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‘ “


Pope Francis on Synod: ‘God is not afraid of new things’

October 22, 2014

Reactions to the Synod on Marriage and Family’s final report has dominated the religion headlines for the past few days, and it seems like anyone and everyone is chiming in on the discussion, trying to evaluate what was good and bad in the final document and the entire experience of the synod. It’s good to get all these perspectives.

Pope Francis

But there is one person’s perspective that may carry a little more weight than many others:  Pope Francis.  He hasn’t written an op-ed or given an interview or appeared on a talk show an, but some of his statements since this weekend seem to indicate the pope’s evaluation of the synod, and it certainly looks like he, too, is hopeful for greater discussion on many issues in the months ahead.

On Saturday, just before the final report was released, Pope Francis addressed the synod participants and praised the process and collegiality that the meeting produced:

“I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of ‘Synod,’ a path of solidarity, a ‘journey together.’

“And it has been ‘a journey’ – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life.”

Later in the speech, the pope listed a variety of temptations that the synod participants may have experienced, including one of thinking of themselves only as conservators of tradition and as vague and confusing politicians:

“The temptation to neglect the ‘depositum fidei’ [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them ‘byzantinisms,’ I think, these things…”

Pope Francis expanded on this message the following day when, in the homily at the synod’s closing Mass, he told the bishops:

“God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”

Reuters pointed out that Francis even went so far as to keep many of the earlier discussions of pastoral welcome for lesbian and gay people as a live topic, even though those ideas did not receive the required 2/3rds vote:

“Voting tallies released by the Vatican showed that three controversial articles, including the final version of one concerning gays, won an absolute majority but failed to get the two-thirds vote needed for a broad consensus.

“But the pope decided to keep even the botched articles, which would have been deleted under normal synod rules, in the final document, meaning the themes will be discussed locally ahead of next year’s assembly.”

Jonathan Capehart, in a Washington Post blog, said that Francis’ approach will have a great effect on the coming discussions, and even next year’s synod:

“If the pope and the bishops can engage in a rational and respectful discussion about same-sex relationships, so can the rest of the flock. That’s the genie that is out of the bottle.

“. . . By the time the bishops reconvene next October to finalize the synod document, we might be looking at a very different outcome.”

Bishop Mario Grech

One telling sign of the pope’s support of LGBT issues comes from the fact that it looks like Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, who gave a speech in support of LGBT welcome, may become the next archbishop of Malta.  The Independent reported:

“. . . [A]n anecdote from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome that reached this newsroom some days ago from people very close to Mgr Grech has become all the more pertinent.

“Pope Francis, it seems, was extremely pleased with the Gozo Bishop’s address to the Synod on 8 October. So much so that the next morning, over breakfast at Casa Marta, Pope Francis tapped Mgr Grech on the shoulder and complimented him on his speech. That, people close to Mgr Grech informed this newsroom, was followed by another friendly pat on the back during the next coffee break.”

We have one more source which shows what may be going on in the mind of Pope Francis.  During the synod, Cardinal Walter Kasper flew to Austria to give a speech to the theology faculty at the University of Vienna.  The National Catholic Reporter noted that during his speech he offered some insights into Pope Francis’ modus operandi:

“He said Francis is deliberately treading in the footsteps of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, both of whom wanted to interpret the unalterable Gospel message ‘in the light of the signs of the times.’ However, Francis ‘cannot be attributed to any theological school,’ he said. The pope is a practical man who prefers direct encounters with people and for whom reality takes preference over ideas, he added.

“The cardinal then explained how a special Argentine variation of liberation theology based on ‘the theology of the people,’ with a particular sensitivity for regional piety and characterized by the concept of reconciliation, had a formative influence on Francis. This has nothing to do with the classical form of liberation theology and its class war ideology, which the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned, Kasper said.

“The pope’s theology and his vision for the church is centered on the Gospel mandate, the good tidings of a merciful God, and the concept of the People of God, which Vatican II had underlined, Kasper said. Francis outlined much of this in his apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium, which was, so to speak, the blueprint of his pontificate. He wanted ‘the People of God, every single one them, to participate in the church’ and for the church to be a ‘listening church which has an open ear to the People of God,’ Kasper said.”

From his statements and gestures, it seems that Pope Francis is leading the way for next year’s synod to be even more remarkable than this past one was in terms of openness and discussion.  As Jonathan Capehart wrote in his blog post entitled: “Pope Francis and gays will win by losing this round on synod draft”:

“What the synod did at the outset on paper, Pope Francis has been doing since ascending to the papacy. He’s been talking about gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church with an unheard-of humanity and care. So what that the more conservative bishops succeeded in watering down the gay paragraphs so much they couldn’t get the two-thirds majority necessary to include them in the new document released on Oct. 18. They may have won this battle, but they aren’t going to win the bigger battle with this pope.”

To read other synod responses from commentators, click here and here.  To read New Ways Ministry’s responses, click here and here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Daily Beast: “Pope Francis Wins a Battle to Welcome Gays in the Church”

The Daily Mail: “Pope Francis plays long game to reform Catholic Church”

 


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


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


And Yet . . .

October 19, 2014

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.’ ”
Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter summarized Pope Francis’ final address to the synod, in which he stressed his oft-repeated message of inclusive welcome:

“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!’ “

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

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 .

Galileo

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

Related articles:

Religion News Service:  “Catholic bishops narrowly reject a wider welcome to gays, divorced Catholics.”

New York Times: “What Is a Catholic Family?

 


Synod Final Report Disappoints, But Significant Progress Is Made In the Process

October 18, 2014

The synod on marriage and family has released its final report.  You can read it by clicking here, though, so far, it has only been released in Italian. (Try Google Translate or another translation program.)  The passages on lesbian and gay issues are numbers 55 and 56.

The following is the statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, responding to the final report of the synod on marriage and the family:

The synod’s final report significantly backtracks on LGBT issues from the draft released earlier this week, but the synod’s process and openness to discussion provides hope for further development down the road, particularly at next year’s synod, where the make-up of the participants will be larger and more diverse, including many more pastorally-oriented bishops.

It’s very disappointing that the Synod’s final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included.  Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples. Additionally, their further comment about supposed “international pressure” to accept same-gender marriage selfishly views the hierarchy as the victims, not LGBT people who receive unjust and oppressive treatment by governments, church, families, and society.

Pastoral care should focus on for LGBT people as total human beings, many of whom have suffered significant alienation and personal harm, and not just as sexual beings.  Pastoral care should also focus on the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Church, something that the earlier draft highlighted.

One major error the bishops made in the final report was to quote the Vatican’s 2003 document condemning same-gender marriage, which referred to adoption by gay and lesbian couples as a form of “violence” toward the children.  Such language is pastorally harmful and destructive to any welcome to lesbian and gay people.

It’s important, however, to keep two things in mind.  First, the paragraphs on homosexuality which did not receive the required 2/3rds vote, and which were more welcoming of LGBT people, failed by only a handful of votes, indicating significant support from a majority of bishops. Second, this report is not the final word, but as a Vatican spokesperson explained, it is still a working document which will be discussed in the coming year.

What was good about this two-week long meeting?  The real value of this synod is that it has started the discussion among the hierarchy on LGBT issues which has been going on for decades among the lay people and theologians in the Church.  The bishops began to catch up, and I don’t think that the discussion will stop here, but will only continue, with more promising outcomes for LGBT people and their families in the future.

It is not surprising that the paragraphs on lesbian and gay people proved to be among the most controversial of the synod’s proceedings.  The paragraphs on homosexuality were among those that received the lowest affirmative votes.  This result shows that there is still much to be examined and explored on LGBT issues in the Church.  Let’s hope and pray that at next year’s synod, the bishops will invite lesbian and gay people and couples to give their personal testimonies, so that the bishops can learn first-hand about their experiences of faith and love.

More importantly, though this synod revealed that there are some strong voices for LGBT equality and for change in church teaching, something which was not known clearly before the meeting.  Now that these voices have been bold enough to speak, more bishops who think like them will surely follow their example.  The biggest problem in the Church up to this point has not been lack of support among the hierarchy on LGBT issues, but lack of courage for those bishops to speak out what they truly think.  The silence has ended.  Nothing will be the same.

Between now and next year’s synod, the discussion in the Catholic Church–at all levels–on LGBT issues, as well as other issues of family and sexuality, will be more open and robust than it has ever been.  That is a very good thing!

New Ways Ministry is a 37-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the wider Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


SYNOD: Document’s New Theological Approach Can Benefit LGBT Issues

October 17, 2014

The Synod’s relatio document certainly has made news around the globe!  News media have been on the story for days, focusing mainly on the fact that this mid-term report of the Synod seems to signal a new direction for how the Catholic Church regards gay and lesbian people and relationships.

The focus of these news reports have been paragraphs 50-52 of the document which has the subhead, “Welcoming Homosexual Persons.” Those three paragraphs have been the most-quoted sections because they contain the most pointed statements concerning lesbian and gay people. However, sprinkled throughout the rest of the documents, in the sections that cover the topics of divorce, remarriage, co-habitation, and contraception are some positive, generalized themes about relationships and church teaching which also hold promise for continued progress on LGBT issues.  (You can read the entire text of the synod document by clicking here.)

For example, in paragraph 11, the document lays out the principle of church officials accepting people in their full reality, even if they do not fit into idealized roles or situations that church leaders may prefer:

“It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church, also on the part of those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations. This requires that the doctrine of the faith, the basic content of which should be made increasingly better known, be proposed alongside with mercy.

This directive is wise pastoral advice that would apply directly to welcoming LGBT people.  If applied, it would end the practice of immediately rejecting LGBT people from the faith community.

This pastoral approach based on the reality of people’s lives is further developed in paragraph 28, which states, in part:

“For this reason, what is required is a missionary conversion: it is necessary not to stop at an announcement that is merely theoretical and has nothing to do with people’s real problems . . .”

This principle could help end the abstract and theoretical approaches that Church teaching has often taken towards people’s sexuality.  It can also help pastors to see that LGBT people have other issues and problems that are non-sexual, such as the feeling of alienation, marginalization, and oppression they may experience from social institutions.

Paragraph 36, which discusses civil weddings and co-habitation, also emphasizes that people’s reality must be the starting point, not some theoretical ideal of what Church leaders would like to see in relationships:

“A new sensitivity in today’s pastoral consists in grasping the positive reality of civil weddings and, having pointed out our differences, of cohabitation. It is necessary that in the ecclesial proposal, while clearly presenting the ideal, we also indicate the constructive elements in those situations that do not yet or no longer correspond to that ideal.”

What is very important here for same-gender relationships is the acknowledgement that pastors see “the constructive element in those situations. . . .”  This principle can easily be applied to lesbian and gay couples who, at this point, do not fit the Church’s official “ideal.”  Such a recognition is not the final step that we hope for, but it is one that can help end so much animosity that church officials sometimes demonstrate toward any and all gay and lesbian couples.  This principle will help pastors overcome their prejudice more than it will help lesbian and gay people achieve equality.

I already discussed this next example in Monday’s blog post, but it is so important that it deserves to be repeated.  Paragraph 30 states:

“The indispensable biblical-theological study is to be accompanied by dialog, at all levels.”

The call for dialogue here–and explicitly detailing that such dialogue be held at all levels–is perhaps the most hopeful statement of the entire document.  For too long, there has been an unnatural silence on LGBT issues, as well as other sexual and relational matters, which has impeded any sort of progress, even in terms of simple pastoral ministry.

It is clear from these quotations that the hand of Pope Francis is very much in evidence in this document.  The emphasis on mercy, on being non-judgmental, on meeting people in the reality of their life situation–all these items are themes that Pope Francis has been articulating during his papacy.  One synod participant explained this new approach to theology and church teaching to The National  Catholic Reporter last week:

“Unlike in the past, when bishops or theologians would deduce theology from general, sometimes idealized notions of God or humanity, the prelates at the Synod of Bishops on the family are using inductive reasoning to instead examine theology in the reality of families today, Canadian Archbishop Paul-André Durocher said.

” ‘What’s happening within the synod is we’re seeing a more inductive way of reflecting, starting from the true situation of people and trying to figure out what’s going on here,’ said Durocher, who leads the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The prelates, the archbishop said, are ‘finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source — what we call a theological source, a place of theological reflection.’ “

This new theological approach will help not only LGBT issues, but the whole spectrum of sexual, marriage, and family issues.  It’s long overdue for Church leaders to recognize that the Gospel becomes incarnate in the way that people live their lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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