The Vatican’s 2014 Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family left many LGBT advocates unimpressed, yet just the simple fact that this meeting named the realities of family life today has made many in the church’s hierarchy fearful.
Some bishops are using the interlude until next October’s Ordinary Synod to promote traditional agendas, yet, in doing so, they are ignoring the very realities identified last fall that must be addressed, and, if ignored, can even cause tremendous harm.
In a recent interview, Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo, Nigeria attacked LGBT rights in harsh and pastorally-damaging language. Badejo, who also heads communications for the African bishops, promised to oppose any openness to gay persons, telling Aleteia:
“[Gay people] have a right to be accepted as human beings. But there is a distinguishing factor between human rights and human behavior. I don’t have to accept homosexual behavior, just like I don’t have to accept drug addition [sic], robbery, and terrorism.”
He also suggested that homosexuality is “capable of being changed” and has “been proven on some levels of science to be pathological.” Badejo criticized Western governments for tying advances in LGBT rights to international aid, citing pressures on Uganda to overturn a proposed law criminalizing and severely punishing people who become known as lesbian or gay.
Elsewhere, Cardinal Raymond Burke told Italy’s La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana that members of the church are conspiring to promote a “gay agenda” at the upcoming Synod. Crux reported on Burke’s interview, noting that he added that unnamed forces “want to discredit us who are trying to defend the Church’s teaching” and suggested LGBT people’s pastoral needs should not be discussed in a Synod devoted to family life.
In another synod-related case, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, criticized Cardinal Reinhard Marx, German Bishops’ Conference president, who said the German church would “preach the Gospel in its own original way,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. In discussing the differences raised at the synod, Marx said he did not want the German church to be seen as “a branch of Rome.”
In more positive remarks, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of London criticized several hundred English priests for publishing an open letter defending a traditionalist interpretation of human sexuality amid alleged confusion caused by the Synod. And Cardinal Walter Kasper, of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, one of the most outspoken advocates of mercy before last fall’s gathering, has called for prayer “because a battle is going on” between those seeking development from a living tradition and those bound to the past.
It appears bishops on all sides of controversial questions such as the recognition of same-sex relationships and LGBT pastoral care are increasingly preparing for heated discussions in October. The language is elevated, even hyperbolic, and the stakes are falsely understood to be a win-lose, as Cardinal Kasper’s words seem to suggest.
Theologian David Cloutier, Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Maryland, reminded readers at Catholic Moral Theology that understanding the Synod as a debate match is deeply problematic:
“The more the form of the discourse is a battle, with our words and ideas as the weapons, the more likely is polarization. The more the form is an attempt to deal with complex difficulties that cut in multiple directions, with our words and ideas as ways of better coming to grips with the full complexity of the matter, the more likely we will keep talking. Seems simple. But we humans do like battle…”
Instead of doing battle, church leaders should open themselves to the fullness of realities concerning family life today, reading these lived experiences through the light of a just and healing Gospel. Bishops should temper their words in coming months, focusing on their roles as pastoral leaders rather than ecclesial partisans and aim to build bridges rather than destroy perceived opposition.
As for those of us who are LGBT advocates, we can aid church leaders by sharing stories, preaching the inclusive Good News of Christ, listening to those who disagree, and fostering dialogue. New solutions rooted in compassion may burst forth through the apparent divisions come October. At the very least, we may curb the dangerous beliefs voiced by Bishop Badejo and Cardinal Burke that do great harm in social contexts where being openly LGBT can lead to great physical harm. We need to hold bishops accountable when they fail to be pastoral leaders for all God’s people.
There are about six months before synod participants reconvene in Rome. Let us hold up the goodness of LGBT people and their relationships and their families as educating lights for our church, especially our bishops. And let us never accept without resistance when these same bishops commit injustices. More than anything, let us pray and act so that between now and the Synod, we as the church will plant seeds for renewal and change that the bishops can harvest.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
National Catholic Reporter: “In family synod document, bishops forget we are all wounded“