How Will Pope’s New Document Affect LGBT Issues?

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has issued an Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).  The focus on the document is on renewing the evangelization efforts of the church, which he rightly envisions as the entire People of God.  It is a document which does not shy away from examining how church structures, including the Vatican and the papacy, need to reform in order to make this renewal of evangelization possible.

The document does not discuss sexuality, gender, or LGBT issues.  In fact, in chapter two, he outlines many of today’s social ills, and unlike the previous two popes, he does not single out any sexuality issues for discussion here.  His only reference to these topics is a passing one, and noteworthy for NOT naming any hot-button issues such as same-gender marriage:

“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life’.[60] ”  (chapter 2, section 66)

As we’ve noted before, Pope Francis may not be ready to make wholesale changes in church doctrine on LGBT issues, but he does seem intent on establishing reforms which can eventually lead to such needed changes. While sexuality is not discussed in this new document, there are many topics in it that can pave the way for the church hierarchy to renew itself in regard to these concerns.   I’ve excerpted a few of them below.  In the coming week, we hope to provide more analysis and commentary on this newly-released document as it becomes available.

1. Reforming the Papacy

“Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.” (chapter 1, section 32)

2.  Updating long-standing traditions which have become irrelevant

“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God ‘are very few’.[47] Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation ‘so as not to burden the lives of the faithful’ and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas ‘God’s mercy has willed that we should be free’.[48] This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a the reform of the Church and her preaching which would enable it to reach everyone.” (chapter 1, section 43)

3.  On welcoming all to church and not withholding communion

“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door’: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.[51] These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”  (chapter  1, section 47)

4. The importance and role of the laity in the church

“Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the People of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith. At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. In others, it is because in their particular Churches room has not been made for them to speak and to act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making. Even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society. The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge.”  (chapter 2, section 102)

5.  The call for all to be evangelizers

“In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization. The people of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo. This means that it does not err in faith, even though it may not find words to explain that faith. The Spirit guides it in truth and leads it to salvation.[96] As part of his mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with aninstinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression.

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.” (chapter 3, sections 119-120)

6.  The importance of dialogue and listening

“In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs.” (chapter 3, section 128)

7. Changing the church’s teaching on social issues and the importance of science

“The Church’s teachings concerning contingent situations are subject to new and further developments and can be open to discussion, yet we cannot help but be concrete – without presuming to enter into details – lest the great social principles remain mere generalities which challenge no one. There is a need to draw practical conclusions, so that they ‘will have greater impact on the complexities of current situations’.[148] The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being.” (chapter 4, section 182)
 
“. . .  neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems. Here I can repeat the insightful observation of Pope Paul VI: ‘In the face of such widely varying situations, it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. This is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country’.[152] ” (chapter 4, section 184)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

17 replies
  1. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    I sooo want to believe we have passed the storm after the death of Good Pope John. Could this be in preparation of April 27th?

    Reply
  2. Henry Huot
    Henry Huot says:

    This is so reminiscent of the first encyclical of Pope Paul VI in 1964, Ecclesiam Suam, where he advocated and promoted the need for dialogue, in all humility and intellectual honesty. Could it be that this Pope will return us to that attitude which is so needed by pastors and laity who are serious about bringing the light of Christian faith to address the burdens and wounds that so many people carry? I can’t wait to read the letter in its entirety. Thanks, Frank, for excerpting some highlights.

    Reply
  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    I would love to see a summit meeting between Pope Francis and His Holiness The Dalai Lama — in which they meet and mutually ratify, if not one another’s theology, then at least (and clearly) one another’s shared spiritual vision of a just, compassionate and love-centered mode of living and being in the world. I believe the effect of such a meeting upon the whole planet would be enormous!

    Reply
    • Friends
      Friends says:

      I simply can’t resist coming back to report that, the very day after I posted the above note, Fr. Matthew Fox — the renowned theologian whose espousal of Liberation Theology was condemned by the Vatican a decade ago — was interviewed on the “Democracy Now” radio news program, urging that Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama should do a barnstorming global lecture tour together, to advocate for transformative justice and planetary peace. Something powerfully charismatic seems to be in the air at the moment.

      Reply
  4. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    I’ve not yet had the opportunity for more than a cursory reading of the document, but from an initial scan, I see it as transformative. This is obviously so in many matters of pastoral practice, as you note. But even more important in the longer run, is that although there is nothing in the document to challenge or modify church teaching in the short term, in the longer run, some radical reform of sexual theology must inevitably follow.

    This is clear, when we read the encyclical alongside the findings of Professor Linda Woodhead on “What British Catholics Believe” (and extensive additional evidence from empirical research). This matters, because of some of Francis’ observations in “Evangelium Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel). “Dogma” may not be democratic in any secular sense, BUT: His observation that there are different levels of church teaching, not all requiring the same level of assent, implies that not all teaching in fact qualifies as “dogma”

    Further, his reference to the “sensus fideii” likewise reminds us that although teaching may not be democratic, it must be either valid, or not valid. Any particular element of teaching he notes, is “infallible” only if it has received the support of the church as a whole. If not, the corollary is that it cannot be regarded as infallible, and can instead be questioned. Elsewhere, he notes the importance for the Church of a willingness to examine itself and its structures for the possibility of error. From this, and the abundant empirical evidence that sexual doctrines do NOT have the support of the Church as a whole, it follows that we must accept at least the possibility that these doctrines are simply not valid. There is a dire need to revisit the theology of sex and intimate human relationships – a proposition with which many professional moral theologians would undoubtedly agree.

    Reply
  5. looking4adventure
    looking4adventure says:

    “The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children….”
    Same-gendered monogamous committed relationships certainly could demonstrate the importance of family and could even pass down their “faith” assuming Catholicism could provide an supported option for them that is considered righteous and not an abomination.
    From my experiences many still view people who are homosexual as just a lifestyle choice or sickness that needs to be cured. The physiological complexities are many and each individual circumstance is unique. Depending on their motivations, some should fully pursue the one they love no matter what the gender and yet perhaps others shouldn’t because it may not truly be in their nature or their motivations for their actions are more lust than love.
    My point is that if a person did come to the realization and self actualization that they are in fact homosexual, at this moment there is no “holy” and supported option for homosexual relationships and currently what is preached is living a life absent of any intimacy (which is what almost every human being desires and could we even go as far as saying perhaps God programed in them to desire?). Because of this we can’t even get close to discussing how perhaps a new tradition in Marriage might actually add to the concept rather than take away from it.

    Moving on to what was said after:

    Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life’.[60] ” (chapter 2, section 66)

    Again could not two humans who happen to be of similar physical gender (yet most likely very different emotionally but thats a different conversation) not still demonstrate the concepts of Marriage and the total communion of life sharing their whole lives together, raising children who might not otherwise have a home and staying together in covenant serve as an example of the Churches teaching of Christ’s steadfast love for us? Or perhaps the Popes new words could also included such relationships?

    It almost as if so much time is spent “defining” what we think God says marriage isn’t we forgot what it is and what the whole heart of it is. Getting caught up in the specifics of theological rhetoric and forgetting the basics creates a system that caves in on itself. Perhaps the specifics are even really the point but yet to challenge people to consider their motivations and make themselves aware of the potential dangers of the path one may take or is meant to take.

    “The Church’s teachings concerning contingent situations are subject to new and further developments and can be open to discussion,….yet we cannot help but be concrete – without presuming to enter into details – lest the great social principles remain mere generalities which challenge no one. There is a need to draw practical conclusions, so that they ‘will have greater impact on the complexities of current situations’.

    Could this reveal why Catechisms may not change for awhile yet individual cases may begin to be evaluated and discerned for righteous validity and framework is created allowing for priests personally and prayerfully be allowed to evaluate and welcome homosexuals and examples of their caring relationships and maybe even one day celebrate and support them?
    It feels so far away and hard to have hope but maybe just maybe it is on the horizon.

    Also in Pope Francis’ writings he says this:

    The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door’: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.

    How can a priest, even if he believe homosexuality to be a grave depravity of man kind, refuse a homosexual individual or couple communion? In the very least they could be healed through the sacraments if they indeed feel it is a sickness. I’m haven’t earned a doctorate in medicine or theology yet but something tells me two people who love one another and are willing to give their lives to each other might be considered to some as healthy and wholesome.

    Another problem beyond refusing communion,, with not addressing the Catechisms however is it allows for people who want justification in rejecting or speaking out against any and all homosexual relationships and families to feel they have justification, in fact a “holy justification”. Many homosexuals who value and cherish their religion also face great emotional torture in relationships along with guilt because so many have told them “what is written”. Many even say goodbye to the ones they love and care for deeply in effort to try to live up to the “holy standard” feeling as if they must forever live their life without ever feeling the joy of a family or in It is sad that all homosexual relationships seem to be lumped into the same category of sinful, selfish, and unrighteous. Why then are they committed even through difficult times? Supporting children who would otherwise have no home? (perhaps to support the widows and orphans is Gods purpose more specifically for his gay children? just a thought) Why would they even share their faith with others who don’t believe? This seems like a very sinful quality doesn’t it? Many religious leaders and followers can’t deny that many of our homosexual friends aren’t good people [those of us who get out a little more than others] but we still want to judge so we separate who they love from being apart of who they are. We still call a very special part of who they are a sin and say it is not actually part of who, they are simply choosing a sinful lifestyle choice. This is where I believe Pope Francis’ words, “Who am I to judge?” should ring much more loudly than what seems to be heard these day. But perhaps a new sound is coming? Instead of getting angry I’m working on praying more for the church and the ones I love that they may see with open eyes and an open heart. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment.

    Reply
  6. Chaplain Bill
    Chaplain Bill says:

    What is there not to like? The proof is in the pudding. Let’s see what happens. For me, the challenge is the current crop of legalistic bishops, the legacy of the past two popes.

    Reply

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