A gay couple has been named 'Persons of the year' by a top US Catholic newspaper.
The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) yesterday said Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon, both practising Catholics, "tell the story of the benefits of same-sex marriage". The couple, who have been in a relationship for more than 30 years, married in Canada in 2004 and have two children, were plaintiffs in the case which eventually resulted in the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the US earlier this year.
"Bourke and DeLeon are emblematic of this major challenge facing the church today, because they force us to ask not how will we live out a hypothetical situation, but how will we live with Greg and Michael. They give flesh to an abstraction," an NCR editorial, published yesterday, said.
"The answers the church is giving now are confused, uneven and often cruel. Greg and Michael – and countless gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics – deserve better.
"For their historic roles as plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges and for their faithful public witness as gay Catholics, we name Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon NCR's persons of the year for 2015."
The Catholic Church affirms a traditional stance on marriage as between a man and a woman. The official teaching states that: "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."
It is generally agreed that the Church has shifted its attitude towards LGBT Catholics since Pope Francis took office, however. He has met with transgender and gay people and is widely considered to have adopted a more gentle tone than his predecessors.
Despite this, official teaching remains unchanged. A working document released in June confirmed that the Church remains opposed to gay marriage and the adoption of children by gay couples. It also said that "everyone, regardless of their sexual tendencies, should be respected in their dignity and welcomed with sensitivity and tact".
The NCR is an independent newspaper, and has repeatedly urged the Church to adopt a more welcoming stance towards LGBT people. Yesterday's editorial expressed hope that "acceptance will replace fear" among Catholics.
"Changing the law was a one-time event. Change comes to peoples and communities slowly," it said.
"As ordinary people – and one hopes Catholic bishops – come to know more people in same-sex marriages, hearts and minds will change. Acceptance will replace fear."
Bourke wrote on his Facebook page on Monday, "it is difficult to imagine any honor that would give us more satisfaction than this."
"Anyone who knows us is aware that our lifelong Catholic faith is at the very core of our being and lives together. To receive this honor is astounding, befuddling, humbling," he added.
"This will surely raise quite a stir in the Catholic community in America, but we suspect the Catholic community needs a good stirring.
"Glory Be to God."
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Bourke said the Church had "long created a climate of shame and exclusion for LGBT Catholics," and that he and DeLeon were "surprised and deeply moved" by the NCR's gesture.
"This bold statement by the National Catholic Reporter could be an important step in changing policies and rhetoric in the Church about God's LGBT people who seek only to be included and treated with the same dignity as anyone else," he said.
"The Catholic Church has a great opportunity here and now to embrace change and move forward in creating God's church based on Christ's teachings of equality and inclusion for all."
DeLeon added: "Our warm and welcoming parish make it easy and joyous to stay [within the Church]. We are blessed to practise the faith of our birth, the faith that we have shared for 33 years."