At Roehampton University today, the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Religion, Society and Human Flourishing hosted a study day on “The Family in Theological Perspectives: Challenges, Insights and Dialogues”.
This was part of a series of events planned by the centre to promote Catholic discussion on family and marriage during the interval between the 2014 “Extraordinary” Synod, and the forthcoming “Ordinary” Synod which will be held later this year. The specific content included discussion on issues around Catholics and family planning, divorce and remarriage, women in Catholic (papal) theology, same – sex partnerships, HIV and family life in a context of poverty.
The underlying theme, however, and the purpose of the series, was to encourage and facilitate lay contributions to the continuing consultation on marriage and family, in the build up to the ordinary synod on marriage and family, to be held in October. The 2014 so-called “consultation” was a (badly handled) attempt to gauge Catholic understanding of Church teaching on marriage and family The intention behind the current consultation, in the light of the 2014 synod, is to learn from Catholic experience of marriage and family. This is a very different matter, and although still poorly handled, can be an opportunity for once, for Catholic bishops to learn from the rest of us.
On of the workshops during the study day, went into some of the ways in which we can contribute, directly or indirectly, to this process. In the UK, the bishops of England and Wales have prepared materials for use in parishes, asking all parish priests to use them and submit their results. In addition, they have prepared a set of specific questions, which may be answered and submitted either by individuals, or by organized groups. Worldwide, the Vatican has also invited responses directly to the synod secretariat.
Predictably enough, the actual formulation of the materials and questions by the bishops are highly directive – leading questions, which will tend to guide respondents to answers more or less in the context of standard church teaching. For some people, there could be a temptation to resist the questions and not answer them at all. For lgbt Christians, this may be a mistake. While the questions may be formulated from a perspective of conventional, heterosexual couples and families, it is entirely possible to couch the responses explicitly within the context of queer families – as I shall do, and will publish my responses in full.
In addition to the formal channels for direct response provided by the Vatican and English (and other) bishops, there are many organizations that have embraced the task of collating responses more broadly. Two presenters at the Roehampton study day, Professor Tina Beattie and Dr Gillian Paterson , introduced us to their website, “Catholic Network on Population, Parenthood and Development“, together with its pages on the synod process, and its links to synod resources. This is one vehicle through which responses can be channelled and published. Also in the UK, Acta (“A Call to Action”) have prepared their own questionnaire, for completion by their members. In the USA, a coalition of lay organizations have similarly prepared their own consultation materials.
So, there are numerous opportunities to contribute queer perspectives on marriage, relationships and family to the bishops at the synod,. We can write directly to the secretariat in Rome, we can make our submissions to the bishops, as individuals or as groups, or we can make them indirectly, through groups with which we are involved, or through intermediary sites such as the “Catholic Network on Population, Parenthood and Development“. We can do so by means of answering specific questions in structured questionnaires, or simply by writing about our own experience of family and marriage – or for that matter, about how as LGBT people, we have been affected by being denied that possibility.
Another of the speakers at the Roehampton study day, Dr Claire Watkins, spoke of the family not as an object of study for the Church, but as a theological resource, from which the Church can learn from real – life experience. With that sound principle firmly in mind, we as LGBT Catholics should grab every opportunity to contribute our thoughts and experiences to this process, so that indeed the Synod fathers by October, will have had adequate opportunity to have learned something from us, and our lives.
The full program for the study day included:
“Population, Parenthood and Development – changing the discourse” (Gillian Paterson)
“Household Faith and Practices – what is most “real”? (Clare Watkins)
“When Things Fall Apart – pastoral and theological resources for divorced and remarried Catholics (Revd Augusto Zampini)
Panel discussion with morning presenters
Reflections on living with HIV (video presentation, Cate Jacobs)
- The Synod on the Famly 2015 / Human Development, the Church and the Family – tackling the issues.
- God and Same – sex Partnerships: pain and champagne / Being Family, Being Positive, challenges and insights from the Positive Catholics ministry.
Women and Catholic Family Life (Grainee Doherty)
Same – sex Relations and Catholic Family (Martin Pendergast)
Family Life – Poverty, Cultures and Contexts: Views from
Panel Discussion with afternoon speakers.