What Would You Say About Marriage and Family at the Upcoming Synod?

familyThe Vatican announced yesterday that Pope Francis has called an extraordinary synod of bishops to take place Oct. 5-19, 2014, and will focus on the topic “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”

According to Robert Mickens in The Tablet:

“The announcement comes less than a week after the 76-year-old Pope held three days of inaugural meetings with his eight-member Council of Cardinals, a group he has assembled to advise him on governing the universal Church and reforming the Roman Curia. . . .

“Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, said on 2 October that Francis was interested in looking at the ‘anthropological theme’ that dealt with ‘the human person and the family in the light of the Gospel.’

“Today’s announcement of the Synod on the family – only third time that an extraordinary gathering is be held since the Synod of Bishops began meeting in 1967 – came as the permanent council of the Synod finished two days of regular meetings.”

John Allen, Vatican observer for The National Catholic Reporter, noted that he thinks at least one controversial issue might be raised during the meeting:

“Given the topic, the thorny pastoral question of Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics is destined to arise. On other occasions, Francis has hinted at openness to a greater degree of flexibility on the issue, perhaps along the lines of the Orthodox tradition.”

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

While that is certainly an important topic and one likely to arise,  I also wonder how the synod will address the topic of same-gender marriage and families headed by same-gender couples.   While it is true that Pope Francis has asked bishops not to be obsessed with the topic of marriage equality, I can’t imagine that such a current and politically charged topic will not come up in such a forum.

Not only do we have Pope Francis’ recent “Who am I to judge?” comment and his positive remarks in theJesuit magazines interview, but earlier this year Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, called for protection of families headed by same-gender couples through the passage of civil union laws. So did  Archbishop Piero Marini, president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, and Fr. Federico Lombardi, the pope’s spokesperson.

So, I turn to you, our faithful Bondings 2.0 blog readers, with some questions that I hope you will answer in the “Comments” section of this post:

  • How should the bishops in synod address LGBT topics in this synod on marriage?
  • How can bishops best prepare to discuss these topics in the context of the themes of family and evangelization?
  • Would it be better if the bishops did not even discuss LGBT topics in this synod?
  • Do you think that Pope Francis’ recent positive statements about lesbian and gay people will have a positive influence on the synod?
  • If you were asked to address the synod, what would you tell them about marriage equality, LGBT people and families, and Catholicism?
  • What are your hopes, dreams, fears concerning this synod?

Answer one, two, or more of these questions in your “Comment” for this blog post.

A synod will have a long-lasting effect on the future way that the Catholic hierarchy will address such issues because it will set firm policy about the way to handle these topics.   Elizabeth Dias, writing in Time magazine, described the role of the synod:

“The Synod of Bishops is a general assembly gathering that was created as part of the Vatican II reforms, and regular (ie, non-extraordinary) synods meet every couple years. The synod’s role, Pope Paul VI said, is to examine  ‘the signs of the times’ and ‘to provide a deeper interpretation of divine designs and the constitution of the Catholic Church’ in order to ‘foster the unity and cooperation of bishops around the world with the Holy See.’

“For Francis, issues of family and marriage are the ones that require deeper interpretation given the signs of the times, and dedicating a synod to the topic suggests he wants to unify church teaching about them. When local church offices around the world make their own decisions about marriage and family—especially about serving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics—the global church as whole becomes divided. ‘It is very important that an extraordinary Synod has been convoked on the theme of the pastoral of the family,’ Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi said. ‘This is the way in which the Pope intends to promote reflection and to guide the path of the community of the Church, with the responsible participation of the episcopate from different parts of the world.’ ”

With such an important mission, it will be important that the bishops hear from many Catholics, including those who support LGBT people and issues, so that all the voices of God’s people will be heard.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Vatican Bank’s Gay ‘Scandal’ Highlights Holy See’s Sexuality Problems

Monsignor Battista Ricca
Monsignor Battista Ricca

A controversy has emerged concerning Pope Francis’ appointment of Monsignor Battista Ricca as the overseer of the Vatican Bank and its history of scandal.  The Italian magazine, L’Espresso, has printed an article which alleges that Ricca was involved in a somewhat well-known gay relationship while he was serving as acting papal nuncio to Uruguay from 1999 to 2000.

The story illustrates how the Vatican’s failure to deal with homosexuality in a healthy manner can allow for all sorts of not only personal, but institutional problems.

L’Espresso’s Vatican reporter Sandro Magister wrote [official English translation from the magazine’s website]:

“Ricca arrived at this nunciature in 1999, when the mandate of the nuncio Francesco De Nittis was coming to an end. Previously he had served at the diplomatic missions of Congo, Algeria, Colombia, and finally Switzerland.

“Here, in Bern, he had met and become friends with a captain of the Swiss army, Patrick Haari. The two arrived in Uruguay together. And Ricca asked that his friend be given a role and a residence in the nunciature.

