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.
As God rested on the Sabbath, so too do the synod participants. As a result, there was no discussion on Sunday, and no press briefing. This pause gives me a little time to report on some of the interviews that journalists have done with synod fathers.
Of course, my interest is in what the bishops in these interviews say about LGBT issues. It is amazing how far apart some of them are.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, of Munich, was interviewed by German television last week, and The National Catholic Reporter offered highlights. Of LGBT issues, Marx said:
“Pope Francis had met with an opponent of same-sex marriage but had also embraced homosexual partners on his U.S. visit, which many Catholics found most confusing, his interviewer remarked. Views on same-sex partnerships and same-sex marriage differed greatly from country to country, Marx said.
” ‘We must make it clear that we do not only judge people according to their sexual orientation,’ said Marx. ‘If a same-sex couple are faithful, care for one another and intend to stay together for life God won’t say “All that doesn’t interest me, I’m only interested in your sexual orientation.” That is impossible and it is an issue we must discuss — but it won’t be a main subject at this synod. As I have pointed out, the main subject will be the importance of marriage and the family and how to protect them in today’s world.’ “
On the other side, Kenyan Cardinal John Njue, of Nairobi, spoke with Crux, and offered strong words of opposition to any development on LGBT issues that might happen at the synod:
” ‘It is there in the Bible,’ he says, referring to the Church’s teaching against homosexuality. ‘It is clear.’
” ‘I think there is not much option,’ Njue said. ‘There are facts, such as the fact that God created humanity as Adam and Eve. Whenever someone starts running away from their identity, whatever they do will certainly not be the right thing.’
” ‘If we come to the point of saying that can be changed, there is no logic behind it, with all due respect,’ he said. . . .
“Even while rejecting the idea of criminalizing homosexuality, Njue still insisted on the right of the Church to flag gay relationships as flawed.
” ‘Where there is a mistake, a way must be found to help people who have made the mistake to understand that they have done something wrong and need to turn around,’ he said. . . .
“Africa’s Catholic bishops have sometimes been accused of either ambivalence or silence with regard to such measures, but Njue rejected those charges.
” ‘It’s not a question of criminalizing or condemning, but we have every right to help the person understand that the way you are living is not how you’re supposed to be,’ Njue said.”
I cannot think of two more opposite opinions about gay and lesbian people and their relationships. My growing sense, though, is that Marx may be right in that homosexuality will not be the major issue of this year’s synod. My hunch–and it is only a hunch–is that the participants realize that there is little room for negotiation in this area because people’s positions are so strongly held. If the difference of opinion is obvious to an outside observer like myself, I can only imagine that it is even more plainly obvious to those involved in the private synod discussions.
Marx’s first point, though, is also right: though homosexuality may not be a major focus like it was last year, it certainly will be discussed. Last week, an Italian Cardinal insisted that the discussion of gay and lesbian issues is relevant to the family synod agenda. Crux reported:
“One of the hot button issues being discussed by bishops is how the Church ministers — or doesn’t — to gay and lesbian Catholics, a topic one cardinal defended.
“Italian Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo scoffed at the notion that synod delegates should stick only to finding ways to promote orthodox teaching about families.
“When asked by a reporter why bishops were discussing issues related to gays and lesbians, he said, ‘This is part and parcel of the family reality for many reasons.’ “
Wise words from Menichelli. Though the discussion of families with LGBT members, both as parents and as children, will be a tough one, it is not one that the bishops can easily shirk if they want their synod report to have any relevance to the modern world. And I’m not even suggesting here that doctrinal change be debated, since obviously that is a non-starter at this point. But there are so many pastoral challenges that bishops can address related to LGBT people, and they are challenges for which bishops, priests, and other church leaders need guidance.
I outlined some of these challenges in an interview this week with Crux’s Michael O’Loughlin, and so I will simply provide some excerpts from that report to detail what I think the Church needs:
” ‘A change in language and a change in pastoral practice are needed because justice demands it,’ [Francis DeBernardo] says. ‘Justice and Christian charity demand it.’
‘ ‘We have people being excluded from Communion, being excluded from being godparents, being fired from jobs because they marry, being denied leadership roles in parish communities, being excluded at funerals of their relatives,’ he said. ‘Any positive step on issues like that would be wonderful.’
” ‘A success would be a statement of unconditional welcome to LGBT people. That’s needed right now [because] while there is welcome in some areas, there are so many places where officially they are not welcome,’ he said. ‘A statement of unconditional welcome is so needed, and if that’s all we get from the synod, that will still be a success.’
” ‘When I say unconditional, I don’t mean, “We welcome people who follow the teaching of the Church,” or ‘We welcome people but we don’t accept their lifestyle,” ‘ he said. . . .
“But he said the larger issue is ministering to the increasing number of Catholic families who accept their gay and lesbian relatives.
” ‘The Church is faced with a pastoral problem of not just reaching out to gay and lesbian people, but reaching out to people who support and love them,’ he said. ‘That’s particularly true with the younger generation. They are going to lose the entire younger generation if they keep having the harsh and divisive rhetoric of homophobia, regardless of their orientation.’ “
I couldn’t have said it better myself! Wait a minute. . . :)
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry