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

October 26, 2015

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.


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.”


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

October 25, 2015

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.


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


Synod Final Report: Not Much Is Said, But A Lot Has Changed

October 24, 2015

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, on the final report of the Vatican’s Synod on Marriage and the Family:


Bishops and cardinals in the synod hall. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

While the final report of the Vatican’s Synod on the Family has not said much in regard to LGBT issues, in fact, a great deal has changed in regard to the discussion on these topics at the highest levels of the Church.

In paragraph 76, the synod’s final report focused its discussion of homosexuality 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.  The other remarks–disapproving of same-gender marriages, and connecting international financial aid to marriage equality laws–have been stated before and are not surprising in this context, however, it is disappointing to see them repeated.

Most disappointing are the references in paragraph 8 to “gender ideology.”  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. More education in this area is needed in the church, particularly for our bishops.

The reference in paragraph 65 that adopted children should be raised by a mother and a father is also disappointing.  This statement denigrates the many heroic sacrifices made by lesbian and gay couples raising children unwanted by others, as well as the many single parent households raising children, often under very stressful economic and social conditions.

Helping to heal family divisions that exist because of lack of understanding of homosexuality or ignorance of Catholic teaching respecting the human dignity of lesbian and gay people is an important and needed ministry, especially in countries where awareness levels are low. In the United States, ministry with families such as these has been a great, shining hope for LGBT equality, as parents and family members advocate for including their loved ones in the Church.

Last year’s synod opened the door for greater discussion of LGBT issues in the Church.  While the discussion was not as explicit this year, we saw a variety of interesting specific proposals that could eventually have a positive effect on the Church’s pastoral ministry with LGBT people:  a transformation of Church language which has been offensive, harmful, and inaccurate; the need for local bishops to be allowed to respond more pastorally given the unique attitudes and practices of their communities;  the desire for the Church to be more of a listening presence and accompanying friend instead of a disciplinarian rule giver.

We heard bishops willing to speak up for lesbian and gay people, including an apology from the German speaking bishops for the harm that Church.  We heard bishops say that pastoral ministry must go forward regardless of whether a person’s opinions and life conform to the Church’s teaching.  We heard bishops say that the road has been paved for a better discussion of these issues in the future.

Even though this synod did not achieve a stronger statement of LGBT acceptance, the movement for a more inclusive and equal Church for LGBT members can take hope from this meeting because the discussion has moved forward and we’ve heard that a large number of bishops see the need for this discussion to continue into the future.

We are heartened by the proposal coming from one of the English speaking groups, and also Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny, for a totally separate synod in the future on LGBT issues.  Such an endeavor would not only give the time and focus needed to look at the myriad questions involved–including questions of gender identity, absent entirely from this synod– but also to hear, first-hand, from LGBT people themselves, their families, and pastoral ministers.

The bishops at this synod said they want a church that is a listening church.  In 1997, the U.S. bishops, in their pastoral letter Always Our Children, on families with lesbian and gay members, advised pastoral ministers: “Strive first to listen.”  If bishops, pastoral ministers, and all Catholics will follow this sound, pastoral advice, they can transform the church into a welcoming and inclusive community for all, including our LGBT brothers and sisters.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Bishop Bonny: Better the Synod Say Nothing on Gay Marriage Than Something Bad

October 24, 2015

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 we come to the last day of the synod’s meetings,  all the observers here in Rome–and around the world–are waiting anxiously for the final synod report, which will be voted on today, paragraph by paragraph, by the 270 bishop participants.  Bishops have already seen the first draft of the document and discussed amendments to it.

Yesterday, we got a small peek into what the synod report might have in store for LGBT issues.  The three Belgian bishops attending the meeting held a press conference at the Belgian College in Rome, where they spoke about their synod experiences, as well as hinting at what might and might be in the final document.


Bishop Johan Bonny

I was able to ask Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp a question about LGBT issues at the press conference:

“Bishop Bonny, in December 2014, you became perhaps the only Catholic bishop to call for a blessing for lesbian and gay couples in the Church. I’m wondering if after these three weeks, and the recognition that the synod has opted for marriage as only between a man and a woman, if you have been discouraged from that request , and if you haven’t been, then how do you think the Church can proceed to make that request a reality?”

The bishop answered candidly and pastorally:

 “That is a question I will take up [how to go forward with his proposal] many times at home.  First of all, I didn’t really ask for the blessing.  That was what the headlines said. I asked for recognition of the valuesthat are present in that kind of relationship.  I hopefully will return to that request.

