SYNOD: Belgian Bishop’s Hope: Restore Conscience to Its Rightful Place

October 1, 2014

Yesterday we saw a theologian’s hopes for the synod: that the bishops might be open to the grace of seeing that same-gender marital commitments are sacramentally equal to heterosexual ones.  Today, we will look at what one bishop’s hopes for the synod will be.  I think you will find his thoughts to be filled with promise for a more just and loving church.

Bishop Johan Bonny

In September, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, published a reflection about the upcoming meeting entitled: Synod on the Family:  Expectations of a Diocesan Bishop. I will try to summarize some of what I think are the high points of this essay, but I confess that I will barely scratch the surface of the richness of thought he expresses.  At 22 pages, the essay is not overly long, but it is also packed with so many gems that it is hard do it justice in just one blog post. It is also eminently readable, so I highly encourage interested people to read the entire text, which can be found by clicking here.

Bishop Bonny’s reflections are based, in part, on responses that the Belgian bishops received from the laity, whom they consulted on these topics, as the Vatican had requested.  Bonny, who will not himself be at the synod, remarked that the responses

“stem . . . from the primary stakeholders:  people of today who are committed to work on their relationship, their marriage, their family in the light of the gospel and in connection with the Church.”

In addition to praising the laity, Bonny criticizes the hierarchy, who, he says, did not complete the work of the Second Vatican Council, particularly in the area of marriage and the family. Because of the furor following Humanae Vitae, the birth control encyclical, the idea of conscience “lost its rightful place in a healthy moral-theological reflection.”  So it is no surprise, when a few sentences later, he asks himself “What do I expect from the upcoming Synod?”, his answer is direct:

That it will restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church in line with Gaudium et Spes.” [Gaudium et Spes is the Vatican II document which described the primacy of conscience in ethical reflection.]

Bonny explains that the Church’s teaching on marriage cannot be reduced to a few general principles or narrow judgments.  He observes that we can’t characterize the Church’s view on marriage

“by pointing to one period, one pope, one school of moral theology, one language group, one circle of friends, one ecclesial policy.  Every component counts, but no single component can comprise or replace the whole. . . . In short: the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and family is to be found in a a broad tradition that has acquired new form and new content down through the centuries.  This narrative is incomplete. Every new era confronts the Church with new questions and challenges.”

His greatest concern is with the fact of “how complex the reality of relationship formation, marriage and family life is today.”  He offers several poignant examples of the many varied family configurations that exist in the contemporary world.   He includes a same-gender couple as one of his examples”

“J and K are are a same-sex couple, married in a registry office.  Their parents have never found their choice a simple one, but at home they’re just as welcome as the other children.  J and K appreciate the attitude of their parents and family very much  They have a problem with the attitude of the Church.”

His recognition of the many different family situations causes him to express another hope for the Synod:

“What are my hopes for the Synod?  That it won’t be a Platonic Synod.  That it won’t withdraw into the distant safety of doctrinal debate and general norms, but will pay heed to the concrete and complex reality of life.”

Indeed, in a later section of his essay, he observes that the ever-changing social contexts of marriage and family life require the Church to be more willing to develop its view on these topics:

“This ever changing context is not intended in itself to be anti-Christian or anti-Church. It is part and parcel of the historical circumstances in which both the Church and individual believers are expected to exercise their responsibility.  It confronts the Church time and again with an important question:  how can its teachings and life in its concreteness encounter and question one another in a productive tension?  In almost all the responses to Rome’s questionnaire, I have read the expectation that the Church would also recognise what is good and valuable in other forms of partnership, forms other than traditional marriage.  I consider such a hope to be justified.”

This spirit of dialogue is evident in the seventh section of the essay, entitled “The Proclamation of the Gospel. ” After criticizing church leaders for being too defensive against outside influences, he turns to Jesus as the model for welcome and conversation:

“Jesus opened his heart and his arms to people whoever they were and whatever their experience in life.  There were no walls or boundaries around his mercy and compassion. . . . He entered into dialogue with unexpected dialogue partners and accepted invitations to dine with people of questionable character.  He wasn’t particular or exclusive in his choice of friends or table companions, not even in his choice of apostles.These are the tracks on which Jesus placed Church.  In its relationship with the world and the people who live in it, the Church should exhibit the same openness and compassion as its founder.”

In his conclusion, Bonny offers a hope that the Synod will institute continued conversation among hierarchy, laity, and many other experts:

“The Synod would be least beneficial in my opinion if it were to draw a few practical conclusions in haste. It would be better advised to initiate a differentiated process in which as many people as possible consider themselves interested parties:  bishops, moral theologians, canonists, pastors, academics and politicians, and particularly the married couples and families who are at the focus of the Synod.”

Here’s just quick review of the topics I covered:  praise for the expertise of the laity,  promotion of the idea of conscience, the need for the Church to develop its teaching, recognition that  family life is complex,  recognition that committed relationships other than heterosexual marriage are holy, using Jesus’ ministry as a model for outreach to the marginalized.  Few bishops tackle even one of those topics, let alone all of them.  And the remainder of the document examines further ones:  collegiality, how the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI squashed theological discussion, natural law, the sense of the faithful, to name a few.

I hope that enough Synod participants have read Bishop Bonny’s reflection, and that they are open to the wisdom it contains.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

The Tablet: Belgian bishop urges real dialogue at Synod

 

 

 


How LGBT-Friendly Are the Appointees to the Synod on Marriage and Family?

September 11, 2014

The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family is less than one month away.  The Vatican released the names of the bishops who will be participating, as well as a list of the lay observers.

In terms of the bishops who will be participating,  there is a mixed bag on their approach to LGBT issues.  Here are some of the prominent names, with a little bit of their history on LGBT topics:

These are only a handful of the more than 250 appointees, and it is by no means an exhaustive list of people with any sort of record on LGBT issues.  It only includes names of those for whom I had concrete supporting evidence with which to link.  However, others on the list, such as Cardinal George Pell of Australia and now at the Vatican, have a long history of anti-LGBT measures.  Similarly, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, Germany, are known to be very supportive of LGBT people and topics.

If you are aware of others on the list who have a record, positive or negative, on LGBT issues, please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.  Supporting links would be very helpful.

From my perspective, the most important feature from the list of lay observers is that no publicly LGBT person or couple is named.  The Synod will be examining pastoral responses to families headed by same-gender couples.  Didn’t the Vatican think it would be good to hear from some of them?  If the Vatican has invited heterosexual couples to participate, why did they not invite lesbian and gay couples, too?

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, offers a critical view of the list in an essay entitled “The makeup of Synod of Bishops on the family is disappointing.”   Reese is disappointed that so many Curia officials will be participating, and he notes that they should be “staff, not policymakers.”  He explained:

“They have all the other weeks of the year to advise the pope. This is the time for bishops from outside of Rome to make their views known.”

Reese observes that the choices of who will be advising the bishops also seems lopsided.

“Half the experts are clerics, which seems strange at a synod on the family. None of the 16 experts is from the United States; 10 are from Europe (including five from Italy), three from Asia, and one each from Mexico, Lebanon and Australia.

“There are more laypeople among the 38 auditors, including 14 married couples, of whom two are from the United States. Many of the observers are employees of the Catholic church or heads of Catholic organizations, including natural family planning organizations.

“For example, one couple from the United States is Jeffrey Heinzen, director of natural family planning in the diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and Alice Heinzen, member of the Natural Family Planning Advisory Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Bondings 2.0 will continue to update you on the Synod as the days of preparation progress, and we will try to provide LGBT-relevant information and analysis once the meeting begins.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders

February 11, 2014

Two European prelates have made statements recently which point, once again, toward a more open discussion of LGBT and marriage issues, topics which will be discussed at October’s Synod on Marriage and the Family.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

In Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin acknowledged that some people in the church have used doctrine “in a homophobic way.”  The Irish Times reported that the archbishop made these comments in a discussion about the upcoming national referendum in Ireland about the legalization of same-gender marriage:

“Discussions have to be carried out in a ‘mature’ way so that people can freely express their views, while at the same time being respectful and not causing offence, he said. He said that in general he believed it was the person who was offended who defined what being offended is.

” ‘Anyone who grew up in Ireland would have told jokes that were pointed at the gay community; at Travellers [gypsies]; it is part of the culture we grew up in, but we have to grow out of it,’ he said. He said church teaching was that marriage was between a man and a woman, exclusively, but that this approach did not exclude gay people from celebrating their union by a different means.”

The Independent quotes Martin as saying further:

” ‘God never created anybody that he doesn’t love.’…

“Speaking to the Irish Independent, the senior cleric said this meant that ‘anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that – they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people’…

“He added: ‘We all belong to one another and there is no way we can build up a society in which people are excluded or insulted. We have to learn a new way in Ireland to live with our differences and for all of us to live with respect for one another.’ “

According to RTE.ie, a leader of Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), was disappointed that the archbishop did not address pressing issues facing the LGBT community there, but affirmed his statements about the damage that cultural attitudes can cause:

“GLEN’s Brian Sheehan described it [the archbishop's comment] as ‘a missed opportunity’ to tackle the role of the church and church teachings in creating what it said were ‘some of the difficult realities for lesbian and gay people in Ireland today.’

“However, he welcomed Dr Martin’s acknowledgement of the impact that a culture, which still has homophobia as part of it, has on those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (standing) and Austrian bishops meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna made some surprising statements about the hierarchy’s views on marriage, at the time of the Austrian bishops’ ad limina with Pope Francis. The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“In several interviews shortly before leaving Vienna, Schönborn advocated a more rational, down-to-earth approach toward family relationships. ‘For the most part, the church approaches the [family] issue unhistorically,’ he said. ‘People have always lived together in various ways. And today, we in the church tacitly live with the fact that the majority of our young people, including those with close ties to the Catholic church, quite naturally live together. The simple fact is that the environment has changed.’ . . . .

“Schönborn said he regretted that the Austrian bishops haven’t dared to speak out openly on necessary church reforms in the past. They haven’t had the courage to address the need for greater decentralization and to strengthen local churches’ responsibilities, he said. ‘We were far too hesitant. I beat my own breast here. We certainly lacked the courage to speak out openly.’ “

Schönborn had high praise for the work and message of Pope Francis, and said he sees the promise of change occurring in the church:

“Schönborn said he was convinced that far-reaching church reform was on the way, ‘but it will not be achieved through big words and programs but through people like Pope Francis.’ One could already see that the pope has become a role model, Schönborn said. ‘The atmosphere is changing and his behavior is making itself felt,’ he said. What impressed him most about the pope was his charisma. ‘You can feel his inner devotion to God from which his compassion, his warmth and his infectious sense of humor emanates,’ the cardinal said.”

Though U.S. bishops have not yet embraced the new era of Pope Francis, it seems that some of our European church leaders are, in fact, taking steps toward a new era of less judgement and more discussion and openness of the reality of people’s relational lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


German Bishops Admit Most Catholics View Sexual Teachings Unrealistic and ‘Merciless’

February 4, 2014

In a groundbreaking move, Germany’s bishops have released results from a survey conducted for next fall’s Synod on Marriage and Family Life. The results reveal just how wide the gap is between how Catholics live and the hierarchy’s teaching on issues of sexual ethics. Further, the bishops’ report is unusually blunt in its conclusions.

Reuters reports that the bishops admit most German Catholics either reject the hierarchy’s views on a slew of sexual issues (including same-gender relationships) or were unaware of teachings in the first place. The article notes:

“The results will not be news to many Catholics, especially in affluent Western countries, but the blunt official admission of this wide gap between policy and practice is uncommon and bound to raise pressure on Pope Francis to introduce reforms.

“Bishops in Germany, one of the richest and most influential national churches in the 1.2-billion-strong Catholic world, have been pressing the Vatican to reform, especially over divorce.

“A statement from the German bishops conference called the results ‘a sober inventory of what German Catholics appreciate about Church teaching on marriage and the family and what they find offputting or unacceptable, either mostly or completely.’ “

Also notable, is that many German Catholics hold to the ideal of marriage and family life as positive elements in society. When it came to the issue of same-gender relationships and legal recognition, the article states:

“There was a ‘marked tendency’ among Catholics to accept legal recognition of same-sex unions as ‘a commandment of justice’ and they felt the Church should bless them, the report said, although most did not want gay marriage to be legalized…

“The German bishops suggested the Church should move away from what it called its ‘prohibition ethics’ of rules against certain acts or views and stress ‘advisory ethics’ meant to help Catholics live better lives.

“In sexual morality, it [the Church] should find a way of presenting its views that does not make people feel it is hostile to sex.”

Germany’s bishops also strongly urged Vatican officials responsible for the Synod to consult with lay people experienced with family life, and were forceful about needing to welcoming divorced and remarried Catholics.

This report follows a recent letter by that nation’s leading Catholic theologians which said the Church needs a new paradigm from which to discern sexual morality and called for increased pastoral care for LGBT people and their children.

Leading German magazine, Der Spiegel, has also released an article called “The Pope’s Sex Problem” analyzing the survey results from all twenty-seven dioceses in Germany. [Editor's note:  Thanks to Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com for referring us to this article.]  The article also described the German bishops’ process in conducting the survey. When the Vatican released the 39-question survey, the German Bishops’ Conference chair sent it to dioceses without instructions for further dissemination.  Der Spiegel reports:

“The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, simply passed the survey on, providing no further instructions on who was to respond to the Vatican survey.

“Zollitsch proved to be more decisive on another, albeit very important issue. In a letter to German bishops written by his secretary, he noted: ‘Questions 1, 2, 5, 7 and 8 will be answered by the central office.’ To save time, existing church positions were to be used.

“In fact, this meant that particular issues were being withheld from churchgoers. For instance, the set of questions under item 5 relates to gay and lesbian couples, while question 7 concerns contraception and abortion.”

However, Catholics in Germany became aware of the survey questions because the Bishops Conference of England and Wales had made the entire survey available on the Internet, and they responded in great numbers. Der Spiegel notes that the German Catholic Youth Federation received 10,000 responses, the Catholic Women’s League organized in several regions, and one pastor received 116 from his parishioners alone. Of these efforts, the magazine states:

“Despite the differences [in collection procedures], there was widespread unanimity in the evaluation of the survey…’Even though they are not representative, the survey results create and amplify the impression of an unfortunate, calamitous situation,’ says Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the bishop of Mainz…

” ‘Many Christians cannot understand this attitude [of condemning homosexuality],’ the staff of Cologne’s Cardinal Joachim Meisner concluded after reading the survey responses they received. In fact, Catholics in Cologne are all too familiar with their conservative archbishop’s condemnation of gays and lesbians. Now Meisner can read about the consequences in the analysis prepared by his own priests, who conclude: ‘Many have already turned away from the church. And many are convinced that this is no longer acceptable.’ “

Surveys, polls, and ancedotal evidence abound which reveal how affirming Catholics are of LGBT people and their relationships, but this development shows that a national group of bishops are finally acknowledging this reality. Now, it is an open question how these results will reach Rome and inform the coming Synod, with groups as diverse as the progressive reform organization “We Are Church” and the more traditional Catholic Family Federation asking Germany’s bishops to leave the results as they are: transparent and unfiltered.

Whether or not this report will impact the Synod’s deliberations on marriage and family life may not be known until October, but by simply getting Church leaders to admit widespread disparities exist between teaching reality, advocates for healthier, more Gospel-infused sexual ethics have already scored a major victory in Germany.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

QueeringTheChurch.com: Cardinal Schonborn: Church must adjust to reality of co-habitation, divorce and remarriage


What Makes a Family Holy?

December 29, 2013

The Feast of the Holy Family, celebrated today,  focuses our Christmas celebrations around three people. United under unorthodox conditions, Mary, Joseph, and their child, Jesus, became a family, and one venerated for centuries now. Lately, “family” has been in the news for Catholics as marriage equality expands, and Pope Francis calls for an examination on family life during next fall’s Synod of Bishops. With all this in mind, what can the Holy Family say to LGBT people and their families today?

Writing at Believe Out Loud, Rev. Kittredge Cherry wonders how “queering” the Nativity could change the way the Holy Family is thought of, and in doing so, how family life today is understood. She previously displayed scenes with two Marys or two Josephs, and writes of these changes:

“Obviously this is not about historical accuracy, but I believe my nativity scenes are true to the spirit of the Christmas story in the Bible: God’s child conceived in an extraordinary way and born into disreputable circumstances…

“Love makes a family—including the Holy Family…

“Everyone should be able to see themselves in the Christmas story, including the growing number of LGBT parents and their children.”

Other insights come for Sr. Laurie Brink writing at U.S. Catholic who questions idyllic family depictions that dominate culture. Speaking from her own experiences, she asks what makes a family a family? Her conclusion is that family “has less to do with the accident of biology and much more to do with the choice to love.” Sr. Brinks continues:

“What makes the holy family holy? Some might say the presence of the divine child Jesus. But I think holy is also an attribute of Mary and of Joseph. Both are given—and both accept—the opportunity to be conduits of divine action and love. Luke and Matthew both paint remarkably similar portraits of God’s invitation to Mary and to Joseph in which both make the choice to become an unconventional, ‘good enough’ family. God holds out the same invitation to us. Are we willing to accept that our own ‘good enough’ families can also be holy?”

For decades now, same-gender couples have chosen to build families that are precisely these “conduits of divine action and love,” even if the broader society (and, more slowly, some of the leaders in the Church) is just recognizing this reality. Marriage equality is one tangible sign that the goodness of families led by LGBT people and those that have LGBT members is increasingly affirmed and equal to other family structures. Rapidly growing acceptance of children or siblings who come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is one way. The witness of couples who remain together after a partner undergoes a gender transition, or who remain supportive of one each other, is yet another way.

Just as the Holy Family, in their unorthodox arrangement, witnessed to God’s inclusive and diverse kingdom, so too do the many families who include LGBT people living prophetically. The hope now is that Church leaders will listen to Catholic voices and begin to receive gratefully the gifts such families offer our world.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Immaculate Conception Feast Reminds Us Our Lives & Beliefs Shape the Church

December 9, 2013

Zurbaran’s “Immaculate Conception”

There’s probably not a more Catholic feast day in the liturgical calendar than the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is usually celebrated on December 8th, but was moved this year to December 9th because the 8th fell on a Sunday.  It combines so much of the elements that people think of as distinctly Catholic:  devotion to Mary, emphasis on grace, connections between spirituality and sexuality, and religious concepts based on Tradition and not Scripture.

On this day in 2011, Bondings 2.0 focused on the spirituality that LGBT people can gain from this feast.  In 2012, we focused on the spiritual benefits that the entire Church can gain from LGBT people because of this feast. (We’ve created a graphic based on the 2012 post which is included in this blog post–see below.  You can share this graphic directly with your friends through Facebook and Twitter by clicking on one these links:  Facebook & Twitter.)  This year, we’d like to focus a little bit on one aspect of the process of how the dogma of the Immaculate Conception became official teaching.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not declared definitively until December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX.  Briefly, the teaching states that Mary was free from Original Sin from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb.  (It does not refer to Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus.)  One of the things that I find most interesting about this historical declaration is that it acknowledges the role that the sensus fidelium or “sense of the faithful” played in arriving at this teaching.  Pope Pius IX, in Ineffabilis Deusthe papal document which defined the Immaculate Conception, acknowledged that the practice of honoring Mary through this devotion preceded any official teaching of the devotion.  Pius states:

“All are aware with how much diligence this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God has been handed down, proposed and defended by the most outstanding religious orders, by the more celebrated theological academies, and by very eminent doctors in the sciences of theology. All know, likewise, how eager the bishops have been to profess openly and publicly, even in ecclesiastical assemblies, that Mary, the most holy Mother of God, by virtue of the foreseen merits of Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, was never subject to original sin, but was completely preserved from the original taint, and hence she was redeemed in a manner more sublime. . . .

“This doctrine so filled the minds and souls of our ancestors in the faith that a singular and truly marvelous style of speech came into vogue among them. They have frequently addressed the Mother of God as immaculate, as immaculate in every respect; innocent, and verily most innocent; spotless, and entirely spotless; holy and removed from every stain of sin; all pure, all stainless, the very model of purity and innocence; more beautiful than beauty, more lovely than loveliness; more holy than holiness, singularly holy and most pure in soul and body; the one who surpassed all integrity and virginity; the only one who has become the dwelling place of all the graces of the most Holy Spirit. God alone excepted, Mary is more excellent than all, and by nature fair and beautiful, and more holy than the Cherubim and Seraphim. To praise her all the tongues of heaven and earth do not suffice. . . .

“No wonder, then, that the Pastors of the Church and the faithful gloried daily more and more in professing with so much piety, religion, and love this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God. . .”

ImmaculateConception2013

An important lesson to be learned here is that the process of the development of church teaching begins with how people live out their faith.  For Catholics concerned with LGBT equality, this realization might provide hope for the future.  It helps us to remember that the way we live our lives of faith, the language that we use to express our beliefs, and the seriousness with which we hold our values can have a profound impact on how the institutional Church develops its teaching.  Admittedly, this process can be slow, but it is still powerful and effective.

This message is especially important these days as we seem to have a pope who is willing to listen to the diverse opinions in the Church, particularly on questions of marriage, family, and sexuality.    Pope Francis’ call to bishops to gather opinions on these topics in advance of the 2014 Synod on Marriage and Family provides a great opportunity for Catholics to share the sensus fidelium on these topics with our leaders. As we’ve noted before, it’s important for people to offer their opinions through one of the several online surveys available.  One new addition to this list of surveys is one from Canada from the Grass-roots Catholics for the Synod on Marriage and Family.

As we pray and reflect today on the Immaculate Conception, let’s keep in mind that the way we live our faith lives, and our ability to articulate that lived faith to others, is vital and crucial for how our Church develops its official teaching in the future.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

December 8, 2011:  “How Can This Be?”

December 8, 2012:  From Secret Shame to Confident Trust: The Immaculate Conception


How Will Pope’s New Document Affect LGBT Issues?

November 26, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has issued an Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).  The focus on the document is on renewing the evangelization efforts of the church, which he rightly envisions as the entire People of God.  It is a document which does not shy away from examining how church structures, including the Vatican and the papacy, need to reform in order to make this renewal of evangelization possible.

The document does not discuss sexuality, gender, or LGBT issues.  In fact, in chapter two, he outlines many of today’s social ills, and unlike the previous two popes, he does not single out any sexuality issues for discussion here.  His only reference to these topics is a passing one, and noteworthy for NOT naming any hot-button issues such as same-gender marriage:

“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life’.[60] ”  (chapter 2, section 66)

As we’ve noted before, Pope Francis may not be ready to make wholesale changes in church doctrine on LGBT issues, but he does seem intent on establishing reforms which can eventually lead to such needed changes. While sexuality is not discussed in this new document, there are many topics in it that can pave the way for the church hierarchy to renew itself in regard to these concerns.   I’ve excerpted a few of them below.  In the coming week, we hope to provide more analysis and commentary on this newly-released document as it becomes available.

1. Reforming the Papacy

“Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.” (chapter 1, section 32)

2.  Updating long-standing traditions which have become irrelevant

“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God ‘are very few’.[47] Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation ‘so as not to burden the lives of the faithful’ and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas ‘God’s mercy has willed that we should be free’.[48] This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a the reform of the Church and her preaching which would enable it to reach everyone.” (chapter 1, section 43)

3.  On welcoming all to church and not withholding communion

“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door': baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.[51] These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”  (chapter  1, section 47)

4. The importance and role of the laity in the church

“Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the People of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith. At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. In others, it is because in their particular Churches room has not been made for them to speak and to act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making. Even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society. The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge.”  (chapter 2, section 102)

5.  The call for all to be evangelizers

“In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization. The people of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo. This means that it does not err in faith, even though it may not find words to explain that faith. The Spirit guides it in truth and leads it to salvation.[96] As part of his mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with aninstinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression.

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.” (chapter 3, sections 119-120)

6.  The importance of dialogue and listening

“In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs.” (chapter 3, section 128)

7. Changing the church’s teaching on social issues and the importance of science

“The Church’s teachings concerning contingent situations are subject to new and further developments and can be open to discussion, yet we cannot help but be concrete – without presuming to enter into details – lest the great social principles remain mere generalities which challenge no one. There is a need to draw practical conclusions, so that they ‘will have greater impact on the complexities of current situations’.[148] The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being.” (chapter 4, section 182)
 
“. . .  neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems. Here I can repeat the insightful observation of Pope Paul VI: ‘In the face of such widely varying situations, it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. This is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country’.[152] ” (chapter 4, section 184)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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