in Catholic Circles

New Jersey priest is suspended for supporting LGBT rights

Rev. Warren Hall of New Jersey was suspended in August for supporting “gay advocacy groups.” Archbishop John Myers claims that Hall, a gay Catholic priest, is “confusing the faithful.” Hall is prohibited from attending Mass in public or continuing to work in New Jersey parishes, according to Reli­gion News Service.

Hall’s disagreements with the archbishop began last May, when Hall was fired from Seton Hall after displaying support for groups that advocate for marriage equality. James Goodness, spokesperson for Archbishop Myers, defended the firing in an e-mail to the National Catholic Reporter, which claimed that “every Catholic priest promises to be reverent and obedient to his bishop,” and that ordained priests must agree “to accept the bishop’s judg­ment about assignments and involvement in ministry.”

Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry released a statement objecting to Myers’ decision to fire Hall, stating that the “archbishop is saying that his church fears associating with LGBT people—a fear which is contrary to the gospel.” Hall says that this only furthers his incentive to inform others of God’s love for all, and to support Catholics who choose to “stay in the church and work for wider acceptance.”

Let’s exchange a sign of peace: LGBT rights campaign launched in Poland

Activists in Poland have launched a new campaign shining a light on the church’s treatment of LGBT individuals. The group includes Poland’s Campaign Against Homophobia and Faith and a Rainbow. The campaign, “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace,” has plans to hold meetings throughout Poland with activists and Catholics to remind the faithful that Christian teachings are rooted in the “respect, openness and willing dialogue with all people, including homosex­uals, bisexuals, and transsex­uals,” according to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

On September 8, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz published a statement in the Polish Catholic information agency, KAI, declaring that the activists are “falsifying the church’s unchangeable teachings.” This was soon followed by a statement from the entire bishops’ confer­ence “rejecting the claims that the Polish church was homophobic,” maintaining that the church is “the only institution which, for two thousand years, has untir­ingly proclaimed the dignity of all without exception,” according to the National Catholic Reporter.

Dominika Kozlowska, editor of Znak, a Catholic monthly, believes this reac­tion from the bishops is “a first step—what matters is that they’ve now felt it necessary to take up a posi­tion on LGBT issues,” she told NCR. Surveys show that Polish Catholics are starting to move away from these teachings of the bishops, suggesting that “the institu­tional church must start offering adequate pastoral support for this part of our society, rather than just treating these issues ideo­logically,” said Kozlowska.

New York archdiocese offers compensation for abuse survivors

On October 6, the New York Archdiocese launched a new compensation program “to pay victims of clergy abuse of minors,” according to the archdiocese’s website. The Associated Press reports that this compensation program would be available to people who were “sexually abused by priests or deacons and are willing to forego lawsuits in exchange for an award to be determined by an independent mediator.”

People with pending abuse claims have until January 31, 2017 to apply for compensa­tion. The claims will be analyzed by mediators Camille Biros and Kenneth Feinburg, who will ultimately decide on the amount of compensation. Dolan says that the archdiocese plans to “take out a long-term loan to cover compensation payments and would not dip into any funds contributed by church members to support parishes, schools or chari­table works,” according to the Associated Press.

The current state law requires victims to bring charges before they turn 23. Some see Dolan’s program as a response to the proposed Child Victims Act, which would expand statutes of limitations in New York. Codirector of BishopAc­countability.org Anne Barrett Doyle says that the state’s “restrictive statute of limitations has enabled Dolan to hide the true scope of the clergy abuse crisis in the New York archdiocese,” according to the Associated Press. Doyle is also concerned that the archdio­cese’s decision to only review claims against priests or deacons who belong to arch­dioceses allows many “potential abusers” to remain protected, according to the New York Times.

Marci Hamilton, chief executive of CHILD USA, believes that the statute of limitations must be expanded, but this is a good start. According to the Washington Post, Hamilton believes the program “is a smart way to increase access to some kind of compensa­tion for victims who prob­ably wouldn’t be able to handle the rigors of the legal system.”