“It is true that in the synod this question was not really discussed.  It was at the end of the Instrumentum Laboris.  In most groups, very short time was left for the last chapter.  But that’s not the main reason.  The main reason is that in this synod, bishops did not really need or have the attitude to discuss the question.  It is true that most bishops of Western Europe and the Western world, we speak more or less the same language and feeling. But the readiness and the atmosphere was not there.

 “The synod was not prepared to discuss the question. You need more input from human sciences, Biblical theology, moral theology, for discussing it in a good and complete way.   I think it is better that there was no paragraph or no extensive paragraph than a bad one. I think the feeling was  better leave the question open for further study than having a bad text. Something will be said on this issue [in the final document], but that is a point for next time.  I say it in a positive way. Let them leave it for the next time and a good time instead of discussing now in a bad way.
“In the small group I participated in, there was no way for bringing that forward.  As soon as it was mentioned, bad feelings were mentioned.  There was no way of discussing it. It was better to avoid it than push it and arriving that is something wrong.  More time will be needed.”
In a one-to-one conversation I had with Bonny after the press conference, he repeated his though:  “It is better that the synod said nothing on this issue than if they said something harmful.”  My sense as he was talking–and I stress that this is only my impression–is that he was saying that perhaps if the bishops did make a statement that it would have made the state of the discussion of LGBT issues much worse, set it back a bit, perhaps.

Bishop Johan Bonny, Cardinal Godfried Daneels, Bishop Lucas Van Looy

Bonny’s evaluation of the sense of the synod is probably colored by the fact that he participated in the French B small group, which was moderated by Cardinal Robert Sarah, who made probably the most homophobic remark of the synod.

In response to another question about whether lesbian and gay people might be disappointed by the final report, Bonny said:
“The synod is a moment.  We are in a process.  If you see what has happened since Pope Francis was elected, we see a process.    People do not expect us to resolve all questions in one moment.  They want the church to travel with them.  And that is the way we intend to go.”
Bishop Bonny was joined at the press conference by Cardinal Godfried Daneels, Archbishop Emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels,  and Bishop Lucas Van Looy of Ghent.
Van Looy said that what he learned at the synod is that tenderness will change the Church.  The Tablet quoted part of his statement:
“Life is stronger than theory about marriage and the family. One learned in this synod not to judge. We have accepted what people have said. We are an example of listening and accompanying. We have done this in the last three weeks.”
Van Looy summed up the lesson  of the synod rather poignantly:
“We learned in this synod not to judge.  Who are we to judge?”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Vatican’s Cardinal Turkson: ‘Homosexuals Should Not Be Criminalized’

October 24, 2015

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.


Cardinal Peter Turkson (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

Cardinal Peter Turkson serves as the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican.  He was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.  He had been made a cardinal a by  Pope John Paul II in 2003.  He also served as archbishop of Accra, in Ghana, his home country.  At the 2013 conclave, he was considered a leading candidate to be elected pope.

In the past, Cardinal Turkson’s views on criminalization laws for lesbian and gay people have been considered ambivalent because of a statement he made in 2012 in which he recognized the situation both as a question of rights, but also as influenced by deeply held cultural traditions.

While he was attending the synod in Rome,  I had the opportunity to briefly interview Cardinal Turkson about his views on the criminalization of  lesbian and gay people.

You’ve made a number of statements on criminalization laws which have been interpreted variously?  What is your position on crminalizing  lesbian and gay people?

My position has had two parts.  Homosexuals cannot be criminalized. Neither can any state be victimized. So, let no state criminalize homosexuals, but let no state by victimized. No state should have aid denied because of this.

Last week, Archbishop Palmer-Buckle said that African bishops were reluctant to oppose criminalization, but that they were growing in awareness of lesbian and gay people.  Do you see African bishops outgrowing their reluctance to oppose criminalization laws soon?


Pope Francis poses with African bishops outside the synod hall. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

We are all growing in this regard.  When we come to meetings like the synod and listen to one another, we learn from one another.  We hear bishops telling stories of their relatives’ pain, and we grow.

Western countries have grown in regard to this issue. When I studied in the United States in the 1970s, science considered [homosexuality] a sickness and a disease.  Over the years that evaluation has changed.  Other countries have to grow in the same way and it can take time.  

Do you think the synod will make a statement on criminalization?  Do you think the pope will make a statement against these laws on his visit to Africa?

I don’t know what kind of statement the synod will make.  As for the pope, I don’t know what he is going to say.

What would you say to a Catholic politician who is promoting criminalization or persecution of lesbian and gay people?

I don’t think that we should be condemning anybody.  People need to grow.

I’m not suggesting that you should condemn politicians, but I am asking what advice you would give them about such laws?

I would tell them that [homosexual] people are not criminals.  It is not a crime.  A crime is something that hurts another human being.  This is not a situation where people are getting hurt.

What advice would you give to Catholics in other countries who are concerned about human rights abuses directed against lesbian and gay people?

I would tell them that they should keep learning about the issue.  Academic institutions and the Church are two places that could be providing information.

    *     *     *     *     *     *

Postscript to the interview

At the synod’s midday press briefing later in the day, Cardinal Turkson reiterated his call for “no criminalization, no victimization” of gay and lesbian people and of nations, respectively.  When asked if homosexuality was taboo in African nations he responded:

“We don’t consider it taboo, because it has been spoken of in an open way.  They have experiences of people in their own families.  I don’t believe it is a taboo in Africa.  if you think it is taboo, you should go to Russia.

“In an interview this morning, I said I was studying in the U.S. in the 1970s. Every book presented homosexuality as an abnormality.  now it has changed.  The books had to change their content. That shows, you must admit, that countries that do not accept [homosexuality] need further education.  A lot of countries have learned but we need to let them grow and improve.  This is why we educate people not to criminal but also to make sure others are not victimized. ” [Editor’s note:  I think it is safe to assume that the interview he referenced in this comment was the one that he gave to me that same morning, since he mentioned the same point.]

In a conversation with a reporter about Turkson’s press briefings remarks, I commented that the cardinal’s quip about Russia did not ring true with me:

“There aren’t as many Catholics, or Catholic bishops in Russia as there are in Africa who could be speaking from the Catholic social justice tradition for human dignity and respect for life.

“The fact that Russia’s record on LGBT human rights is dismal is not an excuse for a Catholic cardinal or bishop.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry








Why Didn’t the Synod Have a More Robust Discussion of LGBT Issues?

October 23, 2015

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.


Bishops in the synod hall. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

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


Synod Bishops Offer Little Hope for Positive Report on LGBT Issues

October 22, 2015

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.

Yesterday was the day that many people had waited for:  the release of the reports of the synod’s 13 small group discussions on the part of the Instrumentum Laboris which contained the three paragraphs on homosexuality.

synod hall prayer

Pope Francis leads the synod participants in an evening prayer on Tuesday. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

The results were not impressive, leaving me to think that Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, England, was correct when he told Vatican Radio that in regard to homosexuality:

“I’m a little concerned that we haven’t faced up to those issues.”

From the small group reports, it looks like there was not much discussion on the topic, with one group acknowledging that they didn’t have time to even begin to discuss it.

Perhaps the most surprising revelation was that one group was suggesting that their be a totally separate synod on the topic of homosexuality–something that, I hope, might finally give LGBT Catholics an opportunity to speak directly to the church hierarchy.

Perhaps the most poignant revelation came from the German language group where the bishops asked forgiveness for those whom Church teaching has harmed, including gay and lesbian people.

The 13 small groups were conducted in French, English, Spanish, Italian, and German.  The following are the relevant passages from the English groups’ reports and the German group (thanks to Michael Brinkschroder for the translation):

English Group A:     Cardinal George Pell, Moderator; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Relator (Reporter)

“We spoke of the importance ofpastoral attention topersons with homosexual tendencies, with special attention to families in which a person with same sex attraction is a member. The Church as the spouse of Christ patterns her behavior after the Lord Jesus whose all-embracing love is offered to every person without exception. Parents and siblings of family members with homosexual tendencies are called to love and accept these members of their family with an undivided and understandingheart. We call on the synod to affirmand propose anew the entirety of Church teaching onlove and chastity. We encourage parents and family members to have confidence in it as they love and accompany one another in responding to the Gospel’s call to chaste living.”

English Group B: Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Moderator; Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Relator 

No comments made on homosexuality section.

English Group C: Archbishop Eamon Martin, Moderator; Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Relator

“The group was also divided on the question of support for families with homosexual members and for homosexual people themselves. Some wanted to delete any reference to homosexuality, but this won little support in the group. We opted for a briefer treatment, but also asked that the final document include at an appropriate point a clear statement of Church teaching that same-sex unions are in no way equivalent to marriage. We were clear, however, that in this Synod we were not addressing homosexuality in general but within the context of the family. We were equally insistent that we address this issue as pastors, seeking to understand the reality of people’s lives rather than issues in some more abstract sense.”

English Group D:  Cardinal Thomas Collins, Moderator;  Archbishop Charles Chaput, Relator

“The section on the pastoral care of persons with homosexual tendencies sparked much discussion. Some members thought that this issue should be removed from discussion in the Synod on the Family. They felt that it’s important enough to have a specific synodal meeting on the topic itself.Some suggested that the wording of the Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 2357-2359 should be used. Others saw that option as possibly damaging the credibility of the Church in Western Europe and North America.”

German Group:  Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Moderator;  Archbishop Heiner Koch, Relator

“At this point a confession is important for us: In the wrongly understood attempt to hold up the doctrine of the church, it happened over again that hard and merciless attitudes appeared in the pastoral (work), that has brought suffering for people, especially for unmarried mothers and extramaritally born children, for people living in premarital and non-marital cohabitation, for homosexually oriented people and for divorced and remarried (people). As Bishops of our Church we are asking these people for forgiveness.”

The German group also addressed the question of gender:

“According to the Christian understanding of the unity of body and soul, biological sex („sex“) and the socio-cultural gender-role („gender“) can be distinguished analytically, but not separated from each other in principle or arbitrarily. All theories, that regard the gender of the human being as a retrospective construct and want to establish its arbitrary exchangeability, must be regarded as ideologies. The unity of body and soul includes, that the specific social self-understanding and the social role of man and woman takes different shapes in cultures and are subjected to change. Therefore, the consciousness of the full personal dignity and public responsibility of women is a positive sign of the times, which is estimated and supported by the church (Pope John XXIII. Pacem in terris 22).”

[If any readers who understand French, Spanish, Italian can scan those reports and provide translations on the sections concerning LGBT issues, we would greatly appreciate it.  You can find links to the various reports by clicking here.]

The  Instrumentum Laboris,  the synod’s working document, focused paragraphs 130-132 on gay and lesbian family issues (The second number in parentheses refers to last year’s final synod report paragraph numbering):

“130. (55) Some families have members who have a homosexual tendency. In this regard, the synod fathers asked themselves what pastoral attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with Church teaching: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4).

“131. The following point needs to be reiterated: every person, regardless of his/her sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his/her human dignity and received with sensitivity and great care in both the Church and society. It would be desirable that dioceses devote special attention in their pastoral programmes to the accompaniment of families where a member has a homosexual tendency and of homosexual persons themselves.

“132. (56) Exerting pressure in this regard on the Pastors of the Church is totally unacceptable: it is equally unacceptable for international organizations to link their financial assistance to poorer countries with the introduction of laws that establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.

From the looks of it, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for any positive message on LGBT issues coming from the synod’s final report.  The Vatican spokesperson noted that there are over 500 amendments proposed to the working document, and we don’t know the details of what these include.  However, since there seems to have been a strong emphasis in the several reports I was able to read, it doesn’t seem likely that a positive amendment would stand a chance of being approved if it should make it to the draft text.

Perhaps, the most we can hope for from the synod is in the area of language renovation and, possibly, allowing bishops more latitude for local pastoral initiatives.  Or the hope that the pope will recognize the need for another synod or some sort of deeper examination on LGBT issues alone.

Bishop Doyle’s assessment, mentioned above,  offers some reasons why the topic of homosexuality may have been given short shrift in the synod:

” ‘It’s a combination of their being too difficult and also the basic theological anthropology, our understanding from the Scripture of man and woman, there is no room for a same-sex relationship. So I think they’re saying, “we don’t know what to do”.’

“He added: ‘We can’t leave people dangling in the air and in limbo. The Lord loves us all and we need to find a way of embracing everyone.’

“Bishop Doyle also said that his synod group ‘is a bit traditional, and I’m concerned there may be a little fear that in trying to explore the possibilities we’re undermining the eternal truths of the Church. And I just don’t think that is the case.’ “

There are still three more days to go and these will be focused on preparing the final report.   Once the bishops vote on the report, paragraph by paragraph, they will present it to Pope Francis on Saturday evening, who will then decide if and when to make the report public.  Last year’s report was made public almost immediately, and, as Cardinal Donald Wuerl told the National Catholic Reporter, it is very likely that such will be the case this year, given the intense focus the synod attracted.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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