St.Matthew, Pope Francis and ‘a gaze of mercy’

Pope Francis and Caravaggio’s ‘The Calling of St. Matthew’ share a gaze of mercy

Detail of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, “The Calling of St. Matthew” (1599-1600), Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome (Wikimedia Commons/Paul Hermans)

Editor’s note: Sept. 21 is the feast of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist.

Criticisms of Pope Francis often focus on how he is “confusing” believers by not being strict enough in enforcing church teaching. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is an example of those who critique Francis for “shifts on sexual morality above all, plus a general liberalization in the hierarchy and the church.”

These critiques seem to ignore the fact that Jesus himself was criticized for exactly the same thing, and while Jesus challenged his followers to go beyond the law (“You have heard that it was said …”), at the same time, the ministry of Jesus and his earliest followers focused on conveying love and mercy, rather than on clarification of rules.

There were many rules in the Judaism of Jesus’ time, and many teachers who focused on explaining them. Though Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5:17), Jesus was often criticized, as Francis is, for not being strict or rigid enough in the way he dealt with sinners or applied the law to them.

The Gospels offer many such examples. Does encouraging a response of mercy toward those considered outside the law mean a renunciation of the law? Is such a response actually confusing, or is it simply challenging to existing assumptions? A biblical encounter and its artistic depiction lend insight to these questions.

The incident in question, the calling of Matthew, also known as Levi, connects meaningfully with Francis’ account of his calling to be a priest at the age of 17 on the feast of St. Matthew. In several articles on Francis, most notably Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro’s early account of several interviews with Francis published in September 2013 (in America magazine in the United States), the pope is quoted as linking his experience with that of Matthew, the tax collector, and its depiction by Caravaggio. The 1599-1600 Caravaggio painting can be seen in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, which Francis said he would visit and pray in when he had to travel to Rome as the archbishop of Buenos Aries, Argentina.

Francis, in fact, references Jesus’ encounter with Matthew in the words he took for his personal motto, as he told Spadaro: “I am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [‘by having mercy and by choosing him’], was very true for me.” The Latin phrase is from the Venerable Bede’s sermon on the feast of St. Matthew.

Just as Matthew was undeservedly and unexpectedly called by Jesus, so, Francis is saying, was he when the young Jorge Bergoglio was called to the priesthood.

Caravaggio’s painting powerfully depicts the momentous encounter between the young and charismatic rabbi and the jaded tax collector. Matthew points to himself questioningly, as if he cannot quite believe he is being singled out by Jesus, and he is not sure he even wants to respond if he is.

Caravaggio portrays Matthew and his companions in what was then contemporary dress. In doing this, the artist shows that this is a timeless moment, not something in a distant past, but applicable to us all. Matthew, like a dubiously honest businessperson of Caravaggio’s (or our) time, is being looked upon with mercy and called by Christ.

His companions, all dressed in finery and probably also tax collectors, look up at Jesus with surprise. The apostle Peter stands with Jesus, both of them dressed in biblical style clothing — the present and past linked artistically in a kairos moment — with Peter’s hand gesture imitating that of Jesus.

However, what is perhaps even more interesting about the pope’s connection with Matthew and Francis’ current critics is seen in the events that happen after the encounter between Jesus and the tax collector. Once called, Matthew holds a feast for Jesus in his home, among his friends (“tax collectors and sinners”), and the religious leaders are shocked. “Why does he eat with such people?” they ask (Matthew 9:9-13).

Like Francis’ critics today, the leaders find Jesus’ apparent leniency disturbing and perhaps confusing, given his other statements about how he has not come to negate the Law of Moses. How can Jesus both seem to support the law and subvert it by his lavishly offered mercy and communion with known sinners?

The answer lies in what is at the heart of the ministry of both Francis and Jesus, and that is love, which — as Jesus says elsewhere — is also at the heart of the law (Matthew 23:36-40).

While this may seem like a cliché, it is crucial in understanding the Gospel story and the ministry of Francis. In a world of sinful people, with complex lives (no less so 2,000 years ago than today), the gaze of mercy referred to by Francis in his discussion of Jesus’ call to Matthew is central to the message of Jesus.

Jesus says, in response to his critics over his visit to Matthew’s home, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). Love and mercy extended toward perceived sinners — not changes in the law but in the approach to those outside it and judged by those inside it, and compassion conveyed to those marginalized by a cruel and materialistic world (again, no less so now than 2,000 years ago) — these are the things that interest Francis most, as they did Jesus in his ministry on earth.

Going through the Gospels and underlining each criticism levelled at Jesus will powerfully convey to any unbiased reader that his enemies were rarely, if ever, upset with him for laying down the law to sinners, making the “rules” clear for them. On the contrary, in almost every case in which the criticism involves Jesus’ interaction with ordinary people, it involves a critique of his being too merciful, too accepting, too ready to “eat and drink with sinners.”

Francis is most typically criticized along the same lines.

Is Pope Francis perfect? He would be the first to answer no. However, his resemblance to Jesus in conveying the gaze of mercy to millions in great need of it is compelling, and powerfully moving to the many who flock to him all over the world. Douthat, in the same Times column quoted earlier, suggests Francis treads a dangerous line between hero and heretic.

To the critics of his day, so did Jesus.

Though Francis’ critics are often the most vocal, I hope he knows that millions of Catholics, as well as countless people of other faiths and those of no faith, value him for his close following of the one who called him so many years ago.

[Nancy Enright teaches in the English and Catholic studies departments of Seton Hall University, where she directs the university’s core curriculum program.] 


When celebrating the Eucharist in my parish church of St. Michael and All Angels, on his Feast Day, yesterday (21 September), I reminded the small congregation of the unusual circumstances in which the tax-collector, Levi, was called down from a hiding place in a tree by Jesus to ‘follow him’. The direct result of this call on his life led Levi (Matthew?) to invite Jesus and his disciples to a feast at his house.

This feast with ‘sinners’ was the cause of much debate by the Scribes and Pharisees about the authenticity of Jesus’ ministry among the outcast, the poor and the disadvantaged of the area; leading Jesus to say that he had come, not to save the righteous (who may consider themselves already ‘redeemed’) but ‘sinners ‘to repentance’.

So often, the Church – to an outsider – seems only to be ‘preaching to the converted’ – a task that even Jesus thought might be a complete waste of time. In engaging with people who actually ‘knew their need of God’ and who were only too well aware of their own  shortcomings; Jesus sought – by love and acceptance of them despite their ‘unworthiness’ – to offer them a ‘new and living way’ to relate to one another in ways of justice and peace that would then qualify them for inclusion in the Kingdom of God that he had come into the world to proclaim.

Self-righteousness did not make it as a qualification for redemption in the eyes and ministry of Jesus. What he was looking for was an honest self-appraisal of one’s need of God – found mostly in the poor and needy of the world – rather than the outwardly pious and self-satisfied, whose attitude towards others was often judgemental and lacking in sympathy and empathy.

Pope Francis has been roundly criticised by even Roman Catholic journalists like Ross Douthat for – in their opinion – being too ‘lax’ in his attitude towards ‘sinners’. Bearing in minds the calling of Matthew by Jesus, one needs to understand the motivation of the Pope in encouraging ‘sinners’ to join the community of the Church, where salvation is worked out from the basis of the reality of our common human sinfulness, which can only be put right by our recognition of God’s love for us – despite our falling short of the standard of righteousness that God desires for us to aspire to.

Without the help of God; our recognition of our need for that help; the redemption that Jesus has secured for us; and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives; none of us is ever capable of achieving the salvation the God has in store for us. God’s unfailing love is the source of all that is good and wholesome in our lives. This Pope knows this and God is using him. Deo Gratias!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Jean Vanier – How to Become More Human

Ten rules of life to become more human


Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities, turned 90 last week.

And on the occasion of the Sept. 10 milestone, he decided to share a video message in English that proposes “ten rules of life to become more human.”

Vanier, son of one of Canada’s late governors general, set up his first L’Arche community in 1964 when he welcomed two mentally disabled men into his home in the town of Trosly-Breuil in France.

Today, L’Arche has grown into an international organization of 147 communities in 35 countries. Its aim is to create homes, programs and support networks with and for people who have developmental disabilities.

Key to L’Arche is understanding that whatever one’s intelligence every person has talents to share with others. One of L’Arche’s principles is that being truly together we can be transformed. Together, in L’Arche communities, integrated in local cultures all over the world, it creates ways to live, work and develop networks. In L’Arche, each person participates, helps and receives help. L’Arche is founded on mutual relationships.

Recognized as one of the great spiritual figures of our time, Vanier has given hundreds of interviews throughout his life and has authored 30 books.

But since suffering a heart attack in late 2017, he has mostly been keeping a low profile at the same home in France where he established his first community fifty-four years ago. In this new and inspiring video message, Jean Vanier offers his “ten rules” by sharing his own human story in a very moving way.

Source: International la-Croix


Jean Vanier, the Roman Catholic Founder of the international L’Arche Community, is well-known around the world for his ecumenical ministry to the poor and disadvantaged. Having reached his 90th birthday, Jean is still equipped to offer sound advice to anyone wanting to cope with life and faith in their old age.

As I am rapidly approaching the same milestone age-wise – if not with the equivalent gifts of wisdom – I am keen to hear what this spiritual giant has to say about his own voyage of discovery. May Jean have many more years of life and health with which to educate and inform us all on how best to occupy our time here on earth.

(n.b. In my original post, I showed JeanVanier as ‘Father’ – which was a mistake. I hope this venerable Roman Catholic theologian will forgive my ordaining him ‘ex nihilo’. Fr. Ron)

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Welsh Bishops to make provisions for S/S Couples

Welsh bishops to explore “formal provision” for same-sex couples
Posted on: September 13, 2018, 8:50 AM

The Archbishop of Wales, John Davies, said that bishops in the Province are “united in the belief that it is pastorally unsustainable and unjust for the Church to continue to make no formal provision for those in committed same-sex relationships”.
Photo Credit: Church in Wales

The Bishops of the Church in Wales (CiW) will explore formal provision for same-sex couples in church after a debate yesterday in the Province’s Governing Body. Members of the Governing Body – the Church in Wales’ synod – agreed that “it is pastorally unsustainable for the Church to make no formal provision for those in same-gender relationships.” Following the vote, a CiW spokeswoman said that bishops will now consider “new approaches which could be brought back to the Governing Body for approval at a later date.”

In June 2017, the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) changed its canon law to remove the definition that marriage is between a man and a woman; paving the way for same-sex marriage in Scottish Anglican churches. In October last year, the Primus of the SEC, Bishop Mark Strange, told fellow Anglican Primates’ that he recognised the Church would now face the same consequences that were placed on the US-based Episcopal Church the previous January.

Ahead of yesterday’s debate, Bishop Strange addressed the CiW Governing Body and explained the process that the SEC had followed in reaching its decision. This was followed by a question session with Bishop Mark and an open discussion before a vote on the proposition.

“The bishops are united in the belief that it is pastorally unsustainable and unjust for the Church to continue to make no formal provision for those in committed same-sex relationships,” the Primate of the Church in Wales, Archbishop John Davies, said. “Although today’s outcome does not change the present doctrine or practice of the Church in Wales on marriage, I am pleased that it provides an important steer to the bishops in exercising our ministry of pastoral care and spiritual leadership.”


The Anglican Church in Wales has its own General Synod as its governance –  which is independent of the Church of England. However, this recent news from Wales, of its recent General Synod’s determination to pastorally accommodate people in faithful, monogamous same-sex relationships – without altering its doctrine of Marriage – should do something to prompt the Church of England to promulgate a similar process of accommodation in the upcoming discussion of its options.

While there is an anomaly in both Churches recognising the need for a compassionate pastoral treatment of legally married same-sex couples in the Church – while yet preserving the institution of marriage to the accommodation of heterosexuals only – there is a perceived need to actually recognise that there are couples in both Churches who have availed themselves of the opportunity to be legally married by the state. To not recognise the marital status of such members of clergy and congregations could cause those people to turn away from the Church in disappointment at its treatment of their situation – especially as their marriages have been legally acceptable by the State.

As the writer of this article rightly points out; The Anglican Church in Scotland (S.E.C.) has already moved towards a revision of its Marriage Doctrine, which removes any reference to the gender of couples able to be married in the Episcopal Church. This pastoral accommodation of same-sex couples is a reflection of the Anglican Church in the United States of America (T.E.C.), which has a similar attitude towards the prospect of same-sex marriage as its Scottish counterpart. (n.b. The Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) provided the initial episcopal authority for the establishment of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the United States of America – when the Church of England was reluctant to do so.)

In our latest determination; to retain the official attitude towards heterosexual marriage as being the only possible grounds for marriages celebrated in Church; we here in Aotearoa, New Zealand (ACANZ) have postulated a similar process to that of the Anglican Church in Wales.

In order to recognise the authenticity of legal same-sex relationships; ACANZ is now prepared – in dioceses and parishes where the bishop and the parish and clergy assent –  to offer an approved ‘Service of Blessing’ to the legally-married (by the State) couple desirous of such a ceremony of recognition by the Church.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Roman Catholic Ethics and Gender Identity

Ethicist says Church teaching on gender ‘not incompatible’ with accepting trans identity

Ethicist says Church teaching on gender ‘not incompatible’ with accepting trans identity

Pope Francis attends a meeting with members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, at the Vatican, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. Francis complained of how new gender-bending technologies are cancelling out differences between the sexes, saying this “utopia of the neutral” risks the creation of new life. (Credit: L’Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP.)

To say that David Albert Jones enjoys a “certain standing” within the field of Catholic bioethics would almost certainly be putting things mildly. Since 2010 he’s directed the Anscombe Bioethics Centre at Oxford in the UK, one of most influential think tanks on such matters in the world.

Jones is also a key adviser to both the English and the European bishops. He’s a member of the Health and Social Care Advisory Group and the Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and is also a member of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU (COMECE) Working Group on Ethics in Research and Medicine.

Of late Jones’s interests have taken a turn into matters of gender identity, reflecting a new surge of attention fueled, to a great extent, by larger social and cultural developments. The following is a transcript of his exchange with Crux.

Camosy: Until now your work has mainly been in Catholic bioethics, on issues such as abortion and euthanasia.  Why did you decide to engage with the issue of gender identity?

Jones: I came across the concept of gender identity first as a bioethical issue.  People asked me how Catholics should regard the ethics of gender reassignment surgery and the ethics of prescribing hormones or hormone blockers.  In response, I wrote a brief statement on bioethical principles and some clinical aspects.

Professor David Albert Jones. (Credit: Anscombe Bioethics Centre.)

In writing this I was struck by the weakness of the evidence base for current clinical practice on “gender dysphoria” (a medical term referring to the distress caused by a mismatch between natal biological sex and experienced gender identity).  At the same time, I was very wary of the reliance of some Catholic commentators on that minority of clinicians who are equally certain of the opposite opinion – that current clinical practice is harmful, especially to children.  This led me to write a short article criticizing a statement on “gender ideology” produced by a group called the American College of Pediatricians.

I concluded that “there is an urgent need for the Church to develop… theological resources, in dialogue with clinicians and with people experiencing gender incongruence.”  However, my own understanding was still theoretical, indirect, and mainly focused on clinical aspects rather than on the experience of persons with a divergent sense of gender identity.

On the basis of what I had written, I was asked to help develop pastoral and theological resources in this area.  This gave me the opportunity to seek out transgender people who were practicing Catholics to ask them about their experiences and what they felt would be helpful.  I also spoke to canon lawyers, educationalists, and priests with experience accompanying transgender people but the most important thing for me was to listen to people who were seeking to live their faith while accepting their deep-rooted sense of gender identity.

Despite the very personal nature of the journey that each had made, I found a great willingness to talk and an appreciation of my attempts to listen, as one person said to me, “thank you for speaking to us and not just about us.”

What have you found from your research? What does the Church teach about gender identity and about gender reassignment surgery? Why have Catholic hospitals sometimes refused to perform such surgery?

