It won’t be possible to evaluate the synod Assembly on the Family until it’s all over, and Pope Francis has given his own judgement, but buried in the detail are some fascinating titbits. Here’s one that must not be overlooked, from the small-group report of the German bishops: they acknowledge the hurt caused by pastoral practice to “homosexually oriented people” and other groups, and offer an historic apology.
An dieser Stelle war uns ein Bekenntnis wichtig: Im falsch verstandenen Bemühen, die kirchliche Lehre hochzuhalten, kam es in der Pastoral immer wieder zu harten und unbarmherzigen Haltungen, die Leid über Menschen gebracht haben, insbesondere über ledige Mütter und außerehelich geborene Kinder, über Menschen in vorehelichen und nichtehelichen Lebensgemeinschaften, über homosexuelle orientierte Menschen und über Geschiedene und Wiederverheiratete. Als Bischöfe unserer Kirche bitten wir diese Menschen um Verzeihung.
At this point a confession is important for us: In a false interpretation of the attempt to uphold the doctrine of the church, it frequently happened that hard and merciless attitudes appeared in pastoral ministry, that has brought suffering to people, especially to unmarried mothers and children born outside of marriage, for people living in premarital and non-marital cohabitation, for homosexually oriented people and for divorced and remarried people. As Bishops of our Church we are asking these people for forgiveness.
This is huge.
For some people in North America and Western Europe, the most notable harm done by the Church to LGBT people has been the opposition to marriage equality, and in some case the resultant exclusion of married gay men and lesbians from church employment or pastoral ministry. In fact, the extent of the harm is far greater. In Africa and in history, this has included active persecution, criminalization, and death. Even in Europe and North America, it can remain a major contributing factor to adolescent suicide and homelessness.
Previous popes have issued apologies to the Jews fo r inciting anti-Semitism, and to Muslims for the crusades. Pope Francis has apologized to the indigenous people of South America for the colonial imposition of European ideology and destruction of cultural patterns. What that apology did not acknowledge, was that the colonial ideology that was imposed, included Western European understanding of sex, gender and family structure, with the resultant active persecution of all those whose sexual or gender behaviour did not fit those European norms.
Just as the Catholic Church has formally apologized for the historic harm done to the Jewish and Muslim communities, to the aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas, Africa and Asia, and for the medieval persecution of religious dissidents, an apology is due to the LGBT community for the persecution in so many ways, large and small, in history and to the present day.
This is the first such apology I have seen from any significant group of Catholic bishops. I applaud the German bishops for their courage and honesty.