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.
Today, I would like to look at a creative strategy being discussed here at the synod in Rome that may bode well for LGBT people. An idea that has been proposed by several bishops in several different ways is to allow for more local decision-making on pastoral approaches to some of the family issues considered more controversial such as divorce/remarriage and LGBT issues.
One of the first bishops to raise this question was Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, who made headlines at the end of 2014 when he became the first Catholic bishop to call on the Church to bless same-sex couples. In Caelo blog carried an English translation of the text (original can be found here) of Bonny’s synod intervention on October 5th. Here’s the relevant passage:
“In their local Churches bishops encounter a great variety of questions and needs, to which they must provide a pastoral answer today. Across the world, faithful and pastors have made use of the Synod and the questionnaire to present their pressing questions to the bishops and the Pope. Those questions clearly differ between countries and continents. There is however a common theme in those questions, namely the desire that the Church will stand in “the great river of mercy” (IL 68, 106). It is important that the Synod give space and responsibility to the local bishops to formulate suitable answers to the pastoral questions of that part of the people of God which is entrusted to their pastoral care. The individual bishops’ conferences have a special role in this. The Synod not only deals with ‘the family as Church,’ but also with ‘the Church as family.’ Every family knows what it means to work on unity in diversity, with patience and creativity.”
Michael O’Loughlin of Crux wrote a good article on the subject of local pastoral decision-making in which he connected the idea to changes that have come about since Pope Francis entered the scene:
“For decades, some bishops and theologians have complained of what they see as an excessive concentration of power in Rome, and the need to empower bishops’ conferences and local churches to handle more matters on their own.
“What has changed under Francis is the sense that movement in the direction of greater ‘collegiality,’ meaning shared authority, is possible.”
O’Loughlin also quoted another synod proponent of local decision-making:
“Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila said cultural differences might precipitate the need for various solutions, but always with unity in mind.
” ‘There is unity of the faith, one Church, one doctrine, but the situations differ,’ he said. ‘There was a serious proposal to see what space could be given to the bishops’ conferences to address issues somehow peculiar to them, but always in the light of the common faith.’ “
At today’s press briefing, Abbot Jeremias Schroder, OSB, arch-abbot of the Benedictine Congregation of St. Odile, Germany, said that many proposals for decentralizing pastoral strategies have been raised many times during the synod discussions, especially around dealing with cohabitation and pastoral outreach to homosexual people. He said that the German Catholic public are very concerned with the issue of outreach to divorced/remarried people, and “that seems to be an area where regional pastoral solutions could be envisaged.”
He then went on:
“I also have the impression that the understanding of homosexuality, the social acceptance of homosexuality, is culturally very diverse and that seems to me very obviously to also be an area where bishops conferences should be allowed to formulate pastoral responses that are in tune with what can be preached and announced and lived in a given context.”
[You can view a video interview with Schroder in which he discusses the idea of local decision making by clicking here. His discussion of this topic begins at about 1:05.)
I have to say that I have been very intrigued by this idea, and I left the synod press briefing feeling excited by this possibility. But by the time I got back to my guesthouse room and re-connected my computer, I saw a story that made me wonder if local decision-making is really a good idea.
David Gibson of Religion News Service had posted a story with the headline: “NJ archbishop sets rules for barring Catholics from Communion.” Here’s the gist of it:
“Even as Pope Francis and Catholic leaders from around the world debate ways to make the Catholic Church more inclusive, Newark Archbishop John Myers has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.
“In the two-page memo, Myers also orders parishes and Catholic institutions not to host people or organizations that disagree with church teachings.
“He says Catholics, ‘especially ministers and others who represent the Church, should not participate in or be present at religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law.’ “
Myers’ local decision-making shows the downside of a decentralized approach. It allows local bishops to be exclusionary in their pastoral ministry. I mentioned this problems somewhat the other day in my post about criminalization laws for LGBT people. In some cases in the world, bishops give tacit approval or even strongly support such laws, which are obviously opposed to Catholic teaching. In these cases, it is good for the universal Church to have some oversight to fraternally correct bishops whose policies, pastoral or political, are not in line with Gospel values.
But, as I’m learning here at the synod by hearing so many different cultural perspectives of our universal Catholic Church, solutions don’t have to be binary: Plan A or Plan Z. In fact, there seem to be a great variety of ways to approach a problem, more than my puny mind has ever imagined, that’s for sure. We just need to both trust and facilitate the Holy Spirit by letting all the voices and all the perspectives speak their truths so that we can arrive at good solutions for all.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry