Priests dissect pope’s comments: “When I was in seminary, these issues weren’t even on the radar”

Some reaction, from some clergy in Rhode Island, also yields insight and attitudes on co-habitation, gay marriage and gays serving as godparents.

From the Providence Journal: 

In a church that continues to hold homosexual behavior to be a sin, [the pope's ] remarks on July 29 have left many local parish priests, the Catholic Church’s boots on the ground, wondering how to mesh his comments with their experiences in Rhode Island, which has just legalized gay marriage and where a startling number of Catholics now believe it’s OK for a couple to live together without getting married.

“When I was in seminary, these issues weren’t even on the radar,” says the Rev. David Thurber, pastor of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus Parish in Pawtucket, who was ordained in 2008. The Rev. John E. Unsworth, who was ordained in 1976 and is now pastor of St. Bernard Parish in North Kingstown, agrees.

“Of course, when I was in seminary,” says the Wickford priest, “they didn’t teach us how to balance a checkbook, either.”

Some of the topical questions facing priests now: Should they deny communion to an unmarried couple who lives together? Should they tell gay couples that their lives are disordered and they should refrain from Communion or go elsewhere? Or should they welcome the couples with open and forgiving arms?

Interviews with Catholic priests around the state suggest most have a good idea as to what to say or do, even while they may disagree among themselves about the best approach. Most, however, are inclined toward following the lead of the new pope, even when they feel they must “speak the truth in love.”

Today, Father Thurber says he understands that “everyone is in a different spot in their place with God,” and so he tries to meet people where they are. When couples who have been living together come to see him about getting married, he says, he extends “an open arm of welcome” and leaves the question as to whether they should receive communion to their consciences and to God.

“I am not in the business of denying Communion,” he says flatly. “As Pope Francis said, it’s not fair to judge. I preach the Gospel, and whoever hears it, hears it.”

But when he was asked what he would tell gay couples who request Communion, Father Thurber said he would tell them to take that question to the bishop.

Father Unsworth said he could not remember when a gay couple had come to speak with him about their situation, though he does find himself speaking about cohabitation frequently — usually after he finds that the man and woman preparing for marriage have the same address.

After praising their “courageous decision” to commit to marriage, Father Unsworth says, he tries to remind them that the “standard for moral behavior” is for sexual activity to take place within a marriage so that “God’s procreative work” can continue through them. “It’s the best way to raise a child.”

And if he were to see the couple coming up the Communion line, still unmarried? “I’m not going to stop them. I don’t know if they went to confession that afternoon, and besides, I’m not going to make judgments. We never know the heart of another person unless they share it with us.

“If I were speaking to a gay couple, I would tell them we cannot recognize them as married but they are welcome to come to church. That’s what the Holy Father means when he says we don’t make judgments. We make it possible for them to continue practicing.”

Read more, including reaction to all this from Bishop Tobin at the end.


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