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.
In yesterday’s post, I reported on the English and German language discussions of pastoral care for lesbian and gay people and families with LGBT members. For today’s post, I had planned to look at the reports from the eight other groups, representing discussions in French, Spanish, and Italian.
Unfortunately, I am unable to do so. The problem is not a language barrier (Google Translate is always helpful for at least a rough translation), but simply because there was no discussion of LGBT issues in any of the other eight groups. The only mention came from the “French B” group, which stated:
“We lacked the time to think about the situation of homosexuals in our various societies and different dimensions of pastoral care of the Church to them.”
[Translation, once again, thanks to Michael Clifton of David et Jonathan, France’s national Christian LGBT association.]
In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that one English group did not include any reference to any discussion of paragraphs 130-132 (which focused on LGBT issues) of the Instrumentum Laboris, the synod’s working paper. So, of the 13 small groups, only three English groups and the one German group even discussed the specific wording of the sections on ministry to families with LGBT members.
No doubt the topic came up in other discussions during the synod. And there’s always the chance that individual bishops submitted amendments about the paragraphs focused on lesbian and gay people. Still, I think it is remarkable that 2/3rds of the groups did not discuss the topic at all, or at least with enough substance that would be worth reporting.
Admittedly, they had a lot to discuss, so perhaps the omission of such discussions is understandable. In a recent National Catholic Reporter column, Jesuit Father Thomas Reese provided a good line-up of just some of the issues that the bishops had been discussing:
“Social and economic factors impact families: unemployment, housing, war, terrorism, climate change, interreligious differences, consumerism, social media, education, and on and on. Every problem in the world has an impact on families, from addictions to political corruption.
“Families are the place where one learns or does not learn the Christian faith, to say nothing of simple moral habits and virtues.
“And we have not even gotten to the theological and canonical issues surrounding families: marriage as a sacrament, annulments, liturgical ceremonies, the family in the church, etc.”
Scores of moral issues surround the family, everything from the sexual act itself to fidelity, abortion, contraception, surrogate mothers, homosexuality, divorce, gender equality, child abuse, spousal violence, and so on.
Yet, I think it is remarkable that in a synod on marriage and family, 2/3rds of the groups did not think it was worth it to discuss what is clearly, by many bishops’ own words, one of the most significant developments in family life in human history: the recognition and acceptance of same-gender marriage and families headed by same-gender couples.
In one sense, this might be a good sign. For one thing, if they had discussed the topic, it might have unleashed a barrage of homophobic statements. Another thing is that perhaps their silence on the matter means that all of the talk about how marriage equality would have such a harmful effect on family life was really just idle chatter. Perhaps the bishops realize that economic, political, and other social and cultural forces have a much greater negative effect on family life than does the affirmation of same-gender couples.
Perhaps some bishops felt that instead of approaching the topic head-on, they stood a better chance of accomplishing some effective reforms by working for other measures that would indirectly create a more welcoming climate in the Church. Two examples of such measures are the reform of offensive language in Church documents and discussions, as well as allowing more each bishop more local control on pastoral issues on the topics which have different cultural manifestations around the globe.
Yet, by ignoring such an enormous cultural shift as marriage equality, it makes it seem like the bishops are trying to deny its existence. If that is their strategy, they are doomed to fail in their discussion of the family. How can they say they are discussing “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World” (the synod’s official title) without dealing with one of the main features of some contemporary families?
Is it because the bishops think the topic is too broad? Is it because they realize that Catholic categories of thought don’t have the ability to discuss this issue? Are they simply afraid or uncomfortable in discussing it? Do they think it is not an appropriate topic for family issues?
I have to admit that I don’t know the answer. I just wish they had shown a little more effort on LGBT issues.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry