ACCOMPANIMENT TO HELL !!!

When “Accompaniment” Never Names Sin

CRISIS MAGAZINE
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Here’s a little thought experiment to start your day: Imagine you woke up one morning last week and read this headline in your local Catholic newspaper: “Bishop John Smith Leads Prayer at Contra Catholic Gathering.”

In this imagined universe, you’ve heard of these “Contra Catholics”—these are fellow Catholics who have publicly “come out” as using artificial contraception in their marriages. No longer willing to silently endure the stigma associated with their attraction to birth control, tired of the ridicule they face from those who accept what is taught in Humanae Vitae, they boldly, proudly claim that this is who they are. The Contra Catholic community that grew from this shared experience even has its own advocacy group—New Day Ministry—which this year held a symposium promoting their practice of contraception and their identity as Contra Catholics, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: Contra Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”

This is the event at which Bishop John Smith was invited to lead prayer. He gladly accepted, according to the Catholic newspaper’s account:

CHICAGO—Bishop John Smith seemed at home at New Day Ministry’s eighth annual symposium. This was the first time that the bishop had spoken in front of the advocacy group, which supports contracepting Catholics of all backgrounds.

“New Day Ministry made me want to come here,” the bishop said. He has been observing and admiring the group’s outreach to Contra Catholics over several years, he added. Smith said he was honored to be asked “to break open God’s Word” with the 300 weekend participants.

He said he is humbled by those Contra Catholics who have pursued “a life of faith in a church that has not always welcomed or valued” them or their worth. As a shepherd, he needs to hear their voices and take seriously their experience, he said, adding that both the presence and persistence of Contra Catholics inspired him.

Contra Catholics show “a valuable expression of mercy” in calling the church “to be more inclusive and more Christ-like despite being given so many reasons to walk away,” he said.

But his acceptance of the invitation to address the New Day Ministry gathering did not sit well with many other Catholics. “The flack has been enormous and continues on the blogosphere” and from “self-righteous strangers online and those who subscribe to these feeds,” Bishop Smith said, calling some of the posts and e-mails “vicious.”

Bishop Smith said that among objectors there are many sincere Catholics who are “really struggling” with all the issues around contraception. He said he hopes and prays “for a culture of encounter” in which the Church can become fully engaged with Contra Catholics “who want to live the Catholic life and who love the Catholic Church. … Why would we want to turn our backs on them?”

“Our usual way of thinking is that justice and mercy are incompatible,” Bishop Smith said, suggesting that Catholics need to find new ways to work together, to open up new possibilities and to try to be nonjudgmental of one another. “It’s about the need for a conversion of attitudes for both the institutional church and for all its members,” he said.

With regard to Contra Catholics, Bishop Smith suggests that the Church has alienated “a whole generation.” He said that on his many visits to confirmation classes, teens in his diocese ask: “Why can’t Contra Catholics be themselves? Bishop Smith, why can’t they love the way they want?”

“We have to listen to our young people and pay attention to things like this,” the bishop insisted.

He also told the Contra Catholic assembly that in his reading of Christian morality, he finds the infinite value of the human person to be “the touchstone and foundation for determining the morality of a given act or issue. Christian morality is more concerned with the well-being and dignity of the person than with rules, norms or commandments. Jesus seems to teach this on many occasions,” he said.

Perhaps in this thought experiment, you put down the Catholic newspaper on your kitchen table, nodding your head approvingly at the compassionate, truly pastoral expression of “accompaniment” that Bishop Smith has embraced in reaching out to the Contra Catholics. You might even be reflecting positively on just how pervasive this culture of “encounter” has become in dioceses and parishes across the nation. Dioceses everywhere now have Contra-Catholic-affirming ministries—even Contra-Catholic Masses celebrated for faith-filled Contra Catholics are held just down the street at your parish. New Day Ministry even publishes a list of “Contra-Catholic-friendly” parishes across the nation. Pastors and bishops everywhere are now welcoming Contra Catholics—and their spouses—with smiles and warm wishes. Some even apologize to Contra Catholic couples for the lack of welcome they had received in the past.

You, too, may even smile, knowing Contra Catholics and their allies are thriving under this model of “accompaniment.” New Day Ministry has even joined forces with other Contra Catholic advocacy groups to form a network called “Artificially Blessed.” Contra Catholics are now so media-savvy that they have produced books and videos expressing who they are and what they believe—even going so far as hand-delivering a Contra-Catholic-affirming video to the Holy Father himself!

Yet it might be the case that one or two of you have this warm and fuzzy reverie of praise for “accompaniment” interrupted by a tiny but persistent voice: “Hey, wait! Isn’t there something missing?”

This, dear thought-experimenter, is the too-often-overlooked voice of reason.

Through the noise and distraction of just how good we all feel after reading about Bishop Smith and New Day Ministry, if we try really hard to listen, we will hear that voice of reason say to us: “Well, um, isn’t artificial contraception an intrinsic evil? Isn’t willfully saying ‘yes’ to it an objectively grave sin?”

If we hear reason’s voice, it’s quite possible that, on further reflection, we would realize that the “accompaniment” that received our nodding approval mere moments before, found in dioceses and parishes across the nation, never once, in all its welcoming and affirming, mentions the truth about the evil of contraception.

Why? Simple. Contra Catholics have absolutely no interest in hearing that what they choose to believe and choose to practice is somehow not good for them, not healthy for them, and downright evil.

Because Contra Catholics feel “alienated” by such expressions, our “accompaniment” must expressly avoid any and all mention of them. Otherwise there will be no warm feeling of welcome and acceptance. If we Catholics openly reject the false “truths” claimed by the Contra Catholics—truths they say make them “who we are”—it is viewed as a personal rejection of “who we are.”

Put plainly, this form of “accompaniment” is a one-way street. Traffic is one-way only—the Catholic Church does not get to be “who we are.” The Church doesn’t get to speak from her true “identity” as Bride of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, called to love in truth. In this thought experiment, only the “Contra Catholics” are able to maintain their belief in “who we are.”

Such a compromising of the truth cannot occur without grave personal and communal consequences. If naming the reality of sin is incompatible with our pursuit of “accompanying” fellow Catholics, then our claim that we are accompanying is itself an unreality, a sham. Such false forms of “accompaniment” as described above cannot—must not—win the day.

But wait, you may say—it’s just a “thought experiment,” right? Whew! It’s not like there is really a so-called “Contra Catholic community” out there.

True, of course. But—full disclosure—the basis for my thought-experiment and imagined news report is indeed quite real, and can be found right here{SEE ARTICLE IMMEDIATELY BELOW THIS – ABYSSUM}

(Photo credit: Robert Shine)

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Deacon Jim Russell

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Deacon Jim Russell serves the Archdiocese of St. Louis and writes on topics of marriage, family, and sexuality from a Catholic perspective.

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THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER

Bishop John Stowe leads prayer at LGBT Catholic gathering
Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, at the New Ways Ministry symposium in Chicago April 28. Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of the organization, is seated behind him. (Robert Shine)
Patricia Lefevere | May. 4, 2017
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CHICAGO Clad in traditional brown Franciscan robes, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, seemed at home among the rainbow of colors at New Ways Ministry’s eighth annual symposium here April 28-30. This was the first time that the bishop had spoken in front of the advocacy group, which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics.
“New Ways Ministry made me want to come here,” the bishop told NCR during a 40-minute interview at the gathering. He has been observing and admiring the group’s outreach to LGBT Catholics over several years, he added.

New Ways Ministry director Frank DeBernardo invited Stowe, 51, after he’d heard the bishop give scriptural reflections at the 2016 annual meeting of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” DeBernardo said, comparing Stowe’s words to those of Pope Francis and to St. Francis of Assisi. All three men seemed to be saying that “it was the church’s job to take the Gospel to the margins,” DeBernardo said.

Stowe said he was honored to be asked “to break open God’s Word” with the 300 weekend participants. The Franciscan offered homiletic reflections on two Gospel texts read at the April 28 opening prayer service (Matthew 12:1-14) and at the April 29 morning service (Luke 6:37-45). Retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, also on the program, had to decline due to a viral infection.

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Stowe said he is humbled by those who have pursued “a life of faith in a church that has not always welcomed or valued” them or their worth. As a shepherd, he needs to hear their voices and take seriously their experience, he said, adding that both the presence and persistence of LGBT Catholics inspired him.

They’ve shown “a valuable expression of mercy” in calling the church “to be more inclusive and more Christ-like despite being given so many reasons to walk away,” he said.

But his acceptance of the invitation to address the New Ways Ministry gathering did not sit well with many Kentucky Catholics and others farther afield.

“The flack has been enormous and continues on the blogosphere” and from “self-righteous strangers online and those who subscribe to these feeds,” Stowe said, calling some of the posts and e-mails “vicious.”

The uproar quieted somewhat after the bishop addressed the issue on a local Catholic radio show in December 2016, “but it never completely died down. I expect it will resurface after the symposium,” he said.

Among objectors, Stowe believes there are many who are sincere Catholics and are “really struggling” with all the issues around homosexuality. He said he hopes and prays “for a culture of encounter” to ensue so “we can become fully engaged with those who want to live the Catholic life and who love the Catholic Church. … Why would we want to turn our backs on them?” he asked.

Stowe harkened back to St. Francis’ encounter with the beggar 800 years ago. At first, the leper with his open sores repelled him, but later St. Francis was able to kiss the leper. “He was transformed by his encounter,” the bishop said. The reaction was fitting for a symposium with the theme “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”

“Our usual way of thinking is that justice and mercy are incompatible,” Stowe said. But Pope Francis has asked Catholics to find new ways to work together, to open up new possibilities and to try to be nonjudgmental of one another, he added. “We all still require [mercy]; it’s about the need for a conversion of attitudes for both the institutional church and for all its members,” Stowe said.

When Stowe was asked how he felt the church should respond to cases of LGBT employees — many of whom had been fired from long-held church positions when their same-sex marriages were publicized or outed — he stressed that the church must be consistent and non-discriminatory in dealing with all its employees.

“We must preserve our tradition and our integrity as a church,” he said. “We risk contradicting ourselves if we want our employees to live by the church’s teaching and if we ourselves as an institution don’t live by our teaching, which has always opposed discrimination of any sort.”

Stowe thought the church could find a way to “defend our religious liberty without violating any one’s human rights.”

He pointed to its century-long championing of working people, of their rights to a living wage, to humane treatment in the workplace and to collective bargaining. “We must be consistent, even though that can be very difficult sometimes.”

The challenge is to “articulate Gospel principles consistently and implement them compassionately,” he said, noting that Catholic social teaching has always upheld the dignity of each human person. “We preach that human flourishing is a primary goal,” he said, “much more important than the protection of our institutions.”

Although he has been a bishop less than two years and thus attended few national bishops’ meetings, he said there is fear shared by the leadership that legislation and judicial rulings could increase pressure on the institutional church to resolve workplace issues with LGBT employees differently.

However, there is the graver reality that the church has alienated “a whole generation,” he said.

Stowe said that on his many visits to confirmation classes, teens in his diocese ask: “Why can’t gay and lesbian people be themselves? Bishop Stowe, why can’t they love who they want?”

He said he admires how well young people know that the church believes each person is of value. But they also know that LGBT persons are not always welcomed or treated fairly in the church, he said.

He tries to acquaint them with church teaching on the dignity of each human being, citing passages in the 1965 Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) and other examples. He indicates how discrimination leads to dehumanization, frequently expressed in bullying, abuse, sometimes violence and even death.

“We have to listen to our young people and pay attention to things like this,” the bishop insisted.

In reflecting on Matthew 12:1-14, the bishop told the LGBT assembly that in his reading of Christian morality, he finds the infinite value of the human person to be “the touchstone and foundation for determining the morality of a given act or issue. Christian morality is more concerned with the well-being and dignity of the person than with rules, norms or commandments. Jesus seems to teach this on many occasions,” Stowe said.

[Patricia Lefevere is a longtime NCR contributor.]

ChicagoLexington
United States
Diocese of Lexington, KentuckyNew Ways Ministry
John StoweFrancis DeBernardoSt. Francis of AssisiPope Francis
Kentucky
LGBT CatholicsJustice and Mercy Shall KissSame-sex marriageGaudium et SpesYoung Catholics
A version of this story appeared in the May 19-June 1, 2017 print issue under the headline: Bishop Stowe leads prayer at LGBT Catholic event .

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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