My investigation of the issue of gender identity has revealed to me how little I understood this aspect of human existence.  It is not simple and if you think it is simple you are probably misunderstanding it.  It also reminded me how we all carry with us unexamined cultural assumptions through which we express Christian doctrine or frame scientific and philosophical enquiry.

I began the task of teasing apart what is true and authoritative in the Catholic tradition regarding sex and gender and what is an unwarranted cultural assumption.  At the same time, I sought to attend carefully to the voices of those whose experience of gender identity challenges these assumptions.  Recently these strands of work have been brought together as a project to support transgender people in the Church, hosted by St Mary’s University in Twickenham, London.

One practical issue for Catholic hospitals is whether they should offer gender reassignment surgery.  I examined this question in an article recently published in Theological Studies.  Though gender reassignment surgery has been practised in Europe since the 1950s and in the United States since the 1960s it has never been mentioned in any official teaching document of the Church.  It has not been mentioned explicitly in any papal address or encyclical.  It is not mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church nor in any statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In the absence of any official teaching most Catholic moral theologians, where they have considered the question, have taken one of two views.  Some have characterised such surgery as mutilation, direct harm to the body, and therefore as incompatible with Catholic medical ethics.  Others have argued that such surgery could be considered justifiable, if it helps alleviate the extreme distress of gender dysphoria.  However, typically, this second group of theologians have cast doubt on whether such surgery is effective in providing long-term relief.

My own view is that surgery may alleviate the suffering of some patients.  However, I cannot see how gender reassignment surgery, where this causes sterility, is compatible with the ethical principles of the Catholic tradition.  Nevertheless, it is important to stress that, as yet, there is no explicit and authoritative Catholic teaching precisely on this question.

Furthermore, if Catholic hospitals do not offer gender reassignment surgery this must not be because of a reluctance to care for transgender patients.  Any such refusal, to be ethical, must refer not to the person to be treated but only to the nature of the procedure.

Pope Francis and Catholic bishops in many countries have taught that a gender ideology has emerged that is harmful to society in general and to children in particular. Do you agree?

The movement for greater acceptance of transgender people is part of a much larger debate about sex and gender in society.  On these questions, there is more than one secular view, more than one religious view, and the Catholic view, while constant in its essentials, has developed over time.

For example, in the twentieth century, the teaching of the Church has shown a greater appreciation of the equal dignity of husband and wife within marriage.

In their reflections on the equal but in some ways distinct roles of men and women in the family and in society, Pope Francis, and several bishops’ conferences have called attention to some contemporary ideas that are potentially harmful.  Chief among these are a denial of the complementarity of male and female, a failure to recognise the goodness of the body and the unity of body and soul, a radical separation of the concepts of sex and gender, finally, the idea that gender identity is or ought to be a matter of personal choice.

These errors, grouped together under the term “gender theory” (teoria del gender) or “gender ideology” (ideologia del genere), can be traced back to certain strands of feminism.  Nevertheless, to recognise these as errors is not to reject feminism as such, “If certain forms of feminism have arisen which we must consider inadequate, we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women” (Pope Francis Amoris Laetitia).

It is also important to note that the focus of this papal teaching is on various errors of a theoretical kind and the way these errors have been promoted by governments and educational bodies.  It is not directed at the situation of people who experience a consistent, persistent and insistent sense of identity incongruent with their natal sex.

In this regard, it is worth quoting a recent statement by the LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council:

“Being transgender does not mean that someone wishes to abolish gender or sexual difference; in fact many transgender people report feeling great joy and peace once their bodies and gender identities are aligned.  The argument that gender is purely a social construct is often used to delegitimize, rather than support, transgender identities.  Gender is not a matter of individual choice for transgender people any more than it is for cisgender (i.e. not transgender) people.  Although it is currently not known why some people are transgender, current research suggests that genetics, hormones and environment all play a role.”

The very idea of transitioning from male to female (or vice versa) does not contradict but rather presupposes the existence of a gender binary.  Hence, while it is important to accept the positive teaching of the pope and bishops on gender complementarity, it should not be assumed that this teaching is necessarily incompatible with affirming the gender identity of trans people.

You’ve written that gender transition could be compatible with a Catholic anthropology, but one might ask how denying your own God-given sexual identity can be compatible with a Catholic understanding of the body, marriage, and the Divinely created complementarity of male and female?

When we try to make sense of diverse expressions of gender identity it is natural to reach for analogies with other issues.  Transgender identity is seen as being like feminist ideas of social gender roles, or as like sexual orientation (hence the initialism LGBT), or like physiological divergences of sexual development (popularly known as “intersex” conditions), or as a type of body dysmorphia (like anorexia).  I have argued that incongruent gender identity is like (but also unlike) each of these phenomena.

Legal or social changes of gender identity are also like (and unlike) the legal and social practice of adoption.  An adopted son or daughter is a true son or daughter, by adoption (and this true relationship is invoked in Scripture as a model for our relationship with God by grace – Galatians 4.5).  An adopted child does not deny the reality of his or her natal biological identity, but he or she is assigned a new identity that has a social and legal reality in order to address his or her needs. Sophie-Grace Chappell, an academic philosopher sympathetic to the Catholic intellectual tradition, who is herself trans, has also made use of this analogy (while acknowledging its limits).

If you’re an adoptive parent, you’re a parent for most purposes and no one sensible scratches their head over it – they don’t decree that you can’t sit on school parents’ councils, or see it as somehow dangerous or threatening or undermining of “real parents” or dishonest or deceptive or delusional or a symptom of mental illness or a piece of embarrassing and pathetic public make-believe…”transwomen are to women as adoptive parents are to parents.”

How, in your view, can faithful Catholics show respect and pastoral concern for trans people while also honouring what they believe to be true about sex and gender?

No pastoral approach is sustainable if it is not honest and informed by a commitment to seek what is true and good.  This commitment will include the acknowledgement of sin in ourselves and in the social structures that shape our world.

Discernment is needed, however, to distinguish what is sin and needs to be renounced (though perhaps this will only be accomplished by steps) and what is not sin but is an element of diverse and complex human experience.  In the case of divergent gender identity, we should not assume, as perhaps the question seems to assume, that someone expressing a deep-seated sense of gender identity is doing something sinful or objectively disordered.  On the contrary, the person may be accepting his or her gender identity as something given by God.

There are difficult moral issues related to incongruent gender identity, issues concerning marriage, sexual ethics and surgery.  Moral discernment is needed to know what can be endorsed, what cannot be endorsed but might, in certain circumstances, be tolerated, and what should be challenged.

However, prior to discernment comes accompaniment.  Pope Francis, talking about the pastoral support of trans people said, “for every case welcome it, accompany it, look into it, discern and integrate it.  This is what Jesus would do today.”  Pastoral guidance in this area, if it is to be wise and helpful, will be the fruit of accompaniment and informed by the experience of the people the guidance exists to support.  It should arise from “speaking with” and not just be “speaking about” Catholics with a divergent sense of gender identity.

A final pastoral reflection: Pope Francis, who more than any other pope has called attention to the dangers of “gender theory,” consistently uses gender pronouns that reflect the person’s sense of identity.  He refers to a person who was born a girl as a “man,” as “he,” and as “he, who had been she, but is he.”

Catholic pastoral practice must begin with a welcome and the first sign of welcome is how we address someone.  There is nothing un-Catholic about the use of names and pronouns that reflect a person’s sense of identity.

Professor David Albert Jones is Research Fellow at St Mary’s University, Twickenham and director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford, though the views expressed here are his own and should not be attributed to either institution.


In the current studies on gender and sexuality, the phenomenon of gender-transition has been largely neglected as a possible ethical status in human development. However, in the Church of England, there are several advocates for the due recognition of transgender people in the ministry and life of that Church. 

Having experienced the need, myself, to welcome such a person as a fellow member of the Body of Christ in the life of a New Zealand Anglican parish, I have an interest in challenging our Church – and indeed all Christians – to accept the fact that there are people whose sexual orientation may be contrary to their assigned gender at birth.

This should not be seen as a genetic disorder- ‘dysphoria’  (even though international psychological experts at one time believed this to be the case) but, rather, a degree of human gender development that is common to a  small minority of people around the world. Such people have enough difficulty with their adaptation to a radically new way of living, without society (and especially the Christian community) labelling them as ‘freaks of nature’ or wilfully rejecting their original gender assignment – sometimes by an abitrary decision at birth.

Society today, thank God, has come to better understand the immense variety of gender and sexual difference between the ultra-masculine and the ultra-feminine in human beings. This can affect not only one’s intrinsic socio-sexual development but also one’s total outlook on life – in matters of marital and other human relationships. This newer and more humane understanding of gender and sexuality has allowed more people to be honest about their own gender/sexual-orientation and socialisation in the light of the discovery of their own intrinsic identity – which is not limited to puberty and adolescence but may extend into one’s later human development.

The idea that LGBT+ people get to ‘choose’ their own innate gender/sexual identity, or to change it at will, is no longer a justifiable socio/psychological stance. Instead, social scientists and ethicists are having to take into serious consideration the reality of gender and sexual differences that have, in the past, been not only misunderstood but also considered to be contrary to either social or religious ethical standards.

The contemporary work of ethicists like  Professor Jones, who is an advisor to the U.K. Roman Catholic hierarchy on matters of ethical propriety, has done much to alter the climate of opinion on matters of gender and sexuality that has be-devilled the outlook of the Church in its institutional attitudes towards a significant minority in society.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Biblical Preparation for Lambeth Conference, 2020

New Testament scholars to lay the biblical foundations for the Lambeth Conference

Posted on: September 11, 2018 9:47 AM

Professor Jennifer Strawbridge will convene the meeting of 35 leading New Testament scholars from around the world for the St Augustine Seminar.
Photo Credit: Chichester Cathedral
Work to begin laying the biblical foundations for the next Lambeth Conference will get underway later this year when 35 leading New Testament scholars from different denominations around the world gather for the St Augustine Seminar at Lambeth Palace.
Around 800 bishops from around the Anglican Communion will gather at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, in the summer of 2020 for the once in a decade Lambeth Conference. As part of their time together, the bishops will engage in Bible study around the first epistle of Peter (1 Peter) and the St Augustine Seminar will begin the work of preparing materials for the studies.

Some 35 New Testament scholars from Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, China, Columbia, Egypt, India, Ireland, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK, and the US will take part in the St Augustine’s Seminar. The participants come from different churches of the Anglican Communion and a wide spread of other denominations, including Methodist, Presbyterian, Uniting Churches of Australia, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, and Armenian Orthodox Churches.

The Seminar will be convened by Professor Jennifer Strawbridge, Associate Professor in New Testament Studies at Mansfield College in the University of Oxford. The group will consider the text from 1 Peter and help to draw up critical thinking to help shape the Bible studies and other aspects of the Lambeth Conference. After the initial meeting in November, a smaller group will convene at Lambeth Palace again in May 2019 to draw together resources.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “I am looking forward immensely to the St Augustine Seminar in November. This gathering will play a significant role as we seek God’s wisdom on developing and refining themes for the Lambeth Conference.

“The book of 1 Peter is a personal favourite of mine. There is so much in it that is pertinent for the Church, for the world, for the times we are living in and for us as we seek direction for the Anglican Communion in the years ahead.

“The expertise and insight of the theologians who gather will be vital in informing the thinking in areas such as the daily Bible expositions, group Bible studies and homilies. I pray it will be a stimulating and exciting time together.”

Professor Strawbridge described her participation in the St Augustine Seminar as “an absolute honour”, adding: “I have admired the work of many of those in attendance; and am excited to see what happens when so many incredible, convicted, and faithful hearts and minds are brought together to discuss scripture and the Church.

One of the focuses of Lambeth will be on collegiality and my hope is that this seminar will model precisely that as we use the lens of Scripture to explore what it means to walk together in a connected but not necessarily relational world. Moreover, my hope is that this group will think creatively about different approaches to biblical study, including ways of disagreeing well over the meaning of a text.

“The focus of the seminar will be intensive work on 1 Peter set alongside the overarching theme of the Lambeth Conference: God’s Church for God’s World: walking listening and witnessing together. Thus, members of the seminar will think about 1 Peter theologically and in context. But such a focus will be set alongside the wider themes drawn from 1 Peter such as our calling in Christ, our communion with Christ, the proclamation of Christ, and the exhortation in 1 Peter to shepherd the flock with humility.”


(Thanks to ‘Anglican Taonga‘ for this article)

At a time in the worldwide Anglican Communion, when member Provincial Churches are divided on issues of gender and sexuality, and their understanding of these matters from biblical exegesis; which has led to the rising up of factions (GAFCON and FOCA – many of whose bishops have indicated that they will not be at the next Lambeth Conference in 2020) – this coming Seminar to study the collegial implications of the first Epistle of Peter should have a real influence upon the outcome for those Anglican Bishops from all other Provinces who will be attending the  next Lambeth Conference.

With the combined scholarship of some of  the foremost theologians of Anglicanism and other Christian disciplines, the prospect of finding new grounds for discussion of how the ethos of collegiality can still prevail – even in a Church of differing opinions on the interpretation of the Scriptures which, currently is the source of schismatic severance in individual Church congregations as well as in Provinces of the Anglican Communion – is at least hopeful.

It will be interesting to see what sort of questions will be formulated from the outcomes of this Biblical Seminar that will be presented to the Bishops of the Communion who will be gathering at the historic meeting of the diocesan bishop in Conference at Lambeth. The question might be asked; Will the bishops of the dissident provinces of the Communion be sufficiently influenced by the outcome of this Biblical Seminar so that they will want to attend the Conference? Or are minds already made up, regardless of this invitation to collegiality? 

Only time will tell. In the meantime, the rest of the Anglican Communion will continue to open itself up to the prospect of seeking new wisdom from the writing of the Universal Church’s First Apostle.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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N.Z. Catholic Bishops Support Pope Francis

NZ Catholic Bishops express support for Pope Francis


On Friday the New Zealand Catholic Bishops wrote to Pope Francis to encourage and support the Holy Father.

President of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishop Patrick Dunn, wrote:

“Our priests and our people, and we ourselves, appreciate greatly all that you are doing to highlight the Joy of the Gospel.

“We are grateful for your call to us to live holy lives and to follow the example of “the saints next door.

“We have absolute confidence that you are the one the Holy Spirit has selected to serve as the successor of St Peter at this moment in history.

“Your ministry is very much appreciated by the Church in New Zealand. We assure you of our admiration and our affection.

“You are foremost in our daily prayers as we strive to be more open and committed in our journey of renewed conversion.”

Last month the New Zealand Catholic Bishops welcomed the Letter the People of God from Pope Francis asking forgiveness for the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults perpetrated by clergy and consecrated persons.

They took the opportunity to repeat their own apology and to explain measures the Catholic Church in New Zealand has put in place to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults.


  • Supplied: Amanda Gregan
    Ko te Huinga Pīhopa o te Hāhi Katorika o Aotearoa
    New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference
  • Image:


What a wonderful affirmation from the New Zealand Roman Catholic Bishops of the forward-looking pastoral reign and oversight of their Chief Pastor, Pope Francis! This paragraph of their statement issued over the weekend is indicative of their regard:

We have absolute confidence that you are the one the Holy Spirit has selected to serve as the successor of St Peter at this moment in history. Your ministry is very much appreciated by the Church in New Zealand. We assure you of our admiration and our affection.”

There can be little doubt that the Catholic Church in New Zealand is (a) loyal to the overall leadership of the Bishop of Rome, and (b) appreciative of his sterling efforts to return the worldwide Catholic Church to its need to embody the recommendations of former Pope John XXIII’s call to the ethos of ‘Semper Reformanda’ at the Vatican II Council in the early 1960s.

Being a relatively isolated community here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we N.Z. Christians do have a sense of release from overly paternalistic influences – both in the areas of civil government and in the Mission of The Church. While relishing what is helpful and good from our originating traditions, we are yet open to the expressed need to recognise any signs of entrenched injustice in our society – especially as they relate to the exigencies of Church doctrine and regulation.

In his openness to welcoming divorcees, women and the inhabitants of the world of human sexual difference; Pope Francis has proved a worthy successor of Pope John XXIII, and of his own former namesake, Francis of Assisi, in their preoccupation with the poor, the lowly and the disenfranchised of the world, offering a climate of radical forgiveness rather than critical judgement. In admitting his own frailty, Pope Francis has won the hearts and minds of many of the world’s population – regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of the same. 

The orchestrated opposition to Pope Francis in his own Church comes mostly from officials whose status has been threatened by the Pope’s intentional austerity – his unwillingness, for instance, to occupy the palatial Vatican apartment reserved for him, being content to occupy, instead, an apartment in St.Martha’s Guesthouse normally reserved for visiting prelates. Francis’ refusal to adopt many of the normal courtesies extended to the ‘Vicar of Christ’, has set him apart from his immediate predecessors in such a way that some of the cardinals and bishops in the Vatican apartments are obviously fearful for the structured disappearance of their own elevated standard of living.

Here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, where ‘Jack is as good as his master’, hierarchical dignity is not an issue – except in those self-seeded churches where leadership assumes for itself an importance and a lifestyle that is out of all proportion to the everyday lives of its congregations. Bishops of the Church – whether Catholic, Anglican or Lutheran, do not live in palaces. Nor do they expect the sort of adulation that is often afforded the occupants of the Roman Papacy. That this Pope is radically different, is seen in the way in which we Kiwis acknowledge him as a leader of integrity, for whom social justice is an integral part of the Christian way of life.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Pope Francis – Saviour of the R.C. Church?

Pope Francis Could Save the Church. Will He?

The current crisis could be a chance for him to advance his radical vision and turn a crisis into an opportunity for renewal.

By David Gibson –  Aug. 20, 2018 – NEW YORK TIMES

Pope Francis arriving onstage to meet Italian youth at the Circo Massimo in Rome last week.CreditCreditFilippo Monteforte/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Roman Catholic Church’s clergy sex abuse crisis has come roaring back to life as if it were the worst days of 2002, when the scandal tsunami out of Boston seemed to inundate the entire church.

The shock waves this time came from substantiated allegations that a well-known cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, a retired archbishop of Washington, had molested boys; he was forced to resign last month from the College of Cardinals. Then came the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania detailing 70 years of horrific abuse by some 300 priests, too much of it facilitated by bishops.

It has all landed on the desk of the current pope, and the scandals have the potential to undermine the Francis pontificate.

It shouldn’t. Indeed, if Pope Francis lives up to his own words and actions, this could be a chance for him to advance his vision of church reform and turn a long-running crisis into an opportunity for long-term renewal.

Only Rome could investigate bishops, they said, and only the pope could punish them. That wasn’t likely. The Vatican under John Paul II was not very keen on the United States hierarchy’s new policy against priests, and the pontiff certainly didn’t want to throw his own bishops under the bus.

Now the scandal has even some of John Paul’s staunchest fans questioning the wisdom of his canonization in 2014, and it bedevilled Pope Benedict up to his stunning 2013 resignation.

In closed-door meetings on the eve of the conclave that elected him in March 2013, Pope Francis — then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires — gave a brief, powerful address in which he said the church needed to open up or risk becoming “self-referential” and “sick” with “theological narcissism” that leads to the worst evil, the “spiritual worldliness” of an institution that is “living in itself, of itself, for itself.”

The church, he was saying, had to undergo a moment of kenosis, of self-emptying, like Christ on the cross, surrendering power and prestige and privilege in order to truly become what she is called to be.

“Clericalism is a perversion of the church,” Pope Francis told 70,000 young Italian Catholics at a rally this month. “The church without testimony is only smoke.”

Pope Francis’ vision of the church is clearly more radical than the defensive posture of John Paul or the nostalgic traditionalism of Benedict. But is he willing and able to implement it?

The pope has had a spotty record on disciplining bishops and on the sex abuse issues as a whole, but a promising trajectory. For example, in 2015 he investigated and dismissed two American prelates, Bishop Robert Finn and Archbishop John Nienstedt, who had been accused of covering up for abusive priests. (Both men were favorites of conservative Catholics and found sanctuary elsewhere.) In 2014, Francis removed a conservative Paraguayan bishop who had sheltered an Argentine priest who had left the diocese of Scranton — yes, a diocese cited in last week’s grand jury report — under suspicion of sexual abuse.

Yet earlier this year, Pope Francis faced what had been the greatest crisis of his papacy when he firmly defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering for a notorious and influential priest who led a scandalous double life. Then in April, faced with evidence that the bishop, Juan Barros, and many others in that country’s hierarchy had in fact been complicit in the scandal, the pope suddenly reversed course, issuing a profound mea culpa for his error and blasting the bishops, who almost to a man submitted their resignations.

When Archbishop McCarrick was found to have molested minors as well as young men, the pope not only ordered the retired 88-year-old churchman confined to virtual house arrest but also accepted his resignation as a cardinal.

These are encouraging steps, but much more is needed: not only the kind of spiritual renewal that Pope Francis demands but also the kind of systematic change that can safeguard children and vulnerable adults, restore some credibility to the institutional church and begin to dismantle the culture of clericalism — the spiritual elitism of holier-than-thou cliques who cover for one another as they try to run the church.

Pope Francis has frequently been excoriated by church conservatives for his desire to change some church practices and to “develop” certain doctrines, such as his decision this month to declare the death penalty “inadmissible” in all cases.

