The second part in a three-part series reflecting on Vatican II and LGBT issues. For the first part, click here.
In this second part of the Vatican II and LGBT series, we will look at Richard Gaillardetz’ second of three dynamics which he identified as instrumental for making the Council so successful. (To read the entire Gaillardetz essay on which this post is based, click here. ) The second dynamic he identified is “humble learning.” In part, he had this to say about this essential dynamic:
“A second dynamic evident at the council was the bishops’ commitment to humble learning. In the century before the council it had become common to divide the church into two parts: a teaching church (ecclesia docens) made up of the clergy and a learning church (ecclesia discens) consisting of the laity. This way of imagining the church dangerously overlooked the fact that bishops do not have a monopoly on divine truth. They do not receive supernaturally infused knowledge at their episcopal ordination. It is not the case that a priest with a shaky understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity on the day before his episcopal ordination would suddenly be able to give learned lectures on the topic on the day after ordination! As St. Cyprian of Carthage sagely pointed out in the third century, bishops must themselves be learners before they can be teachers (Epistle 74, 10).
“Historians of Vatican II will point out the remarkable willingness of so many of the council bishops to become students once again. It is easy to forget that a good number of bishops, then as now, found that their pastoral responsibilities made it difficult for them to keep up with current historical, biblical and theological scholarship. As the council proceeded, many bishops sought the expert input of some of the many distinguished theologians and ecumenical observers who were in Rome at the time. Many regularly attended evening lectures offered by leading theologians. . . .
“Vatican II reminds us that we are all disciples of Jesus and, therefore, lifelong learners.”
If there is one area where our present-day bishops can use some humble learning, it is the area of sexuality and gender. Our world has undergone such a major transformation in this area over the last century, particularly the last half-century, yet our bishops don’t seem to have paid any attention to it.
I say this not just because the hierarchy’s ideas in this area are traditional, but because when they make statements about sexuality or gender, they often do so in such a way as to give the impression that they are totally unaware that everyone else in the world has been discussing these topics passionately for so long. Often the hierarchy won’t even raise opposing arguments as “straw men” so that they can refute them. They seem unwilling to acknowledge that a whole new universe of discourse has been established. It seems like their strategy is that ignoring these new discussions might make them go away.
Gaillardetz’ argument reminds us that as an entire church, we need to be continually learning. “Humble learning” is almost a redundancy. All learning requires the humility to acknowledge that one may not already have all the answers or not know how to respond to new information.
In the particular area of LGBT issues, new ideas and new research continue to be published every day. Reputable and faithful Catholic theologians and scholars have been developing new ideas about sexuality and gender since the 1960s, but church leaders rarely even acknowledge that this robust discussion has been taking place. If they do acknowledge new ideas, too often it is to censure them without giving them a full and honest hearing.
I believe that what the church most needs is a new C0uncil focusing solely on the issue of sexuality and gender. Such a gathering would hopefully allow bishops to become humble learners in this most important area of human and ecclesial life.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry