Bishops in France Release Hopeful Statement on Same-Sex Relationships

Catholic Bishops of France

Catholics bishops in France have released a positive-leaning document amid that nation’s intensifying marriage equality debate. The document, from the national episcopal conference’s Family and Society Committee calls for dialogue about same-sex relationships and severely condemns homophobia.  This document seems an acknowledgment by the bishops that current episcopal practices and teaching fail a pastoral, and perhaps, theological test.

The writers at Bondings 2.0 will continue seeking an English translation for further commentary, but until then the bishops’ writing is available in French here.

Terence Weldon at Queering the Church makes the following preliminary observations based on his translation:

“Based on my reading, these are the features of the document that make it really worth careful attention:

  • the simple fact of a call for constructive dialogue – together with a genuine attempt to begin it.
  • a firm rejection of homophobia in any form, and insistence on respect for all
  • a call to listen attentively to the concerns and needs of homosexual people themselves
  • thoughtful attention to the findings of science, leading to –
  • the recognition of the value of loving and committed same – sex partnerships.
  • an acknowledgement of the value of the symbolism in marriage, and the weaknesses of civil union legislation.
  • a proposal to strengthen the existing civil unions legislation, to improve the symbolic value, and repair its weaknesses.”

Weldon contrasted the different tenor in this document from typical writings over marriage equality from the Church hierarchy, as both part of a growing trend towards civility and compromise and a leap from precedence:

“One of the tragic features of so much of Vatican and episcopal responses to marriage equality, is that it has too often been couched in language so extreme, or made such outlandish and completely unsubstantiated claims, that it is too easy to dismiss it as being on the outer fringes of crazy town – and has left little room for serious, constructive debate…

“There have been some exceptions. One of the few silver linings in the dark cloud of the recent Vatican onslaught on marriage, is that the attacks have been specifically on extending to us the word “marriage”, while refraining from attacks on our relationships themselves. As a tactical device, some bishops have notably even supported civil partnerships or civil unions, which they had previously opposed, as a more palatable alternative to full marriage equality…

“This latest move by the French bishops is part of a trend – but in fact, it goes further – much further, and deserves close attention.”

If indeed the French bishops seek reconciling dialogue over same-sex issues that respects gay and lesbian voices and acknowledges the good found in committed relationships, this would be a major forward step for the Catholic hierarchy. Further admissions that the Church fails LGBT persons by discriminating against them and  by not forcefully acting against homophobia would be equally welcomed.

Bondings 2.0 previously reported here and here on the actions French Catholics have engaged in from both sides of the marriage equality question .

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Terence
    Terence says:

    Thanks, Bob. I’ll be covering this in much more detail next week (the only reason I’ve not done so yet, is I’ve had a chaotic week). The main thrust of the statement, as elsewhere, is opposition to gay marriage. But in my view, what makes it different and important, is that alongside that opposition, is a clear attempt to understand our concerns, and to consider the evidence on same – sex relationships. This evidence, they find, shows that there is clear value in stable, committed, and publicly acknowledged same – sex partnerships (which they expect to be “chaste”).
    More, later.

    Reply
  2. tomfluce
    tomfluce says:

    Thanks Bob for connecting us to this statement of the French bishop’s council through Terence’s preliminary comments on it. I agree that the statement is noteworthy.

    I wouldn’t characterize it as an anti-gay marriage statement but by what it’s title proclaims, “Let’ Open The Debate!” Yeah, here is the French Catholic bishops’ “Council on Family and Society”, saying it will sit down in the public forum and debate the issue of “expanding marriage to persons of the same sex.” What we’re used to seeing are pronouncements calling God’s condemnation of the existence of same sex persons and their demand for access to the same institution of marriage as heteros. No debate, period. We’re still the scourge of the planet. The US bishops carry on a disingenuous big lobbying effort, and impose a total silencing of any discussion along with all the sanctions that go with that repression, excommunication, firings, threats of taking away retired priests pensions/health care, withdrawals from ministries.

    “Let’s Open The Debate” is framed as a desire to participate in public debate in order to serve the common good. It, of course, does start off calling for a “real” debate, a “true democratic debate.” It sets out the challenges the bishops want to set down on the table. It asserts that labeling everyone who raises questions is a homophobe simply isn’t acceptable. But it states as equally unacceptable disqualifying anything any homosexual says because he/she is homosexual. It asserts also that the decision is one “policy option” among others. It does critique the demand for same-sex marriage primarily because it seems based primarily on the issue of equality and discrimination, and does not seem to factor in the fuller multidimensional–social, anthropological–nature of marriage of the Church.

    “Let’s Open The Debate” does call for respecting all payers, allowing everyone to reflect more profoundly and to freely express one’s convictions. Where does this happen elsewhere? The bishops do go into their explanation of the position of the Catholic church. But we don’t get the inane plumbing, biological fundamentalist pitch. They, of course, do hold up the man-woman couple mode but they focus on the co-creation of life with God, giving of self, indissolubility to support this life of love for each other, for children and on to society. And then they assert that in holding to the male-female set up they are not ignoring the value of other love relationships, another “fertility”, “social fertility”. Isn’t this an opening?

    Then the bishops examine in depth the condemnation and rejection of homosexuals–in the Catholic church as elsewhere–and endorse the imperative to not only stop this but to create a welcoming and to enter into a calm debate around the demand of homosexuals. “Listen to the demand of homosexual persons” is another sub-title. They point out that much has developed in the last 20 years among homosexuals concerning the growth of stable love relationships, that their demand for equality is underpinned by oppression and discrimination. It is right to be examining the real issues of power dominations–sexual, gender, racial– and to look for equality. Aren’t they asking us to include the elements of protection and support–beyond financial in marriage–to aspire to the traditional high ideals?

    O.K. the French bishops go into a long exposé of how French law for marriage enshrines much more than the loving relationship between two people. They point out how civil unions are sorely lacking in the supports for carrying through on the high aspirations of loving couples, that, they can be annulled simply by sending a registered letter. They throw up the protections for the spouses against injustices, for the children, for the rights to inheritance. Are these part of the same-sex marriage concept? As much as the fuller understanding of marriage as an institution, a solemn life-long commitment has been sullied in the breaking of the rules, they ask aren’t these still values to maintain for the greater good of society and in any evolution of marriage law?.

    So these bishops are not just making pronouncements but they jump into the debate and play the game and they do end up by concluding that “an evolution of the law of family is always possible.” But rather than to give in to pressure groups, France would do “honor to itself by setting up a true debate…and by looking for an “original solution which would do right to the demand for recognition of homosexual persons without however infringing upon the anthropological foundations of society.”

    I feel this document is weak on its recognition of the quality of same-sex relations and the commitment of the couple to nurture the world through adoption, or through a significant commitment to nurturing the world in works of social, environmental justice. Have we tried explaining that we do have that commitment? The French bishops couldn’t have a problem with same sex marriage it would seem! But then we have the US bishops….

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] in France inspired massive demonstrations and heated exchanges in the past year, reported here and here on Bondings 2.0. France is a historically Catholic nation, and it has been Catholic lay movements […]

  2. […] French bishops’ statement on same-gender relations, reported previously on Bondings 2.0 here and here.  His reflections include the following […]

  3. […] January 25, 2013: Bishops in France Release Hopeful Statement on Same-Sex Relationships […]

  4. […] his translation of the French bishops’ document on same-gender marriage that we announced a few days ago.  As we mentioned, this document contained several unusually positive reflections about respect […]

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