But on the issue of abuse, the Catholic right is often proving to be the pope’s unlikely ally, with many calling for a top-to-bottom overhaul.

It’s not like the church has to rewrite the creed. Instead, Catholicism can start by creating a human resources department to ensure that any person who is sexually harassed or assaulted — especially by a bishop or cardinal— can report it in confidentiality and safety. Such a system would ensure that the information would be investigated by an independent board, featuring laypeople, and made part of any cleric’s personnel file.

It’s a simple first step, but even that would have been unthinkable under the ecclesiology of previous pontificates. Now such changes are both unavoidable and integral to the kind of humble, open church that Pope Francis desires. They also work. As soon as a victim reported his allegations against Archbishop McCarrick to the Archdiocese of New York, reportedly late last year, a review board opened an inquiry, and Archbishop McCarrick was removed from ministry.

Similarly, as the church analyst Father Thomas Reese noted, just two of the more than 300 priests named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report were involved in abuse in the last 10 years, and those two had been reported to authorities by their dioceses. Good policies have worked well in protecting children, and they will work for addressing the church’s two outstanding problems: protecting adults as well as minors, and holding accountable bishops who cover up for abuse as well as those who commit abuse.

Those policies were among the series of recommendations announced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops late last week, a prelude to what could be another historic shift for American Catholicism, and one that will also provide a road map for churches around the world that are just now beginning to face these scandals — if Pope Francis acts on the proposals, and on his own advice.

(David Gibson is director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University.)


Thanks to CATHNEWS NZ for this link to an article in the NEW YORK TIMES

In the new atmosphere of honesty in the Church about issues of gender and sexuality, it is not only Anglicans who seem absorbed with the need to address the situation of inequity of the status of women in leadership – as well as the reality of gay clergy –  the recent scandals in the Roman Catholic Church about the abuse of children by celibate clergy has now led to a crisis of confidence in the efficacy of enforced celibacy on all Catholic priests.

While we Anglicans seem to have concentrated on the issue of Same-Sex Marriage and the treatment of intrinsically LGBTI people as both clergy and lay members of our Church – with a few local parishes in ACANZP having recently distanced themselves from the rest of us in protest against our General Synod’s ruling which allows for the Blessing of Same-Sex legally-married couples in Church by those clergy licenced by the local bishop to perform such ceremonies – our Roman Catholic confreres are dealing with the scandal of child-abuse carried out over the years by celibate clergy and Religious in its  institutions and local parishes.

While the issue of enforced celibacy is not a problem in Anglicanism (Anglican clergy are allowed to marry – except if they are members of a Religious Order) – there are still questions about enforced celibacy for secular clergy in the Roman Catholic Church. This was not always an issue, the Church was – for a period in its long history – open to married clergy. St Peter himself was actually married – a situation mentioned in the gospels. One of the reasons for a celibate priesthood, mentioned even today by its adherents, is the ready availability a priest has for sacerdotal and pastoral ministry – unhindered by ties of family responsibility. There are, currently, married clergy ministering in Roman Catholic parishes in the U.K. (re-ordained as ex Anglican clergy who left the Church in protest against ht ordination of women).

Conservatives in the Church (both Roman Catholic and Anglican) seem doggedly attached to the need for the celibate lifestyle for their single clergy, although the diaconate for Roman Catholics has – since the changes introduced by Vatican II were implemented that allowed for married deacons – in certain places where their ministry (together with that of professed Religious because of the shortage of ordained clergy) become important for the distribution of the Sacraments of the Church.

It has to be admitted that clerical celibacy has always provided a valuable outlet for homosexually-oriented males in the Church Catholic – whether Roman or Anglican – as a means of sacrificial offering by the time-honoured avenue of the ‘eunuch’ mentioned by Jesus in Matthew:19:12; dedicated  “for the sake of the Kingdom of God” – as either clergy or members of a Religious Order.  As a proportion of the Catholic population, though, it would seem that there are only a small number of heterosexual people called to this sort of sacrificial celibate dedication, and those who are must be recognised as specially gifted. 

However, it has not been sufficiently appreciated that Jesus also mentioned that there are “eunuchs who are so from their mother’s womb” – a  class of eunuch now considered by modern theologians as referring to anyone, male or female, who finds themselves predominantly sexually attracted to people of the same gender. In past generations of the Church, such people were officially discouraged from exercising their same-sex attraction to their peers – with, in the life of Religious Orders, an injunction against the cultivation of ‘Special Friendships’, that was considered to be a necessary caution against any same-sex attachments in the Community. (It should be noted here that Cardinal John H.Newman – a former Anglican priest – requested to be buried in the same place as his own special friend, a fellow priest in his religious community, but this fact was later disputed by the Church, on the occasion of his postulation for sainthood.)

Pope Francis, who has already intimated his acceptance of  faithful same-sex relationships (short of marriage); is now being challenged by conservatives among the Roman Catholic hierarchy on his openness to changes in the Church’s attitude toward both woman and the LGBTI community – more than once suggesting that  there are worse sins in the Church than those connected with sexual activity. In a Church that seems obsessed with such things at this time in its history, the enemies of Pope Francis are providing challenges that would match any of these presented before in the history of the papacy. May he live long enough to help in the cause of truth about gender and sexuality that will free the Church from its historical problem of hypocrisy in these areas.

I pray for Pope Francis at every Eucharist I celebrate.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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