“The nuncio rejected the request. But a few months later he retired and Ricca, having become the chargé d’affaires ‘ad interim’ until the appointment of the new nuncio, assigned Haari a residence in the nunciature, with a regular position and salary.”

Magister’s account also details various other incident, such as discovering  a firearm, condoms, and pornography in a suitcase Ricca owned, and, on one occasion, being beaten in an area known to be a meeting place for gay men.

Magister claims that these incidents are well known:

“In Uruguay, the facts reported above are known to dozens of persons: bishops, priests, sisters, laypeople. Without counting the civil authorities, from security forces to fire protection. Many of these persons have had direct experience of these facts, at various moments. “

Ricca eventually returned to the Vatican, where he served in various positions until recently being appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the Vatican Bank, known as the Institute for the Work of Religion (IOR).

According to The Tablet:

“Holy See spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi described the claims as ‘not trustworthy.’ “

London’s Guardian newspaper enumerates some of the important questions that surround this case:

“That points to the key questions in the affair: whether Pope Francis knew of the claims against Ricca before he handed him one of the most sensitive jobs in the Vatican. And if not, why not? After he was recalled to Rome, Ricca served in the Vatican’s secretariat of state before being given charge of first one, and eventually three, of the guest houses that the Holy See uses to accommodate church dignitaries on visits to Rome. . . .

“It would have been standard procedure for him to call in Ricca’s personal file before making the appointment and – whatever the truth or otherwise of the claims against him – it is inconceivable that he would have gone ahead had he known about them. It is hard to imagine a more dangerous official for the pope than one charged with shaking up the IOR, yet acutely vulnerable to blackmail.”

I don’t know what is true or not true in this story.  While Magister’s account is certainly plausible, there is little corroborating evidence, not even testimony of witnesses, that would provide backing for the validity of his claims.  His full article reads more like a list of charges, but with very little support for them–more like gossip than news.

The saddest part of this story is that so much intrigue, scandal, and gossip could be avoided if the Vatican would deal with sexuality in a more healthy manner.  As long as homosexuality is considered something shameful, it will be easily used as a weapon of blackmail.  As long as the Vatican continues to ignore that many gay men serve in the priesthood, this fiction will allow some priests to live lives that do not reflect their best interests.

Rather than being an opportunity to point fingers at the possible hypocrisy this story might illustrate, let’s hope that it becomes an opportunity for Pope Francis to recognize that unless he starts to deal with both homosexuality and the sexuality of priests, he will never be able to execute the reforms that he seems intent on instituting.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Vatican Continues to Respond to Marriage Equality Victories

On Saturday, Bondings 2.0 reported about a front-page article in the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper which continued the Holy See’s opposition to marriage equality in the United States and Europe.  It was significant that the article appeared only a few days after the U.S. witnessed four electoral victories for marriage equality.

The newspaper article is now joined by an editorial on Vatican Radio from Father Federico Lombardi, the main Vatican spokesperson. A Reuters article contained excerpts:

” ‘It is clear that in Western countries there is a widespread tendency to modify the classic vision of marriage between a man and woman, or rather to try to give it up, erasing its specific and privileged legal recognition compared to other forms of union,’ Father Federico Lombardi, said in a tough editorial on Vatican Radio. . . .

“Lombardi’s editorial on Vatican Radio, which is broadcast around the world in some 30 languages, called the votes myopic, saying ‘the logic of it cannot have a far-sighted outlook for the common good.’

“Lombardi, who is also the Vatican’s chief spokesman as well as director of Vatican Radio and Vatican Television, said there was ‘public acknowledgement’ that ‘monogamous marriage between a man and woman is an achievement of civilization.’

” ‘If not, why not contemplate also freely chosen polygamy and, of course, not to discriminate, polyandry?’ he said.”  [Polygamy refers to a man with multiple wives; polyandry refers to a woman with multiple husbands.]

According to a Vatican Radio news story about the editorial, Lombardi identified three recent stories which prompted the editorial:

“. . .in recent days there have been three worrying events concerning legislation on marriage. In Spain, the Constitutional Court has refused an appeal that challenged the existing law, which excludes all reference to the difference between a man and a woman and simply mentions spouse A and B; this remains then the situation. In France, the Government has presented a bill for the transformation of marriage, so as to include same-sex marriage. In the United States, some of the referendums held on the same day as the presidential elections in various States have, for the first time, delivered an outcome favourable to same-sex marriages.”

Obviously, there is a contradiction in Lombardi’s statements.  There can’t be “public acknowledgement” that heterosexual marriage is the desired norm if so many governments and voters are acknowledging that it is not.

Lombardi’s reference to polygamy and polyandry are inflammatory rhetoric which seems designed to incite fear rather than to argue the facts of the case.  None of the marriage equality initiatives in the U.S. or Europe–or anywhere, for that matter–have included any concession to polygamy or polyandry.  Why does that continue to be brought up as an argument?  It certainly should be below the integrity of such a high-ranking official to raise those specters.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry