Sunday, January 25, 2015


The words from one of Pope Francis’ homilies during his pontifical visit to the Philippines quickly went viral with a variety of headlines to the effect of “Pope blames demise of family on same-sex marriage” and a range of comments to the effect of “The honeymoon is over.”  It was not easy to quell reactions especially in the light of the fact it was confirmed by the Vatican spokesman that although the Pope had not referenced “same-sex marriage” he was indeed referring to it.  Still I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t want to believe it, I would not believe it until I had completely reviewed the remarks in their full context.

So I held my own public discussion on and reactions to the comments at bay until I had the chance the see his actual words, place them in context, and understand what indeed he was communicating.  Interestingly usually I look to context to make meaning of excerpts, but in this case once context was provided then I looked to the precise language of the excerpt to make meaning of it more fully and extrapolate the message.

The audience:  Families gathered for the Encounters with Family.  The context:  The Holy Father is delivering an address focused on the nuclear family.  The words:  “The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life” (Catholic News Agency).  So the reporters followed up with the Vatican spokesman:  “Was the Holy Father referring to [marriage for same-sex couples]?”  The spokesman replied”  “Yes.” But there’s a part of the answer that was not spoken and need to be said:  The Holy Father was not singling out marriage equality for same-sex couples nor was he speaking exclusively to that issue.  The Holy Father clearly and equally was speaking a message that equally applies to other efforts to redefine marriage and “values” such as relativism, ephemerism, and a lack of openness to life.  Certainly and without a doubt he is wise enough to know the depth and breadth of threats to the family.

Pope Francis, the former Jorge Bergoglio, SJ, is a very learned man who possesses an uncommon balanced blend of deep and complex theological understanding with authentically Gospel-based pastorality.  Because of this unique blend that is Francis I, sometimes it will seem that there is a stark contradiction in views and expressions while, if one is willing to go beyond the apparent significance of words to grasp their complex meaning by, for example, analyzing context, word choice, structure, one will come to identify the consistent message within the words. Bergoglio’s priesthood, his episcopacy, and his Papacy thus far reflect a very tangible reflection of the answer to the simple question, “What would Jesus do?”

So has Francis’ message taken a shift?  No, not at all.  It’s clearly and consistently been his views that marriage by tradition and nature because it is the context of procreation through sexual intimacy between one man and one woman is not to be redefined.  He has been formed and informed by his theological training in sacramental theology and the works and writings of his predecessors, in particular Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae,” an encyclical that is all about the unique sacramental dimensions of marriage, family, and procreation.  In fact, Paul VI’s well-known work provided the conceptual frame for this homily as well as for answers in a post-trip press briefing on the flight back to the Vatican in which he addressed contraception and responsible parenting.  Jorge Bergoglio is formed by his formation and clearly Paul VI’s works have made a major impact.  Yet he is not a stalebeing so it is reasonable to expect he will continue to reflect John XXIII”s openness to the breath and movement of the Spirit.  Still, the Catholic Church is not a democracy.  Teachings are based on the combination of tradition, Scripture, teaching, and as Vatican II underscored the affirmation of the People of God.  Even if Pope Francis were to become an ardent proponent of opening sacramental marriage through the Church to same-sex couples, it would not happen overnight or even necessarily in this lifetime.  The Holy Father does not act by Executive Order.  Still there is no reason for LGBT people or LGBT-affirming people to give up on the direction in which Francis I is taking the Church.   The work of recognizing and implementing the breadth of the Church’s teaching as it relates to people who are LGBT must continue.  Every effort must be made to ensure that the soundbytes of this homily do not become roadblocks to Gospel-driven social justice, a truly inclusive Catholic Church, and the full realization of the dignity of the human person, another fundamental element of Paul VI’s teachings and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Further, Francis equates his references to “marriage” as synonymous to the “Matrimony,” one of the seven sacraments of the Church.  But he knows well that “marriage” under civil law, in light of the Church’s teachings on Matrimony, are only civil unions and from that view lesbian and gay couples having achieved equality under civil law with more than 35 jurisdictions in the U.S. formally recognizing marriages involving same-sex couples are on equal par with their non-LGBT [heterosexual] counterparts. So the matter that remains is actually one of Church practice, not the practice of civil society.

For people in the United States in particular the reference to “re-defining the institution of marriage” is for both sides of the debate over equality under civil law a phrase that acts like a sword in the sand and people react accordingly.  But it’s important to bear in mind that in the global context, the re-definition of marriage is about much more than whether same-sex couples have equal rights under civil law:  it is about a range of social initiatives but also about the character and spirit of the debates themselves.  The threat is about efforts shaped by relativism, and that relativism is not only on the part of lesbian and gay people and allies who seek more inclusive Family Law statutes and constitutional protections: Relativism is also about people who oppose civil equality on the basis of their own beliefs and mis-positioning of the Church’s teaching within the broader discourse.

Francis I is the first Pope to have, while serving as Bishop of Buenos Aires, publicly promoted the adoption of civil unions for same-sex couples while also adhering to the Church’s social position that marriage is between one man and one woman.  He is the first Pope to have convened a Synod on the Family that included express recognition of the LGBT people as members of the Church worthy of direct consideration in the context of the Synod.  He is the first Pope to have generated a synod environment in which the participants spoke openly and freely about the realities of LGBT people, LGBT families, divorced and remarried Catholics. He is the Pope who has instructed that the preparatory questions for the second part of the Synod on the Family not be changed.  He is the Pope who re-assigned (some might argue functionally demoted) cardinals [like Raymond Burke] who cannot reflect the full breadth of the teaching of the Church when it comes to human sexuality and who propagate exclusionary limited perspectives on what it means to be Church, what it means to be a servant leader, and what the role of  bishop is in the Church and world today.

So he said what he said, he didn’t say what he didn’t say, and the message that we (should) take from it is this:  The leader of the Catholic Church is a man who promotes the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the Church and in society yet makes a distinction when it comes to the Sacrament of Matrimony. The moment remains pregnant with hope for a Catholic Church in this time that will become more genuinely inclusive, less deliberately exclusionary, and more genuine and consistent in promoting and accepting the full participation of all the God’s children including people who are lesbian or gay.

He said what he said, he didn’t say what he didn’t say, and this is the message that I take from it. 

Monday, April 22, 2013


Photo credit: This image was developed by illustrator Andrew Dyson and accompanied an online article about the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that appeared at

In just a few hours, we will mark the one week “anniversary” of the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. This event rocked not only the City of Boston but the entire nation as once again we faced the reality that the United States was a target of a planned terror attack. As the days since the bombings unfolded and the manhunt for the perpetrators resulted in the identification of two primary suspects along with the dissemination of details that strongly suggest what many of us intuitively knew -- that the men were not acting alone, we have been subjected (voluntarily or involuntarily) to endless hours of news coverage with a diverse array of information bits relating to the story.

It’s been nearly 168 hours of continuous reporting (with some necessary factual blackouts for public safety reasons) and amidst the myriad of expert voices listeners have heard from terror experts, security experts, police experts, immigration commentators, Boston aficionados, 9/11 survivors, elected officials, eyewitnesses, and both the perpetrators’ and victims’ family members. Given what seems like broadly comprehensive reporting, I remain struck by one obvious missing voice: that of experts on the geopolitical context from which these terrorists emerged. No, I don’t mean the current U.S. or global political landscape or the seemingly more familiar global terror threat. I am referring to knowledge of the geopolitical context of places like Chechnya in the historic context of the U.S.S.R. and the contemporary context of a post-Soviet world. Yes, there has been some passing historical and chronological references to the history of Chechnya and neighboring countries and an immigration timeline for the brothers that is peppered with movable facts, but there has not been substantial substantive discussion of the arguably relevant critical geopolitical contexts.

This story cannot be complete or our understanding of it and the long-term threat without learning and understanding with some degree of depth and fluency the geopolitical context I identify. To begin, I offer several key introductory questions to which answers are needed in order that we as U.S. Americans can better contextualize the inexplicable occurrence and so that we can properly demand an appropriate response from our federal government both procedurally in the courts and in the realm of policy such homeland security, foreign policy (aid and relations), and yes immigration reform, too.
1. Where is Chechnya and how does this small country figure into the global picture? 2. What were the economic, social, and political realities of small nations like Chechnya prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union? 3. What are the economic, social, and political realities of sovereignties like Chechnya in this post-Soviet era? 4. What is the history of Islam, socially, politically, culturally, and religiously in these states? 5. What has been the United States government’s stance toward these states? 6. In making references to the growth of Islam in these states, what is the relevance and why is it important to distinguish between authentic Islamists versus fundamentalists versus radicals? 7. What is the immigration dynamic between these former Soviet states and the United States?
There are more questions for sure, but I will unveil those in a subsequent commentary. For now it remains clear to me that we need to start with these questions. As I arose this morning and set out to write this piece, I caught a segment of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and for the first time since the terror attack I heard a brief segment that tangentially touched upon these issues. The guest Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, was invited to offer some insights on the relevance of “Russia” and the history of Islam’s growth in these regions but with the coded but clear (to me) caveat by co-host Joe Scarborough to respond “…without digging too deeply into the weeds.”  As Haas began his remarks the co-hosts’ facial expressions showed their uneasiness with the segment and reinforced my point of view that these discussions must take place and this information must be shared mainstream.

Perhaps the media is having trouble identifying resources/experts outside of policy sources such as former presidential advisers and state department officials whose input tend to be focused on/limited to policy stances so it would behoove them to look to reputable academic experts. While the experts may be limited and perhaps some already are assisting the government, there are plenty still (for example, try my alma mater Columbia University to start) who would be available to assist the media in educating (themselves and) the general public.

The missing elements in the ongoing story need to be voiced and heard. The story cannot continue to be told without answers to these questions.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

To Speak the Truth

I have been a Catholic all my life. I was educated in quality orthodox Catholic Schools. I have been well catechized, have a well-formed conscience, and am theologically literate. So that's the context for what I am about to say:
While the Roman Catholic Church is within its right to stand for marriage as one man and one woman, Newark Archbishop Myers has publicly abused his teaching authority with [this week's] statement as far as his remarks about marriage equality and the reception of Communion. There is NOTHING in Catholic teaching that supports his assertion that pro-equality Catholics should refrain from receiving the Eucharist. There is also nothing in true Church teaching that equates sexual "im/morality" with the fundamental life question of elective abortion. Such a point of view is the minority personal opinion of an unfortunately growing number of bishops who as human beings articulate and propogate their own individual (mis)interpretation of Catholicism. Interestingly and sadly many of these same bishops have been blatantly complicit in the crime of pedophilia committed against children by R.C. clergy. I respect Myers as a human person and his role as archbishop of the See of Newark, but let's be clear about the significance of his statement: it is grounded in personal interpretation, it is not an ex cathedra (infallible statement of the Church), and it is characterized by homophobia and not embedded in the breadth of Church teaching on human sexuality, morality, life, and/or the Eucharist. As a Catholic, I apologize for those hurt by his statement and will do my part to speak the Truth. To be clear, while his statement may be packaged otherwise, on this issue John Myers speaks for himself, not for Jesus Christ or the Church.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Writing Laryngitis

I have had unplanned hiatuses in my blogging/writing before but none was ever as long as the silence on my blog this time. Before the extended silence, which was unplanned and unanticipated, I was trying to be a bit more deliberate in writing on a regular basis. Then life got in the way. Circumstances got complicated and for a while I could not find my writing voice. I had lots of thoughts and ideas floating in my head, but I could not find my way to express them in this forum. Over the past months as I have been trying to restore a sense of balance among the many plates I juggle, I realize that writing needs to be a central part of my daily life. I write a lot at work, but it's not my own. I am a thinker and writing is my language. I need to write. I have many thoughts about many things and want to speak my thoughts. There are several platforms I can use, and to be honest, my conversations on Facebook are one space I engage. But I realized that the space of my own blog is mine. I thought about starting fresh with a new blog, but I realize that there really is no need to do so. What I write is my point of view, my perspective; it is my voice spoken from where I write. So, here's to a new day and some new conversations here at "From Where I Write."

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Feast of Saint Ann and Saint Joachim: The First Holy Family of Nazareth

My reflection on this feast has been published by Catholic Online. Please take a look and feel welcome to share a comment there or here.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Post Election Ponderings

My latest piece, "A Potpourri of Post-Election Ponderings: Do Elections Matter?", is now posted on The Lawrenceville Patch.

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Forward, Backward: Bodies (and Lives) in Motion

My latest essay, "Forward, Backward: Bodies (and Lives) in Motion" is now online.

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