Australian Catholics Help Start Ecumenical LGBTI Group

Despite Australia’s ongoing debate over marriage equality, there have been several positive developments in Catholic LGBT issues recently in the land “down under.” Today’s post highlights one of those major developments.

ev-logo-1-e1483341716491Australian Christians have founded the interdenominational group Equal Voices to promote reconciliation between LGBTI communities and churches, reported Buzzfeed. The first meeting will occur at the end of this month, with a more formal launch in April.

Equal Voices seeks to be a networking and resource group based on values such as boldly proclaiming Christ’s love for all people, honoring same-gender relationships, and promoting listening and learning.

What is interesting about Equal Voices, according to spokesperson Natalie Cooper, is that those Christians involved are from “fairly conservative church backgrounds” that include Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, and Catholics. Lay people hope to end the false idea that one can either be LGBT or Christian. Cooper added:

“‘For too long gay and lesbian people in the churches have been asked to carry the load by themselves. . .What’s often denied is that there are large numbers of LGBTI people of faith. Some of those people are in church, some of them are out, a lot of them are closeted because they don’t feel safe being out’. . .

“‘Very often, the impression given is that there is just one point of view, just one Christian voice. . .We want to make it clear there are lots of Christian voices, and give everyone a seat at the table.'”

Benjamin Oh

Among the leaders of Equal Voices is Benjamin Oh, a Catholic LGBTI advocate who has worked in human rights and development fields. According to his website bio, Oh “was elected as head of a Catholic international aid & development agency in Australia” and was the “World Youth Day Coordinator and Social Justice Project Manager for the worldwide Dominican Order” in 2008.  He also serves on the Steering Committee of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.

Equal Voices’ first priority, according to Buzzfeed, is to “facilitate a national apology to LGBTI Christians and the wider community” that will be presented in the nation’s capitol. This Apology is partially inspired by Pope Francis’ own call last year for the church to apologize to LGBTI people.

But the Apology seeks to not only seek forgiveness for past wrongs, but to educate Christians so as to prevent future wrongs. Some Christians may object to apologizing, said Cooper, figuring such an action was not needed. But the Apology explained its own reasons:

“Speaking for myself and as a member of my church, I ask for your forgiveness:

  1. For being too slow to acknowledge that we need to say sorry to you.
  2. For not speaking up against the hurtful, damaging and often violent mistreatment you have been subjected to.
  3. For speaking about you, without first listening to you.
  4. For not creating safe environments within our churches where people can speak openly and honestly about their struggles and understandings.
  5. For perpetuating stereotypes, and for not taking full account of your actual lived experiences.
  6. For talking to you or about you in such a way as to suggest that sexual and/or gender differences are not part of your true identity as creatures made in the image of God, but are simply a result of brokenness or sin.
  7. For perpetuating the mistaken belief that non-heterosexual orientations should be treated, healed or changed, and for not acknowledging the damage such misunderstanding has wrought in peoples’ lives.
  8. For not acknowledging that Christians who are seeking to be faithful to their Lord and to the Scriptures are coming to different conclusions on matters of gender, sexual orientation, and marriage.

The Apology ended with five commitments to LGBTI people that signatories make, including supporting LGBTI “in every way possible,” being open to correction and guidance, holding others accountable for “careless, hurtful or misleading talk,” resisting efforts to exclude LGBTI people from churches, and engaging “in genuine and open dialogue to gain better understanding of other perspectives.”

Australian Catholics’ support for Equal Voices is consistent with many positive actions which have happened in the country. Last December, Fr. Paul Kelly’s eight-year effort to outlaw “gay panic” defense in Queensland led the state’s Attorney General to introduce a parliamentary bill doing just that. In response to Pope Francis, an Australian parish held a Liturgy of Apology to LGBT People which participants said opened new possibilities for healing. And when bishops have publicly opposed marriage equality, Catholics have pushed back, including Fr. Frank Brennan, S.J.’s, warning that a plebiscite on marriage equality could be “very nasty.”

Whether or not Australia’s Parliament will indeed pass a marriage equality law is still an open question despite overwhelming support by legislators and the public. But it is good to know Catholics, and Christians generally, are not waiting to advance the cause of LGBT equality in many spheres.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 12, 2017

 

God’s Incarnate Promise, Our Promise to Love One Another

This weekend, Christians around the world gather with their families and loved ones to celebrate the amazing mystery of the Incarnation. There is much to ponder about God became human, but one truth it affirms is the goodness of being embodied beings in relationship with and loving other beings.

Sadly, this weekend can also be difficult for many LGBT people if lack of acceptance for their identities and/or relationships has caused pain or division in families and communities. Returning home for Christmas can be a moment where holy embodiment is forgotten, and LGBT people are asked by misguided loved ones to leave the fullness of their lives and their love at the door.

As Christmas celebrations begin today, it seems a fitting time to reflect on the words of Amy Morris-Young in the National Catholic Reporter who recently told the story of her brother’s coming out as a gay man, and how families can respond with love.

Morris-Young begins her tale with an anecdote about being a child in the 1960s, riding around in the back of her family’s car. In a silly game, the siblings would try to elicit reactions from drivers by waving at them while saying through clenched teeth, “Wave if you’re gay!” But when they grew up, that childish statement took on a different meaning. She explained:

“My baby brother, Tom, was now 19. He had just completed his first year at our shared Catholic university, and was driving north for a visit. He told me on the phone before he left Southern California that he wanted to talk with me about something in person. He had decided to come out. He was gay.”

Tom had already come out to his family, friends, and Catholic parishioners, and these conversations did not go well. But Morris-Young was already prepared to greet him in a special way:

“When I opened our front door, and saw Tom standing there, road-weary and squinting at me through the glass of the storm door, I just smiled and held up my hand, saying, ‘Wave if you’re gay.’

“He slowly raised his hand and wiggled his fingers.

“We both laughed as I let him in.

“When he dropped his duffel bag, I hugged him. He started to cry, his head heavy on my shoulder, his body shuddering with each sob.

“We stood there for a long time. When he finally straightened up and sniffed, wiping his dripping nose on the back of his sleeve, I saw that his tired, sad eyes made him look a lot older than 19. I had moved away to college when he was 11, and never moved back. He had been through a lot since then.”

Morris-Young said the two spent a week catching up, including many conversations about growing up in a Catholic family, a Catholic parish, and a Catholic school. Tom had suffered “trying to hide his attraction, and his shame. . .trying to force himself to be normal.” During the week, it came out that Morris-Young had known her brother was different since they were young. She told him a story:

“I said, ‘When you were 3 years old, and I was 10, you walked into my bedroom, and said, “Amy, there’s been a big mistake. I was supposed to be a girl. Who do we talk to?” ‘

“He said, ‘I don’t remember that.’

“I smiled, ‘Tom, you were 3. Of course you don’t. But I do. I don’t remember what I told you, but I do remember that you were super disappointed that I couldn’t fix it for you. I mean, I was your big sister. I was supposed to know everything, right? I felt bad.'”

Morris-Young said that she was “happy [Tom] had been brave enough to come out, but I was still scared for him. And for us.” Acceptance by the rest of their fellow Catholics was slower, and Tom was “trapped at the edges of our family” and “marginalized.” When she mentioned the story about his question when he was three years-old, the adult Tom cried. She remarked:

“The pain of knowing exactly who he was at three years old — followed by a lifetime of continually striving for dignity and acceptance in a world that can still be harsh and judging and dangerous — seemed just as fresh as it had been more than 20 years earlier.”

lgbt_family_logo_ceramic_ornament-rd0ce0e1d152346e5b60ad965b3162478_x7s2g_8byvr_324Morris-Young is now a mother and a grandmother who knows that our contemporary times are a very different fromm the era when Tom came to understand his sexual identity and live authentically. She promised that she would offer a better response than her ten year-old self if a child or grandchild were to ask, “There has been a mistake. Who do we talk to?”  Her thoughts are ones we should all remember this Christmas season:

“I promise an answer full of love and acceptance and hope. One that says God doesn’t make mistakes, and we are each created to be exactly as we are. That above all, we are family, and we are on this journey together. And that I promise to be your designated adult, to do my best to keep you safe from everything I can — from choking on small objects to having to face unkindness or injustice all alone — forever and ever, amen.”

As we remember anew the promise of love God makes to us through the Incarnation, knowing that when God became human, our embodied beings were affirmed wholly as wonderfully made, let us make that same promise to one another. We will always answer our loved ones with love, acceptance, and hope. We will promise to do our best to accompany them the way that Jesus Emmanuel accompanies us.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 24, 2016

Cardinal Schönborn: “Amoris Laetitia” Evolves Catholic Doctrine on Family Life

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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, right, holding Amoris Laetitia when it was announced in April

A top cardinal who was closely connected to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, has again affirmed the exhortation’s authoritative status, and said it evolves understandings and expressions of Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a Dominican, made these remarks and others in an extensive interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro of the Vatican-reviewed Italian journal, La Civita Cattolica. Excerpts, available here, have been translated into English.

Amoris Laetitia is “the great text of moral theology” the church has awaited since Vatican II, America quoted Schönborn as saying. It is moving the church from ” ‘a defensive pastoral style in which evil becomes an obsession’ toward one that focuses on recognizing the value of encouraging what is good.” Asked about the exhortation’s authority and the exhortation’s relation to Catholic doctrine–in light of criticisms that it is a minor document, or even only the pope’s opinion, as Cardinal Raymond Burke claimed–Schönborn said:

“It is obvious that this is an act of the magisterium. . .I have no doubt that it must be said that this is a pontifical document of great quality, an authentic teaching of sacra doctrina, which leads us back to the contemporary relevance of the Word of God. . .

“In this sphere of human realities, the Holy Father has fundamentally renewed the discourse of the Church – certainly along the lines of Evangelii gaudium, but also of Gaudium et spes, which presents doctrinal principles and reflections on human beings today that are in a continuous evolution. There is a profound openness to accept reality.”

Schönborn said Pope Francis rejected doctrine which is “abstract pronouncements that are separated from the subject who lives,” saying the exhortation’s “bedrock” is understanding that families are not ideals but rather are journeying. He continued:

“The complexity of family situations, which goes far beyond what was customary in our Western societies even a few decades ago, has made it necessary to look in a more nuanced way at the complexity of these situations. To a greater degree than in the past, the objective situation of a person does not tell us everything about that person in relation to God and in relation to the Church. This evolution compels us urgently to rethink what we meant when we spoke of objective situations of sin. And this implicitly entails a homogeneous evolution in the understanding and in the expression of the doctrine.”

In short, Schönborn clarified, “There is no general norm that can cover all the particular cases.”

Other bishops have affirmed Amoris Laetitia‘s authority as they consider how it should be implemented. Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, Malta, called church ministers to exercise “cautious discernment and respect” when encountering people in irregular situations, reported the Independent. Naming LGBT Catholics in civil unions, Grech said:

“Our pastoral activity should be based on four actions – accepting, accompanying, discerning and integrating. The Pope tells us it is important that we help divorced people who are in a new relationship to feel part of the church, that they are not excommunicated or regarded as such, because they also form part of the ecclesiastical communion.”

Grech, whose record on LGBT issues is generally positive, encouraged church ministers not to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “torture chamber.” Instead, he said the church must engage people as people, not situations, and to “[be] mindful of the language you use.”

Yet despite Schönborn and others’ insistence that Amoris Laetitia represents a development of doctrine, especially in its respect for the complexities of family life today, not all bishops have treated it as such.

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on new guidelines from Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput establishing general norms in the archdiocese that ban LGBT people from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to Catholics in non-traditional families. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on these guidelines here.

Debates about Amoris Laetitia will certainly continue for months, if not years. What is important for LGBT Catholics and their advocates, however, is the growing admission by church leaders that doctrine can and has developed when it comes to family life. Opponents of same-gender sexual activity, relationships, and marriage equality frequently say church teaching is unchanging. But Cardinal Schönborn’s interview makes clear such a view is false, and that beyond the clear pastoral recommendations there are doctrinal implications, too. His voice possesses tremendous weight. He was the spokesperson at the April press conference that made Amoris Laetitia available to the public.  He appeared alongside a married Italian couple and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri, the Synod of Bishops’ secretary general.  In the 1990s,  Schönborn oversaw publication of the most recent edition of the Catechism.

The progressive changes sought by many Catholics on gender and sexuality issues were not accomplished in or by Amoris Laetitia. And Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines are evidence the document can and will be misinterpreted by church leaders who wish to suppress pastoral and doctrinal evolution. But there is tremendous hope in the reality that a growing number of church leaders are admitting change is possible, and even needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Pope Francis on LGBT Issues Is Out of Sync with Amoris Laetitia’s Overall Message, Say Theologians

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Francis Clooney

Last week, Bondings 2.0 highlighted young theologians critical of the perceived dismissal of LGBT Catholics by Pope Francis in his latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.  These young scholars were also dismayed by liberal commentators who seem intent on preserving the narrative of progress for the pope’s administration. Today, we highlight theologians who have focused on the exhortation’s inconsistencies when it comes to LGBT issues.

Jesuit Fr. Francis Clooney of Harvard Divinity School offered three points in America about Pope Francis’ treatment of same-gender marriages, concluding with an appeal for Pope Francis to rewrite”in his own hand, from his own heart”paragraph 251 which condemns same-gender marriages quite harshly.

Why does Clooney reach that conclusion? First, the priest noted the “rather formal, one might say cold tone” of paragraph 251 especially as it contrasts with paragraph 250’s rejection of anti-LGBT discrimination. Clooney observed that paragraph 251 extensively quotes the 2015 Synod report, which cited heavily a 2003 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that is itself based in the Catechism. The Jesuit priest wrote:

” ‘I think [Francis] would have spoken differently had he spoken in his own voice. . .If the pope had written about gay marriage in his own voice, I don’t think No. 251 would have been the result. If some men and women, struggling for love, stability and family, choose to enter a gay marriage, might this not be a similar, analogous ‘this agonizing and painful decision’ [to procure an abortion] that merits the pope’s compassion, rather than the cold assertion made in No. 251?”

Clooney cited his own experiences which challenge paragraph 251’s assertion that same-gender relationships are not “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan.”About witnessing same-gender marriages in his life, the priest wrote:

“No relation is perfect, I am sure, but in these marriages I most often observe: honest, open, mature love; commitment, often over many years; fidelity and loyalty to one another, for richer or poorer, in health and in sickness; Christian faith, lived out in a deep human relationship; and, in several cases, great devotion to raising children. I am edified by these relationships, these marriages. . .

“[I]t should be evident to anyone with their eyes open, that gay marriage is in many ways similar to marriage as is esteemed by the church, and that analogies abound, including those I have mentioned. It is hard to see how or why Pope Francis might think that gay marriage could be entirely dissimilar and equivocally unlike heterosexual marriage. It is hard to see why Pope Francis, even if quoting quotes from other documents, would be willing to say that the marriage of a gay couple is entirely outside God’s plan. Is there anything or anyone outside God’s mercy and compassion?”

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Daniel Maguire

In a commentary at Consortium News, theologian Daniel Maguire of Marquette University said the pope “should be embarrassed by the significant failings” of Amoris Laetitia.

Maguire denied the exhortation is “a retreat from rule-centered church teaching,” highlighting instead areas like marriage equality and contraception where Pope Francis’ respect for conscience becomes invalidated by his own words. The pope “waxes rhapsodic on the beauty and personal enrichment offered by marriage,” calling it ideal love, but Maguire also pointed out:

“And now the rub! This magnificent experience is reserved by God and the Catholic hierarchy only for heterosexuals. It’s beyond the reach of gays who love one another. The document should have been called The Joy of Heterosexual Love. . .

“Is it that all LGBT persons are too ‘selfish, calculating and petty?’ Are they so deficient in their humanity as to be incapable of this achievement of human love. Is the Pope suggesting in a new nasty way that all these persons are ‘queer’ and ‘deviant.’ Is that why heterosexuals have seven sacraments but gays only have six since marriage is beyond their reach? That is theologically queer. Do we see here the old brutal prejudice wrapped in the language of love, pastoral concern, and pity?”

This evaluation of LGBT people’s relationships is, in Maguire’s words, “cruel” and abandons the pope’s previous attitude of non-judgement. Divesting LGBT matters from broader appeals to conscience is a tremendous weakness of the pope’s document, Maguire noted, but the theologian remained hopeful, noting in his commentary’s conclusion:

“Catholicism has a splendid, but well hidden, theory of conscience. . .Some 30 years ago, I spoke to a Dignity group of Catholic gays. I explained Probabilism, reading from old Catholic moral theology books, and applied it to same sex unions. In the light of that, I said, ‘your loves are not only good they are holy and full of grace.’

“A number of them were in tears. They loved the Church and did not want their deep love of another to separate them from it.”

Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia has been praised for its compassionate style and reaffirmation of the primacy of conscience. He signaled a new welcome for marginalized Catholics who are divorced and remarried, or who use artificial contraception. But on LGBT matters, the exhortation seems conflicted, at best.  Clooney and Maguire clearly identify sources in experience and in tradition that will enable Catholics to develop LGBT Catholic thought in a manner that is actually consistent with Pope Francis’ calls for mercy and the respect of conscience. Pope Francis should pay attention to these critiques for the next time he writes on LGBT issues.

You can read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Amoris Laetitia and reactions to it by clicking hereYou can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Can LGBT Issues Be Included at San Diego’s Diocesan Synod?

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Bishop Robert McElroy

Following Pope Francis’ lead, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego has called a diocesan synod on marriage. We need to ask: can LGBT issues be included in this synod’s agenda?

Bishop McElroy announced the synod, planned for October 28-29, 2016, in “Embracing the Joy of Love,” his pastoral message responding to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Lay Catholics will be the majority of participants, with each of the diocese’s 100 parishes represented. Discussion groups which include local theologians will meet in the preceding months to further flesh out the agenda in advance

McElroy hopes the two-day synod will hopefully unfold into “a biannual, theme-driven event” to allow for spiritual renewal and lay input in diocesan governance, reported AmericaThe magazine noted this may be “the first such structured diocesan-wide response” to Amoris Laetitia in the world.

According to the National Catholic ReporterMcElroy outlined five challenges for the synod to address, hoping the synod will produce action points for each topic . He identified the following challenges: witnessing to a Catholic vision of marriage; forming a culture of invitation to unmarried couples; nurturing children; ministry to those persons who are divorced; bringing spiritual depth to family life in its various forms.

Though they have not been mentioned in the preparatory material so far, LGBT issues could easily be included in this agenda on marriage and family. For instance, when discussing the need to welcome unmarried couples, Bishop McElroy said the church “should not ignore the love, sacrifice and commitment which is reflected in so many of these relationships which differ from marriage” so as not to alienate people. For those couples who live together or who have entered civil marriages, the church’s pastoral outreach should be one “which reflects love more than judgment, which affirms the beautiful elements of love already present in the lives of such couples” even while upholding a heteronormative understanding of marriage.  Clearly, these areas include lesbian and gay couples, too.

Elsewhere in his message, Bishop McElroy exhorted priests to accompany people in the formation of their consciences rather than dictate decisions, stressed the problem of young adults’ rapid disengagement from the life of the church, and called for parishes to enhance their spiritual nourishment of families. Each of the areas McElroy addressed could easily include LGBT people and their families in the deliberations.

Appointed in 2015, Bishop McElroy represents an emerging generation of “Francis Bishops” whose pastoral sensitivity and emphasis on social justice set them apart from their predecessors. McElroy, who was a parish priest for fifteen years before assuming a position as auxiliary bishop, strongly approved of Pope Francis’ rebuke of U.S. bishops’ partisanship during the papal visit last fall. He called for the U.S. bishops’ document on political engagement to be scrapped last November because it was, in his estimation, “gravely hobbled” by its overemphasis on issues like marriage equality.

Even if LGBT issues do not come up, a synodal approach itself is noteworthy. Such an approach may advance LGBT equality even if such issues are not explicitly discussed. Bishop McElroy’s decision to convene a diocesan synod is quite significant wrote Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter:

“Synodality, as Pope Francis said at the last two synods on the family, is more than a different process, it is a different attitude. It requires listening as well as pontificating. It demands dialogue, not rote recitations of statements arrived at in advance of the kind that characterized synods before Francis. Synodality only works if those participating exhibit a certain humility about their own claims on the truth, a willingness to let the truth capture them rather than the other way round.”

For far too long, many church leaders have refused to listen to or dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. Their approach lacked humility, instead employing a harshness against those Catholics who disagreed with the hierarchy’s teachings on sexuality and gender.

Bishop McElroy is charting a divergent course, one exhibiting greater humility and compassion than many of his peers. Given his record and willingness to listen in the upcoming synod process, McElroy would likely welcome the inclusion of LGBT issues in this or another synod perhaps. Coupled with the Holy Spirit’s movements, a more synodal church could break down barriers to and build bridges for LGBT equality.

Catholics in San Diego are encouraged to write to the bishop and request meetings to share their stories and their convictions around LGBT issues. In the five months before San Diego’s synod convenes, there will be multiple opportunities in the discussion groups and other listening mechanisms to raise LGBT concerns. Local Catholics should ask themselves “What is God asking of our church now?” which is the question the bishop posed about discernment.  If they listen to the ways God speaks through people’s lives, they will surely find that LGBT pastoral care and inclusion are important concerns for the church in San Diego and that they should be addressed either in this synod or at another similar meeting in the very near future.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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

Trying to Interpret the Language of the Synod

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.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

One of the things that I am learning from covering the synod here in Rome is that there are a lot more questions and perspectives on family than I would have ever imagined existing.    Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, there are a lot more pastoral strategies possible to address this diversity, and some can have an impact on LGBT issues, even if they are not directly intended to do so.

At the press briefing today,  Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, reported on the interventions and reports made by synod English speakers on Saturday afternoon.  Part of the challenge of getting information from the synod discussions is that any materials comes through one of of several language reporters, who summarize what was said, though without identifying who said it.  While not an ideal situations, it must be said that of the four language reporters (Italian, English, French, Spanish/Portugese), Father Rosica is always the most thorough and detailed in his reports, providing what I consider the best information.

The downside is that since we don’t receive the full texts of comments or even who said them, we are left to wonder if the remarks are intended to address a particular issue, leaving us to speculate.

Rosica reported today on an interesting pastoral observation and strategy presented by one of the synod fathers.  The unnamed speaker pointed out that there seems to be a “nothing or all” mentality in the synod, meaning that either the bishops should change nothing about the church’s approach to certain issues or it has to change everything about that approach.

The speaker indicated that neither is a real option, and suggested that the bishops look at a “great scope of pastoral possibility and creativity” available as responses to certain pastoral situations.

Of course, my ears perked up at this suggestion, immediately thinking that there are many creative pastoral possibilities that bishops can institute in regard to LGBT issues.

My speculation that the speaker may have been referring to LGBT issues was confirmed as more was said about this idea.  The speaker suggested that the pastoral approach of proclaiming a Church truth in public,while privately and pastorally bending and being merciful to individuals no longer holds.  He also added another insight: the difference between sin and sinner doesn’t work any more for sexuality.  As I understood this last part, you can’t separate “sinner”  from “sin,”  loving one, while rejecting the other.  Or , to say i another way: you can’t condemn sexual behavior without also condemning the person, or perhaps,  stated more positively, you can’t accept a person, without accepting their sexuality.

Whether or not the speaker was addressing LGBT issues is impossible to say for certain, however, even if he wasn’t, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to see how these concepts are naturally applicable to such issues.

Fr. Rosica also mentioned a number of other ideas presented that seem applicable to LGBT issues, regardless if they were intended as such:

  • For God,no human being is a stranger.
  • The sexual act and human sexuality represent only one part of family and marriage
  • The Church must be  an accompanying mother who reaches out to all

The biggest surprise for me was hearing that a bishop described the need for the Church to recognize that in the contemporary world there are new “family structures,” such as  single parent families, mixed faith families, families separated by migration, families which include caring for grandparents, families where grandparents are the primary caretakers, and–here’s the surprising part–families of same sex couples.  Rosica reported the bishop’s thoughts:

“Many families are simply left out of our pastoral strategies and we have to develop pastoral strategies for the many different situations that families find themselves in today.

“We have to reach out to those that do not fit our traditional categories. New families can no longer remain alienated from the church and the church cannot remain absent from these new situations.”

The diversity of perspectives here has made me realize that there may be a variety of approaches to more positive pastoral care for families with LGBT members.  Pope Francis has said that God is a “God of surprises.”  Perhaps a positive response on LGBT issues from this synod may surprise us all in the creative way it is formulated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry