“Fortunate Families” Newsletter reports the welcome news that the Catholic lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler (together with theologian Ellen Burke – Sullivan) have just published a new book, “The Church in the Modern World: Gaudium et Spes – Then and Now”, with a notable chapter dealing specifically with marriage.
This is important news. Their previous book, “The Sexual Person”, provided a superb, penetrating analysis of Catholic sexual theology in all its aspects. and included abundant examples of just why the allegedly “traditional” teaching is not all it is said to be, why it must change – and how it is in fact constantly changing. For LGBT Catholics with a serious interest in the subject, “The Sexual Person” should be required reading.
With the Family Synod now bringing marriage, divorce and same – sex relationships so much more into mainstream Catholic discussion, it is likely that this book, with its chapter on marriage, will be equally valuable for LGBT Catholics. Continue reading Noted Theologians Lawler and Salzmann, on Marriage.
During the question and answer session with the Schoenstatt pilgrims held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall on Saturday, Pope Francis spoke particularly about the problems facing marriage in the modern world. For LGBT Catholics, it’s important once again to note that amongst these difficulties, Francis did not include any reference to same – sex marriage or other unions. On the contrary, he included observations that should encourage gay Catholics, notably this reminder that the Church is constantly reforming itself:
Asked about reform of the Church, the Pope said people describe him as a revolutionary but went on to point out that the Church has always been that way and is constantly reforming itself. He stressed that the first revolution or way of renewing the Church is through inner holiness and that counts far more than more external ways such as reforming the Curia and the Vatican bank. Pope Francis also spoke about the importance of having a freedom of spirit and warned against closing ourselves up in a mass of rules and regulations, thus becoming a caricature of the doctors of law.
via Vatican Radio.
and also his observations on the importance of “human bonds that bind us together”, and of “solidarity”. Logically, these must include bonds and solidarity with all who are marginalized – including sexual and gender minorities:.
The theme of our throw-away society was also touched on again by the Pope in another reply when he said our present-day culture is one that destroys the human bonds that bind us together. And in this context, he continued, one word that is at risk of dying in our society is ‘solidarity’ and this is also a symptom of our inability to forge alliances. Pope Francis also warned about the Devil, stressing that he exists and that his first weapon is disunity.
There only two paragraphs In the synod’s final “Relatio” referring specifically to homosexuality. The second of these, which was approved by the comfortable margin of 159 to 21, states (in a modified Google translation):
56 It is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer pressure in this matter and that international bodies make financial aid to poor countries conditional on the introduction of laws that establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.
If this had any connection with reality on the ground, I would find this completely unexceptional I am a firm supporter of the principle of equal marriage in civil law. I am also an African, and deeply conscious of how well- intentioned Western attempts to influence African governments are perceived (all too often, quite justly) as neo-colonial interference. Such efforts can easily backfire, with serious unintended consequences. For that reason, I agree with the bishops that Western attempts to manipulate foreign aid to force gay marriage on African countries is unacceptable – if such pressure existed, or was even under discussion. It is not. In this matter, the bishops are tilting at windmills, a figment of their fevered collective imagination. The tragedy is that in their terror of the imagined threat of gay marriage, they are ignoring a serious reality, which even an African Archbishop at the synod. acknowledged is a real problem – the criminalization of gay people.
There just is not a single government, multilateral agency, or NGO that has ever suggested that aid should be tied to the introduction of gay marriage, or any other legal recognition of same – sex unions. What has been proposed is quite different: using aid to oppose the criminalization of homosexuality, and the victimization of gay people.
Archbishop Kaigama said the Church’s position against criminalisation has been misrepresented in the media:
“We would defend any person with a homosexual orientation who is being harassed, imprisoned or punished….so when the media takes our story they should balance it….we try to share our point of view (but) we don’t punish them. The government may want to punish them but we don’t, in fact we will work to tell the government to stop punishing those who have different orientations.”
I’ve noted before that Archbishop Kaigama’s protestations that the Church’s alleged “misrepresentation in the media” would be more credible if he could demonstrate any actual record of having opposed the criminalization legislation, or other grievous harms against gay and lesbian people in Africa. It is disgraceful that the synod has ignored one real problem, by itself grossly misrepresenting the nature of Western concerns about criminalization and persecution of gay people.
- Synod Told of the “Dignity” of Homosexuals in Africa. Really?
- Two (or Three) Steps Forward, One Back Is Still Progress.
- Synod: So, Who “Won”?
- Pope Francis: God Does Not Discriminate (But What About Some Bishops?)
- “Gradualism” and the Inevitability of Doctrinal Change
- Synodality: “Journeying Together” with the Church
- Synod: Need for Welcoming and VALUING Gay Couples!
Many of the reports on the “final” synod document in the MSM and at the Krazy Katholic blogs have focussed on claims that this is somehow a victory for the conservatives, or a defeat for Pope Francis. Both are completely unjustified.
Hope group members will be encouraged by a bit of news from Rome..
Very good BBC interview with Cardinal Vincent Nichols (at 05:00 on iPlayer) who reveals that some of the 72 Synod delegates in Rome who voted against the “welcome to gay people” wording in the final document (with 118 in favour) did so because it either went too far OR NOT FAR ENOUGH.
Vincent says he can’t remember how he voted (there were 60 votes in under an hour), but that – reflecting the policy in his own diocese of Westminster – he felt the wording didn’t go far enough, because the key words “welcome”, “respect” and “value” were missing. The cardinal hopes the next stage of the Synod will encourage a more welcoming attitude to LGBT people.
Let’s hope the Synod process moves forward with discernment, honest discussion, and a Christ-like passion for pastoral care. God bless Cardinal Vincent for his compassion and balance, and God bless Pope Francis for his wisdom, his collegiality, and his caring heart.
“Encouraging news”, indeed – especially (but not exclusively) for those of us here in the UK. Also worth noting, is that approval for the final text was not based on simple majority vote, but required a two – thirds majority. Reports elsewhere have suggested that on some of the more welcoming passages that were left out of the final text, did in fact have the support of the majority, but just not enough to get to two thirds. Also important, just as words of support were excluded from the bland final document, so too were the harsher words that were proposed by the reactionaries. There were no “winners” or “losers” in this, other than a clear win for open and frank discussion – a major step forward for the Catholic Church.
- And Yet . . . (Bondings 2.0)
- Synod Final Report Disappoints, But Significant Progress Is Made In the Process (Bondings 2.0)
- SYNOD: We’re Almost to the End, But Not Quite Yet (Bondings 2.0)
- Church should not fear change, pope says at synod close (Bondings 2.0)
- How Catholic synod on gays made history, even with ‘disappointing’ end (Commonweal)
- Five Things the Synod Just Did (americamagazine.org)
- Catholic synod vote ‘disappointing’ (bbc.co.uk)
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.
- Five Things the Synod Just Did (americamagazine.org)
- Vatican call for Church to welcome gay people did not go ‘far enough’ – Cardinal Vincent Nichols (Telegraph)
- Analysis: Synod document not a setback for Pope Francis (Irish Times)
- Synod Final Report Disappoints, But Significant Progress Is Made In the Process (Bondings 2,0)
One of the key themes of the family synod has been the idea of “gradualism”, which has meant in this context, the idea that those whose lives currently fall outside of the approved moral norms, can move step by step closer to ideal moral states. The task of the church then, should be to encourage such transitions, rather than simplistically condemning the initial state as unacceptable. One example which makes clear what is meant, is that of cohabitation, which is clearly unacceptable in standard doctrine. However, cohabitation and commitment to a single partner represents a clear improvement on a single life of sexual promiscuity, with a succession of one – night stands In turn, civil marriage, while not formally recognized by the Church, is a public commitment to fidelity and permanence in the relationship, and so is an improvement on mere cohabitation – and leaves open the possibility of later upgrading to sacramental marriage, in church:
In this respect, a new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation, taking into account the due differences. Indeed, when a union reaches a notable level of stability through a public bond, is characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage. Very often, however, cohabitation is established not with a view to a possible future marriage, but rather without any intention of establishing an institutionally-recognized relationship.
Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.
From this perspective, “gradualism” is a one – way process, whereby Catholic practice by individuals and couples, is brought into ever increasing conformity with Catholic doctrine. There is however, another use of the word in Catholic discourse, but one which has not featured in official summaries of synod discussions – that “gradualism” can also apply to slow and incremental change in Catholic doctrine itself, bringing it by degrees into ever closer conformity with real world Catholic practice. This could be why the more conservative bishops are setting themselves so resolutely against significant change in pastoral practice, as well as against change in doctrine. They know, and are afraid, that change in pastoral practice frequently leads to subsequent change in doctrine.
One simple example of how change in official doctrines must change if the proposed adjustments to pastoral practice are accepted, is in the matter of language – specifically, phrases like “contraceptive mentality”, “intrinsically disordered”, and “living in sin”. The first two of these at least are embedded in the Vatican documents: “contraceptive mentality” in the writing of Pope John Paul II, and “intrinsically disordered” in that of Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Protection of the Faith. It is difficult to see how to get rid of such language without rewriting or replacing the relevant texts, or how such rewriting with more appropriate language would not also institute a change of emphasis in the underlying doctrine.
Moreover, although the synod was quite specifically not called to consider any change to doctrine, at least some of those attending have been openly saying that such change is essential. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin is one, and (I think) Cardinal Baldisseri, overseeing the entire synod process, is another.
The opponents of change may insist as much as they like that it is “impossible” to change Church doctrine, but they are simply wrong. In his widely publicized lengthy interview last year with …… Pope Francis himself acknowledged that what he described as “evolution” in church teaching (i.e. gradual change) is inevitable.
There is great irony in the use of this argument of “impossibility” with respect to communion after divorce and remarriage, because if it really were true that change in the matter is impossible – the synod would not now be having the debate in the first place. The whole thrust of the argument for change by Cardinal Kasper, who raised the idea in the first place, is that current rigidity does not reflect the practice of the earliest church, which accepted the doctrine of indissolubility of marriage – but also displayed greater flexibility and nuance in practical responses to individual Christians in such situations.
Some might argue that this earlier practice was a difference in pastoral practice, not doctrine – but part of the resistance to any change at all, is precisely based on the argument that in this matter, both the question of remarriage after divorce itself, and that of the refusal of communion, are matters of doctrine. Those resisting change cannot have it both ways: either the refusal of communion is a simple matter of pastoral practice (or of church discipline), or we must acknowledge that the doctrine has changed in the past, and can change again – just as it has done, and will do, on so many other matters across two thousand years of Christian history.
- “Gradualism” in Benedict’s Theology.
- Pope Benedict, On the Queer Lessons in the Church’s Martyrdom of St Joan.
- The pope’s shift on condoms is no surprise (Martin Pendergast, “Guardian Comment is Free”)
- Synod14: Full Text of Relatio Post Disceptationem (zenit.org)
- Synod on the family: a doctrinal revolution under a pastoral mask (dici.org)
- Family: The Synod’s new approach (vaticaninsider.lastampa.it)
Throughout the first week of the family synod in Rome, there have been tantalising suggestions that the Catholic Church is moving towards greater sensitivity and awareness of the real pastoral needs of lesbian and gay Catholics. Today, that possibility was confirmed, with the release of a formal summary document of the proceedings thus far, which goes way beyond a simple call for welcoming us, but even to raising the possibility of “accepting and valuing” our sexual orientation. There is also, for the first time the significant use of the term “partners” in referring to the couples in same – sex relationships, and recognition of the mutual support and sacrifice the partners give to each other.
50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.
52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.
From the moment that the synod was announced, it seemed probable that it would not lead directly to any change in Church doctrines any time soon, but that it could lead to an improvement in language and pastoral practice. It now seems possible that the anticipated change could be substantially greater than most observers had anticipated. Consider not only the specific words in the text above, but also what was NOT said. For example, it is stated that the Church cannot accept gay marriage, but there is no condemnation of civil unions, or of same – sex relationships in general, nor is gay marriage listed in the opening description of threats to the family.
New Ways Ministry has issued a statement welcoming the document, which the veteran Vatican watcher John Thavis has described (quite appropriately) as a “pastoral earthquake at the synod“, not only for the change of tone on lesbian and gay Catholics, but also for many other aspects of ministry to families. (A further sign of the hope contained in this document is that the conservative, holier than thou rule – book Catholic blogs are squawking in horror).
This important document should be studied carefully. It will form the basis of further discussion by the bishops, before being voted on at the close. The conclusion, quoted below, notes that final version, as agreed by the bishops, will then be taken away by the bishops for further reflection and sharing over the next year, in preparation for the final, general synod that will conclude the two year process.
The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialog that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015. These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view. All the same the collegial path of the bishops and the involvement of all God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead us to find roads of truth and mercy for all. This is the wish that from the beginning of our work Pope Francis has extended to us, inviting us to the courage of the faith and the humble and honest welcome of the truth in charity.
(At the end of his post, John Thavis adds an important caution that there may be some translation issues in the English language text on the Vatican website:
A TRANSLATION ISSUE: Some people are taking issue with the English version of the relatio (a translation of the original Italian text that was put out by the Vatican press office but which is not “official”) and its treatment of the homosexuality issue. Specifically, this line: “Are our communities capable of providing that (a welcoming home for homosexuals), accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
The Italian text uses the verb valutare, which can mean a lot of things — to value, appreciate, consider, evaluate or judge. The English translators decided on “valuing.” I think “appreciating” would also fit. Given the context of the sentence (“welcoming” and “accepting”), I don’t think translating the word as “evaluating” or “judging” would make much sense. In any case, the sentence has apparently already caused some fireworks in the synod hall, so it will be interesting to see if it survives the revision process.)
- Vatican Proposes Dramatic Shift In Attitude Towards Gays, Same Sex Couples (huffingtonpost.com)