Are Synods Actually Helpful for LGBT Catholics and Their Families?

Following the Vatican’s 2015 Synod on the Family, a handful of dioceses worldwide have convoked their own local synods to discuss issues in and plans for their local church. These gatherings have been heralded for advancing episcopal collegiality and participation of the laity, parts of Pope Francis’ vision for the church.

But while that may be so, the Synod on the Family was described as a “disappointment” by some LGBT advocates and local synods’ treatment of sexuality has been mixed. It is therefore a live question in the church whether these synods are actually helping LGBT Catholics and their families.

Participants conversing at Detroit’s synod.

The Archdiocese of Detroit held its “Synod ’16: Unleash the Gospel” last weekend, part of its evangelization efforts in which thousands of Catholics have participated through some 240 Parish Dialogue Gatherings and nights of prayer.

More than 11,000 responses were distilled into 46 propositions for the consideration of the synod’s 400 delegates, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Top priorities included lifelong faith formation, building parishes marked by loving encounters, empowering Catholics to live active faith lives, and, according to diocesan newspaper The Michigan Catholic:

“Build a framework for mutual accountability between pastors, parishes, schools and the Central Services. To build a foundation for this, heal wounded relationships, build trust and practice transparency. . .

“Build cultural competency among individuals, parishes and archdiocesan leadership to acknowledge and break down barriers that divide us — including race, ethnicity, sex and socioeconomic status.”

The Archdiocese has faced financial and organizational difficulties in recent years, including a declining Catholic population, difficulties in many ways tied to Detroit’s citywide troubles. But the synod also acknowledged the splits within the church community. Auxiliary Bishop Michael Byrnes, who oversaw synod preparations, told NCR:

“‘I’m really, really grateful to build within our parishes a capacity to welcome the other. . .I mean we were naming things of ethnicity, of race, gender and sexual orientation. . .It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re dealing with. And now this is going to take a while to grow but that was named in the last session and got a lot of support. . .

“‘[Archbishop Allen Vigneron has] a huge vision, this isn’t just about becoming more pious, this is really about taking action for social, neighborhood transformation. . .We can’t just stop at “Jesus save me, so that I can go to heaven.” It has to be “Jesus, save me, so that I can help heal the world.”‘”

Themes of healing and reconciliation where divisions exist in the church and with the surrounding community were prominent at the gathering. While LGBT issues were not specifically mentioned in news reports, it would be surprising if these topics were not raised at Saturday morning’s session on the family.

Archbishop Vigneron at Mass during the Synod

But what is perhaps most remarkable are the statements from Archbishop Vigneron, a conservative bishop with an anti-LGBT record that includes remarks which compared breaking up a same-gender relationship to the Exodus liberation, seeking to deny Communion to Catholics who support marriage equality, and banning a Fortunate Families event  from church property.

Vigneron told the National Catholic Reporter the synod sought “a radical overhaul of the Church in Detroit” to “transform the very culture of our Archdiocese — how we work, how we pray, how we minister, everything — so that in everything we do, we are more effective witnesses to the Gospel.” Citing the writings of Pope Francis as the inspiration, the archbishop said he would be “listening and contributing and being part of this whole process.” Afterward, he commented to The Michigan Catholic:

“‘We talked a lot about hospitality and about how we need to be welcoming to them, but also about reconciliation. . .There are people who are hurt, and we need to work together to heal those hurts.'”

These statements from Vigneron have a strikingly different tone from his previous statements and, while they do not address LGBT issues specifically, they seem to hint at a new understanding on his part of the ways the church has excluded and even hurt Catholics.

Archbishop Vigneron should now take the next step of sitting down with LGBT Catholics and the Catholic parents of LGBT children to hear their stories and be open to the ways the Spirit speaks through them to him and to the Archdiocese. Doing this before he releases a pastoral statement on the synod, expected Pentecost 2017, could greatly improve what will likely become a guiding document in Detroit. Including sexual orientation and gender identity in the synod’s commitment to accountability and cultural competency on the part of church ministers is one way he could be tremendously helpful.

So while issues of gender and sexuality were not explicitly addressed or reported in Detroit last weekend, unlike the diocesan synod in San Diego under Bishop Robert McElroy where LGBT topics came up organically, they will likely be affected by the synod.

Just how that happens, however, is unclear. Could the synod’s findings reinvigorate attention to a heteronormative and nuclear understanding of family or will other family arrangements including same-gender relationships be pastorally accompanied?

And the larger question remains: are these synods helping LGBT people and their families, indifferent about them, or even pastorally damaging?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 25, 2016



Some Hope But Not Much Joy for LGBT Catholics in Pope’s ‘Joy of Love’ Document

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry,                                               in response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life

While Pope Francis’ latest document, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), contains some hopeful passages, it does not inspire joy in LGBT Catholics and their supporters.  As far as sexual orientation and gender identity issues are concerned, the pope’s latest apostolic exhortation reiterates church formulas which show that the Vatican has yet to learn from the experiences and faith lives of so many LGBT Church members or their supporters.

Though the pope calls for church leaders and ministers to be less judgmental and to respect individuals’ consciences, he has not provided a new pastoral approach to LGBT issues or people.

On other family topics such as divorce and co-habitation, Amoris Laetitia, offers some hopeful advice—and if this advice were simply applied to LGBT issues, which would not be incompatible to do, this document would have been much more positive.  Pope Francis calls for non-judgmental pastoral care, assisting people in developing their consciences, encouraging diverse pastoral responses based on local culture, and calling church leaders to be more self-critical.  All these things, if applied to LGBT people and issues, could produce enormous positive change in the church.

Pope Francis

Instead of listening to more progressive voices at the synods who called for greater understanding and dialogue with the LGBT community, the pope simply repeated church condemnations of same-sex unions, adoption by lesbian and gay people, and the complexities of gender identity.

Most egregious is his repetition of the synod fathers’ false claim that international aid to developing nations is dependent upon openness to marriage equality.  No evidence exists for such a claim. Randy Berry, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI People categorically denied this claim last November during meetings with church officials at the Vatican to discuss the persecution of LGBT people globally.

Moreover, Pope Francis’ one statement discussing pastoral care to families with lesbian and gay members is included in a section entitled “Casting Light on Crises, Worries and Difficulties.”  Such a classification reveals an assumption that LGBT topics are simply problems to be surmounted, and it does not recognize the giftedness and grace that occur when a family accepts and loves its LGBT family members.

While Pope Francis repeats church teaching condemning discrimination and violence against LGBT people, the fact that there is no elaboration of this teaching concerning countries that are criminalizing sexual and gender minorities makes these words ineffective.

Many in the Catholic LGBT community had great, but realistic, hopes for this document.  While not expecting a blessing on marriage for lesbian and gay couples, many were anticipating that Pope Francis would offer an affirming message to LGBT people, and not the same ill-informed comments. Many were hoping for something more pastoral from this pope known for warm gestures and statements. Where is the Pope Francis who embraced his gay former student and husband during his U.S. visit?  Where is the Pope Francis who invited a transgender Spanish man for a personal meeting at the Vatican? That Pope Francis is hard to find in his latest text.

The two synods in 2014 and 2015, as well as the wide consultations among the laity which preceded them, served as the research for this new papal document.  Unfortunately, as far as LGBT issues are concerned, there is nothing in Amoris Laetitia that indicates the great call for new approaches to these issues that occurred during these discussions.

Perhaps there is hope in the suggestion made by some bishops at the 2015 synod that the Vatican hold an entirely separate synodal discussion on the issues of sexuality and gender.  While this document has a lot to offer on a variety of important family topics, it did not give adequate attention to LGBT family issues that deserve serious examination by church leaders.

Given the new general pastoral direction of this document, there is potential for further development in regard to LGBT issues.  Much more faithful witnessing of LGBT Catholics and their supporters, as well as continued steps toward dialogue with Church leaders, will further this goal.

In one of the more hopeful parts of the document, the conclusion of chapter 8, Pope Francis actually calls for the continuation of such a dialogue:

“I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church.”

Such dialogues can transform those in so-called “complicated situations,” but they can also transform the Church’s ministers and leaders.  This process is a proven method for the development of doctrine in the Catholic Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

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 Can We Expect from Pope’s Upcoming Document on the Family Synod?

Pope Francis has been called the “pope of surprises” for all the out-of the-ordinary things he has said and done.  But it is no surprise that his much-anticipated apostolic exhortation in response to 2015’s Synod on the Family is . . . well, much anticipated!  Pope Francis said he would issue the document before Easter, March 27th, and some Catholic Church observers have been betting on March 19th as the release date because that is the feast of St. Joseph under the title of “Husband of Mary.”

Cardinals and bishops in the synod hall. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

In anticipation of the document, Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter gathered thoughts from some church observers about the document, but he noted that it is difficult to foresee how the pope might respond:

“[The apostolic exhortation] should sum up the debates and decisions of the closely watched synod meetings, but, as with anything from the predictably unpredictable Argentine pope, it is unknown what direction Francis will take in his writing.”

McElwee reported observers’ thoughts about what the pope might write.  Among the more controversial issues the pope might discuss are divorce/remarriage, contraception, and same-gender marriages and relationships.  While it seems that people are expecting the most substantial input from the pope on the topic of divorce/remarriage, his response to discussions of LGBT issues is also being anticipated.  McElwee quoted Richard Galliardetz, a Boston College theologian:

“Gaillardetz . . . expressed hope that Francis’ exhortation would address lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people positively.

“The theologian mentioned that the report from the 2015 synod was not as open toward gay people as an interim report published from the 2014 synod, which had a section titled ‘Welcoming Homosexual Persons.’ ”

” ‘I hope the pope will recover the gains we saw in the [2014] synod and affirm the graced character of many committed, stable same-sex relationships,’ he said.

“Overall, Gaillardetz said, he hopes the pope will ‘follow his pastoral instincts, which generally lead him to meet people where they are.’

” ‘Modern Catholic teaching has had far too much said on marriage and family that traffics in highly romanticized language often tragically far removed from ordinary human existence,’ Gaillardetz said.”

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 may recall that I was privileged to have press credentials for the October 2015 synod at the Vatican and reported daily from there during the length of the meeting. In reviewing my posts and notes from the month that I was in Rome,  I’ve come up with a few things that I think (and hope) Pope Francis might include in the apostolic exhortation.

First of all, while I would love to see great change in the church regarding LGBT issues, I don’t think that we will see BIG changes in the pope’s upcoming document.  (Though, I will be the first to celebrate if this prediction turns out to be wrong!).   At the synod, I saw that there are some in-between steps that the Church needs to take before we are able to make any big changes. I’d like to mention three of them which I think stand a pretty good chance of getting mention in the pope’s upcoming document:

Change in the language of church doctrine:  In many bishops’ interventions, there was a call for a transformation of language that was harmful, offensive, and inaccurate.  What comes to my mind is “objective disorder” to describe homosexual orientation and “intrinsic moral evil” to describe sexual intimacy of a gay or lesbian couple.  Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia was the most explicit in his call for such a change.  In an interview, he stated: 

“For instance: The distinction between sin and sinner breaks down, particularly in the area of sexuality. I don’t think we can any longer say that we condemn the sin but not the sinner. “Because, you see … a person will say in the cultures that you and I come from that my sexuality isn’t just part of me, it’s part of my whole being. . . . “So to say that this act is intrinsically disordered is now taken for granted to mean I am intrinsically disordered.”

Empowering local bishops to respond pastorally according to their own judgments, given the unique attitudes and practices of their cultures and communities: One of the things that the event of the synod illustrated is how culturally diverse the Catholic Church is throughout the globe.  Attitudes and customs about marriage and family are widely divergent–not least of all when it comes to LGBT couples and families.  Germany’s Abbot Jeremias Schroder was one of several synod participants who called for this local option, and he used lesbian and gay issues as his example:

“I also have the impression that the understanding of homosexuality, the social acceptance of homosexuality, is culturally very diverse and that seems to me very obviously to also be an area where bishops conferences should be allowed to formulate pastoral responses that are in tune with what can be preached and announced and lived in a given context.”

 A  desire for the Church to be more of a listening presence and accompanying friend, instead of a disciplinarian rule giver:  This theme is a strong one throughout Pope Francis’ writings, speeches, interviews, and comments, so I think it is very likely that it will appear in some way in the apostolic exhortation.   Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago touched on this theme in an interview at the synod, where he described the kind of church leader that he strives to be:

“If we’re really going to accompany people, we have to first of all engage them. In Chicago, I visit regularly with people who feel marginalized, whether they’re the elderly, or the divorced and remarried, gay and lesbian individuals, also couples. I think we need to really get to know what their life is like if we’re going to accompany them.”

Pope Francis (lower left) delivers homily at synod’s closing liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica, on October 25, 2015. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

I think there is a good chance that we will see those themes emerge in the pope’s apostolic exhortation because, in fact, he discussed them in his homily at the Mass closing the synod, for which the gospel passage was the healing of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar  (Mark 10).

Of the importance of pastoral language, Pope Francis said:

“The 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.”

He also seemed to be alluding to the issue of allowing diverse, local pastoral responses when he said:

“A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.”

And he emphasized the theme of being a listening Church:

“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.”

None of these passages are proof positive that the pope will include these themes in his apostolic exhortation, but I think the fact that he has spoken them already in the context of the synod means he values their importance.

Most importantly, I think that these three steps–change in language, allowing local pastoral decision-making, becoming an accompanying, listening church–need to be taken before we can see any more substantial changes in church teaching and practice in regard to LGBT issues.  As much as I would like quick change, I think that an evolutionary, not revolutionary, progress is more likely the way things will happen.

Given the wide publicity the synod received and the strong anticipation of the pope’s apostolic exhortation, many, many people are eager to learn what Francis will have to say in this docuemnt. Whatever he writes in the apostolic exhortation can shape pastoral care on family and marriage issues for a long time to come.  Let’s pray that the Spirit guides him towards in more inclusive directions than the Vatican has previously taken.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

The National Catholic Reporter: “Church reform requires decentralization, synodality”

The National Catholic Reporter: “Pope Francis preparing document on the family”

Is the Catholic Church Actually Progressive on LGBT Issues?

Jane Fae

Is the Catholic Church actually progressive on LGBT issues, despite news headlines to the contrary? Yes and no, says Jane Fae,  a U.K. journalist who is a Catholic transgender woman. In a recent essay for Gay Star News, Fae asserts that what matters most is complexity and context of the issues involved.

Because of the complexity, Fae cautioned against LGBT advocates celebrating “bad news” about the Church, such as the contentious debates that took place at the Synod on the Family in October 2015.

Fae said secular LGBT advocates should not rejoice when it seems that the Church is splitting apart.  She wrote:

“The problem. . .is this particular piece of ‘bad news’ [about the Synod on the Family] is equally bad news for the millions of LGBTI people who do not live in broadly progressive countries.”

Why do LGBTI people suffer when the Catholic Church is troubled? Fae suggested any church critique must extend “beyond simple dislike” and include proper understandings of church history and ecclesial politics. Last fall’s Synod on the Family changed little, but those hoping for reforms should have been more realistic about the global church to begin with:

“The demographics of the present church show some 1.3 billion followers with the fastest growing segment in sub-Saharan Africa, an area not exactly known for its celebration of LGBTI values. . .

“Because of its size, the Catholic Church straddles the world, including millions of people whose views on LGBTI rights range from ultra-regressive to highly progressive. Inevitably, it ends up taking a middle of the road position which, equally inevitably, looks very backward from our perspective.”

Fae cautioned against a binary in which the West is progressive and others are “some dark opposite,” describing such thinking as “wrong” and “racist.” Instead, Catholics should consider both how the church fails on LGBT issues and how it leads, depending on the context discussed. She wrote:

“In those areas that are most antipathetic towards LGBTI rights, [the Catholic Church] is frequently a force for progress. Sometimes the main one, sometimes the only one.”

Fae contends that Catholics, including clergy, forcefully defend LGBTI human rights in some pats of Africa and Eastern Europe. She also noted the efforts by LGBT Catholics in London to aid LGBTQI asylum seekers. This is why a divided and troubled Catholic Church is no benefit to the cause of LGBT justice, as Fae explained:

“The church is not going to disappear. And while a split church might be helpful to campaigners in some parts of the world, it would be disastrous for those campaigning elsewhere, in areas where oppression is greatest, and where clergy protect minorities from persecution.”

As for the Synod on the Family, Fae does not consider it a loss. Pope Francis was deftly able to “balance a desire for a far more inclusive church with the need to avoid it splitting up.” For progressive Catholics who want same-gender weddings celebrated sacramentally, it was clearly not a victory. But the synod was a forward step because it avoided schism or disunity, hinted at by certain traditionalist members, while succeeding at shifting language. And to those suggesting shifts in language are not sufficient, Fae finds historical parallels in Vatican II. She wrote:

“Without defining a single new doctrine, just using a new positive vocabulary of spiritual kinship, the council significantly reshaped the church. . .That is the trick that Pope Francis was attempting to repeat.

“He has had few victories so far but the language is shifting. And, if what has gone before is any indicator of what is to follow, where language leads, hearts will eventually follow.”

Living in the Northeast U.S. where LGBT legal rights and cultural acceptance are basically normative, it can be easy for me to forget the harsh realities still faced by millions in our world. Jane Fae’s piece is a reminder that everything is grayer than we might prefer, that context matters significantly, and that change in the church is incremental and happening, even if the pace is painfully slow. You can read her column in full by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry




Archbishop Cupich: Respect Lesbian and Gay People’s Consciences

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 2.34.17 PM.png
Archbishop Blase Cupich

Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago again defended the primacy of conscience regarding lesbian and gay people in an interview in which he also spoke against those who seek to deny Communion to certain Catholics.

Cupich was interviewed by Alan Kreshesky of ABC 7, and he touched on October’s Synod on the Family. Asked about the pastoral care of same-gender couples, the archbishop replied:

“When people who are in good conscience, working with a spiritual director, come to a decision that they need to follow that conscience. That’s the teaching of the church. So in the case of people receiving Communion in situations that are irregular, that also applies.

“The question then was, ‘Does that apply to gay people?’ My answer was, ‘They’re human beings, too.’ They have a conscience. They have to follow their conscience. They have to be able to have a formed conscience, understand the teaching of the church, and work with a spiritual director and come to those decisions. And we have to respect that.”

These remarks build upon his work at the Synod, during which he told Bondings 2.0 that the proceedings would have benefited from listening to lesbian and gay couples. In the past year, he also said that the church must seek “new avenues and creativity when it comes to accompanying families,” and he endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender couples in 2014.

Questioned specifically about denying Communion to lesbian and gay people, Cupich responded:

“I think that when people come for Communion, it’s not up to any minister who’s distributing the Eucharist to make a decision about a person’s worthiness or lack of worthiness. That’s on the conscience of those individuals [receiving communion].”

Cupich’s approach is opposite to the one taken recently by Newark’s Archbishop John Myers, directed his priests not to give communion to lesbian and gay couples who have legally married. Cupich is increasingly critical of this nation’s bishops in general, on display most recently during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting.

Archbishop Cupich’s words are certainly strong ones in support of LGBT Catholics and their families, but his defense of conscience is undercut by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s harsh ecclesial reality. Two church workers, Sandor Demkovich and Colin Collette, have lost their jobs for making conscience decisions to themselves to a same-gender partner in legal marriages. The Archdiocese denies discrimination in these cases, and Cupich himself has remained quiet.

Advocating respect for Catholics’ conscience, particularly when the faithful dissent from the bishops’ teachings, is greatly needed in our church. That message is far more powerful when advocates live according to the values about which they advocate.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


After Synod on the Family, Catholic Church Faced with Choice on LGBT Issues

Rev. James Martin, SJ
Rev. James Martin, SJ

The Synod on the Family is over and Catholics await the possibility that Pope Francis will write an apostolic exhortation on family life derived from the bishops’ deliberations. Many are curious whether the pope’s document will mirror the Final Report or deviate away towards a much hoped for, more merciful approach. Below are more reactions to the synod, and you can find Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Synod on the Family here.

At the moment, the church finds itself with a pastoral choice according to Jesuit Fr. James Martin. In an essay in Time magazine, he wrote about the church’s current “inclusion problem.”

The choice, in an overly simplified form, Martin wrote, is between a “John the Baptist method” which “asks for conversion as a prerequisite for joining the community” and the “Jesus method” where it is “community first, conversion second” as the story of Zacchaeus displays. The former seeks purification, the latter stress mercy. These are “helpful templates” for the church today, said Martin, who observed:

“As I see it, the movement for Jesus was always from the outside-in. He went out to those who were officially excluded or who felt excluded—in his time, that meant primarily the sick and the sinful—and brought them in. He restored them to the community. This is something the church may need to do more of: welcome, meet people where they are, and listen. Certainly conversion is in order for everyone—including me. But how can we change hearts if we don’t welcome them first?”

The National Catholic Reporter‘s editorial on the Synod highlighted how some voices were absent, including those of LGBT people. This choice to not meet people where they are and listen to stories left the deliberations seriously deficient, said the editors. Commenting on Pope Francis’ desire for the church to journey together, they wrote:

“It is essential to note here that the sense of ‘together’ is yet missing a significant component. . .[W]hile there may have been a more respectful tone when speaking about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, there was no attempt to actually consult members of that portion of the Catholic community.”

The editorial ended by noting the “kind of change possible” in the church after this Synod, saying the final report posits “a radically decentralized understanding of church authority” and “equally momentous change” in bishops’ self-perception.

Massimo Faggioli

If and how change emerges from the synod will depend, in part, on how the meeting is received by the people of God, according to one expert. Theologian Massimo Faggioli took up the question of reception, now applicable to synodal processes, in Commonweal where he wrote:

“The reception of councils and church teachings involves the laity and the sensus fidelium: without the laity there is no reception in the synodal Church. But it will be most interesting to see how the reception of this Synod and of Francis’s post-synodal exhortation and decisions will be the fruit of the work of the bishops.”

If legal scholar Douglas Kmiec’s reading of the Synod is any indication, reform-minded Catholics may not gladly receive the Synod’s report or Pope Francis’ possible upcoming apostolic exhortation. He wrote at the National Catholic Reporter:

“The synod’s brief discourse of same-sex marriage is equally hurtful [as its treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics]. It is a cruel hoax to say that the church is welcoming of those of same-sex orientation and yet in the same breath not give any acknowledgment of the poignancy of that human relationship.  Is it not an extraordinary act of love for one human being to say to another: ‘I want to walk with you, to be your support, to care for you in illness and to share in your joys?’ That statement is no less extraordinary when it is made between two of the same gender. When the church declares itself closed and disapproving of such relationship, it separates itself from the welcoming nature of Christ, and instead, sets itself up as judge with a standard that is disregarding of the Thomistic advice not to make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

In Kmiec’s estimation, at this point, Pope Francis and the Synod Fathers have answered the question, “Who am I to judge?” with “We will.”

Robert Mickens

In terms of how the synod will affect the bishops, Robert Mickens of the National Catholic Reporter suggested the Synod’s real outcome was the outing of bishops’ real views before Pope Francis. Such acts clarify what reform in the church will really mean going forward. Mickens explained:

“In other words, the pope has gotten to know the bishops much better and is now in a stronger position to distinguish those who are on board with his vision of renewing and reforming the church from those who are not.

“But if the more than 250 bishops (there were also non-bishop synod fathers) who were at this latest synod assembly are truly representative of the worldwide episcopate, Francis may have a difficult road ahead.”

Worth noting is Pope Francis’ continuing transformation of the episcopate with more pastorally-focused and merciful prelates replacing conservative predecessors. John Allen of Crux notes two such appointments coming just days after the Synod’s conclusion.

In Bologna, Italy, he replaced a hard-line conservative with “Matteo Maria Zuppi, well-known in the city of Rome as a fixture in the center-leftCommunity of Sant’Egidio, known for its work in ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, and conflict resolution.”  In Palermo, Francis “tapped 53-year-old Corrado Lorefice, another figure well known in Italian ecclesiastical circles for his anti-Mafia activism, his efforts on behalf of the victims of prostitution and human trafficking, and his writings on the Church’s “option for the poor.”

These replacements, as has been noted from early on in his papacy, may be Francis’ lasting impact on the church and may clear a path for more inclusive LGBT pastoral care.

Sidney Callahan

Sidney Callahan wrote in America about what the Synod means not for the institutional church, but for families and added a historical reminder helpful for Catholic families hurt by or divided over current church teachings:

“The Christian family is proclaimed in Catholic teaching as ‘the domestic church.’ How fitting then that after the recent synod Catholic families can be more closely modeled on Vatican II’s more open vision of the church. Families too can be inspired to be more accepting, inclusive, just and personally responsive to individual conscience. . .

“Unfortunately in the course of human history, Christian values were often distorted, co-opted and overthrown by powerful regimes. . .In many of these struggles those on the side of core Christian values might have to oppose established powers, including the church.”

The Synod’s failure to invite women to participate fully generated much criticism.  Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese’s question about why a lay brother was allowed to vote, but no woman religious (who would be canonically equal to a lay brother), written about in America, is one example. As Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson has suggested on several occasions, the Catholic Church will not evolve on LGBT equality without also evolving on equality for women.

Questions of gender justice in the church are certainly worth consideration by LGBT advocates. One adviser, Sr. Carmen Sammut, who heads the International Union of Superiors General, raised an interesting point about the bishops’ deliberations compared with the institutional discernment processes common to women religious’ communities. She told the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘For me, the weakness for this method was that there was no real time allowed for a real discernment process. . .When you have such very big differences, how do you bring all that together?’ “

She added there was “no ideal family out there,” asking a question pertinent to all Catholics as we come to understand, affirm, and support families in their diversity:

” ‘How do you become free enough to go beyond fear?’ “

So what is next for LGBT Catholics? Will the church, its leaders and its families alike, be able to move beyond fear into the freedom of the Gospel where all people are welcomed, nourished, and celebrated?

GLAAD hosted a Google Hangout recently to discuss the topic of the future of the Catholic LGBT movement in the wake of the synod, welcoming Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA, and Ross Murray and Janet Quezada of GLAAD to the conversation. You can watch the discussion below or by clicking here.

What do you think? Is the choice for the church between the “John the Baptist method” and the “Jesus method”? Will Catholics receive the Synod’s report? Are bishops changing their tone? What is next for LGBT Catholics and their families? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry