Intensifying divides among Catholic bishops are becoming increasingly apparent as preparations for the 2015 synod continue. More and more bishops are speaking about whether and how the church should improve its pastoral care of families, particularly for same-gender partners and their families.
Below, Bondings 2.0 provides a briefing on recent developments, and links are provided for more information, if desired.
African Bishops Meet
African bishops gathered in Accra, Ghana for a consultative meeting in advance of the 2015 Synod of Bishops. Convened by the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), nearly fifty prelates discussed the state of family life on the continent and what African Catholicism offers to the synod.
Several speakers attacked marriage equality, including Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, who told those gathered marriage is “being attacked by all forms of ideologies” to “destroy the family in Africa.” There were repeated calls for Africa’s bishops to “speak with one voice,” reported Vatican Radio.
One voice not included in this African meeting, but which should be considered, is Uganda’s Father Anthony Musaala who is calling for a ‘Sexual Refugee’ program to aid LGBT people fleeing nations where they face elevated levels of violence and discrimination.
The National Catholic Reporter detailed European responses from national episcopal conferences, saying overall:
“Europe’s fractious and divided church looks set to play a key role when the synod convenes in October.”
As they had previously done, the bishops of England and Wales solicited input from anyone interested in responding to their online survey, though these results remain unreleased.
Switzerland’s bishops released a summary of 6,000 Catholics’ responses from 570 reports composed after parish conversations, saying overall that church teachings were “complicated, incomprehensible and idealistic.” On homosexuality specifically, spokesperson Walter Müller said most Catholics want formal recognition of same-gender relationships. He added that they:
“[W]ish the church and synod to take reality into account, and to stop defining it as inadequate, irregular, defective and wounded…Only a small minority of answers expressed the wish for a narrow observance of the church’s current doctrine with its strict discipline.”
German bishops, lay people, and theologians have echoed such sentiments in their calls for respect and for recognition of same-gender couples. After Ireland’s referendum in favor of equal marriage rights, Germany’s Cardinal Walter Kasper has said same-gender marriage matter should be the “central issue” of the synod.
France’s bishops reported on 10,000 respondents. The only information about their answers came from Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré of Montpellier, vice president of the French bishops conference, who said Catholics in his country would like this consultation process to become regularized.
Belgium’s bishops said church teachings on the relevant issues are “hardly understood, even among churchgoing Catholics, and also not practiced,” admitting that a February survey was intended to gain ‘real’ results as intended by Pope Francis.
Poland’s bishops are, alternatively, resisting any of the frankness or close look at reality found in the above statements. These bishops claim recent survey results are “unanimous and unambiguous” that Poles oppose any reforms in Catholic teaching, reported the National Catholic Reporter.
Poland’s Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan directly refuted the merciful approach of Germany’s bishops, calling instead for those with “homosexual tendencies” to seek therapy. Gadecki chaired a recent meeting of Eastern European prelates in Slovakia, strengthening their opposition to any pastoral proposals for LGBT people or the divorced and remarried.
Interestingly, a government survey from March claims 75% of Polish Catholics desire reform because they disagree with the bishops’ teachings on sexuality. The church’s own information agency KAI reports 61% of people expect “significant changes in church teaching” from Pope Francis.
Joint African-European Seminar
Uniting African and Eastern European bishops, a seminar titled “The Joy of the Family” was held in Mozambique in late May to strategize for the synod, reported Aleteia. SECAM and the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe (CCEE) avoided LGBT issues in a closing statement, but several speakers negatively addressed the matter.
Archbishop Edgar Parra Pena, the apostolic nuncio to Mozambique, said Ireland’s passage of marriage equality was a “sad situation” that must be resisted. Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, president of CCEE, indirectly attacked the pastoral proposals from Cardinal Walter Kasper and his German-speaking peers by rejecting experience as a locus of theological reflection.
This meeting is similar to a study day for French, German, and Swiss bishops and theologians late last month, though in that case they strategized about how to expand pastoral care for LGBT people and divorced/remarried Catholics.
Progress Already Made
Not all these developments are positive for LGBT advocates, as those bishops opposed to homosexuality and marriage equality organize against any positive changes in church teaching and practice. Some recent history provides an important lesson. At Vatican II’s outset, conservative factions operating under Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani who tried to stem any and all change.
Thankfully, the Spirit intervened then, as now. The dialogue around once silenced issues and even the disagreements occurring among prelates are welcome signs. This is what Pope Francis has desired through this synodal process and it is the seeds from which reform and renewal will keep growing. The process itself is not the easiest and includes setbacks, but even before the synod begins progress has been achieved.
What matters most now is that pro-equality Catholics continue making their affirming voices known to Pope Francis, to the hierarchy, and to the entire People of God.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry