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As LGBT push fails, Methodists reaffirm marriage, sexuality teachings

February 28, 2019 CNA Daily News 1

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 28, 2019 / 07:34 pm (CNA).- A major gathering of the United Methodist Church has reaffirmed its teaching on homosexuality, rejecting same-sex unions and the ordination of sexually active homosexuals, prompting predictions that some American congregations who reject this teaching will leave the denomination.

The international gathering, called a Special Session of the General Conference of the UMC, drew over 800 ministers and lay leader delegates to St. Louis Feb. 22-26.

The debate drew out different approaches to the authority of Scripture, marriage, and sexuality, but ultimately left the ecclesial community’s official teaching unchanged.

Scott Jones of the Methodists’ Texas Conference said the decision resolves a longstanding debate and is consistent with the ecclesial community’s teachings on human sexuality, which it has listed in its Book of Discipline since 1972.

That teaching states “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination.

“We will continue to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer persons to our churches and affirm their sacred worth,” said Jones, according to the United Methodist News Service. “I pray we, as a denomination, can now move forward, working with each other in the spirit of Christian love and joining together as one. We are stronger together in serving God’s mission as a diverse body of Christ.”

The United Methodist Church is the largest mainline Protestant ecclesial community in the U.S., where it has about 6 million members. Almost one-third of its membership is from Africa. Non-U.S. speakers from countries like Liberia and Russia were among the strongest backers of the successful proposal called the Traditional Plan.

“The progressive groups are loud, but they don’t have the numbers,” said Jerry Kulah, head of the UMC Africa Initiative, who said he was sorry so much time and money was spent debating homosexuality.

A pro-LGBT vote would have made the ecclesial community a “laughingstock” in Africa, he said, according to the Washington Post. “I’m happy to go back to old ladies and old men in villages who received the Bible from missionaries and let them know that the Bible hasn’t changed.”

UMC rules have officially barred same-sex unions and the ordination of sexually active homosexuals. However, many American congregations perform same-sex ceremonies and ordain sexually active LGBT people as clergy.

The approved plan strengthened some disciplinary action against ministers who reject it. A minister who attempts to perform a same-sex wedding faces a minimum one-year suspension without pay for the first offense, and permanent removal for the second offense.

The plan now goes to the ecclesial community’s top court, the Judicial Council, to address constitutional issues. The delegates also adopted a minority report on how congregations may disaffiliate from the community.

A different proposal, the One Church Plan, was recommended by the denomination’s Council of Bishops. That plan would have allowed local congregations, conferences and clergy to make their own decisions about whether to conduct same-sex marriages and ordain LGBT pastors.

This plan was rejected with opposition from 53 percent of delegates, after failing a previous day’s committee vote.

An alternative “Simple Plan” would have removed all teaching regarding sexual relations limited to husband and wife. This would have removed teachings against premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual behavior. About 60 percent of delegates rejected this plan.

Some foes of the Traditional Plan attempted various delaying tactics, including amendments stating that according to the Bible any candidate for pastor or bishop who is divorced or remarried is as ineligible as a practicing homosexual.

One critic, Rev. Dr. Mark Holland, executive director of the group Mainstream UMC, lamented the decision, saying “No way around it, this hurts. My heart breaks for all the LGBTQ persons in our connection.”

In a statement on his group’s website, Holland said the plan’s felt like the ecclesial community had “shattered” and “spilled.” He contended that the general conference is a “charade” that is “completely controlled by a well-funded, well-staffed, U.S. based advocacy group.”

“Our church was hijacked from the inside out,” he said, charging that the Traditional Plan was “gutted” and its unconstitutional parts were not fixed. Describing the exit plan as “fatally flawed and unconstitutional,” predicting it would be “dead on arrival” at the judicial council in April.

“They have a symbolic victory only. We are essentially at status quo,” he said.

John Lomperis, United Methodist Director of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, backed the Traditional Plan. Writing at the blog Juicy Ecumenism, he said the conference showed “the very deep divides in our denomination.”

“There was plenty of loud, angry protesting. So much hurt all around. It was a rather stressful day,” he said.

In his view, the failure of the One Church Plan was a “dramatic rebuke” of the leadership efforts of the UMC leaders and if it could not be passed at this general conference it is difficult to see how it could pass in the future, when American delegate numbers will likely decrease and overseas delegates increase.  

The Reconciling Ministries Network called the passage of the Traditional Plan “deeply unjust and painful.” It attributed its passage to “the efforts of organized opponents to gospel inclusion who have funded and promoted the demise of Christian witness across denominations who have dared to call out a white nationalist strain of Christianity.”

“For decades, they sought the decline of biblical justice-rooted Christian traditions and have built the infrastructure and narrative that has now risen to power in The United Methodist Church.”

The network said the 1972 teaching is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and has been “so harmful to so many lives.” It said harm is done when “LGBTIQA+ lives” are not affirmed.”

The network dates back to 1982, when its founders sought to encourage congregations to affirm gays and lesbians. It claims 900 “Reconciling Communities” and over 35,000 members.

The future of some American Methodist schools of higher education is also in doubt. Jan Love, a dean of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, said Feb. 26 she and the other heads of the 13 official United Methodist theological schools believe “unequivocally” that the Traditional Plan threatened the future of the UMC in the U.S.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association, a group within the UMC, backed the successful Traditional Plan but still might leave, association head Keith Boyette told The Atlantic.

LGBT advocacy within Christian denominations and Churches has external support. The Arcus Foundation has long backed LGBT advocates within Christian denominations and Churches.

A $150,000 grant to Church Properties Reimagined, Inc. in 2018 backed the Inclusive Coalition’s Project advocacy to “influence pro-LGBT Church policy,” while a 2017 grant of $30,000 aimed “to bring together moderate and progressive church leaders to develop shared strategies on LGBT issues” ahead of the 2019 special session of the general conference.

The foundation’s Spring 2018 grant announcement said the group’s grant aimed to deepen support for LGBT inclusion as an official UMC policy. The group has “recruited a group of well-connected individuals to provide leadership to the project.”

Since 2011 the Arcus Foundation has given $1.9 million in various grants to the group Reconciling Ministries Network for LGBT advocacy within the UMC.

Specifically, a 2017 grant of $220,000 backed “work to win over religious leaders in the Southern United States, Liberia, and Cote D’Ivoire, three crucial conservative strongholds within United Methodism.” A 2014 grant backed “clergy who engage in acts of ecclesial disobedience in the name of LGBTQ justice and work with coalitions for policy change” within the UMC.

The Arcus Foundation also funds dissenting Catholic groups like Catholics for Choice, Dignity USA and the Equally Blessed Coalition. Some of this work has targeted Catholic Church synods.

CNA contacted the Arcus Foundation, Reconciling Ministries Network, and Church Properties Reimagined but did not receive a response by deadline.

[…]

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Omaha, Lincoln dioceses push back on subpoenas for child sex abuse records

February 28, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Omaha, Neb., Feb 28, 2019 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Lincoln intend to ask a Nebraska court to suspend subpoenas compelling the Catholic institutions of the state to provide all records related to child sex abuse, CNA learned on Thursday.

The state attorney general’s office issued subpoenas Feb. 26 to more than 400 Catholic churches and institutions, seeking any records related to child sexual assault or abuse.

Last year, the office had requested that the state’s three dioceses voluntarily provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct committed since 1978. Each of the dioceses have indicated their cooperation with that request.

An official of the Omaha archdiocese told CNA Feb. 28 that that archdiocese, along with the Lincoln diocese, are preparing to apply for injunctive relief from the subpoenas, in part to clarify their scope.

The attorney’s general office announced Tuesday that “The Nebraska Department of Justice has appreciated the voluntary cooperation demonstrated by the churches. However, the Department believes that subpoenas are necessary in order to ensure all reports of impropriety have been submitted to the appropriate authorities.”

“It is our goal that all reports of abuse are subject to complete law enforcement review and investigation as warranted.”

The subpoenas, issued to institutions such as parishes and schools, as well as the dioceses, “request all records or information related to any child sexual assault or abuse that has occurred by those employed or associated with each church or institution, whether previously reported or not.”

Each of the state’s dioceses have indicated their cooperation with a request made by the attorney general in September 2018 voluntarily to provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct since 1978.

The Archdiocese of Omaha announced Nov. 30 that it had submitted to the attorney general “documents pertaining to church personnel accused of criminal sexual misconduct since 1978.” The documents included information on alleged abuse or misconduct with minors that dated back as far was 1956, but was not reported to the archdiocese until 1978.

In the Omaha archdiocese, documentation regarded 38 clerics with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of or misconduct with minors since 1978. Of these, four were deacons, and 34 had offended before 2002. Information about the offenders was also made public, and the release noted that seven deceased priests were accused, but the claims could not be substantiated, and five former seminarians were dismissed for substantiated claims of sexual misconduct with a minor.

The Diocese of Lincoln stated Feb. 26 that it has “voluntarily cooperated with the investigation since it was announced last September, and pledged its ongoing support to stop criminal behavior by predators.”

It added that it was reviewing the subpoena it had received.

Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island said Feb. 26 that his diocese had received the subpoenas, noting that they are “a commonly used legal tool to define the parameters of the inquiry.”

“While we don’t believe subpoenas were necessary, we will continue to share information with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office to bring this investigation to a conclusion,” Bishop Hanefeldt continued. “The Diocese is committed to the protection of children and safety of all, and to that end, has cooperated with the Nebraska Attorney’s Office in a voluntary review of files.”

The Diocese of Grand Island had also noted in November that it was completing a review of clergy files regarding sexual abuse of minors.

The inquiry in Nebraska follows new or revisited allegations of sexual abuse of minors or other misconduct committed by priests in the Lincoln diocese as far back as the 1980s. Several priests have resigned as pastors, while alleged misconduct of a former vocations director for the diocese, who died in 2008, also became a matter of public attention.

Sex abuse in the Church has been a matter of national attention since last summer.

In mid-August the Pennsylvania attorney general released a grand jury report following an 18-month investigation into the files of six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses. The report included allegations against 300 priests of abusing over 1,000 victims over a 70-year period.

And in June, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was publicly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. He was laicized in January after being convicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on charges of sexual abuse of minors and adults and solicitation in the confessional.

 

 

J.D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, previously served as special assistant to Bishop Conley and director of communications for the Lincoln diocese. Flynn has recused himself from coverage of this story to avoid a conflict-of-interest.

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Bishop Olmsted finds roots of abuse scandal in poor priestly formation

February 28, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Phoenix, Ariz., Feb 28, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- In face of the sex abuse scandals in the Church, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix issued a column this month asking the question: “What went wrong in priestly formation?”

Bishop Thomas Olmsted highlighted in his Feb. 17 column at The Catholic Sun three factors that contributed to the clerical sexual abuse scandal: the sexual revolution, weak seminaries, and clericalism.

He said the sexual revolution, which in the 1960s challenged the ethics of sexual behaviors in the West, had sought to promote a false idea of “free love.” With the surge of an overly sexualized culture, he said, the movement created long-lasting problems.  

“This revolution promised ‘free love,’ happiness and liberation from purported encumbrances of religion and tradition, particularly the Commandments,” he said.

“Sadly, the over-focus on sexual pleasure, the reducing and labeling of persons to their attractions (LGBTQ, etc.) and the viewing of persons as objects for pleasure have led to unprecedented numbers of infidelity, divorce, loneliness and abuse in the greater culture.”

He said the crisis was worsened by inadequate responses from the Church, citing silence and “harsh moralizing.” This only strangled the message of God’s love and distorted a full understanding of the human person, he said.

However, the bishop said there were also appropriate responses, including St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. He said this answer promoted a greater comprehension of true love alongside responsibility.

“Related to the general confusion about human love caused by the sexual revolution, we also suffered from an insufficient understanding of priestly celibacy,” Bishop Olmsted noted, adding that Pope Francis has affirmed the value of celibacy for the priesthood.

“Indeed, in a world that believes that sexual pleasures must have free reign, even at the cost of innocent unborn children, there is need for those men and women who proclaim by their lives that ultimate love and fulfillment come from God and that self-mastery is certainly possible with God’s grace. Chaste celibacy, received as a gift of God and formed through spiritual and human direction, is a needed response to a false idea of ‘free love.’”

Amid the confusion caused by the sexual revolution “Church leaders faild to adequately screen applicants” to seminary, he said. “It was often assumed that the human and the spiritual qualities of the man were present and sufficient. This was a poor assumption, and it led to too little consideration of a man’s human virtues and of his relationship with Jesus Christ. As a result, some candidates unfit for ministry were accepted.”

Dissent from orthodoxy was present in many seminaries in the 1970s and ’80s, he said, especially regarding sexual ethics.

“For example, the masculine spousal dimension in which a priest is called to love as Christ loved His Bride the Church (Cf. Eph 5) was not taught much at all. As a result, the priesthood was too frequently seen, not as a life of masculine love, but merely pertaining to certain ministerial functions. It was erroneously thought among some that the nature of the priesthood itself would change.”

Bishop Olmsted added that “some seminaries became places with not only men who lacked a true calling from Jesus to the priesthood but even where a homosexual subculture sprang up.”

“It is difficult to deny this problem considering the high percentage of abuse cases that occurred between men and post-pubescent boys.”

“On several occasions, our Holy Father has stated that clericalism played a part in the current scandals as priests and bishops sought to cover up abuses,” the bishop noted. He added that “disproportionate esteem for priests by the faithful, at times, was (and still can be) problematic.”

He said the priest, like any man, is a sinner in need of redemption, but the state is one of service.

“One should enter the priesthood through a calling from Jesus to share in His mission. That mission is to proclaim Christ Crucified and Risen from the dead,” he recalled.

“Especially in this country, Church leaders have been slow to embrace this mission and settled for simply maintaining her membership rather than boldly evangelizing the culture.”

The bishop noted that “instead of being Catholic out of conviction and a deep relationship with Jesus, the faith has become for too many something merely cultural,” and he recalled Archbishop José Gomez’ statement that Christ “did not come to suffer and die so that He could make ‘cultural Catholics’”.

“Cultural Catholicism”, Bishop Olmsted said, “lacks true conviction to follow Jesus when His teachings differ from ways of the culture.”

He said that many of the concerns in priestly formation “are now being addressed well,” and recalled that St. John Paul II was “convinced that the answer to these scandals is great fidelity.”

“Like other times of storms in the Church, Jesus continues to renew His Mystical Body through holiness,” Bishop Olmsted concluded. “You and I are called to be saints.”

[…]

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Circuit Court nominee passed by Senate Judiciary Committee

February 28, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 28, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Neomi Rao was given and affirmative vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. She is President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Dictrict of Columbia.

 

Rao cleared the committee on a party-line vote of 12 to 10. Her nomination will now head to the full Senate.

 

Earlier in the week, Rao’s nomination seemed to face an uncertain future as questions about her suitability arose on both sides of the aisle and it was not clear if she could garner enough support from committee members.

 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), a freshman senator from Missouri, raised concerns about Roa’s judicial philosophy, particularly her views on judicial activism and substantive due process. But on Thursday morning, Hawley issued a statement saying he had met one-on-one with Rao on Wednesday, and said that he was no longer opposed to her advancing to the full Senate.

 

“In our discussion, Ms. Rao said she would interpret the Constitution according to its text, structure and history, not according to changing social and political understandings,” said Hawley.

 

“She said the text of the Constitution is fixed and the meaning must follow that fixed text,” he added, and that “she rejected the idea of ‘common law constitutionalism.’”

 

Hawley also said he was pleased that Rao told him she did not think there was textual support for substantive due process in the Constitution.

 

Concerns about Rao’s commitment to an originalist approach to the Consitution also reflected anxieties of pro-life campaigners who had concerns she may be philosophically sympathetic to a consitutional right to abortion, rather than merely committed to defering to it as established precedent.

 

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) was also concerned with Rao, particularly her college newspaper op-eds concerning sexual assault and women. In some of the writing’s Rao made observations about the context in which assaults could take place which some observers said came close to victim-blaming.

 

Ernst, herself a survivor of sexual assault, said that she found the writings to be “abhorrent,” but also said she had since been satisfied about Rao’s suitability and agreed to vote her through to a final confirmation vote in the Senate.

 

During Rao’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is now running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, quizzed her about her views on morality, gay marriage, and sin.

 

Booker asked Rao to comment about whether she believed marriage only could exist between a man and a woman, or if two she thought men in a sexual relationship was immoral. Rao declined insisted that it was not her place asa  judicial candidate or judge to opinion on the nature of sin, and said she would follow precedent if she were confirmed to the bench.

 

Currently, Rao is the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and has taught law at George Mason University. She previously served in the White House counsel’s office under president George H.W. Bush and as a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

The final confirmation vote is expected in March.

[…]

The Dispatch

The Gleam of the True Myth

February 28, 2019 Dr. Kelly Scott Franklin 1

What do we love about mythology? The Greek word mythoi just means “stories,” and every culture has them, from the Mayans to the Mesopotamians. But these ancient stories continue to captivate us today, finding modern […]

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Bishops ask for prayers for start of talks in Nicaragua

February 28, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Managua, Nicaragua, Feb 28, 2019 / 02:07 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Nicaragua have asked the faithful to pray for the dialogue begun Wednesday between the government of President Daniel Ortega and the opposition Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy.

In a message posted on social media, Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua asked the faithful to pray “so that we can make a sincere effort to authentically work for the common good, declining all selfish  and sectarian interests, in the search for new horizons for Nicaragua.”

These horizons, he indicated, must be founded “on respect for human rights, promoting a culture of dialogue and understanding. Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.”

On Facebook, the Nicaraguan bishops’ conference joined this intention of Cardinal Brenes to the “ ‘Let us Pray Together’ campaign.’” In addition, they asked Mary Immaculate to intercede for the country.

On Twitter, Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez Ortega of Managua stated Feb. 27 his “prayers for Nicaragua at the start of negotiations today.”

“Let personal and ideological interests be renounced and economics never be put before human rights. Let everything be transparent, with all political prisoners released and with public freedoms restored,” he added.

Attending the start of the talks as witnesses were Cardinal Brenes and the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.

However, the newspaper La Prensa de Nicaragua reported that the government vetoed the participation of Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa at the talks.  The opposition is demanding that the prelate be present.

The renewal of talks is taking place after almost eight months since the first attempt at dialogue. However, in order for the Feb. 27 meeting to take place, the opposition demanded that the regime release the political prisoners and demonstrators arrested during the protests that began in April 2018.

According to the opposition those in detention number more than 700. However, fewer than 150 were released and moved to house arrest Feb. 27. The government has not said if in the coming days more people would be released from prison.

Besides the release of the demonstrators, the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy also asked for
“the restoration of freedoms, rights, and guarantees established by the Political Constitution” and
“electoral reforms that guarantee fair, free, and transparent elections.”

On social media they stated that “in this first meeting we are defining the road map to ensure a transparent, effective and specific process.”

Nicaragua’s crisis began after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

Anti-government protestors have been attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega’s administration.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protestors’ complaints.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega’s authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church has suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held in 2019, but Ortega has ruled this out.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

 

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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