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