NEWS NOTES: Synod Responses from Around the Globe

October 25, 2014

NewsThe synod on the family has certainly prompted an immense amount of journalistic response and analysis.  Bondings 2.0 has tried to keep up with it in the best way that we can, selecting what we thought have been important articles or responses which highlight significant points.  We could not, of course, deal with everything that we found, but we know that some of you may be interested in reading further on this topic.  So, we present these “News Notes” on the synod for those who can’t seem to get enough of this important milestone in Catholic LGBT history.  This first installment carries perspectives from various parts of the globe:

1.  London’s Catholic Herald newspaper editorialized that the synod was like an “unfinished icon,” noting that “Icon painters say that prayer is essential to their work, and so the bishops have paused for a year of reflection, before meeting again for the second, larger family synod. We, too, should be praying that the synod fathers create a compelling image of Christ.”

2.  Italy’s Sandro Magister, a veteran Vatican observer, gives an insider’s look as to exactly how two of Pope Francis’ followers were able to open up the discussion in the synod toward a more inclusive view of homosexuality.  His analysis is part of La Repubblica’s online faith portal.

3. From Uganda, a nation which the institution and then repeal of a repressive anti-gay law, Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights and constitutional lawyer, penned a CNN.com op-ed noting that “I suggest that this is not a turning point particularly for the African Catholic community, but rather the start of an openness in debate that will take a long time to change the Church’s doctrinal teaching. In a deeply conservative Church that has for a long time viewed homosexuality as ‘an intrinsically disordered, contrary to natural law and cannot be approved under any circumstances,’ it will take more than a Synod statement to arrive at a turning point on the subject of homosexuality. A change in the doctrinal teaching/catechism of the church will take a long time and protracted debate in the Catholic community.”

4.  LGBT Catholics in the Diocese of Westminster, the archdiocesan pastoral outreach in and around the city of London, England, issued a response which said the synod’s final report “fails significantly to reflect the welcoming and pastorally sensitive discussions which took place during the first week of the Synod.”  However, noting that the vote was close, and that this report is not the final word, the ministry called upon “upon the Vatican and local Bishops’ Conferences to institute Listening Processes over the coming year, to include LGBT people, parents, and other family members, alongside theologians and experienced pastoral ministers.”

5.  Filipino gay rights advocate Danton Remoto, had been happy with the relatio’s first draft but, in the International Business Timeshe added:  “We don’t expect major earthquakes to happen [during the synod] because the Catholic Church is an old institution and change will not happen overnight.”

6.  Filipina gay rights advocate Claire DeLeon told GMA News Online a mixed response to the synod’s report: “We are quite disappointed but we are appreciative that this issue has been opened for discussion.”  She added that the negative perception of LGBT people seems to be disappearing, and that the future of the discussion in the Catholic Church holds promise.

7. Ireland’s RTE News carried the response of Brian Sheehan, the head of the Irish Gay and Lesbian Equality Network: “It’s disappointing that a majority of bishops at the synod didn’t follow the Pope’s leadership and seek to include lesbian and gay people within the Catholic Church. Elements within the church are out of step in the laity. The reality is that there’s been a huge positive change in attitudes over the last 20 years to lesbian and gay people. And Irish people, the majority of whom are Catholics, warmly embrace their lesbian and gay family members and friends and their loving relationships. It’s a missed opportunity that the church didn’t seek to reflect that reality. “

8.  AsianJournal.com reported on the statement of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, Philippines, who said: “Let us not stereotype persons, countries, local churches. We are here, all of us have something to contribute. But all of us are also learning This Synod is unique because it’s happening in two stages. We have the whole year to continue studying and continue consulting people.”

9.  At Ekklesia.co.uk, Savi Hensman reviewed the synod, and included an important quote from Bishops Geoffrey Robinson at The Ways of Love,” an international theological conference in Rome, which immediately preceded the synod. In regard to sexual teaching, Robinson said:  “Why should we turn to some abstraction in determining what is natural rather than to the actual lived experience of human beings? Why should we say that homosexuals are acting against nature when they are acting in accordance with the only nature they have ever experienced?” Hensman concluded the blog post by noting: “Many others too in the Roman Catholic church have been reflecting on how Gospel values can be reflected more truly in approaches to sexuality, and the Synod on the Family has encouraged greater openness about the diversity of views and experiences. What is more, Catholics are part of a wider Christian community where numerous others have been thinking seriously about sexual ethics. Moving beyond the use of depersonalising language and mere assertions which fail to convince, while remaining true to what is richest in the Christian heritage, is a challenging task for the churches as a whole.”

10. In the UK’s Telegraph, Cristo Foufas says that “Gay people shouldn’t care what the Catholic Church thinks.”  In this op-ed, Foufas expresses being tired of the Vatican’s traditional attitude toward homosexuality: “Whilst It’s heartening that there finally seems to be a Pope who is trying to build bridges with the gay community, it seems that the suggestion of being respectful, sensitive and welcoming to a minority group was just too much for some conservative Catholic bishops to bear. . . . It should come as no surprise that a good number of senior Catholic bishops in the synod are bigoted homophobes. What other explanation can there be for making a choice not to support and welcome a minority community who have no choice in their orientation at all? It’s exactly the same way that racists choose to hold prejudice against those people who haven’t an ounce of control over their skin colour. Hate rarely has logic.”

11. Australia’s Jesuit online magazine, Eureka Streetcarried an editorial by Andrew Hamilton a consulting editor, examined the controversy of the dramatic change between the relatio’s two incarnations:

“It reflected partly an evident failure of the initial document to read accurately the sentiments of the participants. The voting on the amendments shows that clearly.  Such failure is inevitable in any such draft: that is why the final document reflects the definitive view of a meeting.

“In this case the controversy reflects another significant feature of transparent public conversation: the influence of the media. After the first draft public comments by the Bishops seemed exercised as much by the common journalists’ view that it heralded a rethinking of the Catholic understanding of homosexual relationships than by the content of the document. At all events they recast the document in order to close the door on these perceived implications of the draft. 

“This way of proceeding is understandable, but its disadvantages are also worth reflecting on. When phrases like ‘people who are homosexual must be ‘welcomed’, the ‘gifts and qualities’ of gay people and the ‘precious support’ they can offer one another are pulled from a public draft, the public perception is that they are not simply withdrawn from the text but that their opposites are commended. So people are to be made unwelcome, have no gifts and their support is valueless. The Catholic Church will now have much work to do to persuade people that this is not its meaning. .  . 

“If Pope Francis’ assessment of the Synod is as positive as I believe it is, we may expect from him dramatic gestures of encounter and compassion to God’s love that will reframe the questions addressed by the Synod in terms of the Gospel. “

12. The UK’s Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement welcomed the synod’s final report with Chief Executive Tracey Byrne saying, ‘The outcome of the Synod represents a significant shift in thinking and a brave move by those willing to affirm their support for gay and lesbian people. A substantial majority of the cardinals, only slightly short of the two-thirds majority needed, voted in support of the draft statement, and it’s being reported that a number who voted against the statement did so because they felt it did not go far enough in its support for gay and lesbian people. Pope Francis is to be applauded for convening the Synod, and for providing an opportunity for Catholics around the world to contribute to this ongoing process of listening and discernment in such an open way.”  You can read Byrne’s full statement by clicking here.

13.  London’s Guardian newspaper praised Pope Francis for his management of the synod, but also concluded with this cautionary note and call to action: “This is the Catholic church. The surest sign that things are changing will be a barrage of announcements that nothing has changed, can change, or will change. In this view, the doctrine can only be developed into a more refined expression of the same eternal truths, even if its interpretation becomes the exact opposite. But however the official formulation is refined, the practice on the ground, in parishes, must now change. The old and rigid artificial unity is now smashed. In that sense Pope Francis, and the liberals, have already won.”

14. Lebanon’s The Daily Star published reactions to the synod’s final report including one from Ute Eberl, a German family counselor who attended the meeting.  She said that the event got the church “out of its comfort zone … to hear about real life for families around the world.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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”

 


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

 

 


Translation Issues Cause Mystery at Synod, While Austrian Cardinal Speaks Clearly About a “Saintly” Same-Gender Couple

October 16, 2014

More news broke today about the way the bishops at the synod are discussing lesbian and gay people in their relatio document, the working text they are using to develop a final set of recommendations.  At the same time, an Austrian cardinal, who has spoken in support of lesbian and gay couples before, gave a ringing endorsement of one such couple that he knew personally.

A new English translation has been issued which changes some of the language that had been issued earlier in the week.  You can read the new translation by clicking here.  (Relevant comparisons of the two translations appear at the end of this post.)

The National Catholic Reporter pointed out some discrepancy and vagueness concerning the new translation.  It seems only the English version of the document was changed, not the original Italian:

“. . . [T]he Italian version of the document from the meeting, known as a synod, remains the same and does not reflect the changes in the English translation.

“Responding to questions from reporters about the change at a briefing Thursday, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi emphasized that the official language of the synod is Italian and ‘we have said always that the text to refer to is the Italian.’

“Pressed about who had asked for the change and why the English version no longer matches the Italian, Lombardi said the Vatican press office released the revision at the request of the Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops and would not provide further details.”

While some of the changes seem to be neutral semantic choices, others may indicate that the bishops want to indicate a different direction.  This second category is important to examine.

For example, in terms of gay and lesbian people’s participation in parish life, the old translation talked of “welcoming these people,” while the new translation speaks of “providing for their needs.”  This could be considered not a minor change, except for the fact that it leaves open the question of who will decide what the “needs” of lesbian and gay people are.   In some cases, lesbian and gay people have gone to church to develop their relationship with God and others, and they have found that parish staff determines that their “needs” are to be supported in celibacy.  Such differing perspectives are problematic.

Another possibly substantial change is in paragraph 51, where the bishops stated that same-gender commitments could not be viewed as equal to heterosexual ones.  In the old translation, they described such commitments as “matrimony,’ and in the new translation, they describe them as “marriage.”  Since “matrimony” is generally used to describe a sacramental union and “marriage” can describe either a sacramental or civil union, it would seem that this change is intended to include the bishops’ opposition to civil marriages for lesbian and gay couples, as well as sacramental ones.

The final possibly substantial changes are in paragraph 52, in which gay and lesbian couples are discussed.  The original translation defined  the members of a couple as “partners,”  and the new translation refers to them as “these persons.”  It seems that the bishops may be reluctant to acknowledge the partnership that exists between the members of a couple.

When describing the support members of a couple offer each other, the first translation described it as “precious,” while the new translation describes it as “valuable.”  Perhaps the bishops felt the first choice was too tender, though an equal argument could be made that changing it to “valuable” strengthens the bond of the relationship.

It is hard to judge these changes since no reason was offered for why new the new word choices were made.  I still think that the relatio offers a more positive welcome to lesbian and gay people than such a high level Catholic Church body has ever made.  The substance of such a welcome, for the most part, remains in tact.

It’s also important to remember that the relatio is an interim document. Translation changes are not as important as whatever possible changes may be coming in the final, definitive synod statement, which should be released some time on Saturday, according to press reports.

The fact remains that the original translation (and to some extent this second one, too) shows that there are many voices in the synod which want a more welcoming stances in the Church towards lesbian and gay people and couples.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

In the same National Catholic Reporter article which reported on the translation changes,  one such voice came through loud and clear. a statement by Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schonborn at a press conference offered some hope that voices which recognize the goodness and holiness of lesbian and gay couples do exist in the synod.  Here’s the relevant passage from the article:

Although Monday’s document re-emphasizes church teaching against same-sex marriage, it also asks blunt questions about how the wider church treats gay people and if it is offering space for them in the community.

Asked about that change during the Vatican press briefing Thursday — specifically if it meant the church no longer holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” — Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said, “The basic principle is that we first look at the person and not the sexual orientation.”

“Every human person has a dignity beyond any other question,” said Schönborn, who is representing the Austrian bishops at the synod. “This does not mean and certainly will not mean that the church can say the respect for every human person means the respect for every human behavior.”

He said he thinks “the church will … always maintain that the fundamental gift of God’s creation is difference and relation between man and woman,” the cardinal also said he knows a same-sex couple in Austria that “are marvelous human persons.”

One of the partners in the couple, he said, became severely ill, and the other partner cared for them. The care, Schönborn said, “was saintly. Full stop.”

To me, Schonborn’s avoidance of discussing “intrinsically disordered” indicates that he recognizes this term as not useful.  His discussion of the “basic principle” of accepting the person indicates that someone’s sexual orientation is not an issue for him.  And though he supports marriage as a heterosexual-only institution, he is able to praise, in the highest terms, the love that exists between two men or two women.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s a major step.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Related articles

Al-Jazeera: “Vatican waters down ‘welcome note’ to gays”

Huffington Post: Now The English Speaking Catholic Church Will ‘Provide for Homosexuals’ Not Welcome Them”

 

Comparison of Translations

The relevant passages of the two translations are reproduced for you here, juxtaposing the old translation with the new one. The first paragraph of each pair is the version that was released Monday.  The second paragraph of each pair, in italics, is the version released on Thursday, with changes marked in boldface italics.

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing [...] them [...] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

51. The question of homosexuality requires serious reflection on how to devise realistic approaches to affective growth, human development and maturation in the Gospel, while integrating the sexual aspect, all of which constitute an important educative challenge. Moreover, the Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that the pastor’s outlook be pressured or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations based on gender ideology.

52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.
52. Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to [...] children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.


Did the Synod Really Backtrack on Its Positive Statements? Not Quite.

October 15, 2014

Following the positive reception that the Synod’s relatio document, its mid-term report, received in the global media over the past two days, a South African cardinal is saying that the document has been misunderstood.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier

The National Catholic Reporter noted the remarks of Durban’s Cardinal Wilfrid Napier:

“One of the prelates participating in the Synod of Bishops on the family has sharply criticized the landmark document the meeting released Monday, saying its message of openness to modern society has put the prelates in ‘a position that is virtually irredeemable.

” ‘The message has gone out: This is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic church is saying,’ South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said at a Vatican press conference Tuesday.

” ‘And it’s not what we’re saying at all,’ Napier said. ‘No matter how we try correcting that … there’s no way of retrieving it.’

” ‘The message has gone out and it’s not a true message,’ he continued. ‘Whatever we say hereafter is going to be as if we’re doing some damage control.’ “

The cardinal was commenting on the fact that the relatio is only an interim report, which will continue to be debated during the coming week.  And, even at that, nothing from it will be definitive since this extraordinary synod is only preliminary to the ordinary synod which will occur in October 2015.   The relatio is only a discussion of what has been said in the synod so far.

But, this qualification doesn’t mean that the relatio isn’t good news.  For instance, Napier himself seemed to backtrack from these seemingly backtracking comments.  The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“Speaking later at the Vatican press conference, Napier seemed to back away from his criticism. Asked if he would want the meeting to rescind the document, he responded: ‘That’s rather radical, I think, because the relatio actually has a lot of very good, very good things.’

” ‘It would be like saying, “Let’s take back the words that the synod fathers used in the synod hall,” he said. ‘A lot of it is what was actually said.’

” ‘Some of the … dissatisfaction is that individual things that [were] said by individuals … are put in here as if they really do reflect the feeling of the whole synod,’ the cardinal continued.”

And two Catholic LGBT leaders in the U.S. offered reasons to still consider the relatio  as good news.  CNN.com reported:

” ‘I actually don’t think this is as much of a backtrack as we usually see!’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, head of the gay rights group Dignity USA.

” ‘I think that response to this report was swift and intense, and I’m sure many bishops want to be sure people aren’t reading more into it than is there,’ she continued. ‘However, it is undeniable that there has never been any Vatican document that made positive, respectful statements about same-sex relationships, so that is an undeniable breakthrough.’

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, echoed that sentiment.

“‘Regardless of the fact that this is a working document, it is still significant in that it reveals a strong current of affirmative attitudes at high levels in the church towards lesbian and gay people,’ he said.”

In a second news articleThe National Catholic Reporter noted that the debate about the relatio has already begun:

“. . . 41 prelates at the synod made speeches about the text [of the relatio], suggesting additions or changes. Unlike previous synods, the Vatican is not releasing the texts of the speeches made by the prelates.

“According to an unofficial Vatican summary of those remarks, released Tuesday, the prelates praised Monday’s document, but also raised some concerns.”  [You can read the full text of the summary by clicking here.]

The summary of the topic of homosexuality stated:

“In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for welcome was highlighted, but with the just produced, so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church is not created. The same care was advised with regard to cohabitation.”

So much is yet to be discussed by the synod, but with evidence that there are voices in that body which support positive changes regarding LGBT issues, as well as other marriage and family topics, is reason to give hope.   At the very least, it means that we still have representatives on the inside working for a more inclusive church for LGBT people, which means there will very likely be some steps forward.  So, we can keep hoping, but we still should keep working and praying.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


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