Tag Archives: synodality

Are Synods Actually Helpful for LGBT Catholics and Their Families? – Bondings 2.0

Following the Vatican’s 2015 Synod on the Family, a handful of dioceses worldwide have convoked their own local synods to discuss issues in and plans for their local church. These gatherings have been heralded for advancing episcopal collegiality and participation of the laity, parts of Pope Francis’ vision for the church.

But while that may be so, the Synod on the Family was described as a “disappointment” by some LGBT advocates and local synods’ treatment of sexuality has been mixed. It is therefore a live question in the church whether these synods are actually helping LGBT Catholics and their families.

Participants conversing at Detroit’s synod.

The Archdiocese of Detroit held its “Synod ’16: Unleash the Gospel” last weekend, part of its evangelization efforts in which thousands of Catholics have participated through some 240 Parish Dialogue Gatherings and nights of prayer

Source: Bondings 2.0

Synodality: “Journeying Together” with the Church

The ” relatio post disceptationem” document read to the synod yesterday by Cardinal Erdo has made the headlines and inspired extensive commentary worldwide. LGBT and other progressive Catholics are enthusiastic, the conservative, rule – book and holier than thou blogs are enraged. It’s important to remember though, that in its content, this is only a preliminary document. The final version, which must still be agreed by a majority of the synod, could be very different – or could vary only in detail. Even that will not be final. That will be distributed worldwide for further discussion, and then considered again at next year’s synod.

Cardinal Erdo

But beyond the detail and what is said, even if it is changed, there’s another reason to be excited about this remarkable document, and that is the entire process behind it.Unlike the previous synod, where JPII effectively told the bishops what to think about marriage and family and brooked no dissent, Francis has taken the opposite approach. He has contributed little to the proceedings directly, and encouraged openness and frankness. The detail of the procedures of the synod changed substantially from previous practice, to encourage full and free exchange of ideas. 15 married couples spoke to the synod, introducing each session. Many of the bishops described how valuable this was – one news report even claimed that the married couples were “stealing the show”. In the same way, the relatio itself suggests at one point, that in future, priests in training should be learning from married couples.

32. The need was jointly referred to for a conversion of all pastoral practices from the perspective of the family, overcoming the individualistic points of view that still characterize it. This is why there was a repeated insistence on renewing in this light the training of presbyters and other pastoral operators, through a greater involvement of the families themselves.

As the final version is sent out into the world, the clear expectation is that a similar openness to full and frank discussion should apply, in the church as a whole. That will most certainly include lay Catholics – LGBT people among them:

26.  Evangelizing is the shared responsibility of all God’s people, each according to his or her own ministry and charism. Without the joyous testimony of spouses and families, the announcement, even if correct, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words that is a characteristic of our society

Let us add to that, the “joyous testimony” of same – sex spouses and our queer families. It becomes more important than ever for us to identify openly in our congregations and other faith communities, to participate fully (and where denied, to demand the right of full participation), and to join in the debate wherever we can: engaging with our local bishops, speaking frankly to our parish priests, and in discussions with our co-parishioners.

Two words frequently used by Pope Francis to describe the operation and atmosphere of the synod, are “collegiality” , which should have been standard practice since Vatican II but in practice has been moribund, and “synodality”, which takes us to the derivation of “synod” itself, from two common Greek words:

syn-  = together

odos- = way, journey.

“synod” = journeying together!

Let us then, LGBTQI or straight, married or single, deeply involved in our local parishes or on the fringes of the Church, participate with joy in this new experience, of journeying together with the Church as a whole, in digesting and working through the implications of this synod, in thoughtful, prayerful preparation for the next.

How Can There be Frank Discussion, in a Climate of Fear?

Ever since his election last year, Pope Francis has caught the popular imagination with his message of inclusion, mercy and hope. This has been particularly notable, for LBGT Catholics, beginning with the celebrated simple line, “Who am I to judge?” on the flight back from Brazil, and continuing (amongst other memorable quotes) that the Church should be a “field hospital for the wounded”. This week, there was more of the same kind, without the rhetorical flourish. To resolve problems of division and disagreement within the Church, he says, we need discussion.


In the church, as in any other situation, “problems cannot be resolved by pretending they don’t exist,” Pope Francis said.

“Confronting one another, discussing and praying — that is how conflicts in the church are resolved,” the pope said Sunday before praying the “Regina Coeli” with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope focused his remarks on the day’s first reading, Acts 6:1-7, which describes how the early Christian community, as it grew to include people from different groups, began to experience internal tensions, and how those tensions were resolved at a meeting of the disciples.

National Catholic Reporter

Last week, Francis’ point man in the Italian Bishops’ Conference, whom he had personally handpicked as its secretary general, said much the same thing. Bishop Nunzio Galantino told an Italian newspaper that the Church needs to listen, “without taboos”,  to all the arguments in favour of gay relationships, married priests, and communion for the divorced.

Welcome words? Well yes, of course – but for queer Catholics, they remain just words, sizzle without the steak. We cannot have the proposed frank discussion to resolve conflicts, in a climate of fear. The Church cannot be a field hospital for the wounded – while continuing to inflict the wounds.

For far too many, this fear is all too real, and well founded. I’ve seen it in a small way myself, when I was told by Cafod that I was not acceptable as a school volunteer, because I publicly criticize some aspects of Church teaching: some aspects, evaluated against other aspects, and in the light of the Gospels. In other words, I attempt to stimulate precisely the discussion suggested by Pope Francis, to which Bishop Galantino says the Church should listen. In my case, this exclusion was not of any material consequence, but it was nevertheless emotionally deeply hurtful: a wound inflicted by the Church, not healed by it. ( See”“Despised and Rejected – but also “Phall if you but will, rise you must”)

For others, the consequences, and reason for fear, are much greater: loss of employment and livelihood. Pope Francis may ask, “Who am I to judge?”, but that has not stopped a series of bishops taking it on themselves to judge, and if those employed in parishes or church schools are found to be gay and honest in their relationships, forcing them out of their posts.

Catholic employment contract

For still more, the issues are not about employment, but deeply spiritual matters. I was moved by a reader’s response to the Bondings 2.0 report on Bishop Galliano. After recounting some local church history, and an active witch hunt against gay men and lesbians in that diocese, she continues:

In truth, now I won’t admit to any priest I’m lesbian. I’m too worried that if something happens to me and I need last rites, the very priest to whom I admitted I was gay will be the same one walking in the hospital and denying me last rites (and possibly attempting to excommunicate too boot ). Call me paranoid or chicken or both but I just don’t want that to happen. I’m more than happy to stand up for other people but .. not so much for myself. Seems pointless to do so much of the time.

Even for those with nothing much to lose, who are able to set aside this fear, and come out openly as both gay and Catholic, there remains another problem. Frequently, they may find full acceptance, inclusion and welcome in a local congregation – as I do myself. Such local congregations may indeed be those field hospitals for the wounded that Pope Francis extols. From the institutional Church, and from some sections of the church – not so much. Fr James Martin SJ wrote about this last week at America, in a piece called Simply Loving. At Bondings 2.0, Frand DeBenardo headlined his report on Martin’s post with a pertinent question, “Why Do LGBT People Feel the Catholic Church Hates Them?” One reason suggested by Fr Martin, was that when LGBT people hear the Church, or people speaking on behalf of the Church, about “homosexuals”, it’s almost always accompanied by words about sin – even when the words are intended to be welcoming and helpful.

As always with Martin,his piece is thoughtful, compassionate and sensitive. However, when read together with the reader responses, it simply highlights the extent of the problem. When I read it a few days ago, the first comments I came across seemed to be saying,

“Excellent piece, well done – but after all, we really must remember that homosexual acts are indeed sinful”.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!


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Senior Bishop: We Need Frank Discussion – Without Taboos

A notable feature of Pope Francis’ style, has been his willingness to listen to people and their troubles, not simply to lecture them on Church teaching. One of his Italian protegés has said that approach to apply particularly to the controversial and divisive matters in the Church, of abortion, divorce – and homosexuality.

Bishop Galantino

The secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI), Nunzio Galantino, bishop of the southern diocese of Cassano all’Jonio, was speaking to the Florence-based La Nazione newspaper earlier this week, and reported by The Tablet:

The Catholic Church should listen to all the arguments in favour of gay relationships, Communion for remarried divorcees, and ending mandatory celibacy for priests, a senior Italian bishops has insisted. The secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI), Nunzio Galantino, bishop of the southern diocese of Cassano all’Jonio, told the Florence-based La Nazione newspaper yesterday that he wanted church leaders to open their mind to different views on these issues.

Tablet News, 13th May

(Not included in the Tablet report, but an important qualification in what he actually said, was this rider, which I picked up at an Italian site:

.….Starting from the Gospel and giving reasons for their positions)

What makes this particularly significant, is that Bishop Galantino was personally selected by Pope Francis for his post on the Italian Bishops’ conference (initially on an interim basis last December, and ratified as permanent just last month. LGBT Catholics should also note that Italian politicians are likely soon to move towards approval of civil unions. There’ve been similar attempts in the past, but these have always been derailed in the face of fierce opposition by Italian bishops. In the light of Pope Francis’ own statements that civil unions deserve proper discussion and consideration, and now these words by the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, it’s unlikely that they’ll want to get involved as vigorously (if at all), this time.

However, welcome as this is, it’s not enough. These are fine words – but without more flesh on the bones, without concrete actions to make this much desired frank discussion a reality, it will be no more than sizzle, without the steak. Before the Church can even claim to be embarking on frank discussion, two essential criteria must be in place.

There cannot be meaningful discussions – while excluding those most directly affected.

The context of the bishops’ words, is that the Church is preparing steadily for an important bishops’ synod later this year, on marriage and the family. The simple fact that the synod is being held at all is good news, and there are good reasons to hope that it will initiate a process, that could lead to meaningful reform – but that will be only the beginning of a process. This year’s synod will be a synod of bishops, discussing marriage and family, but without meaningful participation of lay Catholics with real – life experience of marriage and family, beyond a token handful of “auditors”. This synod will not be the end of it: a further synod is scheduled for next year, when there could be greater lay participation – but don’t hold your breath. The early portents are not good. In the UK, the English bishops have not even released the results of their survey of local Catholic opinion. let alone engaged in any discussion with us on an appropriate response. In the USA, some bishops have released results, but interpreted the finding that most Catholics disagree strongly with much of Vatican doctrine by concluding that they must work harder to present the teaching. Other bishops did not even submit the Vatican questions to the people of the diocese, simply believing that they could answer the questions adequately themselves.

This is simply not good enough. Frank discussions among the bishops is a start – but of limited value if it does not include those most directly affected by these matters.

Frank discussion is not possible in a climate of fear.

If there are few signs yet of any frank discussions involving lay Catholics, this is even more so for lesbian and gay Catholics being consulted on their own experience of what in fact it means to be both gay and Catholic. Worse, for far too many of us in the Catholic Church, it’s not even possible to identify openly as gay, without the prospect of real harm, to loss of careers in Catholic schools and hospitals, as church musicians, of being excluded from active parish ministry and service, or in the most extreme cases, even exclusion from communion.

For meaningful frank discussions “without taboos” even to begin about “homosexuality” – LGBT Catholics first need to know that they can participate in those discussions openly, and without fear of harm.

(Thanks to Frank DeBenardo at Bondings 2.0, where I first came upon this story)

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