Reader’s Guide Offers Hints to Tomorrow’s Much-Anticipated Apostolic Exhortation

Pope, cardinals, bishops in the synod hall.

Tomorrow, April 8th, is the day that Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), his response to the 2014 and 2015 Vatican synods on marriage and family life.  Many Catholics, especially those concerned with LGBT ministry and equality, have been eager to read what this pope, who is always full of surprises, has to say on issues of marriage, family, gender, and sexuality.

The National Catholic Reporter‘s (NCR) Joshua McElwee has provided information from a guide that the Vatican sent to the world’s bishops this week.  The guide is intended to prepare bishops for the release of Amoris Laetitia, but it also gives a tiny peek into what might be in store in Pope Francis’ much-anticipated document.

The NCR article noted that the Vatican document said that “”The Pope’s concern is . . . to re-contextualize doctrine at the service of the pastoral mission of the Church,” perhaps indicating that nothing will be doctrinally novel in the text, as the Vatican has been saying for months, but perhaps there will be new directions in how to present doctrine.

The reading guide said that the document “encourages not just a ‘renewal’ but even more, a real ‘conversion’ of language.”

Language change was a much-discussed topic at the 2015 synod, and the discussion ran the gamut of bishops calling for a departure from terms like “objectively disordered” and “intrinsically evil” in regard to lesbian and gay people and relationships to calls for simply a more pastoral approach of presenting church teaching.  From what the reading guide states, it looks like the pope will be pushing more for the latter type of renovation of church language than the former.

The guide states:

“The Gospel must not be merely theoretical, not detached from people’s real lives. To talk about the family and to families, the challenge is not to change doctrine but to inculturate the general principles in ways that they can be understood and practiced.”

“Our language should encourage and reassure every positive step taken by every real family.”

The guide further stated that the pope “wants to express himself in language that truly reaches the audience — and this implies discernment and dialogue.”

Using language that just tries to soften the true negative meaning of some of the Church’s doctrines will not be satisfactory. At one of the synod’s press briefings, even the very conservative Cardinal Wilfrid Napier Fox  of South Africa said:

“There’s been a lot of emphasis on using language that doesn’t offend, politically correct language, if you like.  I’m not sure that that’s the best way to be prophetic. It is certainly a way of trying to be more pastoral.”

(For Bondings 2.o posts about the debate on language at the synod, please click here and here and here.)

The reader’s guide offers (and remember, in this post I am quoting from a reader’s guide about the apostolic exhortation, not the exhortation itself) hints that the pope may simply promote a new use of language to soften negative teachings.  For instance, it states:

“Discernment … encourages us to grow from good to better. One of the characteristics of discernment, according to St Ignatius of Loyola, is the insistence not only on taking the objective truth into account, but also on expressing this truth with a good, a constructive spirit.”

Perhaps, though, there will be openings in pastoral practice that may allow for future development not only of language, but of doctrine itself.  The reader’s guide offers two hints that Francis may include material in the apostolic exhortation that lean in this direction.  In three different spots, it states:

  • “Like his predecessors, Pope Francis asks that as pastors we discern amongst the various situations experienced by our faithful and by all people, the families, the individuals.”
  • “For the culture of dialogue, the inclusion of everyone is essential.”
  • “The Pope’s vision of society is inclusive. Such inclusion involves the effort to accept diversity, to dialogue with those who think differently, to encourage the participation of those with different abilities.”

These statements highlight characteristics of Pope Francis’ rhetoric which has given hope to many progressives:  his willingness to acknowledge variety and diversity of life situations, and his emphasis on dialogue and radical inclusion.  These are hopeful steps forward–especially if we remember the darker days of popes who would ignore diversity, dialogue, inclusion, and even sometimes condemn these ideals.  They are hopeful steps that could lead the way for a serious discussion about LGBT issues. But, if they don’t go any further than that in their level of generality, they will only be first steps toward true equality and justice, with much work and advancement still to be done.

On the disappointing side, the reader’s guide notes that the apostolic exhortation will contain a summary of Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” lectures, which it says are an “important source” for the document.   Numerous theologians have pointed out that “Theology of the Body” ideas rest on ill-informed understandings of gender and the role of sexuality in people’s lives and relationships.  If Amoris Laetitia focuses too much on principles based in this type of thinking, it will be a sad disappointment.

Of course, we will know tomorrow what the pope actually has to say.  For some earlier speculation from Bondings 2.0 posts, please see the Related Posts section below my signature.

As soon as the document is released, and we have time to digest its contents, New Ways Ministry will post its analysis and response on this blog, probably some time in the later morning, Eastern U.S. time, on Friday, April 8th.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Posts

Bondings 2.0:  The Million-Dollar Question: What Will Be In the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation?

Bondings 2.0:  “What Can We Expect from Pope’s Upcoming Document on the Family Synod?

Bondings 2.0: “Bishops at Synod on the Family React to Final Report, Speculate on Next Steps for LGBT Topics

Bondings 2.0:  Not All Synod Bishops Agree That a Change in Language Would Be Helpful

Bondings 2.0:  Australia’s Archbishop Mark Coleridge: Finally, a Bishop Who “Gets It” ! ”

Bondings 2.0:  Will Language Be the Only Thing That the Synod Updates?






What to Make of Cardinal Marx’s Ambivalence Toward Gay & Lesbian Couples?

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Readers of this blog may become tired over the next year of hearing about Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx.  Yet, it seems that whenever he opens his mouth he has something positive to say in regard to gay and lesbian issues (he has not, to my knowledge, spoken about bisexual or transgender topics).  He is one of Pope Francis’ nine close cardinal advisors, and at last year’s synod, he was one of the leading voices for greater welcome and pastoral outreach for gay and lesbian people and couples.  And already this year, he gave a lecture at Stanford University, California, and during the question period, he addressed gay and lesbian topics positively.

Luke Hansen, SJ, who reported on the Stanford lecture for America magazine, sat down with Cardinal Marx for a one-on-one interview, which the magazine published this week. Again, the prelate had very positive things to say about gay and lesbian people, but he also revealed his limitations on the issue of marriage.  What to make of this ambivalence, which seems to be something common among even the most progressive church leaders today?

When asked what he has learned from committed gay relationships that might influence sexual ethics, Marx answered:

“When speaking about sexual ethics, perhaps we must not begin with sleeping together, but with love, fidelity and the search for a life-long relationship. I am astonished that most of our young people, including Catholic homosexuals who are practicing, want a relationship that lasts forever. The doctrine of the church is not so strange for people. It is true. We must begin with the main points of the doctrine, to see the dream: the dream is to have a person say, a man and woman say, ‘You and you, forever. You and you, forever.’ And we as church say, ‘Yes, that’s absolutely O.K. Your vision is right!’ So we find the way. Then perhaps there is failure. They find the person, and it is not a great success. But life-long fidelity is right and good.

“The church says that a gay relationship is not on the same level as a relationship between a man and a woman. That is clear. But when they are faithful, when they are engaged for the poor, when they are working, it is not possible to say, “Everything you do, because you are a homosexual, is negative.” That must be said, and I have heard no objection. It is not possible to see a person from only one point of view, without seeing the whole situation of a person. That is very important for sexual ethics.

“The same goes for people who are together but marry later, or when they are faithful together but only in a civil marriage. It is not possible to say that the relationship was all negative if the couple is faithful together, and they are waiting, or planning their life, and after 10 years they find the way to come to the sacrament. When possible, we must help the couple to find fulfillment in the sacrament of marriage. We discussed this question at the synod, and many synod fathers share this opinion. I was not alone in this opinion.”

Looking at sexuality broadly in terms of situation, context, and quality of relationship is something that Catholic LGBT advocates and many theologians have been saying for decades now.  It is refreshing to hear a cardinal of the Church echo such sentiments.

But in the next question, which asked Cardinal Marx if he agreed with Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny’s recent statement that the church should find ways to bless the relationships of gay and lesbian couples, he stated a belief in the normativity of heterosexual marriage:

“I said in the synod that Paul VI had a great vision in “Humanae Vitae.” The relationship between a man and a woman is very important. The sexual relationship in a faithful relationship is founded on the connection of procreation, giving love, sexuality and openness to life. Paul VI believed that this connection would be destroyed. He was right; see all the questions of reproductive medicine and so on. We cannot exclude this great model of sexuality, and say, ‘We have diversity,’ or ‘Everybody has the right to….’ The great meaning of sexuality is the relationship between a man and a woman and the openness to give life. I have also previously mentioned the question of accompanying people, to see what people are doing in their lives and in their personal situation.”

It seems that Marx is not yet willing to be bold in support of institutionally recognizing same-gender relationships as equivalent to marriage.  In one sense, his statements are as confusing as Pope Francis’ remarks have been.  On one hand, they something positive, and then on the other hand, they defend traditional marriage. This ambivalence is curious.  Are they afraid that if they support marriage equality strongly that they will be discredited by the majority of bishops who do not hold their opinions?  Or are they truly as ambivalent as they sound, not yet ready to accept marriage.

Both Marx and Francis have spoken of “accompaniment,” and I think that is a good thing.  Some critics think that this accompaniment only means that church ministers will accompany gay and lesbian people on a faith journey that is ultimately leading to the acceptance of celibacy.   No doubt, some ministers will see it that way.

I think, however, that we need to be aware that any sort of pastoral accompaniment means that the minister may be changed as much, or even more so, than those ministered to.  Haven’t you found this in your own experience?  That when you think you are “giving” something to someone in need, you find that you often end up “receiving” much more than you were able to give?

I tend to see calls to accompaniment not as devious ways to get people to change their attitudes, but as ways of dialoguing, which leaves both parties open and vulnerable to change. Accompaniment has been terribly absent from most parishes’ approach to LGBT people.  Shunning and shaming have too often been the official response.   Accompaniment, while not the ideal, does seem to be the next step that is needed in the process of the institutional leaders of the church getting to know and appreciate what so many of us have already seen for so long:  that LGBT people, and their relationships, are wholesome, healthy, and holy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

The Best Catholic LGBT News of 2014

thumbs upAs the year 2014 comes to a close, Bondings 2.0 takes a look back at the worst and the best news in the Catholic LGBT world.  If  you want to keep up-to-date on the latest news about the ups and downs of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community, please consider subscribing to this blog.  To do so, enter your email address in the “Follow blog via email” box at the top of the column on the right-hand side of this page, and press “Follow.”  You will then receive an email every time the blog is updated, usually once a day.  You’ll never miss out on the latest news and opinion in the Catholic LGBT world! 

Yesterday, we surveyed the worst Catholic LGBT news of 2014, and today we end the year looking at the best news:  all the good things that have occurred and the advances that have been made.

Yesterday, we also commented on the news story that Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny became the first bishop in known history to explicitly call for the Catholic Church to bless committed lesbian and gay couples.  While in my mind, that could easily take the prize as the BEST Catholic LGBT news of 2014, unfortunately, it came after we had already polled our readers, and so it was not considered in the voting.  I can’t speak for the entire readership of Bondings 2.0, but I don’t think I would be too far off to say that this story certainly deserves an “honorable mention.”

A few days ago, we asked our readers to choose five stories in the “worst” category and five in the “best” category.  Each category had 15 items, and there was an option to “write in” other topics that we might have missed.  The following is the ranking of the top ten items from the “best” category, in descending order,  with the percentage of votes each item received:

1. Both lay guests and bishop participants speak positively about lesbian and gay lives and ministry at the Synod of Bishops in October, revealing a previously unknown progressive school of thought among church leaders. Throughout the year, more and more Catholic leaders support legal rights for same-gender couples.  17.59%

2. Pope Francis appoints Archbishop Blase Cupich to the Archdiocese of Chicago, signaling a new type of more pastorally-oriented “Francis bishops.” Other U.S. bishops soften their rhetoric on LGBT issues, in a seeming emulation of the pontiff. 15.86%

3. The heavily Catholic Republic of Ireland emerges as a leader in supporting LGBT rights. Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmid Martin says: “Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that—they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people. 12.07%

4.  In an interview with a New Ways Ministry staffer, Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley acknowledges that the trend of firing LGBT and ally personnel from Catholic institutions is a situation “that needs to be rectified.”  10.34%

5. Catholic students, parents, and supporters demonstrate in response to the continuing trend of LGBT and ally personnel being fired from Catholic institutions.  8.97%

6.  San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, holds two meetings with representatives of New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA.  5.52%

7. LGBT organizations are given permission to march in both New York City’s and Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parades in 2015.  5.17%

Three-way tie

8.  A Catholic parish in New York City honors the 44-year long commitment of a lesbian couple who are parishioners by featuring a profile about them in the parish bulletin. 4.48%

9.  The School Sisters of Notre Dame reverse an earlier decision and decide to allow lesbian couples to announce their weddings in the alumni newsletter. The Sisters of Mercy re-name a high school soccer field after a married lesbian alumna. 4.48%

10.   Catholic high schools and colleges begin to implement policies which support transgender students. 4.48%

As for analyzing, the results of the poll, I think it is easy to see the “Francis effect” in these events and numbers.  Almost all the responses had to do with something Pope Francis either directly or indirectly affected.  I think his example is inspiring Catholics at all levels to be more courageous in their support of LGBT people.  As one Bondings 2.0 reader and commenter, Casey Lopata, stated with his poll ballot:

“With Pope Francis leading the way by example, the positive remarks about gay people by bishops at the Synod together with more Catholic leaders supporting legal rights for gay people demonstrates that the grassroots supportive efforts of ordinary Catholics have been seen and taken seriously by institutional leaders within the Catholic community. At the same time grassroots supporters, emboldened by the words and actions of Francis, are increasingly becoming more active and in their public advocacy for justice for LGBT people within Catholic structures. As a result, opponents are squeezed between these two movements and find less and less support for their negative positions. May the Spirit lead us to make the most of this momentum in 2015!”

Although no one added any “write-in” suggestions, several other readers also added comments to their poll responses:

Chet Thompson:  “The five that I marked seem to me to be the most important and need DAILY Prayer. BUT we need to continually work to turn around the Homophobia that we have endured ESPECIALLY over the last 30 years!!!”

Brian Kneeland: “There were some real positives – but there certainly needs to be many more in the coming year!”

Diane Rapozo: “All of the above mentioned are important. Thank you.”

Alice Zachmann, SSND: “Thanks for the opportunity to share. I chose the ones that took courage to carry out…my personal opinion! Keep up your great ministry!”

2014 has been quite a year!  It’s been a pleasure and a blessing to share it with all our readers and commenters!  2015 is already sure to be another exciting 12 months, with the already scheduled World Meeting of Families in September, the second Synod in November, and Pope Francis appointing cardinals in February.  And who knows what else the Holy Spirit has in store!  Whatever it is, we look forward to the opportunity to share it with you in the coming year.  Stay tuned!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


In Historic First, Belgian Bishop Calls Church to Bless Lesbian & Gay Couples

For the first time in known history, a Roman Catholic bishop has explicitly called for the Church to recognize and bless committed same-gender relationships.   New Ways Ministry strongly applauds this bold and courageous move.

Bishop Johan Bonny

Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, made his comments in an interview with De Morgen, a Belgian newspaper that was published on December 27, 2014.  He called for the Church to recognize the faithfulness and commitment of same-gender couples in the same way that the Church recognizes the relationships of heterosexual couples.   A news story about the interview in The National Catholic Reporter contained excerpts translated into English, including:

“There should be recognition of a diversity of forms. We have to look inside the church for a formal recognition of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is also present in many gay couples. Just as there are a variety of legal frameworks for partners in civil society, one must arrive at a diversity of forms in the church. … The intrinsic values are more important to me than the institutional question. The Christian ethic is based on lasting relationships where exclusivity, loyalty, and care are central to each other.”

Bonny acknowledged that the pontificate of Pope Francis, which has offered greater openness to LGBT issues, has motivated to speak his mind.  On whether the Church will eventually bless lesbian and gay couples’ relationships, he said:

“Personally, I find that in the church more space must be given to acknowledge the actual quality of gay and lesbian couples; and such a form of shared-life should meet the same criteria as found in an ecclesiastical marriage.… And we have to acknowledge that such criteria can be found in a diversity of relationships and one needs to search for various models to give form to those relationships.”

Bonny also stated that he still considers that heterosexual marriage should maintain its unique place in the Church:

“This relationship will continue to retain its own particular sacramental character and liturgical form. But this particularity does not have to be exclusive nor does it have to close the door on a diversity of relationships whose inner qualities the church can acknowledge.”

“Indeed, we need to seek a formal recognition of the kind of relationship that exists between many gay and lesbian couples. Does that recognition have to be a sacramental marriage? Perhaps the church could much better reflect on a diversity of forms of relationships. One has the same kind of discussion about civil marriages. In Belgium the same model (for civil marriages) exists for man-woman relations as well as for same-sex relations.”

Bishop Bonny’s statements are the first time a bishop has explicitly called for ecclesiastical recognition of same-gender couples, but it is not the first time that a bishop has shown support for such ideas.  In the 1990s, Bishop Jacques Gaillot of Evreux, France, was removed from his diocese, in part because he blessed a gay couple’s relationship.  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, has called for the Church to revamp its sexual ethics in a more progressive way, and in a way which would open the possibility of recognizing and blessing same-gender relationships.  Many bishops and other church leaders have recently been calling for legal recognition of same-gender couples, though none has gone so far as to ask for recognition from the Church for these couples.

Bonny was in the news in September 2014 when he released a paper in advance of the synod on marriage and family, in which he called for greater openness to gay and lesbian couples, divorced and remarried people, and cohabitating partners.

The National Catholic Reporter article quoted  Professor Rik Torfs, a canon law scholar and the rector of the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, who noted the import of Bonny’s remarks:

“Do not underestimate the significance of this. Bonny advocates a change from principles long held as unshakable, something no bishop could have done under the dogmatic pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.”

New Ways Ministry strongly applauds Bishop Bonny’s call for ecclesiastical recognition of same-gender couples. His request is based on the fact that the moral qualities of faithfulness, loyalty, and care which characterize lesbian and gay couples are the very same principles which characterize the unique form of heterosexually married couples.  These principles are the same ones which the majority of Catholic theologians today say should be the basis of the Church’s sexual ethics, instead of basing these ethics on a procreative standard and the outdated concept of male-female complementarity.

Gay and lesbian Catholics and their supporters will surely welcome Bishop Bonny’s call, as this call has been expressed for many decades now, though previous papacies have tried to silence it.  It comes at a time when the entire Church is focused on the idea of marriage and family as we discuss these issues in this year between the synods.  Bishop Bonny’s statements will have a profound effect on this discussion because he is raising an idea which has too long been suppressed, but which many in the Church have desired.  He gives voice to a major segment of Catholicism which has previously been voiceless.

Courage breeds courage.  Let’s pray that other bishops will follow Bishop Bonny’s example and speak out for recognizing the holiness in the committed relationships of lesbian and gay couples.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

The Worst Catholic LGBT News of 2014

thumbs downAs the year 2014 comes to a close, Bondings 2.0 takes a look back at the worst and the best news in the Catholic LGBT world.  If  you want to keep up-to-date on the latest news about the ups and downs of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community, please consider subscribing to this blog.  To do so, enter your email address in the “Follow blog via email” box at the top of the column on the right-hand side of this page, and press “Follow.”  You will then receive an email every time the blog is updated, usually once a day.  You’ll never miss out on the latest news and opinion in the Catholic LGBT world! 

Today we look at the worst news of 2014, and tomorrow, we will report on the best items.

A few days ago, we asked our readers to choose five stories in the worst category and five in the best category.  Each category had 15 items, and there was an option to “write in” other topics that we might have missed.  The following is the ranking of the top ten items from the worst category, in descending order,  with the percentage of votes each item received:

TIE 1. The firing of LGBT and ally church workers continues throughout the year, with little sign of ending.   12.7%


TIE 2. Four U.S. Catholic dioceses add morality clauses to teacher contracts which explicitly forbid support of marriage equality and other forms of LGBT justice. 12.7%

3. In St. Louis, a lesbian couple is denied communion at the funeral of one partner’s mother. In Montana, an elderly gay couple is denied communion at a parish. In Michigan, a gay parishioner and music minister is expelled from parish activities.  12.3%

4.  The Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family pulls back from the favorable language towards lesbian and gay people in its mid-term report and returns to language framed around opposition to marriage equality.  9.4%

5. Liberia’s Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier of Monrovia signs a Liberia Council of Churches’ statement linking Ebola as God’s punishment for homosexuality.  9.13%

6.  A hospitalized gay man in Washington, DC is denied the sacrament of the anointing of the sick by a priest chaplain.  7.94%

7. The advance materials for the 2015 World Meeting of Families, to be held in Philadelphia and visited by Pope Francis, reveals negative messages regarding LGBT people.  7.54%

8. Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki says marriage equality supporters should be disciplined like children.  6.35%

9. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision threatens to redefine religious liberty in a dangerous way for LGBT concerns.  5.56%

10. Although Pope Francis has asked church leaders not to obsess on issues such as gay marriage, the U.S. bishops, at their annual meeting, re-affirm opposition to marriage equality.  4.76%

No one wrote in any additional items on the ballot.  A few of those polled did add some commentary:

Brian Kneeland: “The anti-LGBT work by the church needs to stop and a real pastoral approach adopted by Church leaders!”

Alice Zachmann, SSND: “It was difficult to choose. Each one failed to pass the test,’WHERE THERE is LOVE, THERE IS GOD.’ ”

Casey Lopata: “Until the hierarchy and other institutional Catholic leaders come to accept that gay and lesbian people are NOT defective heterosexuals (but have a God-given sexual orientation on a continuum of natural sexual orientation variations), discriminatory statements and actions will continue.”

The fact that the top two vote-getters are both employment-related shows that this topic is of great concern.  Other than that, it is hard to discern any other pattern in the voting.  However, if you see a trend based on the results above, please inform us of it in the “Comments” section of this post.

Stay tuned for the BEST Catholic LGBT news tomorrow!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


When Advent Hopes Collide with Christmas Surprises

We are on the brink of Christmas. Advent is coming to a close.  How has this season of expectation, preparation, and hope been for you? For me, it has been a bit of a roller-coaster.

After an autumn of lots of traveling for New Ways Ministry, I was preparing for a rare—nay, unprecedented—month-long vacation, visiting India and Bangladesh with a Franciscan friend of mine. He used to minister there educating Franciscan novices and leaders, and we were going to visit his friends.  Christmas would be spent in a contemplative Poor Clare convent in the hills of Bangladesh.  Just what I needed at the end of an extremely hectic year. Pure bliss.

So, my Advent was filled with travel preparations and expectations:  visa applications, immunizations, finding the right electrical adapters, worrying about wi-fi connections and cell phone service.

And then it ended.  A serious, unexpected health problem in the family of my traveling companion arose just two weeks before our scheduled departure.  We would have to postpone, perhaps until the spring, perhaps indefinitely.  Sadness and disappointment were mixed, I must admit, with a bit of selfish relief that I could stop the worried and frenzied travel preparations, and that I now had some unexpected “found time.”

Well, the “found time” evaporated very quickly.  I soon realized I now had to “shift gears” and start Christmas preparations.  Gifts that I had planned on buying in Asia, now had to be bought at the local mall. Christmas cards needed to be filled out and mailed.  Decorations had to come down from the attic. And what about baking the Christmas cookies?   What I usually rush to do in four weeks now was going to have to be done in two.

Needless to say, not everything got done.

But enough about my tale of woe.   The point is that I learned an Advent lesson from this experience which I think might be pertinent for those Catholics who work for LGBT equality and justice.

Advent is a time of expectation, preparation, and hope.  But what we expect, prepare, and hope for may not arrive as we have planned it.  And it may not arrive on our schedule. God works in mysterious ways, and, often, in more mysterious time frames.  I’ve learned that it is important to expect, prepare, and hope, but that we also need to be open to surprise.

That was my greatest lesson from all of 2014.  Many of us had great hopes for the October synod on marriage and family.  We spent months in anticipation, buoyed by Pope Francis’ positive messages signaling openness to change, by the Vatican’s call for greater discussion by the entire church, and by greater openness from bishops around the world to recognizing the positive gifts of lesbian and gay couples.

We prayed and prepared and hoped.  And as the synod opened, we started hearing positive messages from participants and observers.  And then came the mid-term report, with its strongly worded affirmations of lesbian and gay people.  Our hopes, it seemed, were being realized. I even toyed with the idea that the work of Catholic LGBT advocacy would soon be waning, that our hopes and dreams were now being realized at last.

Then the final report came out, and we found ourselves in the same position that we had always been in.  No positive message.  Was all the expectation, preparation, and hope for naught?

One of my favorite spiritual writers, José Antonio Pagola, in a homily on the fourth Sunday of Advent in his book, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus: Meditations on the Gospel, Year B, notes that the coming of Jesus was also seen as a disappointment for many.  Born in the backwater of Bethlehem, in a stable, in the midst of Roman occupation, to unknown, powerless parents, Jesus certainly did not have any of the earmarks of a Messiah that Israel expected.

But God works in mysterious ways.  And on a mysterious time schedule.  Our expectations, preparations, and hopes are never in vain.  They just may not receive their fruition in the way we expect them and in the time that we expect them.  We have another synod, a more definitive one coming up in November 2015.  And we need to work and pray with the hope that that one will be better than this past year’s.

More importantly, we must learn to be surprised by God.  Isn’t surprise what our secular tradition of Christmas gift-giving and even decorations are all about? Advent is about expectation, preparation, and hope, but Christmas is about surprise, about finding God, love, and joy in the most unexpected of places. Who knows what surprises God has in store for the 2015 synod?  I know that no one I know was prepared for the surprises that came at this past year’s meeting.

I won’t be in India and Bangladesh this Christmas season, and I don’t have all my decorations up, presents bought, or cookies baked.  But, nevertheless, I plan on being surprised, once again, as I always am, by the love of my family and friends, in ways that I never expect. I can’t wait to see what God has in store!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry





Pope Speaks of Parents of LGBTs, As Video Series Examines Family Experiences

In his latest interview, Pope Francis’ said the church must figure out how to care for parents with LGBT children while denying

Speaking with Elisabetta Piquè of the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, the pope also emphasized that last October’s synod was not intended to address same-sex marriage at all.The interview, posted in four parts linked to at bottom of this post, is in Spanish (but there is a link in each section to translate the interview to English.)

The interview appeared just as an American Jesuit wrote about the Ignatian News Network’s series on pastoral care with Catholic parents of LGBT people in The National Catholic Reporter.  Eddie Seibert used the synod’s more open approach to LGBT issues to encourage Catholic families to welcome their LGBT children at Christmas and to “Make the Yuletide Gay!”  (More on this video series below.)

Gerald O’Connell of America provides a summary of the pope’s interview:

“Pope Francis pointed out that ‘nobody spoke about homosexual marriage in the synod, it didn’t occur to us. What we spoke about was how a family that has a homosexual son or daughter, how can they educate him/ her, how can they raise her/him, how can this family be helped to move forward in this situation which is a little unprecedented. So in the synod they spoke about the family and homosexual persons in relation to their families, because it is a reality that we encounter many times in the confessional’.  So the synod has to see ‘how to help this father or this mother who accompanies this son or daughter. That’s what was touched upon in the synod. For this reason someone spoke about positive elements in the first rough draft. But that draft was relative.’ “

Crux noted further that Pope Francis referred to his own experiences with parents in the confessional while in Buenos Aires:

” ‘We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter.’ “

The pope spoke positively about the synod overall and said the ongoing process “is the journey that God asks of us” so he does not fear criticism or debates. More broadly, Pope Francis said his efforts at reform would be “slow” and “complex,” and that he is glad resistance is finally out in the open.

In recognizing the difficulties of Catholic parents with LGBT children, Pope Francis echoes the voice of an Australian lay couple who spoke at the synod and have now called for greater lay leadership in a recent piece for The Tablet.   At the synod, Ron and Mavis Pirola used the example of welcoming a gay son and his partner to a family Christmas dinner to illustrate the power of family bonds.

The strength of family bonds is illustrated powerfully by Ignatian News Network in the latest installment of their ongoing series about Catholic parents of LGBT issues. The video features the stories of  Thomas Nelson and Javier and Martha Plasencia, who describe their experiences of loving and accepting their gay sons.  Eddie Siebert, SJ introduced the latest video in a blog post at the National Catholic Reporterand you can watch the parents’ powerful testimonies of love and faith in the video embedded in that article.

The episode is the second part of an examination of Catholic parents of LGBT people .  The first installment, which features Linda Karle-Nelson and Joanne Weyant, can be viewed here:

Seibert summarized his blog post introducing the video by calling for the entire church to emulate these parents’ attitudes and actions:

“So, Christmas is coming. Some of you may be asking the same question the Pirolas asked the bishops…With the amount of division that exists in the world, I pray this holiday season that the messiness of being a human and having a family is something we can find grace in, not judgment and isolation. I pray that if we have the opportunity to welcome someone or turn them away, we choose to welcome. Finally, I pray we remember God doesn’t make mistakes when he creates and nothing can take away our innate dignity — even if we don’t always recognize it.”

Ignatian News Network  has been involved in a larger project of examining the topic of LGBT people and the Catholic Church.  You can read about the debut installment by clicking here.

As Bondings 2.0 has written on several occasions, parents are often the most powerful and effective advocates for LGBT justice in the Catholic Church. Their love their children and their commitment to make the church a better place for them are powerful forces. It is refreshing to hear Pope Francis listening to parents, including the Pirolas, but also those he met while offering pastoral care in Argentina. What will be even more meaningful are concrete changes in practice to make greater inclusion and welcome practical realities in homes and in parishes.

For the full interview with Pope Francis provided in Spanish by La Nacion, use the links provided below:

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry