Cardinal’s Welcome to LGBT Catholics ‘Felt Like a Miracle’

Last month, Newark, New Jersey’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin welcomed a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics to the archdiocese’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart–a gesture that is being hailed as a major step forward in the pastoral care of LGBT people here in the U.S.  — one participant going so far as calling it “a miracle.”

New York Times article entitled “As Church Shifts, a Cardinal Welcomes Gays; They Embrace a ‘Miracle’ “ captured not only the spirit of the May 21st event but also the reactions to it of some Catholic leaders who address LGBT issues.

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Cardinal Tobin welcomes people to the cathedral.

For example, one New York gay Catholic leader described what the action meant to him personally:

” ‘It felt like a miracle,’ Ed Poliandro, a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Manhattan and a clinical social worker. ‘It was a miracle to have church leaders say, ‘You are welcome; you belong.’ And I felt, after a lifetime of struggle, that we are home.’ “

Similarly, a New Jersey gay deacon spoke of the power of this symbolic gesture:

” ‘He brought [Pope] Francis to us,’ said Thomas M. Smith, 66, a deacon who serves the deaf community at the Newark cathedral. ‘I’ve been waiting 25 years for this. I’m a deacon in the church and I’ve had to be careful. And afraid.’

“He teared up, remembering how his parents had died thinking he would go to hell if he found someone to love. ‘This is amazing to me,’ he said.”

New Ways Ministry’s director also commented on the significance of this event:

” ‘It’s the beginning of a dialogue,” said Francis DeBernardo, the executive director New Ways Ministry, a group that ministers to and is an advocate for gay Catholics. ‘The church leadership, for the past 40 years, has just been so silent, and unwilling to dialogue, and unwilling to pray with L.G.B.T. Catholics that, even though this isn’t the ultimate step, it’s a first step,’ he said of Cardinal Tobin’s welcome.”

The Times story also noted the very personal and scriptural way in which Cardinal Tobin welcomed the LGBT pilgrims:

” ‘I am Joseph, your brother,’ Cardinal Tobin told the group, which included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics from around New York and the five dioceses in New Jersey. ‘I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.’

“The welcoming of a group of openly gay people to Mass by a leader of Cardinal Tobin’s standing in the Roman Catholic Church in this country would have been unthinkable even five years ago. But Cardinal Tobin, whom Pope Francis appointed to Newark last year, is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members. They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same.”

While in the Cathedral, the pilgrims participated at a Mass celebrated by Fr. Francis Gargani, CSsR, who was one of the organizers of the pilgrimage.  Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Cruz, the cathedral’s rector, was also on the altar at the Mass and added his welcome to the pilgrims.

DeBernardo noted that this event was in line with a changing attitude toward LGBT people in the U.S. Catholic church, offering the following examples:

“The diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., for example, last month said it would permit transgender students in its Catholic schools. In October, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego held a diocesan synod on the family that called for improved ministry toward gay and lesbian Catholics. At a New Ways Ministry national conference in April, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., said he admired and respected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who remained steadfast to the church even though the church had not always been as welcoming.”

[Editor’s note:  More on the Jefferson City diocesan policy in a post later this week.]

Perhaps the most significant detail about the event is the following observation made by the Times reporter:

“But Cardinal Tobin’s welcome to Mass on May 21 has been the most significant of such recent gestures, because of the symbolism of a cardinal welcoming a group of gay Catholics, some of whom were married to same-sex spouses, to participate in the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the center of a cathedral, no questions asked.”

Fr.  James Martin, SJ, whose new book, “Building a Bridge,” about Catholic LGBT issues is being positively received, and Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics, were also quoted in the Times story.

Cardinal Tobin’s action was a simple one, yet a very profound one.  It is definitely one that can be replicated by bishops across the U.S.   If bishops would first open their hearts and minds to LGBT people, they will find it much easier to open their cathedral doors to them, as Cardinal Tobin has done.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 14, 2017

Related articles:

Gay Star News:  “Catholic Cardinal welcomes ‘LGBT Pilgrimage’ to his Cathedral”

LGBT Interparish Collaboraive:  “LGBT Pilgrimage to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ on May 21, 2017″

Catholics Respond Strongly Against Vatican’s Ban on Gay Priests

This past week’s announcement by the Vatican that the Congregation for Priests has reaffirmed the 2005 ban on gay men being ordained priests has caused quite a storm of criticism from Catholics in the pews.  Here on Bondings 2.0 alone, the Comments from two of our posts on the topic have been numerous, insightful, and angry.  It’s worth taking a moment to read the comments from the first post and the second post.

To add your own voice to protest the Vatican’s ban, please sign New Ways Ministry’s statement “The Gift of Gay Priests’ Vocations.”

In addition to New Ways Ministry’s response to the Vatican’s document, other Catholic organizations concerned with LGBT and sexuality issues have also strongly critiqued the ban on gay priests.  The following are excerpts from some of the statements, with links to the full statements:

Call To Action:

” ‘Call To Action remains deeply disappointed in the Vatican’s on-going rejection of the LGBT community,’ said David Saavedra, Transitional Co-Director of Call To Action, an organization of Catholics working for justice in the Church.

” ‘This document not only reaffirms old Vatican policies, it reaffirms the harmful rhetoric against seminarians and priests who are gay and already successfully serving the Church. Moreover, the document’s language and implications harm the entire Church that is denied the gift of ministry from the good and holy service of gay men who may be turned away,’ said Saavedra.”

For full text of Call To Action’s statement, click here

DignityUSA:

” ‘This document is extremely disappointing in its approach to gay men called to be priests,’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA, an organization of Catholics committed to equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the Church and society. ‘It is not at all what anyone expected from the “Who am I to judge?” Pope.’ “

” ‘These guidelines are a tremendous insult to the thousands of gay men who have served and continue to serve the Church with honor and dedication. They undermine decades of commitment by these men, and they fail to acknowledge that God calls a great variety of people to the priesthood,’ said Duddy-Burke.”

For full text of  DignityUSA’s  statement, click here.

Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC):

“We, the GNRC, stand for inclusion and justice for LGBTI lay people and their families in the Church. We also declare that all religious men and women that followed God’s call to dedicate their life for the construction of the Church deserve the same treatment. ‘There have been tragic instances within our GNRC family where some members who had previously been in seminaries, sadly had to give up on their chosen vocation after their sexual orientation was discovered. And in a few cases, they were very publicly exposed,’ states Ruby Almeida Co-chair of the GNRC and Chair of Quest (England).”

Pushing LGBTI people out of the Church, rather than them being treated with respect and dignity whilst on their vocational calling, has set a dark and reactionary tone. ‘The Church states in many documents that LGBT should live in celibacy, without needing to express their sexuality, yet later says that priesthood is not an alternative. This double-bind message distorts the credibility of the church. And we should not miss the language of a subtle homoerotic seduction into an intimate and exclusive relationship between the priest and Christ that the Congregation for the Clergy uses several times in the document,’ explains Dr. Michael Brinkschroeder Co-chair of the GNRC and project-manager of Homosexuelle und Kirche (Germany).

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) brings together organizations and individuals who work for pastoral care and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning, and intersex (LGBTQI) people and their families

For full text of GNRC’s statement, click here.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests director David Clohessy (SNAP):

“Scapegoating some adults protects no children. Behavior, not orientation, is what matters.

“Half of our 20,000 plus members are women who were sexually assaulted as kids by priests, nuns, bishops and seminarians. It’s just wrong to assume or claim that most victims of child molesting clerics are boys.

“This will almost certainly have no impact whatsoever on the church’s continuing child sex abuse and cover up crisis. Those who hope this will make kids safer will be disappointed.”

Bondings 2.0 will report on other significant reactions to the Vatican document as they become available.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 10, 2016

Related articles:

Religion News Service: Outcry greets Vatican decision to reaffirm ban on gay priests”

Huffington Post: “The Pope Just Approved A Very Troubling Document On Gays And Priesthood”

The Advocate: “Pope Reiterates Catholic Church’s Ban on Gay Priests”

The Washington Blade: “Catholic Church reaffirms gay priests ban”

 

Catholic and LGBT Advocates Give Mixed Reactions to Pope Francis’ Remarks

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 5, 2016

Pope Francis’ latest comments on LGBT issues, in which he both called for more competent and case-by-case pastoral care for transgender people and said there was a “world war to destroy marriage,” have provoked strong reactions. Below, Bondings 2.0 features reactions from Catholics and LGBT advocates. You can read a report on the papal remarks by clicking here, and you can find New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

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Aoife Assumpta Hart

Aoife Assumpta Hart, a transsexual Catholic woman who is herself critical of “gender theory,” had been worried the Vatican would condemn trans identities and bar people from the Sacraments. But in view of the pope’s remarks, Hart wrote on her blog, Aoifeschatology:

“[My] canonical fate had not been foreclosed, and my Church was developing a more nuanced approach, one of encounter rather than dismissal… I could remain in the church I truly love and consider my life’s greatest treasure — being Catholic. Pope Francis offered to walk with me, not against me…” And in the Pope’s most recent comments — I read several moments of affirmation that enriches my belief that, with time, and patience and cooperation (from trans and non-trans faithful)… there still remains the Christian compromise of a merciful, rational, common ground for trans inclusion.”

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Fr. James Martin

Fr. James Martin, SJ said in a Facebook Live conversation (see video below) on the America Magazine page:

“It seems like in his public pronouncements he’s still trying to come to understand it. One wonders who is speaking to him about this. I mean is he speaking to a lot of parents of transgender or gay children, or is he just hearing things anecdotally… It’s a struggle for him. I don’t think, though, that it’s a doctrinal struggle because I think that the main thing that he is recommending and encouraging priests and pastoral workers and everyone who works with the church to do is this accompaniment.”

Fr. Martin also cautioned against interpreting the pope’s remarks through only a Western lens where LGBT acceptance is increasingly common, commenting:

“Imagine reading this [in the Global South] and even parts of Europe where a bishop or a priest may be antipathetic to LGBT people, imagine reading this, this is quite a challenge… I think these are very big steps forward as far as I know.”

Finally, Fr. Martin saw Pope Francis’ remarks as validating LGBT ministries already being undertaken by Catholics:

“For people who are working with LGBT people, first to sort of take this as a kind of encouragement for your work against people who are saying that’s not an appropriate ministry or that’s not a real ministry or that’s not something you should be doing. And to continue this culture of encounter and accompaniment…I think [Pope Francis] has been very encouraging to people who do LGBT outreach.”

 

[Note: New Ways Ministry is awarding Fr. Martin its Bridge Building Award for his efforts to promote understanding and reconciliation in the church. If you are interested in attending or honoring Fr. Martin, more details are available here.]

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Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA said in a statement:

“Our Church leaders need to abandon the biological determinism that they have adopted, and accept that God’s imagination and love are greater than ours. We need our Shepherds to provide appropriate support, care, and guidance, rather than condemnation. We agree with Pope Francis that marriage is a ‘beautiful thing.’ LGBTQ people and allies join Church leaders in affirming marriage.”

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Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr.

Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr. of the National LGBTQ Task Force called on Pope Francis to educate himself further, as reported by The Washington Blade:

“[M]illions of people are deeply hurt by what Pope Francis has said about transgender and gender non-conforming people, which reveals a profound lack of knowledge and empathy… We urge the pontiff to educate himself about the realities of transgender people’s lives and to welcome and affirm transgender and gender non-conforming people rather than reject and dehumanize them.”

In a statement from the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics,  Ruby Almeida, Co-Chair, said:

Ruby Almeida

“Pope Francis has softened his words when talking about sexual orientation and gender identity diversity. Nevertheless, in what he says, the Pope does reveals a level of  prejudice and a level of misunderstanding of the life experiences of LGBTI persons. GNRC would be most happy to start a dialogue with the Pope to enable  him to get a more holistic understanding of our community’s spiritual and pastoral needs.”

Kevin Clarke of America Magazine questioned how much further the pope could go on LGBT issues, saying:

Kevin Clarke

“It seems like the pope wants to have it all. There’s a point where you can only talk about outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as a pastoral requirement, a dictate of pastoral life, and then fully embracing LGBT people in the manner their hoping for. And I don’t know how much further along he can go on this path without getting into doctrinal issues and, frankly, disappointing people.”

Pope Francis’ treatment of LGBT issues remains muddled, and so it is not surprising that Catholic and LGBT advocates have responded both positively and negatively.

What do you think? Are these latest comments from the pope positive steps for LGBT Catholics or is any good overshadowed by the pope’s criticisms? You can leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

Fr. James Martin: Respecting Transgender People “Fairly Simple Thing to Do”

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Jesuit Fr. James Martin again affirmed LGBT inclusion, saying transgender people using restrooms according to their gender identity “seems a fairly simple thing to do.” Meanwhile, U.S. bishops intensified their criticism of expanding transgender equality.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Martin was asked about the federal government’s new directive mandating transgender students be allowed to use gender-segregated facilities, like restrooms and locker rooms, according to their gender identity. Martin responded:

“I don’t know a whole lot about that issue, but I would say that I don’t understand the problem with letting transgender people use bathrooms that they feel comfortable in. Personally, I think it’s overblown and that people’s responses are really strange. I don’t know that much about transgender people but that’s all the more reason for us to try and treat them with dignity.

“I thought the comment from Attorney General Lynch was beautiful, that we are with you, we’re going to try to help you. Just as the church needs to treat gay and lesbians with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ which is in the catechism, it should be the same with transgender people. And letting them use the bathroom seems a fairly simple thing to do.”

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and on Catholic Education, called the federal directive “deeply disturbing” in a statement. They said the directive failed to balance “legitimate concerns about privacy and security” and “short-circuits” ongoing conversations about gender. Malone and Lucas quoted Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia which says youth must “accept their own body as it was created.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, pushed back against the bishops’ statement and their use of Pope Francis to justify discrimination:

“We believe, as do many Catholics, that our transgender kin reflect the immensity and diversity of God’s creativity. They challenge us to humbly re-examine traditional beliefs about sex, gender, identity, and human relationships, and to acknowledge the limitations of our current understanding in these areas. We urge the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to engage in dialogue with transgender youth and adults, as well as their families, so they can better understand the pastoral and practical needs of these communities.”

Fr. Martin also commented on Pope Francis’ impact on LGBT issues  generally. Martin said it is “hard to overstate the impact” that Francis’ papacy has had in welcoming LGBT people. But the Jesuit priest criticized the institutional church for not providing more outreach to LGBT people, and offered three points to enhance pastoral care and improve ecclesial inclusion:

“First, by listening to their experience. Usually LGBT people are preached at instead of listened to. Second, by going out [of] their way to make them feel welcome. Third, by including them in leadership positions as anybody else would be, as Eucharistic ministers and lectors and things like that. But the first thing is listening to them. What is their experience?”

What is readily apparent from these Catholic responses to the federal directive protecting transgender students in public schools is who has listened to and come to know LGBT people–and who has not. Too many bishops have not asked themselves nor informed their ministry with the question proposed by Martin, “What are the experiences of LGBT people?” Pope Francis’ own deficiencies on matters of gender and sexuality, readily apparent in Amoris Laetitia, seem to stem from a failure to ask this question more publicly and proactively.

LGBT non-discrimination protections, for students and for everyone else, can be readily defended using Catholic teaching. But personal stories and relationships are perhaps more powerful sources for our theology and our advocacy today. So before another top Vatican official condemns trans identities as “demonic” or more U.S. bishops keep opposing LGBT civil rights, perhaps a pause for listening and for dialogue would be an appropriate next step. After that, respecting LGBT people should easily become a “fairly simple thing to do.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

DignityUSA Calls for “Sacramental Equality” at National Convention

DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT and Ally Catholics, held their biennial convention in Seattle this past weekend, where they unanimously passed a resolution calling for “sacramental equality” in the Catholic Church.

The resolution states:

“DignityUSA and its members call on the leaders and members of our Roman Catholic Church to ensure that all of the sacraments of our Church be administered regardless of the gender identity, sexual orientation, or relational status of the person(s) seeking the sacrament.”

In a press statement accompanying the resolution DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke explained the need for such a resolution:

“We [LGBT Catholics] can’t be fully equal if we are barred from any of our Church’s sacraments.

“Right now, we are officially banned from marriage and ordination, and often denied other sacraments, as well.

“We hear stories all the time of people told they cannot have Communion because they are gay, in a same-sex relationship, or civilly married. Many priests refuse to baptize the children of same-sex couples. A gay man in Washington, DC was denied ’last rites’ after suffering a heart attack. These incidents cause pain and alienation for us, and for our families, and create division within our Church.”

Duddy-Burke acknowledged that the hope for sacramental equality may take a while and a lot of effort to achieve.  She stated:

“We know that it is going to take a lot of work, and probably many years, to achieve this goal. But having gained civil marriage equality in the US, we know that the miraculous is possible. We believe that rethinking how sacraments are administered will be good for everyone in the Catholic Church, because it will help us to live our belief in the intrinsic dignity and equality of every person as created and loved by God.  This broadened understanding of the sacraments would apply not just to LGBT people, but to everyone, including women and married men and women seeking ordination, for example.”

The Dignity convention in Seattle, which had as its theme “God’s Love: Enduring as the Mountains, Endless as the Sea,” took place July 2-5, 2015, and attracted members and supporters from across the nation. Convention participants listened to plenary talks from Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director of NETWORK and the organizer of “Nuns on the Bus” campaigns; Paul Coutinho, a scholar and international speaker on spirituality; and Dan Savage, nationally syndicated sex advice columnist and author.

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick participated in the convention as a breakout session leader, discussing the topic “Loving Our Opponents Without Losing Our Ground.”  She also hosted a caucus session on current events in the Catholic LGBT world, and a small reception for convention participants who had been past pilgrims on New Ways Ministry’s LGBT-friendly Catholic pilgrimages around the globe.

The next Dignity convention will take place July 6-9, 2017, in Boston, under the theme “A Place at the Table.”

New Ways Ministry heartily supports DignityUSA’s quest for sacramental equality, and we will continue working to help make that dream a reality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Widen the Synod Circle with Diverse Voices

“WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?” is  Bondings 2.0′s series on how Catholics–the hierarchy and laity–can prepare for the Synod on Marriage and Family that will take place at the Vatican in October 2015. If you would like to consider contributing a post to this series, please click here

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Since before the synod in 2014, New Ways Ministry, along with other Catholic reform organizations, has been calling for Vatican leaders to include diverse families, including those headed by LGBT people, to offer testimony about their faith journeys and relationships to the bishops assembled at these important meetings. Now, New Ways has joined with 31 other national and international Catholic organizations to encourage Catholics around the U.S. and the globe to sign an online petition asking the Vatican “to widen the circle of people invited to participate in the upcoming Family Synod 2015.”

The petition states:

“We urge the Vatican Synod office to make every effort to include a wide diversity of Catholics, especially those from the constituencies being discussed including divorced and remarried people, co-habitating couples, interfaith families, impoverished families, single parents, families with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, same-sex couples, and families torn by the violence of war and abuse. These women and men can share their lives and stories in a way that creates greater understanding among the bishops who will, in the end, make critical recommendations about the Church’s priorities and pastoral practices for years to come.”

The deadline for signing the petition is March 3, 2015.     In addition to mailing and emailing  the petition, a representative of the coalition of endorsing groups will hand deliver the petition to Cardinal Baldisseri at the Office of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.   The list of the 32 endorsers can be found at the end of the petition.

The coalition has a website, OurCatholicFamily.org, which includes other ways that people can influence the synod organizers to plan a more open synod:

  1. Host a listening and discussion session at your parish or faith community to examine the issues that members face concerning marriage, family, and sexuality.  The website has resources for facilitating such a meeting.
  2. Meet with your local bishop.  The website offers a template of a letter requesting such a meeting, as well as a list of tips for speaking with your bishop.
  3. Contact the synod delegates and share your family’s story with them. The names of the U.S. delegates, along with some background on them, can be found by clicking here.  Their addresses, as well as addresses for Vatican officials, can be found by clicking here.

A press release from the coalition offered the following perspectives:

“Pope Francis wants a synod that is characterized by a ‘culture of encounter.’” said Sheila Peiffer, Coordinator of Catholics Organizations for Renewal, a leadership forum of US organizations inspired by Vatican II.  “He wants the synod fathers to recognize ‘the Lord’s gratuitous work, even outside customary models, ’” she said.  “That is a powerful mandate that is only achievable if Catholics whose experience has a direct bearing on the issues being discussed are invited and heard at the synod.”

Listening to Catholics who know the issues being discussed from the inside, from experience, is essential for meaningful dialogue,” said Deborah Rose-Milavec, Executive Director of FutureChurch, an organization promoting the rights and responsibilities of all Roman Catholics.  “That kind of listening and dialogue will create greater understanding among the bishops whose final recommendations to Pope Francis will likely impact our Church’s pastoral practice for years to come,” she said.

The coalition is also maintaining a list of potential speakers that are being recommended to the synod.  Those which have New Ways Ministry connections are:

Reverend Joseph A. Brown, S. J., a professor of Africana Studies at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and a speaker on African-American Catholics and LGBT issues at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, a speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Fourth National Symposium in 1997. She is being recommended with her wife, Becky Duddy-Burke.

Deacon Ray Dever of St. Paul parish, Tampa, Florida, who recently penned a Bondings 2.0 blog post about his family’s acceptance of his transgender daughter.

Hilary Howes, a transgender woman, who with her wife, Celestine Ranney-Howes, spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012 about their Catholic marriage, before, during, and after Hilary’s gender transition.

Mary Hunt, a feminist theologian, who co-founded and co-directs the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual. Mary served on New Ways Ministry’s Board in the 1980s. She is being recommended with her wife and ministry partner, Diann Neu.

Tom and Linda Karle-Nelson, parents of gay sons, who helped establish Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT children.  The Karle-Nelsons are frequent participants at New Ways Ministry programs.

If you choose to write to your bishop, or to synod delegates and Vatican officials, you might consider sending your own recommendations for who would be a good speaker.  If you have some suggestions you would like to share with our readers, please post them in the “Comments” section of this post.

New Ways Ministry is proud to support all these efforts, and we hope and pray that the synod in the fall of 2015 will be much more representative of the Church than the synod in 2014 was.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Was Synod 2014 a “Turning Point” or “Clash of Factions”? What Will Synod 2015 Be?

The upcoming synod on marriage and family to take place at the Vatican in 2015 was in the news this week because the discussion document was released, and bishops around the world were once again asked to consult with the laity about matters pertaining to the synod’s topic.

Pope Francis

But this week there was also a looking back towards the October 2014 synod.  At his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about the recent meeting and said that the meeting did not include a “clash of factions,” as media reports indicated.  Religion News Service provided excerpts from the pope’s comments on the past synod:

“ ‘Some of you have asked me if the synod fathers fought,’ Francis said. ‘I don’t know if they “fought,” but they spoke forcefully. This is freedom. This is just the kind of freedom that there is in the church.’

“In a bid to set the record straight, the pope acknowledged the extensive media coverage of the global gathering in October and likened it to ‘sports or political coverage.’

“ ‘They often spoke of two teams, pro and con, conservatives and liberals,’ the pope told thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

“ ‘There was no clash between factions … but a dialogue between the bishops, which came after a long process of preparation and now continues, for the good of the family, the church and society. It’s a process.’ ”

Jesuit commentator Father Thomas Reese had a different interpretation of the meeting.  He stated that differences of opinion clearly existed among the synod participants, making this synod very different from those in recent memory.  Reese said:

“Rather than advising the pope, these earlier synods often simply quoted the pope to himself. They were a way of bishops showing their loyalty. Francis gave the bishops freedom to speak.”

Indeed, in the document that was released this week, that landmark meeting in October was described as a pastoral “turning point” for the Church, the Associated Press noted.

Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA criticized this week’s document because of using the term “homosexual tendencies,” and because of lack of focus on families headed by gay and lesbian couples. In addition to each group’s statements, an Advocate.com article contained additional comments from the leaders of these two organizations.

 

Ryan Denson, writing at AddictingInfo.com has a different point of view, though, about the document and the upcoming synod.  He sees the identification of a “turning point” as significant, and that the Catholic Church may be on the road to becoming more open to LGBT people and those who are divorced and remarried.  Denson wrote:

“Baby steps are turning into leaps as Pope Francis and the Vatican urge the world’s bishops to be guided, not just by doctrine, but by the Pope’s compassionate message which includes a ‘turning point’ inspired by meetings at the Vatican. The new message seeks to provide better pastoral care for gays and divorcees across the globe . . . .

“[I]n other words, the Vatican is asking the bishops and other clergy members to act like Jesus, who loves and respects all, and not act like arrogant, judgmental religious zealots. Instead of focusing on outdated dogma, Pope Francis is truly teaching the Gospels, and with the ousting of several prominent homophobic priests, the Vatican is starting to realize that he means business.

“The bottom line is this: the Pope is currently facing vocal opposition from those who view the church as an exclusive club where the unsaved and unworthy are not welcomed. He wants to change this. And he has made it very obvious that he does.”

ThinkProgress.com also looked on a more positive side to the survey released.  They quoted several progressive Catholic leaders, who have a more optimistic view of the synod, the questionnaire, and the process.  Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry was one of those more optimistic voices:

“ ‘Language about tendencies is problematic,’ Shine, who oversees young adult ministries for New Ways, told ThinkProgress in an email. ‘That said, I think the intentions of reaching out to and providing pastorally for LGBT people and their families is what is really guiding this process … Pope Francis has encouraged genuine dialogue during this whole synodal process.’ ”

Other Catholic leaders said likewise:

“ ‘Regardless of the wording, the survey itself is a step in the right direction towards providing better pastoral care of LGBT people, as is the Vatican asking for wider inputs from ‘all levels’ for the 2015 synod on the family,’ Stephen Seufert, state director of the progressive Catholic group Keystone Catholics, told ThinkProgress. ‘Both the survey and the Vatican document released yesterday relating to the 2015 synod are indications of a church that wants to focus less on rigid, uncompromising doctrine and more on providing greater pastoral care.’

“James Salt, executive director of the left-leaning advocacy group Catholics United, echoed Seufert.

“ ‘The fact that they are explicitly asking this question is a sign of progress,’ he said. ‘Rather than retreating to a position of doctrine, they are reflecting the changing world that we live in.’ ”

Clearly, marriage and family are high on Pope Francis’ agenda.  This week, he announced that he will be speaking on these topics in a series of talks at his weekly general audiences at the Vatican.  Bondings 2.0 will keep an eye on important messages, especially those relating to LGBT people.

So, what do you think?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming 2015 synod?  What did you think of the document that was released this week?  Are you surprised to hear Pope Francis say that the 2014 synod was not a contentious discussion?  Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry