“With All Families, Without Condemnation.” That was the headline last Sunday on Italy’s national Catholic newspaper, a further sign for many that this two-year synod process commenced a new moment in the church. Not all agree, though. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides more reactions to the Synod on the Family.
Frank Bruni, openly gay columnist for The New York Times asked an important question for those who have closely followed the Synod’s happenings, analyzing each development and commenting on every statement: “Are most Catholics even paying attention?” While those in the media follow developments closely:
“People in the pews are less rapt. The warmth and respect they feel for the current pope doesn’t translate into any obeisance to church edict.”
Polling confirms what many Catholics know anecdotally, that wide rifts exist between official teaching and Catholics’ lived realities. Church leaders, according to Bruni, “see family in terms that are much too narrow and having a conversation that’s much too small” because they are “more interested in dictating the parameters of sex than in celebrating the boundlessness of love.”
Indeed, while some condemn contemporary family configurations as devaluing traditional morality, the columnist says the truth about reality is “more complicated and less somber than that.” Developments in family life are products of feminist and LGBT movements, which have lifted up marginalized and even abused communities to places of greater dignity and freedom. Bruni said that is all “change we should build on:
“Most of us understand, in a way we once didn’t, that there are men who will never know full romantic and sexual love with a woman, and there are women who will never experience that with a man.
“Was society better off when we denied that and trapped gay and lesbian people in heterosexual marriages that brought joy to neither spouse and were constructed on a lie? Did society benefit from marginalizing gay and lesbian people?
“Those are rhetorical questions. Or at least they should be.”
He holds up families who choose to be family, considered nontraditional by some, but in his estimation quite impressive:
“I saw this happen time and again in the 1980s and early 1990s, when AIDS ravaged gay America and many sufferers found themselves abandoned by relatives, whose religions prodded them toward judgment instead of compassion. Friends filled that gap, rushing in as saviors, stepping up as providers, signing on as protectors. Where families were absent, families were born.”
Jesuit Fr. James Martin identified some of they synod’s larger themes, such as discernment and conscience, enlivened by the bishops’ endorsement. He told the Salt Lake Tribune, “relies on the idea that God can deal directly with us, through our inner lives. It is another encouragement to remind people, especially remarried Catholics, that an informed conscience is, as the church has always taught, the final moral arbiter.”
Martin also released a video (which you can watch below on America’s website explaining his key insights from the synod, such as:
“On LGBT issues, again the synod changed no doctrine, but it reminded Catholics of the need to respect the human dignity of LBGT people and, also, to have special care for families with LGBT members. That may not sound like much of a change, but it challenges Catholics in countries where respect and care for LGBT people are not as common.”
In a a CNN essay, he defended change in the church, saying those fearful of reform and of renewal may have conflated dogma, doctrine, and practice. Or perhaps they adhere foremost to a “crushing sense of legalism,” or even “a hatred of LGBT Catholics that masks itself as a concern for their souls.”
Grant Gallicho of Commonweal said the synod “punted” on homosexuality, highlighting Bishop Johan Bonny’s inability to even raise the issue in his small group led by the cardinal who compared LGBT activists to Nazis. But there is hope, for Gallicho wrote: “[T]his listening synod, if it is to be true to the stirring vision of the pope who established it, can never truly come to an end. It is only the beginning.” Commonweal’s editorial echoed this idea, stating:
“In that regard, the real achievement of the synod has been the reinvigoration of the synodal process itself, one in which bishops feel free to speak their minds, to disagree with one another, and even to explore the possibility that reform is essential to the church’s evangelical mission.”
Future synod’s must include more voices within the church it said, given that some bishops like Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich admitted this Synod would have benefited from input by LGBT people. One emerging issue is transgender inclusion, a topic absent from this synod altogether. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented to The Advocate about “gender ideology” condemnations in the final report:
” ‘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.’ “
These reflections are just the first fruits of many more commentaries and reflections to come, worthwhile both for analyzing ecclesial happenings and, like with Frank Bruni’s column, spiritual nourishment as well. You can find Bondings 2.0‘s first reaction round-up by clicking here. For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the 2015 Synod on the Family, click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry