The issues of same-gender relationships made its debut at the Synod on Marriage and the Family on Monday in a talk by a married couple on evangelization. And while it was exciting to see same-gender couples finally mentioned in a Vatican meeting as something other than pariahs, their statement certainly wasn’t a clear endorsement, for which we still wait, hope, and pray.
Ron and Mavis Pirola, who are the chairs of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council, were discussing the challenges of presenting church teaching to the modern world, nothing that “We need new ways and relatable language to touch peoples’ hearts.” According to The Vatican Insider, the couple elaborated on this idea:
“ ‘The domestic church’ represented by the family, ‘has much to offer the wider Church in its evangelizing role,’ the couple continued. ‘For example, the Church constantly faces the tension of upholding the truth while expressing compassion and mercy. Families face this tension all the time.’ The couple went on to illustrate this with an example relating to homosexuality. ‘Friends of ours were planning their Christmas family gathering when their gay son said he wanted to bring his partner home too. They fully believed in the Church’s teachings and they knew their grandchildren would see them welcome the son and his partner into the family. Their response could be summed up in three words, “He is our son.” ‘ “
The couple commented on their’ friends’ response by saying that it was
“a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond to similar situations in their neighbourhood! The Church’s teaching role and its main mission to let the world know of God’s love.”
The welcome, yes, is very important. And it is admirable that they are encouraging parishes to welcome LGBT people as this couple weclomed their son and his partner. But it is hard to interpret what the Pirolas’ silence about the evaluation of the gay couple’s relationship is. Does it mean that they accept the couple or that they don’t want to talk about the relationship? It is hard to say. The clause “the Church constantly faces the tension of upholding the truth while expressing compassion and mercy” makes me think that their intention is the latter. When “truth,” “compassion,” “mercy” are all in the same sentence in an official church context, it usually means that the speaker does not support the idea of full equality for LGBT people and their relationships.
The Pirolas’ follow-up example seems to support a conservative interpretation of their statements about the gay couple. They illustrated their point with a different story, but with another condescending remark:
“A divorced friend of ours says that sometimes she doesn’t feel fully accepted in her parish. However, she turns up to Mass regularly and uncomplainingly with her children. For the rest of her parish she should be a model of courage and commitment in the face of adversity. From people like her we learn to recognize that we all carry an element of brokenness in our lives. Appreciating our own brokenness helps enormously to reduce our tendency to be judgemental of others which is such a block for evangelisation.”
The remark is condescending because it doesn’t at all take into account what the divorced women’s feelings and perception about the situation might be. The married couple attribute positive spiritual motivations to a woman who may not be experiencing these at all.
Gay and lesbian issues were not expected to make their debut on Wednesday, when the synod addresses “Difficult Pastoral Issues,” which is where pastoral care of families headed by same-sex couples was listed. Martin Pendergast, a British Catholic LGBT advocate has wondered how the synod will be able to discuss such pastoral care without actually having a same-sex couple or openly lesbian or gay person speak at the synod. The inadequacy of the Pirolas’ comment shows the problem of having others speak for a group of which they are not a member. Indeed, they were not only speaking as lesbian and gay people, but they weren’t even speaking of parents of such people, as their example came from the experience of their friends, not themselves.
When Pope Francis opened the synod he asked the bishops and cardinal to speak “boldly” and not worry about offending him. Although the Pirolas are not members of the hierarchy, their language and examples certainly don’t fit into the category of bold speaking. Their intervention is one small step forward in that it acknowledged how Catholic families love their LGBT members, but it is a step which also reveals how many steps our Church still has to go to reach full justice and equality.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry