In May, Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister wrote that the upcoming Synod of Bishops on marriage and family life would be a chance for Church leaders to “do things right.” However, the Vatican’s working paper (in Latin, instrumentum laboris) released this week is leaving many observers and Catholic LGBT advocates with the impression all is not quite right.
The working paper, which Bondings 2.0 covered earlier this week, compiled questionnaire responses from around the world with the aim of furthering discussions at the meeting this fall.
Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic organizations seeking LGBT equality, released a statement expressing its members’ disappointment with the working paper. The coalition members are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry. Thestatement said, in part:
“We are disheartened that the challenges of families trying to reconcile their unambiguous love for their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) family members and Church teachings that are too often harsh and divisive are not addressed…
“The Bishops once again claim that the problem is not that their teachings clash with the Biblical teaching of love, but that Catholics are unaware of the teachings. Catholics are not unaware, rather they have long struggled with these teachings, and ultimately reject them as inconsistent with the Gospel. US Bishops have spent millions of dollars defending their right to discriminate against our families, a fact that increases the alienation of many families from the Church.
“We are living the faith we love and speaking up for the Church we believe in. Celebrating the diversity in our Church is integral to our understanding of a faith that stands up for those on the margins and recognizes the face of God in everyone.”
In a separate statement for DignityUSA, executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke said:
“Many Catholics hoped that the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family would be an opportunity for real dialogue with Church leaders on issues that are very important in our day to day life. Instead, what we see is a rigid adherence to existing teaching, and what we hear are complaints that the people of the Church are misinformed or uneducated. This is a gross simplification and incredibly insulting…
“It fails to show any acknowledgement of the profound love and commitment shared by many same-sex couples, minimizes the realities of LGBT people raising children, and fails to offer any hope to families who love their LGBT members unconditionally, but struggle with Church teachings that are too often demeaning. Furthermore, the bishops continue to show a severe lack of understanding of transgender identities. If they begin to truly listening to our transgender kin, they will learn much.”
Call To Action’s opinion was expressed by executive director Jim Fitzgerald:
“When Catholics heard last year that the leaders of their Church were seeking feedback on the topic of ministry to the family, they responded enthusiastically, sharing their experiences, insights and desires. Catholics believed it was a new moment in which leadership would listen and honor their voices, experiences and wisdom…
“While today’s report is a disappointment, today’s Catholics are not. They do get it: they understand perfectly well the call to love rooted in the Gospel. Catholic parishes, schools and communities across the country will continue to live with love, welcoming our brothers and sisters who’ve struggled through divorce, remarried with love, stood proudly as LGBT persons or used contraception when creating their family.”
While disappointment is a common reaction for many, Francis DeBernardo reminded Bondings 2.0 readers on Thursday that this working paper is not the last word on marriage and family.
Perhaps the wittiest response to this document came from veteran church observer Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, who quipped:
“The document acknowledges that ‘the primary task of the church is to proclaim the beauty of the vocation to love,’ but there is little beautiful or inspiring in this document. If married life is as boring and joyless as this document, I am glad I am celibate.”
There is still time for bishops to listen to Sr. Chittister’s words from earlier this year, when she expressed caution and hope about the synod:
“The first time the church found itself in major public discredit, the reformers of the 16th century were crying out for serious review of both the theology and practices of the church. They railed against clericalism, the wealth of the church, the use of arcane language that distanced the laity from its inner operations and made them second-class citizens, the sale of relics, the conferral of indulgences in exchange for alms, and a theology that left laypeople to be docile and unthinking consumers of a faith long bereft of either witness or spiritual energy.
“The answer of the church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to these concerns was 150 anathemas at the very thought of change.
“Or, in other words, Trent’s answer to the pressure for renewal of the church was more of the same. Only this time, they went even further and added an index of forbidden books to dampen any more of that kind of thinking in the future; the total rejection of the vernacular to make general discussion of just about anything ecclesiastical impossible for laypeople; greater episcopal control; and more and better rules for everything else.
“But the need for change and real renewal never went away.”
Chittister points out that, similarly the bishops are gathering to address the question of reform and renewal and there is a chance to “get it right” in how the institutional Church will respond to a changing world:
“Thinking may be the sign of a healthy group, but it is not the sign of a complacent, tractable or acquiescent group. Once people begin to think together, community sets in, energy sets in, possibility sets in, and new life sets in. For them all.
“Trent’s 150 anathemas were a mistake that lost half of Europe to the church, that divided the Christian community for 400 years, that plunged Catholicism into the Dark Ages of thought, and that left the Christian witness adrift in “the scandal of division.”
“From where I stand, it looks as if we have been given another opportunity to do it right this time. The only question is whether or not the bishops who were entrusted with gathering the answers of the laity to these questions will start at all. Let alone go all the way.”
If there is one hopeful sign in all of this, it is Pope Francis. He has both the ability to influence the Synod towards a more compassionate and inclusive conclusion and the belief that dialogue can help the Church resolve all problems, as he reiterated in a homily last May:
” ‘By sharing, discussing and praying, all problems in the Church can be resolved, with the certainty that gossip, envy and jealousy never lead to concord, harmony and peace. There too it was the Holy Spirit who crowned this understanding and this enables us to understand that, when we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, it leads us to harmony, unity and respect for different gifts and talents’.”
Let us pray that this Synod’s working paper will be treated much like the documents released at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, which were thrown out and rewritten entirely to insure the joy of the Gospel and a positive view of the world were included.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry