By Andrea Vettori
and Margie Winters
At a time when so many Catholics feel a sense of renewed pride and excitement about their faith because of Pope Francis and his message of acceptance and inclusion, we in Philadelphia are painfully reminded of the arrogance and abuse of power that laid the foundation for the sex-abuse scandal and that continues to afflict this diocese.
Once again, the church attempts to quiet the voices and experiences of the faithful by citing doctrine and creating policy. The most recent example is Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's "memorandum of understanding" requiring parents of Catholic school children to sign a pledge of loyalty to the Catholic identity of the institution, as defined by the archbishop.
Such a policy is poorly supported by theological and historical realities and ignores the diversity of thought and practice among the faithful. With seeming indifference to the growing loss of moral authority engendered by the legacy of the sexual abuse of children, the archdiocese continues to create an adversarial relationship with its people.
The women and men of this archdiocese strongly lay claim to their Catholic identity and root their lives in its traditions. With pride and spiritual longing, we educate ourselves in our faith, immersed in Scripture and teachings rich in social justice, concern for the poor, and the dignity of the human person, even as we acknowledge the sins committed in our name. We own our baptismal call to be priest and prophet, challenging church teaching when it contradicts our understanding of God and the human person, a right of informed conscience bestowed on us through the catechism.
Faith cannot be encapsulated in a memorandum. It is an experience that draws us deeper into the heart of God. One cannot claim to be true to her faith simply by blindly adhering to its rules, constructs that some claim to be unchanging but that have been debated and modified throughout history. Francis himself understood this when he said, "Our formulations of faith were born of dialogue, encounter, comparison, and contact with different cultures, communities, and nations in situations calling for greater reflection on matters not previously clarified. For Christians, something becomes suspicious when we no longer admit the need for it to be criticized by others. People and their specific conflicts ... are necessary for a better understanding of faith."
The memorandum stands in contrast to Francis' belief that conflicts are "necessary for a better understanding of faith." Parents of Catholic school children expect them to be formed in a living faith tradition that believes and practices the principles of incarnation, preparing them to be critical thinkers in our church and world.
Catholic identity does not imply unquestioning submission to church teaching; it demands critical examination of our beliefs through an educated, prayerful, discerning stance. Nor does it imply that all teachings are relative, to be discarded without thoughtful, informed discernment and dialogue. The praxis of Catholicism requires openness to the other and the wisdom to know that as our understanding of ourselves as humans develops, so should our understanding of ourselves as people of faith. It demands attentiveness to the movement of the Spirit and the courage to trust where she leads.
A church that does not allow for reflective encounter with its members is a church that will soon become irrelevant.
Given the proximity of the memorandum to the archbishop's strong rejection of the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the events at Waldron Mercy Academy, the exclusion of speakers representative of the full spectrum of gay families from the World Meeting of Families, and the dismissal of the Equally Blessed forum from St. John's Church, it is difficult to see this as anything other than an attempt to silence the conversation around the dignity and rights of gays and lesbians within the church. Unlike Francis' spirit of encounter and dialogue, this memorandum leaves no room for disagreement or appreciation of the experiences of those asked to adhere to it.
The World Meeting of Families and papal visit afford us an opportunity for conversation and candid exchange on difficult issues, specifically on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender inclusion and marriage equality. With terminations of gay and lesbian Catholics from their ministries increasing, the timing of these discussions could not be more urgent.
The Spirit is clearly at work within our church today, a Spirit that pleads for all her members to be welcomed to the table. Perhaps Philadelphia will be the place where the pope sits down with LGBT Catholics to encounter their "hopes and dreams and struggles." Then, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he may recognize the Christ alive within us and welcome us to walk with him as full members of the body of Christ.