Pope Francis said in the interview, in which he underscored the importance of promoting peace and tackling poverty and wealth inequality. “The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” The comments marked the start of a major rebranding campaign for the Catholic Church, whose image has been tarnished in recent years by the hierarchy’s failure to crack down on sexual abuse by priests and its clergy’s reputation as hard-bitten crusaders more committed to enforcing stringent moral codes than promoting peace and ministering to the world’s neediest”.

It seems the writer has some kind of inability to say Francis was elected. It may not have been a specifically representative vote but he was elected. The author is certainly correct in mentioning that Francis is trying to get away from the Cardinal Burke mode of talking endlessly about subjects that only alienate people. The key issue to take away is that there has been a rebranding, nothing more. This does not mean that Francis is going to, or wants to, change these teachings.

The piece goes on to note “Two years into his papacy, Pope Francis has also managed to successfully restore the Holy See’s reputation as an important diplomatic player. He has cultivated a personal image as peacemaker and truth-teller, brokered secret diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Cuba, and forced the world to confront uncomfortable truths, from the Armenian genocide to the deadly exodus of thousands of immigrants into Europe. He has also emerged as a powerful voice of compassion for those long living on the fringes of the church, or at least treated as second-class citizens, including the destitute, women, and openly gay Catholics”.

The writer says that Francis has restored the Holy See’s importance to IR, yet does not mention exactly how it was either important or unimportant or when, or why. Naturally, the diplomacy of Francis has been more public with the note on the Armenian genocide, the prayer of peace in the Middle East and the Cuba intervention all during his pontificate but much of this groundwork took place previously.

The author notes that “at U.N. headquarters, a central clearinghouse for world diplomacy and the September destination of the first papal visit since 1995, diplomats say the objectives of the Holy See have changed little under Pope Francis, and that the pope’s envoys remains very much entrenched on the front lines of the culture wars the pope himself has suggested he wants to leave behind. In debates on issues from development to poverty, the Holy See’s observer mission continues to serve primarily as a bulwark against efforts by Western governments to expand progressive policies, including sexual and reproductive rights, that have long been anathema to the church. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, a Filipino priest Pope Francis appointed as the Vatican’s de facto ambassador  to the U.N. last year, frequently uses the U.N. pulpit to promote the church’s conservative values, denouncing abortion and efforts to restrict population growth, and decrying the rise of artificial insemination as beneath the dignity of women and men alike”.

The first point to note is that the Church sees all of these issues as interconnected. Therefore, development the economy and poverty are all interlinked. To view them separately does not accord to the teaching of the Church. Secondly, the notion that Pope Francis wants to sideline the Church’s opposition to abortion completely is to both misread Francis and misunderstand the Church.

The piece goes on to mention “U.N.-based diplomats say that the pope, as well as Auza, have outlined a wide-ranging diplomatic agenda in their public statements. But they say the message hasn’t trickled down to the Holy See’s negotiators in New York. “We have been very happy to hear some of the signals that have come from Pope Francis: He has been more progressive and indicated that he didn’t want the church to be as dogmatic as it has been,” said one Western diplomat who has negotiated with the church’s diplomats at the United Nations. “But when you look at what is happening on the ground here in New York, you don’t really see that change at all.” A review of a confidential internal negotiating text from a recent conference on the Commission on Population and Development, obtained by Foreign Policy, show the Holy See’s negotiator working to strip out references to “reproductive rights,” which the Vatican sees as a green light for abortion, and “gender equality,” a phrase the Vatican views as an implicit endorsement of transgender rights”.

This proves, if proof were needed that only the style has changed, not the substance.

The author adds how the Holy See has become more relevant, “In an April interview with the Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama said the United States consults “very closely” with the church about how the U.S. can help protect religious minorities in conflict areas. Obama will meet with the pope at the White House in September, where he intends to discuss climate change and matters of “war and peace,” including in the Middle East, “where Christians have been viciously attacked,” the president said in the interview. In a March speech at Durham University in England, Britain’s envoy to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, said his “embassy, and the other 80 or so resident embassies to the Holy See from governments around the world, have never been busier”.

He goes on to mention “Pope Francis intends to highlight his diplomatic ambitions in a high-profile trip next September to the United Nations, where he will address the U.N. General Assembly at a Summit on Sustainable Development, which will endorse a new set of 17 development goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. He will also back as many as 169 more detailed targets that can be met by 2030, including the eradication of poverty and hunger, increase opportunities for the education of children and women, and the promotion of economic growth that is environmentally sustainable. The visit aims to underscore the church’s commitment to addressing “poverty and social justice” and drawing attention to the international community’s responsibility to uphold “religious freedom” and defend minorities from persecution, Auza said in an interview with the Deseret News previewing the pope’s visit “In the Middle East, the United Nations has been in a sense powerless, it has not been able to find a way how to stop bloodshed and persecutions, especially against Christians and minorities,” he said. Behind the scenes most of the Holy See’s diplomatic influence has been mustered to advance the Vatican’s position in supporting a traditional view of the human family that leaves little room for gays.  During negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals, the Holy See has largely devoted its energies to pushing back on efforts by Western government to expanding reproductive rights and the protections afforded women, girls, and gays. “They are focused on very few issues; the only time you hear about them in negotiations is on issues relating to abortion, women’s rights, the family,” said a European diplomat”.

