Can “Amoris Laetitia” Be a Starting Point for Progress on LGBT Issues?

screen_shot_2016-04-06_at_17-46-45-1-255x400“The apostolic exhortation is not just the last step of a long process. It is going to be another starting point.”

These words are from Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor of the influential Civiltà Cattolica, commenting on Pope Francis’ exhortation about the family, Amoris Laetitia.

The exhortation has been a disappointment to many in terms of LGBT issues, with some commentators saying that it offers a stale, cursory, and at times condemnatory treatment of these topics. How then, can Amoris Laetitia, become a starting point for LGBT equality that leads to progress and not simply more of the same? I offer two thoughts.

First, the exhortation’s deficiencies must be admitted and addressed. Notably absent in the document, and the Synod deliberations preceding it, are the lives and experiences of LGBT people. Michael Bayly of The Wild Reed, citing the many testimonies which LGBT faithful have offered before, wrote:

“Do I expect the Vatican to share these types of testimonies, word-for-word, in official church documents? No. But I do expect those who claim to be leaders and teachers within our Catholic tradition to be open and responsive to the transforming presence of God within all people’s relational lives (including the lives of LGBTQ people) and to be committed to ensuring that our statements of collective wisdom (i.e., our church teachings) actually reflect the diverse nature of the beautiful gift of sexuality. . .Is that too much to ask?”

Sr. Christine Schenk added similar criticism in the National Catholic Reporter, writing:

“The most distressing aspect of Amoris Laetitia is that it fails to incorporate the experiences of LGBT Catholics who also live deeply loving, holy and committed family lives. . .Instead of pastorally validating that great goodness exists in these relationships, the exhortation simply repeats condemnations of same-sex unions and adoptions by same-sex couples.”

Schenk said LGBT people are “among the most committed of Catholics” and “wrote the book about how to love and stay with a church whose hierarchy would often prefer that they go away.”

Second, LGBT advocates must be wary of how others in the church may use Pope Francis’ emphases on conscience and decentralization. Writer Kaya Oakes suggested in Foreign Policy that these emphases could potentially backfire:

“Handing this measure of flexibility to the clergy is a risky way of bringing about reform. The clergy are, after all, as diverse in their opinions about family life as the people they serve. . .It could, theoretically, also cause local church leaders to act more independently and harshly toward LGBT Catholics as a result of that independence — as the bishops in Malawi recently did when they denounced the government for failing to imprison LGBT citizens.”

More generally, Peter Steinfels wrote in Commonweal about the threat that mercy misused could pose to reform and renewal in the church:

“It is hard to say this, but the availability of mercy can be a tool of the powerful, an excuse for not reforming unjust laws or harsh practices, an alibi for skirting uncomfortable questions, a sop for those injured, a safety valve for discontent. Granting mercy can be an exercise in domination, a means for officeholders to demonstrate their power. This is not the mercy of God, not the mercy of love.”

Many Catholics, myself included, are still undertaking slow and thorough readings of Amoris Laetitia, as Pope Francis has advocated. With time and discussion, its wisdom and its failings will become clearer, as will its implications. But there is one clear starting point from which Catholics can begin right now. It is pointed out by Quest, a UK organization for LGB Catholics, in their statement:

“Everything that Pope Francis has said to change the criteria for moral judgements, and in challenging the competence of others to pass judgement in the first place, our people have been saying, for years. Buried in the lengthy text, are many other details of established but neglected doctrine that too, our people have been saying for years. . .The challenge now, is to continue saying these things, louder and more insistently than ever, but for the first time, with authoritative papal backing.”

Your faithful bloggers have been buried by reactions to and analyses of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ exhortation on family. And they keep coming and we will keep reporting. But what is important for LGBT Catholics and advocates to remember amid this buzz about the exhortation is that our stories, our faith journeys, our witnesses must continue to be shared. There is no starting point from Amoris Laetitia on LGBT issues in the church without all of us contributing to the conversation and keeping institutions accountable.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

10 Responses to Can “Amoris Laetitia” Be a Starting Point for Progress on LGBT Issues?

  1. Thanks for picking up in your last paragraph, on the words I wrote for Quest. Two points to expand on those:

    First, a reminder from the GNRC response: “If the door is not yet opened, maybe the key is under the mat?”. Yes, there are obvious disappointments in their for LGBT people – but it’s not constructive to simply sit back and wait for the door to be opened. If the key is indeed under the mat, it’s up to us to pick it up, and use it. AL in fact includes a great deal of useful material (some of it hidden, and waiting to be unpicked, especially in coded references in indirect support of LGBT relationships and queer families). We have work to do, in using these resources, and by engaging forcefully with bishops, clergy and others for greater LGBT inclusion and equality in church.

    Furthermore, I suspect that LGBT disappointments are there, primarily when we read the text from a narrowly LGBT perspective. Our issues though, and the obvious flaws in conventional doctrine, are only a small part (and not a very important part) of teaching as a whole.The Catholic Church is very much bigger than a small lgbt community – and the problems with the Catholic Church and its doctrines are very much bigger than the problems with its disordered teaching on homosexuality. These problems are embedded in a much wider problem with the whole of its ignorance about human sexuality – and that in turn lies in the stupidity of compulsory clerical celibacy, unhealthy awe of an authoritarian hierarchy, the culture of clericalism – and an obsession with rigid doctrine itself. All these contribute to the caused of Catholic nonsense over lgbt prople and our relationhips – and in Amoris Laetitiae and elsewhere, Pope Francis is preparing to demolish them all. For that,we should be truly thankful.,

    • Loretta Fitzgerald says:

      And I would humbly add recognizing the voices, competence and other gifts of women to the list of what mother church needs to recognize.

    • Larry says:

      I understand that there other problems with the Church and sexuality which you may see as bigger than the concerns of “a small lgbt community” but for the LGBT community these concerns are HUGE as they effect us in our daily lives directly and in other countries may cost them their lives or freedom. I am concerned that asking us to sit it out while work goes on on your “bigger” issues is just putting us in the back pew as usual.

      And again, having to look for coded references in indirect support of gay Catholics along with Francis’ failure to discipline anti-gay clergy is not just disappointing, it is a wearing burden on the soul.

      • Loretta Fitzgerald says:

        I don’t want to speak for Terence, but my opinion is that there is a pervasive dysfunctional system in place wherein many different groups of people are ostracized, rejected and/or condemned. The list includes almost everyone who is not part of the male, celibate hierarchy.

      • Friends says:

        @ Loretta: Hear, Hear! You’ve got it exactly right! Keep in mind that recent research reports that 50% of Catholic priests are within the GLBT identity spectrum — whether or not they are sexually active. For these priests to be in personal denial of their own identity status, and to be condemning their lay GLBT parishioners as “sinful”, is nothing short of rank hypocrisy. How long will this charade be allowed to continue?

  2. Don Siegal says:

    “How then, can Amoris Laetitia, become a starting point for LGBT equality that leads to progress and not simply more of the same?”

    As pointed out by Quest: “Buried in the lengthy text, are many other details of established but neglected doctrine that too, our people have been saying for years…The challenge now, is to continue saying these things, louder and more insistently than ever, but for the first time, with authoritative papal backing.”

    For me, buried in the section: Growing in Conjugal Love, I find these gems comforting and a definite starting point for LGBT conversations and sharing our faith lives.

    139.

    Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. The unity that we seek is not uniformity, but a “unity in diversity”, or “reconciled diversity”. Fraternal communion is enriched by respect and appreciation for differences within an overall perspective that advances the common good. We need to free ourselves from feeling that we all have to be alike…The ability to say what one is thinking without offending the other person is important. Words should be carefully chosen so as not to offend, especially when discussing difficult issues. Making a point should never involve venting anger and inflicting hurt. A patronizing tone only serves to hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others…

    140.

    …Fearing the other person as a kind of “rival” is a sign of weakness and needs to be overcome. It is very important to base one’s position on solid choices, beliefs or values, and not on the need to win an argument or to be proved right.

    141.

    Finally, let us acknowledge that for a worthwhile dialogue we have to have something to say. This can only be the fruit of an interior richness nourished by reading, personal reflection, prayer and openness to the world around us…

  3. winterhavenlarry says:

    Thank you for compiling all these quotes in one place and inspiring hope. I have always believed that LGBT people can lead by the example of living “deeply loving, holy, and committed” lives, and that our stories must continue to be shared.

  4. Sam Albano says:

    Bob, thanks for these thoughtful and balanced musings. I think many of us are still turning this over in our minds–and probably will be for some time.

  5. […] not to ignore. If the document is to be a starting point for LGBT issues, an idea Bondings 2.0 explored a few weeks ago, then the first steps must be to include LGBT concerns as central in our analysis and to include […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: