I was a teenager when the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would have made gender equality the law of the land, was defeated. The outcome was difficult to accept because after a strong campaign for passage of the amendment, it ended in a narrow defeat. I always remember the lead sentence of a magazine article, which, summed up the mixed emotions of coming so close, but ultimately being defeated, by using only two words: “And yet.”
“And yet” is exactly how I feel this weekend, after a week of anticipating that the synod of bishops would do the right thing and approve its draft statements which were so welcoming of lesbian and gay people. Certainly, the final negative outcome was disappointing. And yet.
And yet, the welcoming statements in the final report only lost acceptance by a handful of votes that would have been needed to achieve the required 2/3rds majority. Similarly, the votes for the more restrictive language,which was approved, did so also only by the most narrow of margins, showing significant opposition to this approach.
And yet, we caught a rare glimpse of the fact that there are many bishops who are speaking out for changes in the ways that the Church approach LGBT people.
And yet, we witnessed an unprecedented week where discussion and disagreement among the hierarchy was evident in the media.
And yet, we saw how ready and willing Catholic people are to accept changes in the Church on a variety of marriage, family, and sexuality issues.
And yet, we have a pope who seems willing to push for a more inclusive and welcoming Church.
John Allen, a veteran Vatican observer, commented on the closeness of the votes in a Crux.com article which looked at how the final report addressed the issues of homosexuality and divorce/remarriage:
“Paragraphs on those two points were the only items that failed to receive a two-thirds majority of the Synod of Bishops in voting on its final document. While there’s no magic to the two-thirds threshold in this sort of Vatican ballot, the results clearly reflect a divided hierarchy on both issues.
“Despite considerably more cautious language, both items drew significant ‘no’ votes: The paragraph on gays and lesbians had a vote of 118-62 and that on the divorced and remarried drew 104 in favor and 74 opposed.“A Vatican spokesman said that means they did not reflect ‘a strong consensus of the entire synod.’ ”
“Referencing a talk he gave the synod when it began its work Oct. 6, Francis said ‘it was necessary to live … with tranquility and also with interior peace because the synod takes place with Peter and under Peter and the presence of the pope is the guarantee for all.’
” ‘The task of the pope is to guarantee the unity of the church; to remind pastors that their first duty is to feed the flock — feed the flock — that the Lord has entrusted to them and try to search to welcome — with fatherhood and mercy and without false fears –the lost sheep,’ he said.
“Then, saying, ‘I made a mistake,’ Francis corrected himself: ‘I said welcome. Go find them!’ “
Those of us who advocate for LGBT equality in the Church can be glad that we heard words this week from Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx that change in the Church is obviously something that can happen. The National Catholic Reporter carried some of his comments:
“Addressing a key question raised by the Synod of Bishops on the family, a German cardinal said Friday that church doctrine can change over time.
“The church’s doctrine, Cardinal Reinhard Marx said, ‘doesn’t depend on the spirit of time but can develop over time.’
” ‘Saying that the doctrine will never change is a restrictive view of things,’ Marx said at a Vatican press conference Friday.
” ‘The core of the Catholic church remains the Gospel, but have we discovered everything?’ he asked. ‘This is what I doubt.'”
Marx was specific about LGBT issues, too:
“Marx said: ‘homosexuals are not condemned by the church for their sexual orientation.’
“Making a difference between gay couples who have monogamous relationships for decades and gay persons who are promiscuous, Marx continued: ‘I cannot simply say that everything is black or everything is white.’
” ‘We cannot say that since you are homosexual, you cannot experience the Gospel,’ Marx said. ‘This is impossible to me.’ “
Vatican Radio summarized other points made by Cardinal Marx, under a headline that “Pope Is Seeking Input to Take Church Forward” :
“Cardinal Marx from Munich noted that in Germany many committed Catholics are asking how the Church can be more inclusive of those who are divorced and remarried or living in homosexual relationships. Exclusion is not the language of the Church, he said, insisting that Catholics must move away from a ‘black and white…all or nothing’ vocabulary. While there are significantly different perspectives at the Synod, according to a bishops’ cultural experiences or personal encounters, the cardinal said Pope Francis is seeking input that can take the Church forward, open new doors and discover new possibilities for bringing the Gospel to men and women today. The Pope did not invite us to two Synods, he remarked with a smile, to hear us simply repeat what we’ve always been saying!”
As with many situations in life, we can choose between looking at the glass as half-empty or half full. A half-empty approach to the news of the final report might focus only on the fact that the positive messages on gay and lesbian people did not get approved. But a CNN.com headline shows a half-full perspective. The headline reads: “Catholics bishops: No agreement on gays and lesbians.” Similarly, a New York Times article on the report carried this headline: “No Consensus at Vatican as Synod Ends.”
This perspective highlights the fact that though traditionalists may have had the votes in this round, the experience of the synod points to the fact of significant disagreement on how to approach LGBT issues. That’s a hopeful point.
On Friday, October 17th, the day before the report was issued, The New York Times editorialized about the experience of the synod, and they offered this hopeful conclusion to their opinions:
“The synod did not call for doctrinal changes on birth control. But it said — perhaps in a euphemistic effort to seem less than absolute on the subject — that what is required is ‘a realistic language that is able to start from listening to people.’
“Beyond specific issues, a welcome tone of conciliation and outreach defined the synod report, as in the recognition that gay Catholics yearn for ‘a welcoming home’ in the church. In this and other ways, the synod marks a hopeful beginning of what undoubtedly will be a difficult but fascinating worldwide debate on the future of the modern church.”
Even with Saturday’s disappointment, it is still important to remember that we have already seen a “fascinating worldwide debate on the future of the modern church,” and that it will very likely only become more fascinating in the coming months .
Today, we say “And yet.” But, as we look toward next year’s synod, we can say, “And yet, possibly. . . .”
I’m reminded this weekend of another famous “And yet” statement. When Galileo was forced under the threat of execution to deny his claim that the earth moved around the sun, and not the other way around, it is said that immediately after his recanting, he whispered under his breath about the earth, “Eppur si muove.” “And yet, it moves.” May we all have the fortitude and confidence of Galileo as we continue on with this important discussion in the Church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Religion News Service: “Catholic bishops narrowly reject a wider welcome to gays, divorced Catholics.”
New York Times: “What Is a Catholic Family?