John M. Becker

Bishops May Use Gay Couples' Children as Pawns in Anti-Gay Crusade

Filed By John M. Becker | June 30, 2014 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: baptism, Catholic attacks on LGBT rights, Catholic Church, Pope Francis, Robert Morlino, Roman Catholic Church

catholic-baptism.jpgA disturbing new report from Religion News Service indicates that a new battleground may be opening up in the U.S. Catholic bishops' battle against LGBT equality: the baptisms of same-sex couples' children.

Despite numerous controversies over dismissing gay Catholics from church posts and the U.S. hierarchy's campaign against same-sex marriage, Catholic leaders have carefully, if quietly, avoided doing anything to block gay couples from having their children baptized.

But a move by a bishop in Wisconsin to route all such decisions through his office is raising questions about whether that neutral zone will now become another battleground, and whether the growing acceptance of gay parents will inevitably draw more attention to this practice and force church leaders to establish clearer rules.

[Bishops] generally let parish priests make the final call and let them administer the sacrament, though it is usually done in a private ceremony with the biological parent -- not the adoptive mother or father -- listed on the baptismal certificate.

The new debate was prompted by the emergence of a memo -- first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal -- that was sent in early May to priests of the Madison Diocese by the top aide to Bishop Robert Morlino.

In the memo, the vicar general of the diocese, Monsignor James Bartylla, says there are "a plethora of difficulties, challenges, and considerations associated with these unnatural unions (including scandal) linked with the baptism of a child, and such considerations touch upon theology, canon law, pastoral approach, liturgical adaptation, and sacramental recording."

Bartylla says that pastors must now coordinate any decision on baptizing the children of gay couples with his office and that "each case must be evaluated individually... But some suspect that Morlino, one of the more outspoken conservatives in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will use the new policy to curb baptisms that he considers problematic.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, worries that Morlino -- who has a long record of hostility towards LGBT people -- intends to restrict baptisms of the children of same-sex couples. If Morlino does this, DeBernardo warns that the situation could turn into a "pastoral disaster."

This speculation comes as the global Catholic Church appears poised to take a baby step in the opposite direction: a new Vatican document released last week calls for more respect and less judgment of same-sex couples, and for parishes to more fully include their children in the life and sacraments of the Church -- including baptism.

Here's hoping that the U.S. bishops choose to follow the spirit of the new Vatican document rather than their basest anti-gay impulses.

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