Pope Francis’ anti–sex abuse panel

In September, Pope Francis made a major announcement regarding his Commission for the Protection of Minors, giving the members permis­sion to begin educating and training Vatican congrega­tions and newly appointed bishops. The commission, created by Pope Francis in 2013, has created a template of guidelines to be followed by bishops and Catholic associations in order to better prepare church leaders to protect minors from abuse. The announcement also included approval of the proposal for a “day of prayer” for victims of abuse, giving the bishops’ conferences the authority to decide on the date of the memorial, according to Catholic News Service.

These strides towards increasing accountability of bishops and church leaders could imply that the Vatican has made this a top-priority issue; but some are still crit­ical of the effectiveness of the commission. The Los Angeles Times reported that commis­sion member Peter Saunders believes that the group is “writing ineffectual guide­lines instead of exposing predator priests.” A Vatican statement in February stated that Saunders is taking a “leave of absence from his membership to consider how he might best support the commission’s work.” Saun­ders told CNN that he heard the news of his leave after the Vatican’s statement was released.

However, other members of the commission are confi­dent that these are important steps towards ensuring accountability of church leaders. Member Krysten Winter-Green told Catholic News Service that she believes accountability is “critical to the whole picture” of protecting children from abuse. Marie Collins, now the only sitting survivor of clergy abuse on the panel, agrees. Although frustrated with the slow start, Collins told Religion News Service that she is happy with the “positive moves” the commission has made.

Argentinian bishops release interpretation of Amoris Laetitia—claiming remarried couples may receive communion

Pope Francis released the Amoris Laetitia, a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, in April 2016. © Getty Images

Pope Francis released the Amoris Laetitia, a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, in April 2016. © Getty Images

Many have seen Amoris Laetitia as an attempt by Pope Francis to give more leeway to local churches to set their own guidelines. The Argentinian bishops have taken advantage of that—releasing their own interpretation of the “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness” chapter of the exhortation. According to Catholic News Service, this interpretation states that remarried couples could have the opportunity to receive communion, if they are living in continence. However, the Guardian reported that the bishops also said that “if civilly remarried couples could not abstain from sex, as the church dictates they should, and if they were unable to receive an annulment of their previous marriages, then it would be possible to take a ‘journey of discern­ment’” that could allow them the opportunity to be offered the sacraments.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput had somewhat different plans for imple­menting Amoris Laetitia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to the Guardian, Chaput set guidelines that allow divorced and remar­ried couples to accept communion, as long as they abstain from sexual rela­tions. He also called on Catholics attracted to same-sex partners to “frequently seek penance” according to the Guardian. These guidelines took effect in July.

In a letter to the Argen­tinian bishops, Pope Francis offered praise for the inter­pretation of the apostolic exhortation released in April, stating, “[T]he docu­ment is very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations. And I am certain that it will do much good. May the Lord reward this effort of pastoral charity.”

Zubik public comment period

Bishop David Zubik. lead plaintiff in the Zubik v. Burwell case, center, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the US Supreme Court in March 2016. © Getty Images

Bishop David Zubik. lead plaintiff in the Zubik v. Burwell case, center, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the US Supreme Court in March 2016. © Getty Images

In May, the US Supreme Court punted Zubik v. Burwell back to the states, asking them to “arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women” continue to receive contraceptive coverage. In July, the Obama administra­tion released a “request for information” about alterna­tive options for providing contraceptive coverage to women, while respecting the petitioners’ religious liberty. The comment period was open for 60 days, ending September 20, according to The New York Times.

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who represented some of the plaintiffs in Zubik, told the National Catholic Register that this request suggests that the administration is doing “precisely what the Supreme Court said, which was to go work out some other way of doing this.”

Both sides offered templates for commenters to use. “Like the majority of the 70 million Catholics in the United States, I support contraceptive coverage and religious liberty for all people, no matter where they work,” read Catholics for Choice’s template. CFC was able to gather 646 comments during the 60-day period. The administration will now provide a report to the federal appeals courts that heard Zubik, and will offer a timeline for next steps, according to The New York Times.