Archbishop Wilton Gregory & Other Prelates: Church’s Welcome to LGBT People Needs Improvement

October 24, 2014

Archbishop Wilton Gregory

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who previously headed the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote about the synod for his weekly column in The Georgia Bulletin, the archdiocesan newspaper.  He interpreted the synod through the lens of a recent meeting with the parents of LGBT children, described as “well worth the wait” and a “superb encounter.” Gregory continues:

“Like parents everywhere they love their children, and like faithful Catholics they also love our Church. Yet they also are deeply troubled to feel that our Church does not love their children, and therein is the conflict that fills and saddens their hearts.

“As parents, they have all faced and accepted the reality of having a child who has openly shared their sexual orientation with them in trust and in the hope of being lovingly received as a son or daughter. As devoted parents, they obviously reacted with concern that their child’s revelation would become the source of hurt and discrimination. They know that it too often does bring rejection and insult to a child that they love and cherish.

“What they hope for now is that our Church will become more loving and understanding of the worth and dignity of their children.”

Gregory admitted that many of these children had encountered a “hostile environment” at church, stemming from language about them that is “unwelcoming and condemnatory” and leading to a lack of welcome. The archbishop writes:

“I assured them that the Church must welcome all of her sons and daughters—no matter what their sexual orientation or life situation might be—and that we have not always done so with a spirit of compassion and understanding. I spoke of the distinction that our Church makes between orientation and behavior, which admittedly needs reexamination and development.

“We are all called to conversion—not just some members of the Church.”

Finally, Gregory laid out pastoral actions that go behind his kind words, including appointing a deacon as liaison for the parents’ group, inviting pastors in to speak about challenges to welcoming all, and celebrating Mass during the parents group’s fall retreat. Gregory concluded:

“I ask all of us to pray for them and their children that we might together discover ways to draw them closer to the heart of the Church—where they belong and where there is always room. I am very glad to know that the Bishops’ Synod is asking these very same questions right now in Rome!”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, current USCCB president and a synod participant, spoke favorably of the synod sessions to the National Catholic Reporter. He  repeatedly noted this synod is a middle step in an ongoing process. To understand the synod, Kurtz appealed pastorally to his experiences as a parish priest, saying:

“My view is that when we talk about people who are in irregular situations…I would approach it the same way I did when I was a pastor doing parish visitations.

“I would enter into the home of someone, I would seek to acknowledge the good that I saw — the good in those people — and then invite them to accompany me to Christ and to a fuller understanding of the church. Even to the point at that point of conversion. And I would always say, ‘Hey, we are all in the process of conversion.’ I come as an imperfect pastor…

“Now, as I think our summary said, this is not in opposition to the beauty of the church’s teachings. No, this is in a sense an affirmation of the church’s teachings. Let’s begin by seeing people where they are, and let’s accompany them to the light of Christ and the fullness of the light of Christ.”

Kurtz also depicted the synod and the whole church’s discussion on marriage and family issues currently underway as a family:

“I really do believe that when a family comes together, a family comes together to discern. Gosh, I hope we don’t always define that as debate. Now, sad would that family be if they didn’t have the freedom to express those differences so that they could come together in truth and charity.

“I guess I’m still hopeful. I feel that the process is doing what it’s supposed to do.”

Kurtz’s interview with the National Catholic Reporter‘s Joshua McElwee is available here, and contains Kurtz’s firsthand account of the synod’s inner workings.

Further south, 4 WWL reported Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, who is one of two candidates for USCCB secretary next month, said the following in his homily on Sunday:

” ‘The Holy Father is saying we still have to reach out to people who have same-sex orientation. We have to reach out to people who desire same-sex marriage. We can['t] just eliminate them.’…

” ‘I think that there are really people who believe, unfortunately, that the church is against people who are or we don’t honor or give dignity to people who are of same sex orientation, and that is not true.’ “

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger

Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger spoke positively about the synod, and added a message to gay Catholics as well, saying:

” ‘We are only at a beginning, but I’m happy to see the Holy Father is willing to take the risk of encouraging people to speak frankly so that no one feels that their voice is silenced.’…

” ‘I like to say to say to gay Catholics, and to all Catholics, and I would also say to non-Catholics as well too to people of every faith, we love everyone, as the person that God created them to be.’ “

These more positive responses are in stark contrast to American bishops’ comments that the synod was “rather Protestant” and the “of the devil,” about which Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday. It is clear, however, that even the reluctant US episcopacy is catching up to Pope Francis’ merciful and welcoming style. Their words ultimately affirm the pope’s comment as the synod concluded last week that “God is not afraid of new things,” with the implication that neither should we be.

As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gears up for their November meetings, let us pray the words of the newly beatified Pope Paul VI that these statements will only grow: “Come, holy Spirit!”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Two U.S. Bishops Claim Synod Reflected “The Devil” and Was “Rather Protestant”

October 23, 2014
Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Pope Francis has many fans, but Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia are more clearly than ever not among that fandom. Both prelates lodged some of the harshest criticisms of the synod yet, comparing the meeting to Protestantism and even calling it the work of the devil.

Tobin, in a blog post for the Diocese of Providence’s website, wrote some “random thoughts” on the synod and included the following points:

“The concept of having a representative body of the Church voting on doctrinal applications and pastoral solutions strikes me as being rather Protestant…

“Have we learned that it’s probably not a good idea to publish half-baked minutes of candid discussions about sensitive topics, especially when we know that the secular media will hijack the preliminary discussions for their own agendas?

“Pope Francis is fond of ‘creating a mess.’ Mission accomplished.”

What is is striking is Tobin’s apparent ignorance about the Catholic community’s history. For centuries, consensus-based decision making, synodal debates (and even, sometimes, fistfights), popular election of church leaders, and fierce controversies carried out publicly were normative rather than unique occurrences. Representative bodies are indeed found in Protestant communities today, but they are also deeply Catholic. In appealing to tradition, Tobin seems to miss the tradition of persistent messiness present since the church’s earliest days in Jerusalem.

Tobin also added an endorsement of the recently demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, calling the cardinal, who routinely criticizes Pope Francis and LGBT advocates alike, “a principled, articulate and fearless spokesman.” Tobin has been lukewarm in his evaluations of the pope previously, and vigorously opposed marriage equality before Rhode Island, the state with the highest number of Catholics per capita, became the 10th state to legalize it.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

According to US CatholicChaput was in Manhattan for a lecture sponsored by a conservative publication when he made his remarks disparaging the synod. The archbishop commented on the synod, which he did not attend, during a question period, saying:

” ‘I was very disturbed by what happened…I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.’ …

” ‘None of us are welcomed on our own terms in the church. We are welcomed on Jesus’ terms…That’s what it means to be a Christian. You submit yourself to Jesus and his teaching. You don’t re-create your own body of spirituality.’ “

At the same lecture, the theme of which was a comparison of traditionalist Catholics’ “internal exile” to the Babylonian exile in the Hebrew Scriptures, Chaput harshly attacked the spread of marriage equality. Characterizing LGBT advocates as dishonest and hateful, he suggested that Catholic priests refuse to officiate civil marriages “as a matter of principled resistance.” Ironically, he suggested American bishops do so “in the spirit of candor encouraged by Pope Francis” which he also attacked.

Interestingly, it is Archbishop Chaput who is set to host Pope Francis and delegations from across the world for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. We can only speculate on how the pope, who has called for church to be a “home for all” and a “field hospital” will get along with a bishop who, even after the synod, speaks of LGBT people’s human rights advancement as a point of conflict which “purifies the church and…clarifies the character of the enemies who hate her.” Or, as Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter writes of it: “This is a train wreck waiting to happen.”

Yet, what Chaput and Tobin seemingly miss is that their ability to so strongly and so publicly criticize the pope is itself a sign of progress in the church. Under Francis’ predecessors, such frank discussions were stifled and people were silenced. Perhaps they do not dislike that the church is “rather Protestant” and “confused” as much as they claim to?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Crux, RI Bishop: Synod Process ‘Rather Protestant‘ “


SYNOD: What Are Catholics to Make of the Last Two Weeks?

October 21, 2014
Martin Pendergast

Martin Pendergast

Catholics are still sorting through the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops’ happenings and documents from the last two weeks to discern just what happened and how to proceed on LGBT issues. Bondings 2.0 offers a second round-up of reactions from all quarters of the church and world with links for further reading. You can find the first round-up here.

We also want to know blog readers’ thoughts, which you can leave in the ‘Comments’ section below.

UK Catholic LGBT advocate Martin Prendergast writes in The Guardian that, despite some reports, many progressives remain committed to Pope Francis and his vision. He notes the synod’s re-introduction of theological gradualism and a “richer theology of human sexuality, gender and relationships” that emerged, and he notes:

“. . . [T]he synod’s final report backtracked on key issues around admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to the eucharist, and more LGBT-friendly pastoral strategies. Fear had overcome courage and rigidity had strangled the rights of conscientious dissent with regard to church teachings-–which were not primary-level doctrines anyway…

” ‘LGBT Catholics! Why don’t they just pack their bags and leave?’ some ask. The reason we stay is because our baptism gives us rights, enshrined in church law, as well as responsibilities to inform our pastors of all that builds us up as mature believers, integrating our sexuality, gender and personality as the glory of God in the human person, fully alive.”

Tom Nelson

Tom Nolan, one of the first openly gay elected US officials, who was raised Catholic and attended seminary at one point, responded positively to what Pope Francis’ agenda, telling SF Gate:

” ‘It’s thrilling to hear this–and very different. . . . This pope is just amazing, and exactly what the church needs. It’s a breath of fresh air. And it’s astounding the influence that one leader can have on the whole world.’ “

Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

Journalist Michael O’Loughlin of Crux reports that another synod prelate said some bishops voted against the LGBT paragraphs in the final report because the words were not welcoming enough, following similar comments by London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols.   Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher, who heads the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said:

” ‘Why did some Bishops choose not to approve a text which only repeated the Church’s received teaching?…I have the impression many would have preferred a more open, positive language. Not finding it in this paragraph, they might have chosen to indicate their disapproval of it.’ “

Brandon Ambrosino

Blogger Brandon Ambrosino also reports on these document-related controversies, highlighting the translation issues of the English version of the mid-term report, which changed “welcoming homosexual persons” to “providing for” them. Of this controversy, he reports at Vox:

“Of course, ‘provide for’ is not a correct translation of the Italian word accogliere. As Patrick Ryan, Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University, quipped to me in an email when I asked if the word could ever be translated as provide for, ‘Whoever is telling you that does not know Italian.’ “

John Becker

It is worth noting that not all LGBT advocates see the synod as progress, as John Becker writes at The Bilerico Project:

“In a stunning victory for the Catholic Church’s conservative wing and a rebuke to both Pope Francis and progressives, the bishops…scrapped language that called on the church to ‘welcome’ gays and lesbians

“Today, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church didn’t just yank the welcome mat out from underneath the feet of gays and lesbians — they rolled it up and bashed them over the head with it. So much for ‘Who am I to judge?’.”

David Cloutier

Finally, there is the question of whether the church is “evolving” on LGBT issues, as it is vogue to say of American politicians who have evolved on same-sex marriage. David Cloutier, a theologian and editor of the blog Catholic Moral Theology, writes in the Washington Post:

“So are the bishops, too, evolving? Are they gradually realizing that their work has manifested only a partial following of God?…Clearly, something is happening within the church. Church leaders and members, like the members of any other community, have been influenced by the experience of having friends, relatives and neighbors who are living admirable lives after divorce, or who are in committed, loving same-sex relationships. The pope and the bishops meeting in Rome are also acutely aware of increasing secularization and decreasing membership.

“But this is not the same as what happens when individuals or societies “gradually” change their views on a given issue…

“The ultimate aim is not to mandate or resist social changes, but to accompany people; not to fantasize about being ‘kings and queens’ (as Bergoglio chided his clergy in another talk), but to encourage and shepherd people starting from where they are. Indeed, if there is a real loser in the synod’s discussions, it is the bishops who sought a high-profile position in the culture wars. Francis wants the church to be a ‘field hospital’ for those wounded in our culture and who seek healing, not a mighty warrior whose actions may well add to the wounds.”

Taking in all these commentaries and the vast (largely digital) ink spilled in the past two weeks over the minutiae of the Catholic hierarchy’s inner workings, what are Catholics to make of the last two weeks? One clear way of discerning the synod’s impact is to listen to the voices of the faithful. We warmly invite your thoughts and reactions in the ‘Comments’ section below.

You can access New Ways Ministry’s statement on the synod’s final report by clicking here and executive director Francis DeBernardo’s reflection on the synod here. To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage from the synod, click the ‘Synod 2014‘ category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


SYNOD: London Cardinal Voted Against Synod’s Gay Paragraphs Because Welcome Was Absent

October 20, 2014
Cardinal-elect Vincent Nichols

Cardinal-elect Vincent Nichols

Was the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops a win, a loss, or something in the middle? In the day or so since the final report was released, LGBT advocates and Catholic commentators have prolifically tried to discern just what to make of these last two weeks. Bondings 2.0 offers a first round-up of reactions today, with links provided for further reading.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster (London) made news in a post-synod interview, claiming some bishops voted against the paragraphs on welcoming lesbian and gay people because they were not inclusive and welcoming enough. Queering the Church reports:

“Vincent says he can’t remember how he voted (there were 60 votes in under an hour), but that – reflecting the policy in his own diocese of Westminster – he felt the wording didn’t go far enough, because the key words ‘welcome’, ‘respect’ and ‘value’ were missing. The cardinal hopes the next stage of the Synod will encourage a more welcoming attitude to LGBT people.”

Equally Blessed LogoStill, LGBT advocates inside and outside the church expressed their overall disappointment about the synod’s final report.

Equally Blessed, a coalition of Fortunate Families, DignityUSA, Call to Action, and New Ways Ministry that advocates for LGBT justice and equality in the church, said in a statement that the synod was evidence that “it is past time for the church to reconcile with faithful LGBT Catholics.” The coalition also expressed disappointment at the final report with Fortunate Families President Deb Word saying, in part:

” ‘For Catholics in the pews, LGBT people aren’t just an issue to be discussed and argued over. They are our family members and our friends. They are faithful Catholics who we worship alongside each Sunday…Our church will continue to be broken until we can welcome her lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children as God made them, in His image and likeness.’ “

Jim FitzGeraldCall to Action highlighted the “missed opportunities” at the synod, with executive director Jim FitzGerald telling Religion News Service:

” ‘It’s disappointing that some in the institutional church are not yet ready to welcome all God’s children to the table.’ “

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

DignityUSA executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke released a statement, saying in part:

“What we saw through the Synod process is that there are deep divisions in what the Catholics bishops think about LGBT people, even at the highest levels of leadership…We anticipate that significant dialogue and debate at all levels of the Church will continue for the year leading up to the Synod in October 2015.”

The Human Rights Campaign criticized the final document for withdrawing more positive language about LGBT people found in the mid-synod report as “many in the U.S. Catholic hierarchy continue to use heartless and derogatory language in referring to the LGBT faithful.”

Christopher Lamb

Yet, others within the church remain hopeful that this synod was progress and the positive momentum will continue in the coming year. Christopher Lamb of The Tablet said the synod was a “huge achievement in itself” and said further, according to the BBC:

” ‘We have now got an acceptance that we need a new language in the Church when talking about gay couples and homosexuality in general.’ “

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that “there is a danger of missing the forest for the trees,” even while changes in language and practice did not transpire. Reese’ evaluation of the synod was more positive than most others:

“The synod was a victory for openness and discussion in the church and the final document is an invitation for everyone in the church to join that discussion. This is exactly what Pope Francis wanted…

“Unlike we journalists, he has not obsessed over the language of the report but has been much more focused on the process. He set the tone at the beginning by encouraging the bishops to speak freely. At the end, in summing up the synod, he showed that he had been listening carefully, and like a good Jesuit discerning the Spirit in the process…The synod was a big win for openness and for Francis.”

Reese also noted that change was evident, like Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama’s clear opposition towards criminalizing homosexuality of which Reese writes, “In Africa, that matters.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who affirmed that doctrine develops and refused to depict same-sex relationships as a black and white issue during the synod, told media: “There have been two steps forward, there may be one step backwards, but certainly not two.”

Adolfo Nicolas, superior general of the Jesuits, told media to “watch for a possible ‘revolution’ a year from now,’ according to Australian outlet 9News.

John Allen

John Allen of Crux looks further out, to the expected apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis after next year’s synod concludes this process, writing:

“At the end of the day, therefore, the only question that really matters is: When this extraordinary two-year process of reflection ends, what will Pope Francis do?”

Bondings 2.0 will continue reporting on the many reactions to Extraordinary Synod of Bishops this week. In addition, we welcome (and not simply provide for, a la the Synod’s language choices) your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

You can access New Ways Ministry’s statement by clicking here and executive director Francis DeBernardo’s reflection on the synod here. To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage from the synod, click the ‘Synod 2014‘ category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Irish Priest Tony Flannery Begins 18-City US Tour on Conscience & Church Reform

October 19, 2014

Fr. Tony Flannery

Irish Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who defied Vatican attempts to silence him, begins an 18-city speaking tour in the US this week that lasts through November 22nd.

Flannery, a Redemptorist who is a founding member of the Association of Catholic Priests, refused to sign a Vatican document last year which demanded his adherence to the hierarchy’s teachings on homosexuality, contraception, and women’s ordination. His refusal led the Vatican to silence the priest and strip him of ministerial powers. Dennis Coday, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, noted:

“For most of 2012, Flannery was forbidden to minister as a priest as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reviewed his writing. In January 2013, he said he was threatened with excommunication unless he made a clear and public statement — preapproved by the doctrinal congregation — fully supporting official church teaching.”

Rather than being “terrified into submission,” in his words, Flannery began speaking out. He published a book, A Question of Conscience, and spoke about the draconian process of his investigation and attempted silencing. His Redemptorist community, along with Irish and Austrian priests dedicated to church reform, have made their support known.

Now, Fr. Flannery will speak in 18 cities about his life, the importance of conscience, and topics of sexuality and church reform that led to his attempted silencing. The Catholic Tipping Point, which last year hosted Austrian reformer Fr. Helmut Schüller, is hosting Flannery. Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA are among the sponsors of Fr. Flannery’s visit. Other sponsors include American Catholic Council, Call to Action, Catholics in Alliance for the Common GoodCORPUSFutureChurch, the National Coalition of American Nuns,  the Quixote Center, and the Women’s Ordination Conference.

LGBT people, their loved ones, and their allies are among those harmed by exclusionary church policies, and these issues will be part of his speaking agenda on the U.S. tour. For a full schedule and more information, visit www.CatholicTippingPoint.org or see below:

  • Washington, DC – October 22
  • Baltimore, MD – October 23
  • Philadelphia, PA  – October 24
  • New York City – October 25
  • Warwick, RI – October 26
  • Boston, MA – October 28
  • Syracuse, NY – October 29
  • Cleveland, OH – November 1
  • Detroit, MI – November 3
  • Minneapolis, MN – November 5
  • Memphis, TN – November 8
  • Sarasota, FL – November 10
  • San Antonio, TX – November 12
  • St. Louis, MO – November 13
  • Phoenix, AZ – November 15
  • Sacramento, CA – November 16
  • Portland, OR – November 18
  • Seattle, WA – November 19
  • To read more about Fr. Flannery, see the ‘Related Articles’ below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

September 2013: Fr. Tony Flannery Further Refuses Vatican Silencing with New Book

January 2013: Irish Priest’s Refusal to Be Silenced is a Beacon of Hope for Church Renewal

January 2013: Irish Priest Receives Support from Near and Far in His Vatican Struggle


Catholics: Go Purple Today for #SpiritDay in Support of LGBT Youth!

October 16, 2014

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday, millions will ‘go purple’ to support LGBT youth and take a stand against all-too-prevalent bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  They’ll be wearing purple and using purple on social media as a way to show that they are supporting #Spirit Day, an annual event sponsored by GLAAD, and endorsed by New Ways Ministry and many other organizations. Catholics have actively participated in past years, impelled by their faith to protect some of the most vulnerable in this world — and I hope you’ll join (again) today!

Bullying among youth is always wrong, and worse still when LGBT teens and young adults are targeted because they often suffer from in person and online harassment at greatly elevated levels. Bullying, and the causative stigmas and phobias which it produces, leads LGBT youth to have higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide.

Feeling excluded from one’s faith community or internalizing religious-based discrimination by church authorities can compound these problems. That is why Catholic participation as visible witnesses to a more loving and inclusive church are so important. As Fr. James Martin commented on #SpiritDay in past years, “This should be a no-brainer for Catholics, who are called by Christ to support those who suffer or struggle in any way, particularly those on the margins…You shall love your LGBT neighbor as yourself.

How can Catholics participate in #SpiritDay? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Go Purple: Wear purple today and change your social media pictures through GLAAD’s website, available here.
  2. Spread the Word: Engage those you encounter in a conversation about why you, as a Catholic LGBT advocate, are participating today.
  3. Use the hashtag #SpiritDay on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook to make your support of LGBT youth more public.
  4. Educate Yourself: Read more about issues impacting LGBT youth, such as suicide, bullying, and homelessness. Bondings 2.0 offers the following posts as a start:
  5. Reach Out to a Youth You Know: Send a message to an LGBT youth in your life to let him/her know of your love and support, especially because you are Catholic.

I close with a video posted at Young Adult Catholics. It is from an Irish priest, Fr. Donal Godfrey, who speaks about the suicide of his gay friend, a reminder of both why #SpiritDay is so necessary and why Catholics must continue our efforts for a just and inclusive church. You can watch the video below or by clicking here.

For more information on #SpiritDay, which is a project of GLAAD, visit their website at www.glaad.org/spiritday.

Go purple!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


SYNOD: Catholics, Media Respond to Bishops’ Report Calling it “Revolutionary” & a “Pastoral Earthquake”

October 14, 2014
Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 8.07.31 PM

Tweet from @JoshJMac of @NCRonline

Revolutionary earthquake or unofficial report? This question about the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops’ relatio post disceptationem, or mid-term report, released yesterday is generating commentary from all quarters of the Catholic Church and media.

Bondings 2.0 offers a sampling below, including links for further reading accompanying each quote.

Joshua McElwee, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, has provided quality coverage of the proceedings and you can read his reports on the relatio here and here. On Twitter, McElwee also commented:

“Reading this #Synod14 document, I don’t know what to say. It feels like a whole new church, a whole new tone, a whole new posture. Wow.”

Fr. James Martin

Fr. James Martin

Jesuit Fr. James Martin, who strongly condemned Catholic fear and hatred of LGBT people as “scandalous and sinful” last week, writes about the “revolutionary change” happening in the relatio. Stating on Twitter that similar statements about gay people and their relationships would have led to his silencing only five years ago, he adds at America:

“This is something that even a few years ago would have been unthinkable, from even the most open-minded of prelates–that is, a statement of outright praise for the contribution of gays and lesbians, with no caveat and no reflexive mention of sin…That any church document would praise same-sex “partners” in any way (and even use the word “partners”) is astonishing…Nowhere in the document are such terms as “intrinsically disordered,” “objectively disordered,” or even the idea of “disinterested friendships” among gays and lesbians, which was used just recently…

“Clearly Pope Francis’s call for openness at the beginning of the Synod has allowed the bishops to listen carefully, to speak their minds and to be open to new ways of thinking.  As was the case at the Second Vatican Council, the participants may have gone into this Synod not expecting much openness or change, but the Holy Spirit is afoot.”

John Thavis

Vatican journalist John Thavis also highlights just how different this document is by calling the relatio a “pastoral earthquake” that comes after a series of tremors. He continues:

“The document clearly reflects Pope Francis’ desire to adopt a more merciful pastoral approach on marriage and family issues. It is subject to revisions by the bishops this week, and in its final form will be used as part of a church-wide reflection leading to the second synod session in October 2015.”

Terence Weldon

Terence Weldon

Terence Weldon of Queering the Church observes that the document is significant for what it fails to mention as much as for what is mentioned, writing:

“It now seems possible that the anticipated change could be substantially greater than most observers had anticipated. Consider not only the specific words in the text above, but also what was NOT said. For example, it is stated that the Church cannot accept gay marriage, but there is no condemnation of civil unions, or of same – sex relationships in general, nor is gay marriage listed in the opening description of threats to the family.”

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

New Ways Ministry executive director Francis DeBernardo writes at CNN:

“Quite simply, this is a total reversal of earlier church statements that labelled such an orientation as ‘objectively disordered,’ and which viewed gay and lesbian people in faith communities as problems and suspect persons…Although this document does not go as far as I and many others would like, I think it is important to remember that doctrinal change in the church starts with a change in language and tone, which leads to a change in pastoral attitudes and practices, which eventually leads to doctrine.

“This call to dialogue has been absent in church discussions of sexuality for way too long. It presents the hope that future changes that are even more welcoming and accepting of lesbian and gay people and their families can develop down the road.  Once church leaders engage in dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics, I am confident that these leaders will see the deep faith, love, and witness to the gospel that is active in their lives and loves…I hope that local bishops and pastors will respond to these challenges with new ways of welcome and acceptance.”

Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, a coalition of Fortunate Families, DignityUSA, Call to Action, and New Ways Ministry that advocates for LGBT justice and equality in the church, said in a statement:

“We are thrilled that the synod is recognizing what Catholics in the pews have long known: that LGBT individuals are a sacred part of our parish communities and bring immeasurable gifts to the church. We hope these words from the synod will inspire the US Bishops to celebrate the contributions LGBT people make to Catholic schools, hospitals and parishes. In recent years, dozens of dedicated Catholic employees in the United States have been fired because of their gender identity, sexual orientation or marital status. We pray that these strong words from the synod will make these witch hunts a thing of the past, and will encourage Catholic dioceses and institutions to more fully celebrate the unique gifts LGBT employees bring to the workplace.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke noted how far the synod leaders have come since they first issued documents about the meeting in the past year:

“The tone in this midterm report is remarkably different from preliminary documents prior to the Extraordinary Synod. Those were marked by a sense of frustration with how Church teachings were not being well-received or followed in today’s world. This report has more of a sense of humility, and an emphasis on meeting people where they are at. It is much more pastoral.”

Linda Karle-Nelson

Catholic LGBT advocate Linda Karle-Nelson, who has a gay son, expressed her excitement to the Detroit Free Press, citing Pope Francis as the catalyst for this shifting tone:

“It’s all the result of this pope…If he hadn’t come in, I don’t think this would have happened…He’s made it possible for people to start thinking in a new way…This is an answer to a million prayers. Nothing like we ever thought we would hear…It’s such a 180 degrees from what we hear from the Catholic bishops in the United States. This is going to bring them up short and they’re going to have to start thinking in a new way.”

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter notes that the USCCB made progress in recognizing the dignity of lesbian and gay people in its 1997 document, Always Our Children, and he noted:

“Then, it seemed like the conference took two steps – maybe a dozen steps – back from their own document in the past decade or so as the shape of the conference changed. In any event, the times they are a changin’ and it feels great.”

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese offers a helpful summary of the document, noting especially the relatio‘s positive and engaging tone, of which he writes:

“Listening, accompanying, respecting, valuing, discerning, welcoming, dialogue are words repeated throughout the new document being discussed by the synod of bishops in Rome this week. Words of condemnation and marginalization were avoided…However these discussions develop, it is clear that the church is embarking on them with a new pastoral style that is more compassionate and affirming.”

Elizabeth Dias

Less optimistic was Time religion correspondent Elizabeth Dias who said the relatio is “a long way from actual policy change.” She writes:

“The relatio is not a proscriptive text. It is not a decree. It is not doctrine, and certainly not a doctrinal shift. It is also not final…But it is also important to remember that the Synod on the Family is almost a two-year-long process, and this snapshot is just that, a snapshot of one week in that process. There will be more such snapshot documents in the coming months…Looking for revolution can be misleading. It can mar the actual story of what is and what is not happening.”

Robert Mickens

However, longtime Vatican correspondent Robert Mickens says this synod is not so much earthquake as icebreaker and rather than this document being an end, it is merely a beginning on the road to change. He writes:

“Plain and simple: The real work must take place in the weeks and months ahead, between the sessions, as occurred at the Second Vatican Council. But the experts (“periti“) the bishops should be calling upon to be involved…should principally be the Catholic faithful of all walks of life and of varying experiences, not just priest-theologians…And so should gay Catholics, including those in stable partnerships and leadership roles in the church. They exist and should be recognized openly.

“No topic related to these issues should be feared. None should be excluded from discussions…The pope has only broken the ice. Soon the real work will begin.”

Meanwhile, American LGBT organizations like GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign positively covered relatio as a sign of progress.   A variety of conservative and progressive voices responded to the document in an Associated Press story.

In closing, the Philippines’ Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle has perhaps the best summary of what this document may mean and how the Synod proceeds: “So the drama continues.” The relatio is a hopeful sign for many, but there is a week left in this Synod and a year until the next one begins. The Holy Spirit may still have surprises in store.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s continuing coverage of the synod, including New Ways Ministry’s statement on the relatio, click the ‘Synod 2014‘ category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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