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Father Forlano

Some thoughts in defense of Cardinal Schönborn

Apr. 25 at 11:00am

Editors note: The following remarks originally appeared as several separate comments under Dr. Seifert's post below.  We asked for and receive Fr. Forlano's permission to collect and post them here.

As a priest working in the hispanic community, I am in the position where a majority of my parishioners are living in ways objectively contrary to Church teaching on the dignity of marriage.  (Most couples are married civilly, if they are married at all).  These people love the Church, are faithful to Mass, and participate in many aspects of parish life.  While I would not allow anyone in an irregular marriage to be a lector at Mass or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, I don't have the same standard when it comes to the pastoral committee.  I would not be able to have a "pastoral committee" if I were to exclude those who were not in communion with the Church.  Through the friendship that I've been able to develop with these couples, I've been able bring several marriages to convalidation and to bring others to receive the sacraments they were lacking.  The marital state of most of my pastoral committee has not been an obstacle for me in preaching the Gospel to them or the larger congregation.

The canonical argument rests on whether a parish pastoral council position is an "ecclesiastical office".  One of the conditions for an ecclesiastical office is that it is established "by divine or ecclesiastical law" (Can. 145).  Is a position on a parish pastoral council constituted by divine or ecclesiastical law?  It is definitely not divinely constituted, and from my reading and understanding, it is not required by Church law to have a pastoral council.  Can. 536 says that pastoral councils are established in each parish "if the diocesan bishop judges it opportune" and that "A pastoral council possesses a consultative vote only and is governed by the norms established by the diocesan bishop."  (emphasis added).  One can argue whether what Schönborn did was prudent, but as the diocesan bishop, he sets the norms.  Can. 536 also seems to make a distinction between the "Christian faithful" on the council and "those who share in pastoral care by virtue of their office in the parish." (emphasis added)   Who are the ex officio members of the parish pastoral council?  Usually they include the pastor, the parochial vicars, the deacons, the school principal.

It is obvious that someone who holds an ecclesiastical office "must be in the communion of the Church" (Can. 149).

To one of Katie's earlier points, the pastoral council is not a governing body in the Church, it is "consultative" only.  I've been on parish pastoral councils where there have been non-Catholics (e.g., non-Catholic spouse of a parishioner who has children in the school and is volunteering his time because of his love for the parish and expertise in finance, accounting, or marketing).  I wonder what gifts Mr. Stangl had to offer that he was elected by many of his fellow parishioners?  One also doesn't get put on the ballot to run for pastoral council without the prior approval of the pastor.  The pastoral problem is the result of the pastor nullifying the election of someone whose nomination he presumably approved in the first place.  If he was a known practicing homosexual, how did his nomination get approved?  If he was a homosexual activist of any sort, the pastor would have known about it.  This obviously was not the case.  So Fr. Swierzek finds out the man is gay after he is elected.  What is the pastoral approach?

It is here where a personalist pastoral approach needs to be employed.  There must have been a serious pastoral mishandling of the situation for it to get the attention of the Archbishop and for him to have a personal meeting with Stangl and his partner.  The Archbishop was providing a personalist pastoral approach that was most likely lacking on the parish level.  As Buttiglione said, Schönborn didn't say anything that was affirming of the man's homosexual relationship nor that denied Church teaching.  I would be surprised if the meeting with Stangl wasn't used as a teaching moment, like with the woman caught in adultery, in which he said something to the effect of "go and sin no more."  Schönborn's move was intended to keep the man connected to the Church, for there is no possibility of conversion without an encounter with Christ.  

This is the pastoral challenge we all face.  Most of the couples who come to the church to be married, even if they have been through Catholic school, and are Mass goers to some extent, are cohabitating and are clueless on Church teaching on sexual morality.  What I find amazing (and hopeful) is that there is, despite everything in the culture against them, an attachment to the Church on some level.  The pastoral opportunity for Fr. Swierzek was lost because he reacted with formalism and legalism instead of awe and wonder at the fact that a 26 year old homosexual man in 2012 desired to serve his parish.

P.S. I found this article helpful for understanding Cardinal Schonborn's rationale and Buttiglione's defense.

Rev. Philip M. Forlano is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and a parochial vicar at St. Stanislaus Parish in Lansdale, PA. 


 

Katie van Schaijik

Thank you, Father, for this very helpful post, which teaches me things I didn't know, such as that the parish council is not a governing body, and that nominees have to be approved by the pastor prior to election. If that's the case, then it may well be that the pastor botched the situation badly, putting the Cardinal in a difficult position.

I am grateful for the reminder that we may well lack enough information to judge adequately.

Still, I can't say I'm fully satisfied.  Why would the Cardinal not meet with the pastor?  Doesn't he, too, deserve to be treated with Christlike mercy?

And what about the problem of public scandal?  The Cardinal's decision has encouraged those who have been lobbying for a change in Church teaching, while it has shocked and disheartened countless faithful around the world who have been defending and promoting the Church's teaching on sexual morality in the face of intense social and political opposition.  Their task had already been made much harder by the sex scandals among the clergy.  Now they have a Prince of the Church publicly suggesting that charity calls for acceptance of homosexual relationships. 

#1 - Apr. 25 at 1:20pm | quote

 

Patrick Dunn

What I find amazing (and hopeful) is that there is, despite everything in the culture against them, an attachment to the Church on some level. The pastoral opportunity for Fr. Swierzek was lost because he reacted with formalism and legalism instead of awe and wonder at the fact that a 26 year old homosexual man in 2012 desired to serve his parish.

I believe I understand the point and grant that one should be, if nothing else, grateful to anyone who desires to serve the Church, I think this is a dangerous approach to adopt. It could create a sense of 'righteousness' wherein the one serving the parish is somehow justified in his stance against Church teaching on the basis of that service he's willing to offer. So too it could foster a form of minimalism rather than a presentation of the call in the Gospels to repentance and conversion. And all the more given that the man sees nothing wrong with his lifestyle - the view that one cannot be expected to live chastely is so deeply flawed and dangerous that it deserved to be the primary focal point in his talk with the Cardinal. Perhaps and hopefully it was.

#2 - Apr. 25 at 1:47pm | quote

Father Forlano

Katie, I don't know what the lag time was between the Cardinal's meeting with Stangl and the Chrism Mass on April 2, but in his homily at the Chrism Mass, Cardinal Schonborn explains the pastoral challenge at hand and how he handled it if we take his counsel to his priests to be his motivation for and a description of the meeting with Stangl: 

'In order to understand and live the Creator's 'master plan,' it's important to recall the norm again and again'but it's not enough,' he observed.

'There is only one way to do this, a way that Jesus' disciples had the chance to learn: by coming to know Jesus better, by growing into his friendship. Only a lived friendship with Jesus can foster in us an inner understanding of the heart for the Creator's master plan.'

A priest seeking to be a 'good shepherd,' he said, 'holds fast to both these things: to the conviction that God's master plan is right ' and to the loving, patient path along which Jesus draws us into his friendship.'

I think this very public statement that reiterates the Church's teaching and explains his pastoral approach would do much to mitigate the public scandal.

#3 - Apr. 25 at 11:47pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

This idea, that we must hold fast to "the conviction that God's master plan is right", while being patient with persons slow to embrace that plan (and doing our part to help them along), reminds me of something we read in Kierkegaard during the last Reading Circle (see. pp 10-11 of this document): that "eternally the Good has always been victorious" but "temporally it may take a long time. The victory is slow."

The victory of truth and goodness is slow for deeply personalist reasons. They cannot be forced on people, but must be subjectively appropriated and freely embraced. And that simply takes time. Hence, "...out of mercy, the Good is slow; ...out of love for free persons, it will not use force; ...in its wisdom toward the frail ones, it shrinks from any deception."

So I think I understand what Cardinal Schönborn means. Still, I wish he had upheld the pastor's decision. First, because it was the pastor's prerogative. But second, in order to give concrete expression to the conviction that God's master plan is right. The effort to draw Stangl into a lived friendship with Christ comes dangerously close (in Kierkegaard's words) to illegitimately "pressing our service upon the good."

#4 - Apr. 26 at 7:09am | quote

 

Katie van Schaijik

Father Forlano, Apr. 25 at 10:47pm

I think this very public statement that reiterates the Church's teaching and explains his pastoral approach would do much to mitigate the public scandal.

I hope you are right, Father, but I have doubts.  It's my impression that the pro-homosexual and anti-Church lobbies were encouraged by the whole event, while the faithful were greatly discouraged.

I'm trying to think how I would feel and what I would do if I were in the parish.  

But, in any case, you've helped me realize that there is more to this than I'd seen, and that it would be well for me not to judge what I know too little about.

#5 - Apr. 26 at 8:55am | quote

 

Margaret O'Hagan

Father Forlano's explanation that "Schonborn's move was intended to keep the man connected to the Church, for there is no possibility of conversion without an encounter with Christ" presupposes that this action by the Cardinal was somehow the one and only course of action for the salvation of Mr Stangl.  Like Father Forlano, we are faced with living in a culture that is contrary in many ways to our beliefs, particularly these days in areas of sexuality and the dignity of marriage.  As parents we can never deny our children the truth - and we can tell it with all the love and humility we can muster but tell it as it is always! 

#6 - Apr. 29 at 8:38am | quote

 

Hermitess21C

Katie, as one who knows of homosexuals who struggle to remain *faithful* and *celibate*, I use "actively homosexual" to describe those who politicize their orientation, or use it as a weapon.  (I refuse to apply the word "gay", as many of these folks are anything *but* that.)

#7 - May. 27 at 9:47pm | quote

 

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