He correctly notes the emphasis that has been placed by the Holy See on Christians in the Middle East, “The deadly exodus of migrants who leave North Africa and attempt to make it to Europe is a top diplomatic priority for Francis and his diplomats. The Vatican routinely scolds European envoys traveling through Rome about their failure to do more to to address the problem. Rome’s message is a blunt one: “The Mediterranean should not become a cemetery and the Europeans have a common responsibility to do something about it,” said one European diplomat. Francis’s personal outreach to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been particularly active. Last month, Francis hosted Ban at the Vatican for a discussion about climate change and the fate of the African and Middle Eastern refugees risking their lives on deadly boat trips in search of a better future in Europe. “They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life,” Francis told thousands of followers during April 19 prayers in St. Peter’s Square. Next month, the pope plans to issue his first papal encyclical on the impact climate change inflicts on the world’s poorest. Behind closed doors at the Vatican, the Pope assured Ban of his commitment to fighting climate change. But the discussions soon veered off onto other topics, including the link between migration and human trafficking and the need to tackle the root cause of poverty and inequality”.

He ends, “Francis has also raised hopes that his papacy that would strike a dramatically different approach to gays than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who once signed a Vatican letter asserting that homosexuality is “an objective disorder” that reflects a “strong tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil.” Francis has spoken compassionately about gays, suggesting the church would be accepting of them. In February, the Vatican for the first time granted VIP seats to the New Ways Ministry, a group of visiting gay and lesbian Catholics, to a weekly audience with the pope at St. Peter’s Square. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?,” he said in an August 2013 interview.” Last October, the Vatican issued a report indicating that “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian Church.” The pope’s remarks were embraced as the dawn of a more compassionate church that would focus on the matters that affect all humanity.  But on the eve of the pope’s upcoming visit to the United Nations, advocates for gays, women and other marginalized groups have been disappointed on that front, saying the Holy See’s diplomats have invested most of their diplomatic resources into leading a cultural war”.

He concludes “The Vatican’s views on homosexuality reveals a deep seated anxiety about the way that U.N. bureaucrats and Western governments have framed international discussion on development and concerns about efforts to control population. Those concerns were heightened in debates on population and women’s rights in the mid-1990s in Cairo and Beijing, which fueled calls for universal access to reproductive health services and family planning information by 2015. The Vatican’s principle preoccupation is less about sex than about what it views as the emergence of radical new definition of gender, which see human beings, not simply as men and women, but as individuals who can determine their own sexual identity control their natural reproductive cycle. For the Church, this represents an affront by liberals and feminists to the natural biological order and the traditional family, headed by a man and woman, and contributes to homosexuality, abortion and the erosion of the family”.

He finishes “The Catholic hierarchy is largely divided into camps: the theologians, who ascribe to a pure reading of church doctrine, and the diplomats, who think the church should be more focused on matters of peace and justice. For now, the diplomats are in ascendance at the Vatican, but the pope has had to assure the theologians that he is not rewriting church doctrine. Last August, Francis visited a so-called cemetery for “abortion victims” outside of Seoul South, Korea, to underscore the church opposition to abortion. Francis has “to convince the pro-life contingent in the church that he is not their enemy,” said Allen. “And he has done stuff to make clear he is not waiving the white flag in the culture wars.”

 

“No longer automatically lose their jobs”

15/05/2015

Germany’s Roman Catholic Church, an influential voice for reforms prompted by Pope Francis, has decided lay employees who divorce and remarry or form gay civil unions should no longer automatically lose their jobs. Catholic bishops have voted to adjust Church labour law “to the multiple changes in legal practice, legislation and society” so employee lifestyles should not affect their status in the country’s many Catholic schools, hospitals and social services. The change came as the worldwide Catholic Church debates loosening its traditional rejection of remarriage after a divorce and of gay sex, reforms for which German bishops and theologians have become prominent spokesmen. “The new rule opens the way for decisions that do justice to the situations people live in,” Alois Glueck, head of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics, said after the decision on new labour guidelines was announced on Tuesday. Over two-thirds of Germany’s 27 dioceses voted for the change, a Church spokesman said, indicating some opposition. There is no worldwide Catholic policy on lay employees. German law allows churches to have their own labour rules that can override national guidelines.