Fired Vatican Gay Priest Is Now Suspended; Calls on Pope to ‘Leave Us in Peace’

Monsignor Charamsa and his partner

A Polish priest who, on the eve of the Synod on the Family, came out as gay and announced he has a partner has been indefinitely suspended.

Regardless, Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa remains firm in his calls for the church to stop harming LGBT people and is appealing directly to Pope Francis.

The New York Times reported that Charamsa wrote a letter to the pontiff, asking him to end the “immeasurable suffering” the church has caused LGBT people and their families, writing:

” ‘Be merciful — at least leave us in peace, let the civil states make our lives more humane.’ “

The priest’s letter comes after the Synod’s close, a meeting which has disappointed some LGBT advocates and left others suggesting it was one of several steps towards a more inclusive church. Charamsa called the Synod’s end “homophobic,” singling out Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah’s comparison of LGBT advocacy to “Nazi-Fascism and Communism.” Of these words, the gay priest explained:

” ‘That’s why I renew my appeal to the Holy Father. . .No one publicly said a word against those defamatory sentences. What kind of respect does that show to us all?’ “

[Editor’s note:  Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo speculated that Pope Francis’ non-specific apology at a general audience during the synod may have been a response to Sarah’s  vicious language.]

For being gay and partnered, Charamsa has been suspended indefinitely per a statement from the Diocese of Pelplin in Poland, reported Crux. This suspension remains in place until the priest shows “a real improvement of life and it can be reversed,” which would includes adherence to the “true teaching of the Church and Christ’s priesthood.” Despite punishment, Charamsa affirmed his decision to come out, saying to NBC News recently:

” ‘I am a gay priest and I am happy to say that I am a gay priest. . .I lost my work in the Vatican, in university, but I think I found my courage, my liberty, my dignity.’ “

Though sanctioned, Charamsa is not silenced and, besides his letter to Pope Francis, he is speaking directly to Catholics through the media. According to Crux, he sharply criticized Catholic teachings on homosexuality during an Italian television program:

” ‘We gays, lesbians, and transsexuals were not created defective . . .I had to hide being homosexual not only in the Vatican, but for my entire ecclesiastical life: during studies in the seminary, during my work in the university, in my parish, in every ecclesiastical setting. . .To be gay in that period was something ugly, horrible, which had to be refused, eliminated, and destroyed, even if it was part of you.'”

The priest told the network, “Retequattro,” that the Catholic Church “cannot continue destroying our lives” and said of his own life:

” ‘A year from now, I see myself free, happy, out of the closet, and serving the same ideals and the same values for which I became a priest.’ “

Charamsa also denied reports he was paid to come out or was otherwise benefiting, reported AFP, and further said there was no “gay lobby” at the Vatican though he added:

” ‘I met homosexual priests, often isolated like me. . .But I also met several fantastic homosexuals who are some of the best ministers in the Church.’ “

Charamsa has released a 10-point “liberation manifesto” for the church to address the harm it causes through institutional homophobia, reported The Independentand said previously that the church’s expectation of gay people to be celibate for life is “inhuman.”

The priest’s coming out has prompted larger conversations about gay priests and news broke around the same time of other gay priests being removed from active ministry for their sexual orientation. In Chicago, Crux reported a priest was removed from ministry for an “inappropriate relationship with an adult man.”

Reports also surfaced of a Vatican retreat in Italy which seeks to “cure” gay priests and others with “inappropriate sexual tendencies. Former priest Mario Bonfante claimed he was expelled from religious life after coming out as gay and refusing to seek treatment. Spokespeople for both the Vatican and the retreat are refusing to comment, reported Sunshine Coast Daily, but critics are not holding back. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo said:

” ‘This sort of thing is completely wrong. . .Being gay is not a disease that needs to be cured. . .What needs to be cured is not homosexuality but homophobia.’ “

That homophobia, all too present in the institutional church, as a recent incident in Italy revealed. A priest, Gino Flaim, defended pedophilia, saying victims sought affection.  He also said that homosexuality was a disease. Thankfully, he was suspended quickly.

The Polish priest’s harsh treatment for being gay and partnered is in sharp contrast to the harboring of priests who abused children, observed Peter Saunders, a clerical sex abuse victim and member of Pope Francis’ commission on the issue. Michael Coren criticized the church’s hypocrisy when it comes to gay priests, too, in The Star, writing:

“When it comes to sexuality the Roman Catholic Church is living a lie, one that has become so systemic and accepted that it’s now part of Catholic culture. Some of the finest priests I have ever met have been gay, partly perhaps because they understand a sense of ‘the other’ and thus evince compassion and empathy. . .

“Rome has to abolish compulsory clerical celibacy, admit and embrace its gay priests and lay people, stop obsessing about sex and sexuality, and open the doors of the church and, forgive me, the closet.”

Msgr. Charamsa is clear that coming out has helped him not only be freer and happier, but, as he told NBC News,” ‘Today, I am a better priest. . .The paradox is that today, I cannot exercise my being a priest.’ ” It is a tragedy that church leaders force talented LGBT ministers, clergy and lay alike, to remain closeted and fearful rather than being explosively powerful as the people God calls them to authentically and openly be.
It is time to see whether Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” will really be lived out in the church. The injustices against such people are wrong in and of themselves, but the cost to the church’s mission and care of God’s people are too great to bear any longer. It is time to be honest about gay priests and all LGBT ministers so they can return to doing God’s work.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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“With All Families, Without Condemnation” (And More Synod Reactions)

Frank Bruni

“With All Families, Without Condemnation.” That was the headline last Sunday on Italy’s national Catholic newspaper, a further sign for many that this two-year synod process commenced a new moment in the church. Not all agree, though. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides more reactions to the Synod on the Family.

Frank Bruni, openly gay columnist for The New York Times asked an important question for those  who have closely followed the Synod’s happenings, analyzing each development and commenting on every statement: “Are most Catholics even paying attention?” While those in the media follow developments closely:

“People in the pews are less rapt. The warmth and respect they feel for the current pope doesn’t translate into any obeisance to church edict.”

Polling confirms what many Catholics know anecdotally, that wide rifts exist between official teaching and Catholics’ lived realities. Church leaders, according to Bruni, “see family in terms that are much too narrow and having a conversation that’s much too small” because they are “more interested in dictating the parameters of sex than in celebrating the boundlessness of love.”

Indeed, while some condemn contemporary family configurations as devaluing traditional morality, the columnist says the truth about reality is “more complicated and less somber than that.” Developments in family life are products of feminist and LGBT movements, which have lifted up marginalized and even abused communities to places of greater dignity and freedom. Bruni said that is all “change we should build on:

“Most of us understand, in a way we once didn’t, that there are men who will never know full romantic and sexual love with a woman, and there are women who will never experience that with a man.

“Was society better off when we denied that and trapped gay and lesbian people in heterosexual marriages that brought joy to neither spouse and were constructed on a lie? Did society benefit from marginalizing gay and lesbian people?

“Those are rhetorical questions. Or at least they should be.”

He holds up families who choose to be family, considered nontraditional by some, but in his estimation quite impressive:

“I saw this happen time and again in the 1980s and early 1990s, when AIDS ravaged gay America and many sufferers found themselves abandoned by relatives, whose religions prodded them toward judgment instead of compassion. Friends filled that gap, rushing in as saviors, stepping up as providers, signing on as protectors. Where families were absent, families were born.”

James Martin, SJ
James Martin, SJ

Jesuit Fr. James Martin identified some of they synod’s larger themes, such as discernment and conscience, enlivened by the bishops’ endorsement. He told the Salt Lake Tribune, “relies on the idea that God can deal directly with us, through our inner lives. It is another encouragement to remind people, especially remarried Catholics, that an informed conscience is, as the church has always taught, the final moral arbiter.”

Martin also released a video (which you can watch below on America’website explaining his key insights from the synod, such as:

“On LGBT issues, again the synod changed no doctrine, but it reminded Catholics of the need to respect the human dignity of LBGT people and, also, to have special care for families with LGBT members. That may not sound like much of a change, but it challenges Catholics in countries where respect and care for LGBT people are not as common.”

In a a CNN essay, he defended change in the church, saying those fearful of reform and of renewal may have conflated dogma, doctrine, and practice. Or perhaps they adhere foremost to a “crushing sense of legalism,” or even “a hatred of LGBT Catholics that masks itself as a concern for their souls.”

Grant Gallicho

Grant Gallicho of Commonweal said the synod “punted” on homosexuality, highlighting Bishop Johan Bonny’s inability to even raise the issue in his small group led by the cardinal who compared LGBT activists to Nazis. But there is hope, for Gallicho wrote: “[T]his listening synod, if it is to be true to the stirring vision of the pope who established it, can never truly come to an end. It is only the beginning.” Commonweal’s editorial echoed this idea, stating:

“In that regard, the real achievement of the synod has been the reinvigoration of the synodal process itself, one in which bishops feel free to speak their minds, to disagree with one another, and even to explore the possibility that reform is essential to the church’s evangelical mission.”

Future synod’s must include more voices within the church it said, given that some bishops like Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich admitted this Synod would have benefited from input by LGBT people. One emerging issue is transgender inclusion, a topic absent from this synod altogether. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented to The Advocate about “gender ideology” condemnations in the final report:

” ‘The remarks show that the bishops do not understand the transgender experience or how people experience their gender identity, which is often received as a spiritual, life-giving revelation.’ “

These reflections are just the first fruits of many more commentaries and reflections to come, worthwhile both for analyzing ecclesial happenings and, like with Frank Bruni’s column, spiritual nourishment as well. You can find Bondings 2.0‘s first reaction round-up by clicking hereFor Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the 2015 Synod on the Family, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

What I Learned From Observing the Synod on Marriage and Family

Below is a postscript to Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo reported live from the meeting every day for the entire three weeks.  Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

I’ve had a few days to catch up on some much-missed sleep that went by the wayside during the three weeks of covering the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome.  And so now I turn to reflecting on the experience of the past month spent in the Eternal City and seeing the workings of the highest levels of the Church’s hierarchy.

I’ve learned more than a few lessons from the experience, and I thought I’d recount some of them for you, in no particular order.

1. Our church is big.  It was not just the variety of clerical dress on display at the synod and in the streets of Rome that made me think this.  It was hearing about how many and varied were the family issues that bishops from around the world are concerned about.  Here’s a small list:  migration, unemployment, physical and sexual abuse, abandoned children, children in war-torn areas growing up with absolutely no experience of family life, families separated because of one spouse needing to travel somewhere else to work, polygamy, lack of basic religious education, sexually transmitted diseases, terrorism, interfaith marriages, and addictions.     These are in addition to the hot button issues like divorce/remarriage and LGBT topics.  Marriage, sexual, and family issues are so different in so many different cultures, it is hard to fathom that the universal Catholic Church can find a “one size fits all” solution to all of them

2.  “Change” is not a dirty word–even for conservatives.  In one of the press briefings at the synod, South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier described the place of pre-marital co-habitation in his culture.   Marriages, he explained, are negotiated by families, and a dowry is set for the bride which the groom must pay.  Sometimes, it takes a groom a long time to save the dowry, so, before the wedding service is conducted, the couple will live together as husband and wife while the man saves the money to pay the woman’s family.  Napier saw this as an accepted cultural practice, and he hoped church teaching could be changed to accommodate it.  Time and opportunity did not permit me to ask him why that cultural adaptation could be incorporated into church teaching, while marriage for lesbian and gay couples could not.

3.  Bishops have a lot to learn about marriage and family, and about what Catholics believe.   I was struck constantly by the claim of some bishops that while the Church needs to think about exceptional cases of family, it also needs to concern itself with the “average” Catholic family in which there are no problems.  Huh?  Does such a thing exist?  Every family has struggles.  Families are made up of human beings, so of course there will be struggles.  When bishops would state their thoughts about the average Catholic family, it often sounded like this model family accepted all of the Church’s teachings about marriage and sexuality, which, we know, at least in the U.S., is not true.  Further, when bishops spoke about those who did not accept such teachings were those from “secular society and culture,” which, while partially true, does not acknowledge that many inside the Church have problems with Church teaching because of other Catholic values and principles they hold dear.

4.  Because of point number 3, bishops really do need to listen.  Over and over again, I heard bishops say that they needed to learn from couples and families, that families are a gift to the Church, that families are a basic unit of the Church. But then, I would also hear how the church’s pastoral ministers need to better communicate magisterial ideals about marriage and family.  These two points seem to contradict each other.  If families are so important to the Church, then instead of telling them what to do, perhaps the magisterium could learn from these individuals if they would but listen to them   When discussing marriage preparation, we often heard that bishops were talking about a “novitiate” for couples.  Instead of using the model of religious life to help couples, perhaps if the bishops listened to married people and families, the Church would develop a new model that is better suited for the particular experience of marriage.

5.  Catholic symbolic and analogical language are among its most powerful tools.  At one of the press briefings, where Vatican spokespeople reported on the discussions among the bishops in the synod hall, one of the most powerful images that I heard was a report that one of the bishops described the Eucharist as sexual.  “This is my body, given for you,” Jesus’ words of blessing at the Last Supper, repeated at every Mass since, understood in its most incarnational way, is a statement of sexual love, of total giving, of personal gift.  If understood this way, that statement of Jesus can help the Church to see the goodness in sexuality and sexual expression, and its primacy as a way of understanding how much God loves each of us.

6.  Despite all its failings, the Catholic Church still has no peers when it comes to putting on a spectacle. I mean this seriously, and not facetiously.  While I was in Rome, I was able to get to two Masses at the Vatican:  the canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square and the closing Mass for the synod in St. Peter’s Basilica.  I am not a very liturgically-oriented person, and I am not very “high Church” in my tastes, but I was deeply moved by both experiences.  The power of the symbols, the setting for each liturgy, the beauty of the music, and the faith of the thousands who attended each event nearly moved me to tears.  I never thought I would think that such spectacular liturgies would affect me so deeply, but the reverence with which they were executed and the sheer grandeur of each event were very, very powerful.

7.  Discussion, discussion, discussion.  If the synod proved nothing else, it’s that we need a Church that is willing to discuss the differences that exist among its members, as well as the common values we share.  Pope Francis has opened the doors of conversation which had been firmly shut during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Now the Church needs to move towards wider discussion, hearing from all quarters, including LGBT people.  A church of discussion must also be instituted at all levels:  parish, diocese, national, international.  We cannot discern the voice of the Spirit if we don’t discuss our views with one another and listen, listen, listen, too.

Being at the synod was the experience of a lifetime.  I am humbly grateful to God for having been provided this opportunity. There are even more lessons I learned from those listed above, so I tried to give you the most important ones.  I return home with a much more optimistic outlook on LGBT issues in our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.

Priest Says Same-Sex Marriage Improves Society, As Catholic Nations Commence Weddings

Fr. Peter Daly

A Maryland Catholic priest said the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling which legalized marriage equality nationwide in June “may, in fact, make things better, not only for LGBT couples, but also for our society.”

Fr. Peter Daly wrote these words in the National Catholic Reporter, where he also endorsed civil marriage equality and suggested separating civil and sacramental marriages. He asked whether same-gender couples “really need the protections offered by civil marriage,” answering in the affirmative though admitting he has not always believed so.

On this point, Daly called the documentary Bridegroom a “mind changer.” Daly says all relationships “could only hope for a gentle, respectful, joyful, loving relationship like the one” the couple featured possesses. One partner died in a tragic accident, while the other was denied benefits and even access to the funeral, leading Fr. Daly to conclude:

“The movie is heart breaking. We can see the injustice of the situation and the need for a legal structure to protect people. If same-sex marriage could encourage relationships like Tom and Shane’s, it would be an unalloyed good for everyone in society, including our church. . .

“The whole society benefits from more stable and committed relationships. Everyone benefits when people have clearer legal rights and responsibilities. Same-sex marriage does not erode the meaning of sacramental marriage. In fact, it is a tip of the hat in respect for it because it seeks a parallel institution.”

[The film is available for viewing on YouTube.]

Fr. Daly’s column reveals a deep compassion for LGBT people, though he acknowledges that the Supreme Court decision may bring some bumps in the road.  He would have preferred that marriage equality had been enacted by legislative or electoral means.  He acknowledges that religious liberty questions may arise, but is confident that they can be resolved for the good of all.  He criticizes the idea that court clerks who disagree with the same-sex marriages should be allowed to withhold marriage licenses for lesbian and gay couples.

Fr. Daly also offered practical contributions to the Catholic Church’s emerging response to marriage equality. Calling a Catholic priest’s dual roles as minister and magistrate when signing marriage licenses “odd,” he wonders if “priests should stop signing state-issued marriage licenses.” He wrote further:

“On the practical level, how will parishes respond to same-sex marriage? . . .Pope Francis gave us example during his visit to the United States. He met with a gay couple. He warmly welcomed them to the Nunciature. He treated them with affection and respect.”

Daly noted that his parish would not be able to perform weddings for lesbian and gay couples or celebrate anniversaries, but he listed what he insists they will be doing:

“As long as I am pastor here we will welcome and register everyone who shares our Catholic faith, including same-sex couples. After all, we register divorced and remarried people. We will educate their children in our religious education programs, and we welcome them as sponsors at baptism and confirmation. We open our ministries to them. We will allow them to teach religious education so long as they are respectful of the church teaching. (That we require of everyone.) We will encourage them to participate fully in the life of the church, including the Eucharist. We will treat everyone with respect and dignity. We will allow them the right of their own conscience.”

Towards the end, Fr. Daly speculated about the church will “adjust its language and teaching” on homosexuality and said Catholics would be “embarrassed” by what has been said and done to LGBT people, including the use of the term “intrinsically disordered.”

While the embarrassment may be a true feeling, historically Catholic nations have refused to wait before advancing LGBT rights. News broke last week that Irish legislators approved the laws needed for marriage equality to be implemented and weddings may begin within two weeks, reported The Irish Examiner

In Chile, among Latin America’s most conservative nations, civil unions have begun according to The Guardian. Though short of full marriage rights, LGBT activists are hailing this as a victory in a country where there is only 25% popular support for marriage equality and divorce was legalized in 2004.

Marriage equality in Slovenia is threatened, however, after that nation’s Constitutional Court approved a popular referendum seeking to withdraw legislation passed last March guaranteeing equal marriage rights. The Catholic Church has backed the anti-equality referendum, reported NDTV.

All proving, once again, that Catholics do support marriage equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Advocates, Vatican Observers React to Synod on the Family’s Final Report

Now that the Synod on the Family is concluded, much is already being written about an event The New York Times called the “most momentous, and contentious, meeting of bishops” since Vatican II.

Below, Bondings 2.0 provides some early commentaries and reactions related to LGBT topics. (For a good general overview of what the Synod’s final document contains, see Joshua McElwee’s article in the National Catholic Reporter.)

In a statement released on Facebook, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC), launched just before the Synod with representatives from more than 30 nations, predicted : “A new era for inclusive pastoral care of LGBT people is going to start after the Synod.” This is due to a door opened on LGBT inclusion through the synodal process that cannot now be closed. The Network said further:

“However, we see clearly in the Synod’s Final Report (Paragraph 76) the beginning of a new era of inclusive pastoral care for and with LGBT people, and their families, which will hopefully be enacted by Dioceses across the world. Since it is explicitly mentioned that ‘specific attention should be paid to families that have a member with homosexual tendencies’, there is, therefore, no longer any reason not to include same-sex couples themselves, as well as children with same-sex parents in such a pastoral focus.”

GNRC criticized elements of the report, including the “baseless accusation that financial aid to poor countries is conditional on the introduction of laws that institute marriage between same-sex people” and the bishops’ failure to publicly object to anti-LGBT criminalization and violence.

Francis DeBernardo
Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, viewed the Synod as a start as well, telling The Washington Blade:

” ‘The synod’s final report focused its discussion of LGBT issues solely on families with lesbian and gay members in them. . .This is a step in the right direction, but it must not be the last step.’ ” [For New Ways Ministry’s full statement on the synod, click here.]

Marianne Duddy-Burke
Marianne Duddy-Burke

DignityUSA’s evaluation of the final report commented that it “offers little that is positive” for LGBT people and that the synod was a “tragic missed opportunity.” Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement:

” ‘The final report from the Synod is essentially an endorsement of the status quo. . .It is deeply disappointing to anyone who hoped that new ground would be broken in how the Church deals with a whole range of family issues. . .Our dignity and safety will not be guaranteed. Our relationships will continue to be treated as inferior. Our ability to parent is called into question. I expect we will continue to be seen as ‘threats to the family,’ rather than recognized as already fully integrated into families.”

Nicholas Coppola
Nicholas Coppola

Nicholas Coppola, a gay Catholic from New York forced out of parish ministries after marrying his husband in 2012, told The New York Times there was “no hope in this document, none whatsoever.” But he also noted “that they will work with divorced, heterosexual couples proves that they do vote on things and they do change what they call God’s law,” suggesting that the same could happen for LGBT people.

Journalists and columnists have varied their opinions on the Synod, too.

Father Thomas Reese, SJ
Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese admitted in the National Catholic Reporter that his prediction of the synod’s failure was too pessimistic. Comparing this synod to Vatican II, he said it “achieved consensus through ambiguity” which frees Pope Francis to act as he chooses in the future. Reese listed the losers as those seeking to “emphasize the law over mercy” who opposed all change, while suggesting that “Catholic families of all types” were among the winners (along with the drafting committee and Pope Francis).

Reuters correspondent at the Vatican, Philip Pullella, told PBS that homosexuality “has been sidestepped completely” at the synod, most plausibly because of how contentious it was at the 2014 synod. Vatican observer Maro Politi went as far as suggesting to The Washington Post that this synod fully revealed two churches:

” Francis’s church of forgiveness, mercy and being close to people where they suffer, and the church of the doctors of the law, that in this synod came across as the majority.”

David Gibson
David Gibson

Religion News Service’s David Gibson offered five points for interpreting the synod, including that “silence on gays is preferable to harsh words.” He wrote:

“The absence of any breakthrough language on gays was a tactical retreat by progressives who saw that they did not have the support in the synod to get close to a two-thirds threshold. . .

“Conservatives, on the other hand, painted themselves into a corner at the synod by arguing that the only satisfactory outcome was for the synod to reiterate current church teachings and practices and bar any future flexibility. That didn’t happen, and they are left trying to explain.”

James Martin, SJ
James Martin, SJ

Jesuit Fr. James Martin said  the final report is a “very subtle document, and it’s also just the first step,” since we still can expect that Pope Francis will write his own recommendations based on the synod report.  He told The New York Times:

” ‘The overall message is a message of welcome and a desire to help people in those situations be reconciled to the church, which is fantastic. . .[On ministry to families with LGBT members, the report] might not sound like a lot to American Catholics. . .but it may sound like a lot to, for example, Catholics in sub-Saharan Africa.’ “

There is certain to be more written about this synod as days and weeks progress and Bondings 2.0 will provide further updates on LGBT-related reactions as they emerge. We hope to find more commentaries from women and LGBT people, so if you read any, please send a link to info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Synod on the Family from Rome, check out the “Synod 2015” category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

At Synod Closing, Pope Stresses Inclusion, Open Hearts, Encounter, and Mercy

Below is the last installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome.  For the past three weeks, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo has been sending news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

The synod has officially ended.  While the final report was made public on Saturday late in the day, and Pope Francis gave his closing speech at that time, the synod did not truly end until Sunday morning, with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

IMG_2915
Pope Francis, lower left, delivering the homily at the synod’s closing Mass in the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

At the liturgy, the pope delivered the homily, and he preached on the day’s readings, focusing primarily on the Gospel which was the story of Jesus healing Bartimaeus, the blind beggar ( Mark 10:46-52). He made only one allusion to the synod, at the very closing of his text:

“Dear Synod Fathers, we have walked together. Thank you for the path we have shared with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our brothers and sisters, in the search for the paths which the Gospel indicates for our times so that we can proclaim the mystery of family love. Let us follow the path that the Lord desires. Let us ask him to turn to us with his healing and saving gaze, which knows how to radiate light, as it recalls the splendour which illuminates it. Never allowing ourselves to be tarnished by pessimism or sin, let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive.”

But throughout the text, many of his comments referenced themes which emerged during the three weeks of meetings, such as seeking out those on the margins:

“We run the risk of becoming the ‘many’ of the Gospel who lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus. Just a short time before, they scolded the children (cf. 10:13), and now the blind beggar: whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him. They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus.”

And a warning not to close our hearts to the various difficulties we encounter around us:

“There are, however, some temptations for those who follow Jesus. Today’s Gospel shows at least two of them. None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded. . . . A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.”

IMG_2955
Bishops at the synod’s closing Mass.

He repeated his oft-noted admonition for the Church to encounter people where they are, and the theme developed during the synod that the Church must become a listening Church, not one which gives directives or laws:

“Jesus has just left Jericho. Even though he has only begun his most important journey, which will take him to Jerusalem, he still stops to respond to Bartimaeus’ cry. Jesus is moved by his request and becomes involved in his situation. He is not content to offer him alms, but rather wants to personally encounter him. He does not give him any instruction or response, but asks him: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (Mk 10:51). It might seem a senseless question: what could a blind man wish for if not his sight? Yet, with this question made face to face, direct but respectful, Jesus shows that he wants to hear our needs. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him.”

And, of course, his constant theme of mercy:

“His disciples do nothing other than repeat Jesus’ encouraging and liberating words, leading him [Bartimaeus] directly to Jesus, without lecturing him. Jesus’ disciples are called to this, even today, especially today: to bring people into contact with the compassionate Mercy that saves. When humanity’s cry, like Bartimaeus’, becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate his heart. Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!”

Though the synod meetings has ended, it seems that the real work of the synod is now just beginning.  The work of putting the ideas of the synod into practice by going out and doing the ministry to families–ALL families.  We can do that by following Jesus’ principles, some of which were elucidated by the bishops in their final report, some by the pope in his final speech, and some in the homily delivered yesterday.

The family synod has ended.  The work of the family synod begins.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Pope Francis’ Concluding Synod Speech Stresses Mercy Above Law

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

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Pope Francis in St . Peter’s Square (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

The powerful postscript to the synod’s three weeks of debates, discussions, leaks, press conferences, interviews and rumors was Pope Francis’ speech to the assembled bishops and participants after he received from them their final report. Almost immediately after it was released to the press and the world, the speech received glowing accolades from all quarters.  The highest compliment that I can give it is that it was “pure Francis.”

It has been said, and I think it’s accurate, that the only times that Pope Francis uses harsh, pointed language is when he is addressing bishops.  Throughout his pontificate, he has been fearless in correcting them for not using their offices fully for the good of the people of the Church.   His latest speech was no exception.  At one point, he provided a list of descriptions of what he thought the synod was about.  Here are a few gems from that list:

“It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would ‘indoctrinate’ it in dead stones to be hurled at others.

“It was also about laying closed hearts, which bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families. . . .

“It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.

“In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply ‘rubberstamp,’ but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts.

And, in the opposite style, his most generous language is often that when he is welcoming people to the Church and into the love of God:

“The Synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness. This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy (cf. Rom 3:21-30; Ps 129; Lk 11:37-54). It does have to do with overcoming the recurring temptations of the elder brother (cf. Lk 15:25-32) and the jealous labourers (cf. Mt 20:1-16). Indeed, it means upholding all the more the laws and commandments which were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27). . . .

“The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50).”

And Pope Francis pointed the way forward with his message of mercy for all:

“In effect, for the Church to conclude the Synod means to return to our true “journeying together” in bringing to every part of the world, to every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy!”

The speech also included some of the more troublesome parts of Pope Francis’ rhetoric, in which he defends more traditional conceptions of family, too.  He said the Church should be “defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults.  He defined marriage as “between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.”  He warned against the danger of “relativism.”

Yet these references seem less powerful than his more eloquent calls to challenging archaic concepts and attitudes illustrated by the quotations above.

Pope Francis has one more opportunity to comment on the synod:  his homily at today’s closing Mass.  It will be interesting to see which themes he will expand upon in that text.  Stay tuned!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry