Two (or Three) Steps Forward, One Back Is Still Progress.

Much of the gay/ progressive commentary on the final synod statement has expressed “disappointment” that it omitted the language of welcome that had been included in the interim report released after the first week. A post by Frank DeBenardo at Bondings 2.0 is headlined (in part) “Synod Final Report Disappoints….“. Similarly, a press release by the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council expresses similar disappointment at what has been left out.

Seen in context however, this disappointment should be regarded as only relative. Instead of comparing where we are today with where we were on Monday, we should be giving thanks for how far we’ve come, from where we were before the Synod began. The interim report got such a strong reception on Monday precisely because it was so very much more supportive than anybody had been expecting. The fact that the same language did not make into the final report therefore, should have surprised nobody – especially when a substantial number of the voting participants were bishops from Africa, joining with the better known Western conservatives such as Cardinal Raymond Burke and the like.

Far more significant than the ultimate omission of the explicit words of support and welcome for lesbian and gay Catholics, should be recognition of just how close the synod came to including them – and how much offensive language that has previously been routine, was also left out.

The LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council press release draws attention to just how close we came to an endorsement of full and explicit inclusion (emphasis added):

We note that the paragraphs on homosexuality which did not receive the required 2/3 rd‘s vote,failed by only two votes, notwithstanding significant support from a majority of bishops.

Now consider what else is not said.

Remarkably for a synod expressly convened to consider the challenges and problems faced by the family in the modern world, in four detailed paragraphs on the nature of these difficulties, there is not a single word of reference to gay marriage as one of them.

There is also a notable absence of the tragically familiar language of “gravely disordered”, or any reminder that the only sexual expression is within (heterosexual) marriage, or any claims that gay sex is all about mere indulgent self – gratification.

Nor is there the use of the insulting term “same – sex attraction”, which Cardinal Napier, for insistence, gratuitously inserted into his furious reaction after the release of the interim report, which had used the term “homosexuals”. There was no reference at all to “same – sex attraction”, or to “homosexuals”, or to “gay and lesbian” – because we were just not referred to, as a group.

In comparison with previous documents on sexuality, we should in fact be grateful, not disappointed, that “homosexuals” are not even mentioned in the final report. What did feature, strongly, was the language of inclusion for all. That will most certainly include lesbian and gay Catholics, alongside divorced and remarried people, but it will also include others who did not feature at all in the interim report: trans Catholics, for example, or women, or single adults.  The problem with identifying specific groups for inclusion, as we know from the alphabet soup of terms like LGBTQQIA….. , is that the more we attempt to enumerate specific groups, the more we run the risk of not including others.

If the more welcoming / progressive bishops failed to retain the positive language originally proposed, for us or for those who have divorced and remarried, because they only just failed to secure the required two – thirds majority, it is far more important to note the far more dismal failure of the reactionaries to secure even a simple majority. The report is in fact most remarkable not for its content, but for its blandness. There is nothing in it remotely controversial – unsurprising, for a document that required two thirds approval from bishops of an extraordinary range of backgrounds.

What this is, is simply a starting point for further reflection, study and discussion, There will be much more of this over the next year, at all levels of the Church, as the Westminster LGBT Pastoral Council reminds us:

Second, this report is not the final word, but as a Vatican spokesperson explained, it is still a working document which will be discussed in the coming year. We now call upon the Vatican and local Bishops’ Conferences to institute Listening Processes over the coming year, to include LGBT people, parents, and other family members, alongside theologians and experienced pastoral ministers.

It is essential that LGBT Catholics should do everything we can, individually and collectively, to participate in these discussions and study processes wherever we are able, in all our faith communities, parish, diocesan, LGBT support groups, or on-line, wherever we find them.

Pope Francis has placed these issues on the table, and all the signs are that his action is irreversible, given the strong statements made in his closing speech to the Synod. If, as on a range of matters held to be controversial by some sections of the hierarchy, there is a move to a more open and listening pastoral practice then this could lead to the development of a richer theology of human sexuality, and a more credible and human face of the Church. In this way we can become credible disciples, witnessing to the joy of the Gospel with which the Pope constantly challenges us.

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