As preparations begin for the 2015 Synod on the Family, two high-ranking Dominican church leaders are offering divergent thoughts about what may happen next October. Which view ultimately holds sway will be determinative for how the church addresses LGBT issues moving forward.
First, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna gave an interview in which he calls on the church to deal with the realities of family life rather than idealized forms.
Speaking to the German theological journal Herder Korrespondenz, Schönborn affirmed the 2014 Synod’s work while expressing hopes for a more realistic discussion. The National Catholic Reporter quotes the cardinal as saying:
” ‘At the Extraordinary Synod marriage and the family were often discussed as though they were something that took place in interstellar space and not in a particular period of history, in a particular society under particular conditions…I would like to see us work off the deficits in our theology, above all on questions of fundamental morals. This homework needs doing as it plays a great role in the background of the Synod debates.’ “
Schönborn defended gradualism, the idea that people gradually arrive at agreement with and practice of church teaching, even though it sparked outcry when introduced at the Synod last year:
” ‘When discussing marriage and the family, we must first of all ask ourselves why couples all over the world often cohabit nowadays without marrying. Before I evaluate this morally, I have to learn to understand why even committed Catholic couples nowadays often only gradually discover the way to the Sacrament of Marriage….’
” ‘As a Dominican I would very much like to invite everyone concerned to orientate themselves on a morality which sees people ‘in via’ — that is on their way — a morality which is inherent in Christian hope.’ “
Overall, the Austrian cardinal said the Synod was a “good process” that left him “highly motivated and energized” due to the honesty and indeed conflicts which arise during the bishops’ discussions.
This view contrasts with recent comments by Sydney, Australia’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher who called the Synod a “dangerous strategy” and said there would be no changes. Crux reports:
” ‘The pastoral goal is to see how we’re going to help people who are hurting. In this way things will change, and hopefully we’ll find some ways to help them.’
” ‘But in the end, we’re not going to say “No, God got it wrong”…After a year of discussion, we’re still going to say what Christ said.’ “
Fisher previously stated that marriage equality would lead to polygamy and incest being legalized. At that time, Bondings 2.0 said the archbishop need to replace his logic with a dose of reality.
If bishops remain in the realm of reason and logic alone, as Archbishop Fisher does, then the Synod will do little more than affirm already outdated and ineffective teachings. Damaging language and exclusionary pastoral practices will remain in place, driving LGBT Catholics and their allies away from the church more and more.
However, if the bishops take up Cardinal Schönborn’s suggestion and deal with realities of family life today amid all its particularities then the 2015 Synod on the Family could be a positive step. The bishops could discover, and hopefully admit, the gifts and goodness of LGBT people that many Catholics already have after their loved ones have come out. They would see the flourishing of families led by same-gender couples who are raising children and positively contributing to their communities — and their churches. They would understand that Catholics support LGBT rights because of their faith, not in spite of it, and understand equality for all as a constitutive element of the Reign of God.
There are still nine months until the bishops reconvene in Rome. Let us, as Catholic advocates for LGBT justice, pray for and work towards the vision of Cardinal Schönborn that will open the eyes of the bishops that they may see!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry