In Landmark Document, Pope Francis Urges Church to Ease Up on Gays, but Remains Staunchly Sexist (Video)

In a sweeping examination of the church’s view on family issues, the Pope urges welcoming gay people, but also rejects same-sex marriage, abortion and contraceptives.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Philip Chidell

Pope Francis released his revolutionary post-synodal apostolic exhortation on family life early Friday, asking the Catholic Church to be merciful and allow divorced Catholics to take Holy Communion. Same-sex couples were shunned from marriage, saying it cannot be seen as the equivalent of heterosexual unions.

A culmination of three years of work by the Pope, the long-awaited “Amoris Laetitia” (Latin for “The Joy of Love”) reflects insights from the Synod of Bishops on the Familly, a high-level church meeting at the Vatican that took place in the fall of last year and which considered “the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.”

The 256-page document urges his subordinates to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together. “A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” he writes.

“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion,” the Pope said. “But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness.”

Adopting a more tolerant and inclusive stance regarding homosexuality, Francis writes: “Every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”

His note regarding violence is particulary important, as it signals that the church should oppose the persecution and criminalization of LGBT people, which is a troubling issue in Uganda, for example.

Still, while Francis has been hailed as a pragmatic, bold reformer, he made repeated references to Christian marriage as a “union between a man and a woman,” restating, “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

The apostolic exhortation also strongly rejects state intervention for contraception, sterilization and abortion. “So great is the value of human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life,” writes Francis, calling on governments to “help facilitate the adoption process, above all in the case of unwanted children, in order to prevent their abortion or abandonment.”

Importantly, Francis urges priests and bishops to use their own judgment in considering the unique circumstances of each individual under their guidance—a clear indication that the Pope favors a church that does not view doctrine as too rigid.

“Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium,” Francis writes. “Each country or region … can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.”

“The document says change should not come from doctrine, that there is a need for decisions to be based on what the document calls ‘concrete situations,’ or ‘real-life situations’,” said Gian Guido Vecchi, a veteran Vatican expert with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

But the “real-life situations” of women are give short shrift in the exhortation. Writing in the Daily Beast, Barbie Latza Nadeau criticizes Francis’ “annoying blind spot when it comes to women”:

Denial of differences between the sexes is described as “ideological.” But who claims that there are no differences? Rather, women are struggling to do away with unequal opportunities that exploit difference as an excuse to, for instance, pay women less than men, or for that matter, to exclude them from the priesthood.

Starting with a section called “You and Your Wife,” which is not followed by one called “You and Your Husband,” Francis struggles with the complicated role of women in the modern family, and in fact his document leaves no room for what most of us understand by equality of the sexes. Nor does it quote any women on the matter.

It is by no means perfect, but “Amoris Laetitia” does reveal a Pope who is quite unlike any previous; one who is willing to challenge church orthodoxy and modernize the institution so that it can better respond to the times. While the document has its flaws—and the church has a long way to go before it is truly a champion of progressive thought—it is a step in the right direction.

This is Francis’ second apostolic exhortation. The first,Evangelii Gaudium,” or “The Joy of the Gospel,” was released in 2013,and similarly proclaims that the church must be open and humble to people’s real needs, and not too strictly fixed on doctrine.

Read “Amoris Laetitia.”

Marlena Fitzpatrick García is a writer for AlterNet and the CEO of Latino Rebels. Follow her

NZ is better governed than Australia so what ails Australian politics?

As Australian politics veers from one crisis to another, New Zealand continues to enjoy effective government. Professor Ian Marsh believes the real political challenge is structural and systemic rather than poor communication and inadequate leadership.

HERE’S A puzzle. Over the past decade or so Australian politics has veered from one crisis to another. In that same period New Zealand has enjoyed effective and constructive government. What’s the difference? Let’s start with the different records.

First Australia. Here is a rough summary:

  • Five PMs in five dysfunctional years
  • Internecine party warfare 
  • Chronic leadership and factional rivalries
  • Intractable internal ideological conflicts

These factors in various combinations have stymied both Coalition and Labor governments.

Then there are failed public consultations. They meander meaninglessly as in the Turnbull/Morrison approach to tax and the Rudd government’s 2020 Summit. Or they present choices which, for political reasons, government’s fear to take up — the Henry Tax Review. Or they founder on internal divisions of opinion within both major parties — Climate Change, Marriage Equality.

It is salutatory that the only new items to successfully pass the Australian parliament in the last decade have attracted bipartisan support — plain cigarette packaging, NDIS, and (shamefully) a refugee strategy shaped primarily by political advantage.

Contrast this with the New Zealand record. In the past decade or so:

  • GST has been increased (to 15%) 
  • The top tax rate has been progressively cut (by 6% to 33%) 
  • A tax deductibility boondoggle was closed off (making losses incurred by qualifying companies deductible) 
  • An ETS passed 
  • The minimum wage increased from $12 to $14.25 
  • Refugees have been offered sanctuary 

Further, an (advisory) citizen initiated referendum indicated 64% were opposed to further privatisation. The government has   therefore commercialised rather than privatised a number of public enterprises.

Over this period John Key has remained prime minister. Like Julia Gillard, he has led minority governments. His party gained support from 45% of New Zealanders at the 2008 election and 47% at the 2011 and 2014 election. In no case, did he score sufficient seats to win a majority in his own right. He was one seat short in 2014 but shortly thereafter lost a by-election.

Other parties in the New Zealand parliament include the Labor opposition and a variety of minor parties: ACT (free market), United Future (socially conservative), Maori, Greens and New Zealand First (populist). Their role is underwritten by the New Zealand’s proportional voting system which, provided certain threshold conditions are fulfilled, guarantees seats to minorities. This ensures expression of minority views in the public conversation, but in constructive ways.

Finally, unlike Australia, New Zealand is a unitary political system — only one powerful House.

John Key has deliberately opted for minority government. How has he succeeded despite an Italian style melange of parties. A threshold condition is no doubt a mature democratic electorate. Thereafter Key uses party differences creatively. He governs from the centre-right. When contentious measures arise, he reaches out to left parties on social measures and to right parties on economic measures. This was the governing formula pioneered with great success by his Labor predecessor, Helen Clark.

What does it tell us? First, that in these more pluralised times, great party blocs that try to aggregate too many diverse forces are dysfunctional. They are like unwieldy conglomerates, behemoths left over from the collectivist era. Look no further than the disabling factions that now thwart coherent government action for Turnbull.

In truth there is much common ground between the major parties at the centre of the political system. But you would never know. On one side, the sniff of electoral advantage seemingly trumps any possibility of sane debate (go no further than the current imbroglio on negative gearing). On the other, internal cultural differences and rivalries thwart common action (marriage equality).

Second, adversarial incentives dominate debate. The resulting public conversation more often than not thwarts public understanding of complex challenges. Paradoxically this is at a time when the backwash of globalisation creates an even greater imperative for prudent public discussion (e.g. refugees, global banking system fragility, the continuing advantages of free trade). Far from advancing this outcome, the parliamentary conversation is corrupting — it enhances public cynicism and, for immediate political advantage, forecloses options.

In a nutshell, we have a political system that cannot lead us into the twenty-first century. This system was formed in 1909 when the present two major parties consolidated around different domestic responses to the capitalist economy. This debate was partially seen off by Gough Whitlam and finally put to bed by the Labor government in 1983.

You have only to look at the recent agenda of issues to see how far we have come from that earlier era.

Climate change is an environmental issue, a cause that first gained a place on the political agenda in the 1970s. Live animal exports reflect new concerns about animal rights and the decent treatment of non-human life. Gay marriage concerns the equal rights of citizens whose identities are other than or supplemental to social class. Not that class and gay identities or environmental or animal rights (or women’s, ethnic or Indigenous rights) are mutually exclusive. Rather citizen identities have multiplied and differentiated in a way that the older class-based structuring of politics does not recognise and has trouble accommodating.

What can be done? We cannot mimic New Zealand’s solution. Our political system is too different. But we do have historic experience of how to govern in more pluralised times. This was the situation which the first federal governments faced between 1901 and 1909. This was also one of the most creative periods in domestic Australian political development. It was incidentally the last time in which we had a succession of five prime ministers. But then change worked constructively to advance compromise and the emerging political agenda.

One important difference concerned the role of the Senate. It functioned then more like its U.S. progenitor. Its committees acted as gate keepers for emerging issues. This largely lifted inquiries above partisanship. They gathered evidence, held hearings around the country, attracted media attention and helped focus the public and political conversation on real choices and options. A multi-party report moderated flagrant adversarialism. It gave governments the opportunity to gauge public opinion and possible supporting coalitions. Crucially, this was before they decided what to do. No expert inquiry could deliver such a result.

What is the present relevance of this distant period? After a decade characterised largely by policy impasse, perhaps there is now some chance that the “problem” might be parsed correctly. It is much more fundamental than poor communication, inadequate leadership or deficient narrative. The real political challenge is structural and systemic.

Ian Marsh is a Visiting Professor at the UTS Management School. 

This article was published on John Menadue’s blog ‘Pearls and Irritations’ on 7 April 2016. It is republished with permission.


Scott Johnson family hopeful new inquest will solve 30yo mystery

The family of an American man found dead at the bottom of a Sydney cliff almost 30 years ago hopes a new inquest will finally answer the question of whether he took his life, or met with foul play.

Key points:

  • Scott Johnson’s body found at bottom of Manly cliff in 1988
  • Family never accepted he took his life, rather victim of gay-hate crime
  • Bias in investigation could be mitigated by court’s “close supervision”

Scott Johnson’s body was found at the base of a 60-metre high cliff at Manly on Sydney’s northern beaches on December 10, 1988.

A NSW Police investigation and an inquest a year later ruled that Mr Johnson had committed suicide.

But Mr Johnson’s family has never accepted that ruling and his brother Steve Johnson has long been critical of the way NSW Police handled the investigation.

“[Scott] was ignored for 24 years, it’s now been more time since he died than he was alive,” Mr Johnson said outside a directions hearing.

“For Scott’s sake and our family’s sake, and to be honest, for the sake of the other families who were similarly ignored, we’re just hoping for a full investigation and getting to the bottom of what happened to him if we can.”

The area where Scott Johnson died was a well-known gay beat and Steve Johnson believes his brother’s death was the result of a gay-hate crime.

Mr Johnson has been particularly critical of the unsolved homicide investigation into his brother’s death, which began in 2012 under the leadership of Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young.

“She simply confirmed our fears about the deep-seated bias in the case,” he said.

“There’s an illusion here that Scott’s case has been investigated for 27 years.”

Last year, state coroner Michael Barnes asked that Detective Inspector Young be taken off the investigation after she gave a candid television interview and said she believed Mr Johnson had likely taken his life.

Coroner acknowledges concerns over bias in investigation

At Thursday’s directions hearing, Mr Barnes confirmed the inquest would begin in July.

He also acknowledged the Johnson family’s concerns about bias in the police investigation but said they could be mitigated by the court’s “close supervision” of the police investigation.

24-hour telephone counselling

“These steps will address the family’s concerns about impartiality,” he said.

Outside the hearing, Steve Johnson said he was satisfied with the coroner’s decisions.

“We have been disappointed with the progress until now,” he said.

“We’re extremely happy that the coroner has asked counsel assisting to help supervise the case in conjunction with the police team to make sure that it’s well done from here on out.”

The inquest will kick off with opening remarks from counsel assisting, and statements from the solicitors acting for the Johnson family and NSW Police.

It will then adjourn for several months in the hope more witnesses and information will come to light and allow the inquest to examine fresh leads.

Until then, NSW Police has been given an additional five weeks to re-examine its own brief of evidence and redact certain parts of it.

The directions hearing heard the brief contained more than 4,000 pages of material and that NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione had appointed three additional homicide detectives to the investigation to assist with the redactions.

Ted Cruz hit with ‘New York values’; Trump gets Giuliani backing

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is getting a taste of the “New York values” he derided in Iowa as Republicans turn to the next big U.S. presidential contest in the home state of front-runner Donald Trump.

The New York billionaire lost the Wisconsin Republican primary on Tuesday to Cruz and is seeking to rebound in New York on April 19. He won the backing on Thursday of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was irked by Cruz’s values comments.

“It’s New York City. We’re family. I can make fun of New York but you can’t,” Giuliani, who led the city through the trauma of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, told the New York Post.

“I support Trump. I’m gonna vote for Trump,” he said.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, running third in the Republican race, chimed in with an ad called “Values,” part of a seven-figure ad buy in New York and Pennsylvania, which votes on April 26.

“New Yorkers aren’t stupid and they certainly won’t fall for Ted Cruz’s lame soliloquies and flattery after he slammed their values,” said Kasich spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp.

Trump canceled a Friday trip to California to focus on New York. He turned on Cruz Wednesday night during his first rally in the state since the double-digit loss in Wisconsin.

“I’ve got this guy standing over there, looking at me, talking about New York values with scorn in his face, with hated, with hatred of New York,” Trump said, drawing a chorus of boos.

Cruz credited his Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses victory in part to his attacks on Trump’s “New York values.” He told ABC on Thursday the phrase referred to the state’s liberal Democrats.

Cruz took another hit in the Bronx, where a group of high school students protesting his stance on immigration threatened a walkout if their principal did not cancel his appearance.

“Most of us are immigrants or come from immigrant backgrounds. Ted Cruz goes against everything our school stands for,” Destiny Domeneck, 16, told the New York Daily News.

School authorities complied, the newspaper reported on Thursday.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Megan Cassella; Editing by Bill Trott)

The Internet Thinks Only White Hairstyles Are Appropriate for the Office

Racism is at least stunning in its consistency.

Q: What’s the best way to appear professional?

A: Dye yourself white. And make sure your hair approximates whiteness as best it can, too.

That’s according to Google Images, at least. Twitter user ‏@BonKamona posted the results of a search via Google for “professional hairstyles.” She then repeated the experiment by image searching “unprofessional hairstyles” on the platform. The difference between the results? Race.

The former turned up white women, the latter turned up black women. And for the racists who will surely weigh in here with some endlessly dumb contribution, I’ll just proactively point out that there’s zero about the black women’s hair in the images returned that’s the least bit unprofessional—the pics all depict women with curly natural styles. That’s really the only dividing line.

It’s hard to fully, totally and completely fault Google for this. The Internet is plumb full of idiotic, racist nonsense and it’s likely they input metadata that expresses those racist ideas and aesthetics, resulting in search yields like the one above. As Boing Boing notes:

Google’s algorithm is a trade secret, so it’s hard to tell where the bias sits between engineering, traditional SEO efforts, link-tracking, etc. The top “professional” headshots link to pinterest boards and inane listicles, whereas the “unprofessional” shots are mostly to serious, aware discussion of the issue of ethnicity, hair and professional environments.

A Google spokesperson talked to the U.K.’s Metro and sort of said the same thing, only in more boilerplate-ish, communications-speak:

This is fundamentally a societal problem—there are persistent and problematic biases, and they’re quite pervasive in the media, on the web, etc.—meta-tagging their images with their own descriptions. Search engines in turn reflect what’s on the web. This is not unique to our search engine; Yahoo! and Bing show similar results. We welcome feedback and we’re always working to improve our search results. As a company we strongly value a diversity of perspectives, ideas and cultures—these search results do not reflect Google’s view on the matter.

Sure. Although, another Twitter user pointed out that Bing actually doesn’t offer the same results. Do a search for professional hair images there and you’ll get a more diverse pool of returns. Just a thing to note!

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.