In the News 2008
Inter Press Service

Pope’s Visit Highlights Fault Lines in the Church


NEW YORK, Apr 20 (IPS) – The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States this week may have inspired renewed devotion in many Catholic faithful, but progressive church organisations here say that it’s time for the Vatican to rethink its more rigid stances on issues like women priests, contraception and homosexuality.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, the Pope stressed that, “The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security.”

But groups advocating for a more inclusive and tolerant Church argue that the Vatican has failed to heed its own advice.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the New Ways Ministry, said that the fact that gays and lesbians are ostracised from the Catholic Church is a clear violation of their human rights.

“This Pope has had a terrible record of making harmful statements against gay and lesbian people. We think he should have offered a gesture and met with ministries of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] Catholics,” DeBernando said. “He should come and listen to perspectives that differ from his own.”

His group, which supports the acceptance of gay and lesbian people as full and equal members of church and society, said that part of the purpose of the Pope’s visit may have to soften his image as a hardliner, but that he has failed in that mission.

Aisha Taylor, executive director of an organisation that believes the priesthood should be opened to women, said that the exclusion of women from the Eucharist at the mass presided over the Pope in Washington was “very disturbing” and “almost insulting” for her.

“Allowing women to give Eucharist is within the parametres of the church, but still they were not included. This was the best chance for the Pope to display that all Catholics have equal rights, but he didn’t send that message,” Taylor said.

She said that the Women’s Ordination Conference promotes the human rights of women, in particular the right to equal standing in the church. “The first step in providing us our human rights is to initiate a discussion on women’s ordination,” she said.

Bridget Mary Meehan, a priest from the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, agrees. “My concern is that the church is not pro-women. They are against contraceptives or reproductive choice. I believe that by perpetuating such teachings they are being anti-women and anti-life, which is ultimately a violation of human rights,” Meehan said.

Jeff Stone, secretary of Dignity New York, a non-profit organisation of LGBT Catholics, said that the Roman Catholic Church was violating the human rights of LGBT Catholics by shunning their presence in the community.

“At his U.N. speech, the Pope talked of human rights. But the most abused and discriminated people are lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. We call upon him to welcome LGBT Catholics into the church,” Stone said.

Nicolo Sotelo, communications director of Call to Action — a movement for equality and justice in the Catholic Church and society — has sought to draw the attention of the Vatican to violations of the human rights of children. The organisation seeks more severe punishments for child abusers in the church and wants more programmes in place to improve child protection.

“The Pope has a long way to go in disciplining priests and bishops, even in the case of the Boston sex scandal,” Sotelo said. “We are grateful for his words but are still waiting for some action.”

Sotelo said he was disappointed that five years ago, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had supported the “National Charter for the Protection of People and Young Children” — launched by bishops in the U.S. following revelations that some in the Church hierarchy had protected pedophile priests in the city of Boston and elsewhere — but that as Pope he has not ensured that the charter is enforced.

“He has not held bishops accountable and many, like Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln in Nebraska, have not implemented the charter in his diocese,” Sotelo said. “Even five years after the sex scandal, children remain at risk.”

The feeling among progressive Catholic organisations was summarised by Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “There is a deep chasm between the hierarchy of the church and the people,” he said. “I think the Vatican needs to recognise the rich diversity that makes up America. I’d like to see the day where women, gays, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals all live happily as a family of the Catholic Church.”

“My hope for the Pope is that as well as being a thinker he should demonstrate that he is a good listener. The teachings should demonstrate how the religion is lived rather than how it is imagined from the lofty heights of the Vatican,” O’Brien said.

This article originally appeared on Inter Press Service on 20 April 2008.

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