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Keep your eyes fixed on the cross, Pope urges new cardinals

Vatican City, Jun 28, 2017 / 08:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, Pope Francis created five new cardinals, encouraging them to walk with Jesus, keeping their eyes fixed securely on the cross and on the realities of the world, not becoming distracted by prestige or honor.

“I speak above all to you, dear new Cardinals. Jesus ‘is walking ahead of you,’ and he asks you to follow him resolutely on his way. He calls you to look at reality, not to let yourselves be distracted by other interests or prospects,” the Pope said June 28.

“He has not called you to become ‘princes’ of the Church, to ‘sit at his right or at his left.’ He calls you to serve like him and with him.”

“To serve the Father and your brothers and sisters. He calls you to face as he did the sin of the world and its effects on today’s humanity. Follow him, and walk ahead of the holy people of God, with your gaze fixed on the Lord’s cross and resurrection.”

Pope Francis addressed the five bishops he chose to receive a red hat last month, and others present, during an ordinary consistory for the creation of new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica.

He had announced his intention to create the new cardinals during a Regina Coeli address on May 21st.

Immediately following a reading from the Gospel of Matthew and his short reflection, the Pope made the proclamation creating the new cardinals. Afterward they received their red biretta and cardinal’s ring. At this time they were also assigned a titular church, tying them to Rome.
 
In his choice of cardinals, Pope Francis has remained true to his vision of a broader, more universal representation of the Church, forged during his last consistory, Nov. 19, 2016, where he created 17 new cardinals from 11 different nations and five different continents.

Among this consistory's picks are Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, and Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, Apostolic Vicar of Pakse, Laos and Apostolic Administrator of Vientiane, and Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali.

All three are the first cardinals from their respective countries.

Also noteworthy is his appointment of San Salvador’s auxiliary bishop, José Gregorio Rosa Chávez, marking the first time the Pope has tapped an auxiliary as cardinal.

Bishop Chávez was chosen over his archbishop, Jose Luis Escobar Alas, for the red hat, showing that Francis, as seen in his previous appointments, is willing to skip over “cardinal sees.”

In contrast to the other four is Archbishop Juan José Omella of Barcelona, Spain. His red hat is not a dramatic departure from tradition, as Barcelona is traditionally a see with a cardinal and Archbishop Omella’s predecessor, Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach, turned 80 on April 29.

All of the new cardinals are under 80, and therefore eligible to vote in the next conclave.

In his homily, Francis reflected on the Gospel heard during the ceremony, which came from Matthew 10:32-45. In the passage, Jesus and the disciples are walking toward Jerusalem. This is when the third prediction of the Passion of Christ happens, which is nearing.

“‘Jesus was walking ahead of them.’ This is the picture that the Gospel we have just read presents to us. It serves as a backdrop to the act now taking place: this Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals,” he said.

Jesus walks ahead of them with full knowledge of what is going to take place in Jerusalem, but at this moment there is a divide, a distance, between his heart and the hearts of his disciples, which only the Holy Spirit can bridge, Francis said.

He knows this and is patient with them. “Above all, he goes before them. He walks ahead of them.”

Along the way, though, the disciples become distracted by things which have nothing to do with what Jesus is preparing to do, or with the will of the Father.

“They are not facing reality! They think they see, but they don’t. They think they know, but they don’t. They think they understand better than the others, but they don’t…” the Pope exclaimed.

“For the reality is completely different. It is what Jesus sees and what directs his steps. The reality is the cross.”

This reality, Francis continued, is the sin of the world, which the Lord came to take upon himself and to “uproot from the world of men and women.”

The reality of sin is manifest in the world in the innocent who suffer and die as victims of war and terrorism, in the many forms of human slavery that exist, he said. It’s found also in refugee camps, which are more like hell than purgatory, and it’s in the discarding of people and things that society doesn’t find useful.

“This,” he said, “is what Jesus sees as he walks towards Jerusalem.”

“During his public ministry he made known the Father’s tender love by healing all who were oppressed by the evil one (cf. Acts 10:38). Now he realizes that the moment has come to press on to the very end, to eliminate evil at its root. And so, he walks resolutely towards the cross.”

“We too, dear brothers and sisters, are journeying with Jesus along this path,” he said.

“And now,” he concluded, “with faith and through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, let us ask the Holy Spirit to bridge every gap between our hearts and the heart of Christ, so that our lives may be completely at the service of God and all our brothers and sisters.”

After the consistory, Pope Francis and the new cardinals will stop by the Vatican's Mater Ecclesiae Monastery to pay a visit to Benedict XVI, who was not present at the ceremony.

As is customary, the cardinals will then proceed to the atrium of the Pope Paul VI hall where they are formally greeted and congratulated.

The new cardinals will also concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square on June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the patrons of Rome. At the Mass the Pope will also bestow the pallia on the new metropolitan archbishops appointed during the last year.

The consistory was the fourth of Pope Francis’ pontificate. With the 5 new cardinals included, the number of voting cardinals comes to 121, and the number of non-voters to 104, for a grand total of 225.

Senate health care bill 'unacceptable,' bishop says after budget office report

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2017 / 06:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Senate’s health care bill remains “unacceptable,” one U.S. bishop insisted after a non-partisan government office estimated it would result in millions more uninsured.

“This moment cannot pass without comment,” said Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, in response to the scoring of the draft Senate health care bill by the Congressional Budget Office on Monday.  

“As the USCCB has consistently said, the loss of affordable access for millions of people is simply unacceptable,” he said of the office’s estimate that the number of uninsured could increase by 22 million by 2026. “These are real families who need and deserve health care.”  

The Congressional Budget Office released its scoring of the Senate health care bill on Monday, H.R. 1628, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.

The bill eliminates the individual and employer mandates of the Affordable Care Act, replacing the individual mandate with a six-month waiting period for new insurance in non-group plans if one goes without insurance for more than 63 days.

Also, the bill makes it easier for states to waive essential health benefits, or the list of benefits like emergency services and maternity care that was mandatory in health plans under the Affordable Care Act. The elderly can be charged up to five times more than younger persons in their premiums by insurers, as opposed to the limit being three times more than younger people.

The bill could reduce the federal deficit by over $320 billion over 10 years, according to the CBO, largely because of cuts to the rate of increased spending on Medicaid over that time (almost $800 billion in cuts) and cuts in the amount of federal subsidies for health plans.

The Medicaid cuts would take place through “per capita” caps on federal Medicaid funding of states. Thus, the funding in the future would be dependent upon the populations of the states.

An estimated 22 million more people would also be uninsured by 2026, increasing the projected number of uninsured from 28 million to 49 million.

Some of those uninsured would be persons who voluntarily forego having health insurance because of the removal of the individual mandate, which levies heavy fines on those without health insurance.

Instead, the new bill would fine persons with a gap in coverage once they sign up for insurance again, at a rate of 30 percent of their new premium.

In the short-term, this would be the “primary” reason behind the increase in the number of uninsured, the CBO said. However, after several years, other policies could increase the number of uninsured, like the cuts to Medicaid spending and federal subsidies.

For instance, for persons under the age of 65 by the year 2026, Medicaid enrollment would be down 16 percent, the office estimated.

The White House panned the CBO estimates in a statement released on Monday evening.

“The CBO has consistently proven it cannot accurately predict how healthcare legislation will impact insurance coverage,” the White House stated. “In 2013, the CBO estimated that 24 million people would have coverage under Obamacare by 2016.  It was off by an astounding 13 million people – more than half – as less than 11 million were actually covered.”

“To date, we have seen average individual market premiums more than double and insurers across the country opting out of healthcare exchanges,” the White House continued, urging action to be taken to reform health care.

Bishop Dewane, meanwhile, promised to pray for the Senate “to keep the good aspects of current health care proposals, to add missing elements where needed, and to not place our sisters and brothers who struggle every day into so great a peril on so basic a right.”

Last week, the bishop had outlined his serious concerns with the draft legislation. The bill, he said, in some ways made the problems with the House health care bill on health coverage for low-income persons worse.

“It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written,” he said on Thursday. The cuts to Medicaid funding in particular would “wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported,” he insisted.

Bishop Dewane also noted the lack of language protecting “conscience rights” of those in the health care industry from mandates that they perform morally objectionable procedures like abortions or gender-transition surgeries.

He did praise the language protecting tax credits from being used to pay for abortions, but showed caution in warning that the language could very well be removed by the chamber’s parliamentarian because it could be ruled as not pertaining to the budget.

Other parts of the health care bill that the CBO scored included changes to premiums for persons in non-group plans.  

The average premiums for these plans would increase in the short-term, the CBO estimated, but by 2020 would drop to 30 percent lower than the premium estimates under the current health care law.

However, some could still see their health care costs rise because their benefits might be cut and their out-of-pocket health costs could be higher, especially those living in states which choose to waive the essential health benefits.

The marketplaces for non-group health insurance would still be stable in the coming years, the CBO estimated, but in certain areas for “a small fraction of the population,” insurers might not participate in non-group coverage.

This would be because fewer people would sign up for health plans due to fewer available subsidies, or even if the insurers participate in marketplaces, the plans themselves might be more expensive.

When asked on Monday if the White House would take CBO scores into account to the extent that they would go “back to the drawing board” on the bill if necessary, press secretary Sean Spicer answered that the White House would continue its current plan on health care reform.

“We feel very confident with where the bill is,” he stated. “And he [President Donald Trump] is going to continue to listen to senators who have ideas about how to strengthen it. But it's going to follow the same plan as we have.”

 

Pope Francis: The way of Christ is the way of persecution

Vatican City, Jun 28, 2017 / 03:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said that following Christ means taking a path contrary to that of the world, and being prepared to suffer because of this; though we have hope because of God’s constant presence.

“Persecution is not a contradiction to the gospel, but is part of it: if they persecuted our Master, how can we hope that we will be spared the struggle?” he said June 28.

“However, in the midst of the whirlwind, the Christian must not lose hope, thinking he has been abandoned. Jesus reassures his disciples saying, ‘Even the hairs of your head are all counted.’ As much as to say that none of the sufferings of man, even the most minute and hidden, are invisible to the eyes of God.”

“God sees, and surely protects; and will give his ransom.”

Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the theme of Christian hope during the weekly general audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square. This time he reflected on the counter-cultural life of the Christian, which will mean withstanding persecution on some level, and for some, even martyrdom.
 
“Christians are therefore men and women ‘against the current,’” he said. “It is normal: since the world is marked by sin, manifested in various forms of egoism and injustice, those who follow Christ walk in the opposite direction.”

As Christians we do this “not for a contrary spirit, but for loyalty to the logic of the Kingdom of God, which is a logic of hope, and is translated into a way of life based on the directions of Jesus,” he continued.

“Christians must therefore always find themselves on the ‘other side,’ on the other side of the world, that chosen by God; not persecutors but persecuted; not arrogant, but gentle; not conmen, but submissive to the truth; not imposters, but honest.”

The first indication of a life lived based on this logic is poverty, the Pope said. In fact, he emphasized, “a Christian who is not humble and poor, detached from wealth and power and above all detached from himself, does not look like Jesus.”

Following this way has its difficulties and struggles, of course, the Pope said. But in difficulty, we must remember that Jesus is with us, and he never leaves his disciples alone.

“This fidelity to the way of Jesus – a way of hope – unto death, will be called by the first Christians with a beautiful name: ‘martyrdom,’ meaning ‘testimony,’” he said.

The early Christians could have chosen a different name for this act, like ‘heroism,’ 'abnegation,' or 'self-sacrifice,' but instead they chose this one, Francis said.

Martyrs are not selfish, living for themselves. “They do not fight to assert their own ideas, and accept that that they have to die only for loyalty to the gospel,” he said, which is the only “force” or strength the Christian uses.

In his catechesis, Francis recalled that Jesus warned us that he sends us “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” And the Christian does not have weapons or claws against these wolves. He or she may need to be cautious, even shrewd at times, he said, but violent never.

A Christian travels through life with the essentials for the journey, but with a heart full of love, he said, because true defeat for the Christian isn't poverty, it's to fall into the temptation to respond to evil with evil.

There is, in fact, “Someone” among us who is stronger than evil, he said.

But martyrdom is not even “the supreme ideal of Christian life,” Francis continued, because above all there is charity, that is, the love of God and of neighbor.”

Reflecting on charity, the Apostle Paul says: “If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

This is why it Christians are disgusted by the idea that suicide bombers might be called “martyrs,” the Pope explained. “These do not know the martyrs – there is nothing in their end that can be brought closer to the attitudes of the children of God.”

The martyrs of yesterday and even of today had hope that no one and nothing could separate them from the love of God. So we ask that God gives us this same strength to be his witnesses, he concluded.

“He gives us the opportunity to live Christian hope especially in the hidden martyrdom of doing well and with love our duties of every day.”

Mexican priest moved to intermediate care after stabbing attack

Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 28, 2017 / 12:07 am (CNA).- Father Miguel Angel Machorro, who was stabbed May 15 at the Mexico City Cathedral, left intensive care and was transferred to the Intermediate Care Area of Angeles Mocel Hospital in Mexico City, according to a June 20 statement by the Archdiocese of Mexico.

Fr. Machorro was injured in a knife attack occurring around 6:45 p.m. on May 15, at the end of Mass in the Cathedral. The assailant has been identified as Mexican citizen, Juan René Silva Martínez.

Martinez attempted to slit the throat of the priest, instead injuring him on the right side of his neck. Expert reports have determined that the assailant has a “psychotic disorder.”

Authorized personnel of Ángeles Mocel Hospital told the archdiocese that the priest’s transfer to the Intermediate Care Area does not mean that Fr. Machorro’s health problems are solved.

“He has a long road ahead of him in the field of neurological and pulmonary rehabilitation,” they explained, and warned that it is very likely that Fr. Machorro will maintain a “permanent significant motor and respiratory disability.”

 

Detroit event combines biking, sacred architecture

Detroit, Mich., Jun 27, 2017 / 10:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 250 pilgrims made their way through downtown Detroit visiting different churches on Sunday.

What made this a spectacle? They were all riding along on two wheels.

“I love these architectural gems that were gifts to us from prior generations of the faithful. I love biking, I love bringing people together, I love celebrating our heritage as Detroiters,” said event organizer Danielle Center. “So here we are, the marriage of all these things.”

Center told the Detroit Free Press that she expected about 20 people to show up to the event, named “Holy Rollin’.” She had wanted to put on such a gathering for years, but feared that people would be reluctant to bike downtown Detroit, which has been undergoing a process of depopulation for years.

However, her fears turned out to be groundless: though she had expected 20 bikers to show up, more than ten times as many brought their wheels to downtown.

“To have so many people here is pretty special,” Annie Schunior told the Detroit Free Press.

Bikers stopped at four churches after departing from Center’s workplace, Ste. Anne – St. Aloysius, Sts. Peter and Paul, Old St. Mary, and St. Joseph Oratory. At each, bikers got a taste of the art and history of each building.

“In the Catholic church there is a lot of beautiful art but there are not a lot of opportunities for people to tour and see it,” said Schunior.

Fr. Loren Connell gave the group a tour at St. Aloysius, saying he welcomed the chance to let such a group into the church building.

"It's about hospitality," he told the Detroit Free Press. "We open our doors to street people and visitors and everyone in between."

Unity is more than 'bland uniformity,' Pope tells Orthodox

Vatican City, Jun 27, 2017 / 04:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis met with a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, saying their journey toward full communion is one that ought to respect their unique traditions – rather than a uniformity that would, in the end, make the Church more boring.

“Peter and Paul, as disciples and apostles of Jesus Christ, served the Lord in very different ways,” the Pope said June 27.

“Yet in their diversity, both bore witness to the merciful love of God our Father, which each in his own fashion profoundly experienced, even to the sacrifice of his own life.”

Because of this, since ancient times the Church in the East and in the West has celebrated the feast of the two Apostles together, he said, adding that it is right to jointly commemorate “their self-sacrifice for love of the Lord, for it is at the same time a commemoration of unity and diversity.”

Pope Francis spoke to a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, who are currently in Rome for the June 29 celebration of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The Pope is particularly close to the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, and has met with their Patriarch, Bartholomew I, several times since his election in 2013.

In his address to the delegation, Francis said the traditional exchange of delegations on the feast of their patrons is something that “increases our desire for the full restoration of communion between Catholics and Orthodox.”

This, he said, is something “which we already have a foretaste in fraternal encounter, shared prayer and common service to the Gospel.”

He noted how in the first millennium, Christians of both the East and West were able to share the same Eucharist and preserve the essential truths of the faith while at the same time cultivating and exchanging a variety of theological, canonical and spiritual traditions founded on the teaching of the apostles and the ecumenical councils.

“That experience,” Francis said, “is a necessary point of reference and a source of inspiration for our efforts to restore full communion in our own day, a communion that must not be a bland uniformity.”

Francis then noted how this year marks 50 years since Blessed Pope Paul VI visited Istanbul's Phanar district in July 1967, where the seat of the ecumenical patriarchate is located, to visit Patriarch Athenagoras, as well as the visit of  Athenagoras to Rome in October of the same year.

“The example of these courageous and farsighted pastors, moved solely by love for Christ and his Church, encourages us to press forward in our journey towards full unity,” Francis said.

The Pope then expressed his gratitude for the many occasions on which he has been able to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew, which have taken place largely during his various trips and ecumenical prayer events.

At the end of his speech, Pope Francis noted that in September, a meeting of the Coordinating Committee of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will take place in Leros, Greece.

He voiced his hope that the event “will take place in a spiritual climate of attentiveness to the Lord’s will and in a clear recognition of the journey already being made together by many Catholic and Orthodox faithful in various parts of the world, and that it will prove most fruitful for the future of ecumenical dialogue.”

The Pope closed by voicing his hope that with the intercession of Saints Peter, Paul and Andrew, through mutual prayer they would become “instruments of communion and peace.”

Mali's first cardinal, Archbishop Jean Zerbo

Bamako, Mali, Jun 27, 2017 / 03:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Among those bishops who will be created cardinals at the June consistory is Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, a man who has already been called the “cardinal of peace.”

In announcing the June 28 consistory at the Regina Coeli on May 21, Pope Francis expressed the desire to choose men who represent the “catholicity” of the Church. His selection of Archbishop Zerbo is particularly noteworthy in this regard, as he will be the first cardinal to hail from Mali.

Born Dec. 27, 1943 in Ségou, Archbishop Zerbo was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ségou July 10, 1971. He earned his licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Ponifical Biblical Institute in Rome, studying there from 1977 to 1981. Upon returning to Mali in the early 1980s, he taught at the major seminary in Bamako, Mali's capital, and served as a pastor in Markala.

In June 1988, St. John Paul II named him auxiliary bishop of Bamako. In 1994, he was appointed Bishop of Mopti, and in 1998 was made Archbishop of Bamako.

Archbishop Zerbo represents Pope Francis’ frequent calls to focus on areas where the Church is persecuted: Mali is a majority-Muslim nation that often sees harsh application of sharia as well as extremist violence against Christians.

Speaking to Cuore Amico in January this year, Archbishop Zerbo described the situation of Christians in the country as “a test comparable to that of the early disciples.”

Mali has recently been ravaged by a civil war, which exploded in 2012 with various rebel forces seizing control of parts of the country, and a subsequent coup. Although it officially ceased in 2015, fighting has continued throughout the country.

The war is largely driven by several factions of Islamist militants seeking to impose sharia, as well as by ethnic separatists. These militant groups occupy much of the northern part of the country.

During his ministry, Archbishop Zerbo has participated actively in peace talks in Mali’s civil conflict. His appointment to the College of Cardinals therefore sends a powerful message in favor of peace in the country, and a red hat will give added weight to the new cardinal’s contributions to talks.

He has also called for humanitarian aid for those suffering from hunger, thirst, and disease due to war in the country. In 2013, he told Fides that “[A] new period of suffering is beginning for the people of Mali. We would welcome support so that we can help the increasing number of displaced and refugees.”

He has stressed the need for conversion, on the part of both Christians and Muslims, saying that “peace can only be achieved through the conversion of the hearts regardless of faith. We Christians are always called to an effort of reconciliation.”

The Church in Mali has recently been accused of embezzlement of funds related to the Swiss Leaks investigation. The Malian bishops' conference said in a May 31 statement that it “takes issue with the allegations that certain bishops have misappropriated funds from the Catholic faithful” and that it “functions in full transparency.”

The bishops' conference also asked if “the authors of the tendentious article are aiming at another unavowed objective, rather than bringing constructive information to public opinion? Does this act made at the moment that this Church has just been honored with the nomination of its first cardinal aim at dirtying its image and at destabilizing it? God who sees all and who knows all will one day restore the truth.”

What does it look like to be gay – and a practicing Catholic?

Rome, Italy, Jun 27, 2017 / 03:27 pm (CNA).- More than 10 years ago, Joseph Prever found himself scouring the internet for anything that might help him: he was gay, Catholic, and confused. Resources were scarce for a man struggling with homosexuality and trying to remain faithful to the Church’s teaching.

In the intervening years, Catholics experiencing same-sex attraction have become a more vocal presence in the Church.

Google the words “gay Catholic” and one of the top sites to appear will be Prever’s own blog, a blog with the tagline: “Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine.” There, the 30-something writer considers his own experiences as a man struggling with same-sex attraction and trying to live out the virtue of chastity.

What follows is an edited version of a conversation about everything from homosexuality and Batman to poetry and football. The interview is published in two parts.

Part One

Can you introduce yourself and your blog?
 
I'm Joe Prever. I used to blog under the pseudonym Steve Gershom. I’ve been doing that for a few years now. The blog is about what it’s like to be a gay Catholic – a gay Catholic who is of course, celibate – and I say ‘of course’ because that seems to me like the only option if you’re going to be both gay and Catholic. On the blog I try to stay away from abstract discourse about spirituality and sexuality in general and more towards lived experience: that’s what I see as my niche.
 
Why did you start writing a blog?

I honestly don’t remember the thought process that led me to it, but I do remember wishing at one point that there was somebody blogging like that, and in fact these days there are just a whole lot of people in my situation who are blogging, and that’s really great. It seems liked it’s very much exploded in the last few years. My friends and I joke that there’s a gay Catholic renaissance on, or actually a gay Christian renaissance on, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of it – or at least we tell ourselves that we’re at the forefront.

Did those other people read your blog before they started theirs?

Some of them did, yes. In fact, a couple of them have said to me that I was someone who helped to inspire them to start, so I’m very proud of that.

This was a few years ago. Even at that time there were a fair amount of resources, in the sense that there were people who were writing about it, and you could find various testimonials online if you googled hard enough, but there were very few people who, on a day to day basis were like, ‘here’s what this is like, here’s how you deal with that,’ etc.

And so you decided you were going to be that resource?

Yes. Because at that time, I was sort of starting to feel for the first time that things were very much manageable, and I think back to this very specific moment in college when I was 18 or 19, and googling this kind of stuff, just to see if there was anybody out there who I could relate to and who would have some wisdom to share about it, and I did in fact find some stuff. It was remembering the feeling of how good it was to find that made me want to pass that along.

You blogged pseudonymously for years and then you ‘came out,’ so to speak, in the summer of 2014. Why did you decide to do that?

It was one of those decisions where by the time you make it, you realize that you’ve already made it, if you see what I mean. It was hard in the sense that I’d actually always said that people shouldn’t be public about being gay, because it was not anybody’s business and I felt that it would lend legitimacy to this idea that being gay is a sort of a single way to identify yourself: I actually still sort of hold that position – kind of. (Laughs).

It’s hard to describe: I don’t think that being gay is as essential of a way to identify yourself as say, being male is, or being Catholic, or being human. I guess my position right now is that if the cultural atmosphere were different from what it is, then I don’t know whether I would have gone public.  

The real reason I did is because of the blog, and talking about these things in general, and the cultural conversation in general that’s happening right now – all of these things have become such a big part of my life... it wasn’t really a question of honesty. It’s just that when something is so much a part of your life, people ask you, ‘oh, so what’ve you got going on?’ or ‘what are you doing these days?’ and I felt really lame saying, ‘oh, you know, programming computers. Watching movies. Hanging out. Stuff.’  

So honestly, it was largely a vanity thing. It’s like the scene in Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne is doing this, ‘I’m a rich celebrity playboy’ thing, and he’s bathing in fountains and buying hotels and so forth, and Katie Holmes’ (character) is upset with him for being such a wastrel. (Laughs) And I felt like I wanted to be publicly Batman: strictly for vanity-related reasons. I wanted everyone to know how awesome I am.

I’m trying not to laugh...

Well, it’s perfectly true. And I suppose there are other reasons, like I want to be a public witness and things like that, but I suspect that it’s mostly vanity.

What response did you get when you ‘came out’? When people began to associate you with this gay guy who writes a blog?

On the day that I made public the post where I came out, I received just piles and piles of comments and emails and text messages. Most were from people I didn't know, except for the text messages, obviously, but a very large portion of them were from people who had known me for a long time and who just wanted to say how pleased they were that I had done this and how proud they were of me to have taken this stance, and how courageous they thought I was and how honored they were to be my friend, and all of this stuff. In other words, I can't think of a single friend, family member, or acquaintance who did not greet this revelation with support.

I think I would have had a very, very different response were I not celibate. When I get negative feedback, which I occasionally do from people who disagree with what the Church teaches, they say that I am being made a poster boy and that I'm being used – which is to say, conservative Christians are super happy to have somebody to point to whom they can say, ‘well look, here's one person who agrees with us.’

Do you think being accused of being a ‘poster boy’ means that people are people angered by your celibacy?

That's an interesting question. I think some people are angered on my behalf for what they perceive to be a sort of ‘Stockholm syndrome,’ and I've actually heard that phrase thrown around more than once. People see me defending the Church’s teachings on marriage, and on sexuality, and what they see is somebody who’s been taught to suppress his own nature for so long that he's actually come to believe the things he’s been told about himself – that’s what they see.

What’s really there?

I can’t sum myself up, but the point is that if any of the people who accuse me of being the poster boy or of having ‘Stockholm syndrome’ or anything like that were actually to read the things I’ve said, they would see that, number one, I don't sort of unquestioningly accept whatever I'm told about sexuality, but I always bring it back to my own experience. And number two, I very much admit the difficulties inherent in the life I live and I don’t pretend that they don't exist. And I don't think I would do either of those things if I had ‘Stockholm syndrome.’

Your blog header is, ‘Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine,’ and you’ve been using the word ‘gay’ throughout our conversation so far. Do you have any thoughts on that word, as opposed to ‘same-sex attraction’ or other terms?

Absolutely. That is another hard question, and it’s a question about which my position has been continually shifting, so I don’t feel as though I’ve found solid ground yet.

I’ve always used the word. It used to be that I would use the word in writing, but sort of in my interior monologue and in private conversation I would say ‘same-sex attracted.’ I used to joke that the only reason I used the word 'gay' was so that I would tend to show up more on Google, which is only partially a joke, because you know if you’re going to use the tools of technology to evangelize, then you have to be savvy about what Google is going to find and what it isn’t.  

But I guess the shift mainly happened as I began to approach being more public about it, because as I became more public I also came into contact more openly with people who identified as gay or who struggled with same-sex attraction, or whatever. And what I found was that a lot of them had a lot of resentment towards people who insisted on not using the word gay.

Why did they have resentment?

For a few reasons. It’s a really complicated topic, and I’m not sure how to distill what is offensive about it. One, is that it’s offensive to be told what you ought to be allowed to call yourself. And in fact, I rarely feel strongly about whether I should use the word gay or not, but the one time I do feel strongly about it is when somebody starts upbraiding me for it. Because it feels incredibly intrusive.

This is a topic that gets very political very fast. It’s the sort of thing where people feel, and I think rightly, that they have been constrained to keep silent for most of their lives – and a lot of people have, whether it’s constrained by actual explicit homophobia among the people that they love and/or are related to, or whether it’s just sort of a general culture understanding that you don’t talk about this sort of thing. So you have a set of people who have felt this way for most of their lives, and then you have people saying ‘oh, well it’s sort of cool now if you talk about that, but just be sure you talk about it in this or that way.’ This is frustrating and comes across as very patronizing because these are people who don’t have any insight into the experience of what it is to be gay telling you what it is or is not ok to talk about, and what it is and is not ok to call yourself.

Would you also apply that criticism to the Church who never uses the word ‘gay’ in her documents?

I understand why She (the Church) doesn’t. I don’t know if that will continue to be the case. I don’t have any bitterness towards the Church as a whole in that way.  

This is reason that I haven’t yet come to a solid opinion on this question – because the problem is that secular people and Christian people mean two different things by the word ‘gay.’

Could you explain that a little more?

It’s really hard to distill. But you know what’s at the heart of it?

When I told my roommate I was gay, the first thing that he said to me was, ‘do you mean same-sex attracted?’ And that was actually the precisely wrong thing to say, and I don’t hold it against him. (Laughs) But the heart of it is that I was telling him this incredibly personal thing, and he was instructing me in the right way to feel about it, immediately, from the get-go.

Now I think that one reason Christians tend to dislike the word ‘gay’ is because if somebody says that they are gay, then they are usually implying that it is an unchangeable aspect of their personality. Whereas the sort of default position among a lot of Christians is that homosexuality is changeable. The unspoken implication is that if you identify yourself as ‘gay,’ then you’re probably not trying hard enough to be straight. And I believe that this why it is so offensive to be told that they shouldn’t use the word gay.  

It might be true that some people can change to some extent, but it’s extremely offensive to assume that the only reason somebody hasn’t changed is because they haven’t tried. And even though very few people would have the chutzpah to make that explicit, I do believe that that’s the belief that’s behind it.

What do you think we should be doing as a Church, as a Christian community, to be helping people who struggle with homosexuality?

That’s a really good question! I’ll start first by saying that I’m extremely grateful for the organization People Can Change, which is an organization founded precisely on the idea that radical change with respect to homosexuality is possible. I’m grateful for them not because they ‘made me straight’ or something, but because they gave me a space in which to work out some of my issues, many of which turned out not to be related precisely to homosexuality in particular, but were just sort of emotional issues that needed dealing with.

I think a lot of gay men and women do have emotional issues that aren’t going to be dealt with if they’re told that everything is already ok. But on the other hand, this is dangerous because you have a lot of Christian people already assuming from the get-go that if somebody is homosexual, then they must have various and many emotional issues that need working on, and that’s not necessarily the case. (Laughs) So you see why this is difficult!

If the understanding in the Christian world is that homosexuality is a “disorder,” and homosexual activity is a sin, then logically it would seem like as Christians, we would want to help our fellow Christians who are “dis-ordered” to be “ordered.” Do you think there’s a problem with that logic?

I think there’s a problem with that phraseology. There’s a subtle but importance difference in saying that somebody has a disordered inclination and saying that somebody is disordered.

The Church has to be clear with respect to ‘what is the nature of homosexuality itself,’ but can’t make a pronouncement on whether it is a mental disorder, for example. Many people assume that when the Church says ‘homosexuality consists of a disordered inclination,’ they take that word ‘disorder’ and assume that She means ‘mental disorder.’ But I think the Catechism has purposely phrased it in such a way that you can’t actually conclude that if you’re reading carefully. But it takes careful reading.

The Church never changes her underlying principles, but when something new happens, it’s always a question of, ‘well, what do the underlying principles dictate in this particular situation?’ And a lot of the times it turns out that it doesn’t dictate what we thought it did but it takes a while to figure that out.

What do you think the underlying principles are that are dictating what the Church is saying about homosexuality?

That men are men, and women are women, and the two are not the same.

Do you want to expound on that at all?

Nooooo. (Laughs).  

Well, what I think is that one, at the bottom of it, men and women are different. Number two, that eros is different from friendship, and number three, that physical acts have spiritual meanings.

I think those things are the fundamental axioms that we have to work with here. And I think those things are precisely the things that are being argued about. I don’t think the Church is arguing about them, and I don’t think She should, because as far as I’m concerned, those things are absolutely essential to what the Church believes about people. But those things are very much being debated in the broader culture.

I'll tell you how I see myself and what I do, which is not only with respect to homosexuality but with how I try to live the Catholic faith in general. I try to live my life by those principles that make sense to me as a human being, and are consonant with what I know about human nature and with what the world at large has discovered about human nature. However, I also believe that if anything is true, it is Christian: that every truth is a Christian truth, and that there can be no truth about human nature which is not consonant with what the Church teaches about human nature.

This article was originally published on CNA June 30, 2015.

Hope continues for captured Filipino priest sighted alive

Marawi, Philippines, Jun 27, 2017 / 09:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Captured priest Father Teresito “Chito” Suganob was seen alive on Sunday in a part of a Philippines city under Islamist militant control, Agence France Presse reports.

“We don’t have details of his health. We were just told that he was sighted alive,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera told reporters in Marawi, citing reports from rescued civilians.

Militants of the Maute group stormed the city of Marawi, on the island of Mindanao, May 23. The group, formed in 2012, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015.

The militants still have about 100 civilian hostages, whom they use as human shields, ammunition carriers, and stretcher-barriers.

Father Suganob, who is vicar general of the Marawi territorial prelature, was featured in a video released one week after his capture. He appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to withdraw the army and stop the airstrikes.

Several bishops, including Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, have appealed for the hostages’ release.

Most of the city’s 200,000 people have fled since its occupation. Nearly 400 people have been killed in the fighting in Marawi.

The city is mostly Muslim. An eight-hour truce on Sunday allowed residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan, but military air and artillery bombardment of militant enclaves resumed with the truce’s end.

The government has said some of the militants appear to be from abroad, including countries like Russia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Herrera said there are indications other slain militants have come from the Middle East.

The militants’ violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader. Their initial attack burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence.

Local priest named fifth bishop of Allentown, Penn.

Vatican City, Jun 27, 2017 / 07:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday the Vatican announced Pope Francis' pick of Mons. Alfred A. Schlert to be the next bishop of the Diocese of Allentown in Pennsylvania, himself born and raised in the diocese.

Bishop-elect Schlert, 55, fills the vacancy left when his predecessor, Bishop John Oliver Barres was appointed to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York at the end of January.

In a statement on the appointment June 27, Bishop Barres said that Mons. Schlert “has a blend of holiness, intelligence and pastoral experience that will serve the mission of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Allentown in an extraordinary way.”

“He is primarily a loving pastor with an insightful and compassionate pastoral charity and a non-stop New Evangelization missionary spirit,” the statement continued.

“He is humble and down to earth and has this incredibly creative sense of humor that is charitable and puts everyone around him at ease. He is calm and steady but passionate about Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the Catholic Church’s mission of mercy in the world.”

Mons. Schlert, who was born and raised in the Diocese of Allentown, has been serving as Diocesan Administrator of Allentown since Bishop Barres' move to New York.

It is the first time a priest of the diocese has been named its bishop.

Bishop-emeritus of Allentown, Edward P. Cullen said that the people of the region have received “a great blessing” with the appointment of Mons. Schlert.

“The formation he received in the seminary of Saint John Lateran in Rome brought out in his heart and soul a powerful love for all of God’s children,” Bishop Cullen said in a statement June 27.

“His intellectual capacity is extraordinary, and his 30 years of ministry reflects his gifts as a homilist, a writer and an administrator whose heart is as compassionate and forgiving as is his love of God.”
 
Bishop-elect Schlert will bring “prudence and sound judgement to every aspect of the pastoral life of the diocese,” he continued.

“I can say without reservation that Bishop-elect Schlert is truly God’s chosen and beloved. Let us bring to him the fullness of our spiritual support.”

Bishop-elect Schlert was born in Easton, Pennsylvania on July 24, 1961, just six months after the Diocese of Allentown was formed.

He attended both Catholic grade school and Catholic high school before entering Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook. He also studied theology at the Pontifical Roman Seminary and the Pontifical Lateran University.

He was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of Saint Catherine of Siena in Allentown on Sept. 19, 1987.

He served as assistant pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Allentown, and as a professor at his alma mater, Notre Dame High School, and as the Catholic chaplain at Lehigh University.

In 1992 he completed graduate studies at the Pontifical North American College and Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, receiving a Licentiate in Canon Law from the Pontifical Lateran University.

Mons. Schlert was named Vice Chancellor and Secretary to Bishop Thomas Welsh in 1997.

From 1998-2008 he was in residence at the Cathedral of Saint Catherine of Siena while serving as Vicar General of the diocese under Bishops Edward Cullen and John O. Barres. In this position he oversaw the coordination of all the administrative offices of the diocese.

He was given the title of monsignor by Pope St. John Paul II in 1999. Benedict XVI named him a Prelate of Honor, the second highest rank of monsignor, in 2005.

While Vicar General, he was also pastor of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church in Hellertown from July 2008-Feb. 2010.

His ordination and installation as bishop will take place at the cathedral on Thursday, Aug. 31st.

In addition to English, he also speaks Italian.

Bishop-elect Schlert “loves the People of God of the Diocese of Allentown,” Bishop Barres stated.

“He is a priest’s priest and now will be a Bishop’s Bishop. He is very serious about prayer and sacrifices deeply to pray deeply. Bishop-elect Schlert is a natural teacher who fine-tuned his ability to communicate in religion classes at Notre Dame High School in Easton. I am ecstatic about Pope Francis’ providential choice.”