This week, Bondings 2.0 highlighted a theologian’s and a bishop’s proposals for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on marriage and family life. Today, we ask you, our readers, what your hopes, fears, expectations, and proposals are — and encourage you to leave them in the ‘Comments’ section below.
In addition, we offer some ideas on the Synod from laity which have already been published elsewhere. In many cases they are frequently framing the question of LGBT issues with the question: are all welcome?
Valerie Schultz writes as the Catholic mother of a lesbian daughter, part of a series of “Family Portraits” written in advance of the Synod, in America magazine. Schultz offers wisdom for those bishops gathering in Rome, as well as explainin why she stays Catholic. Schultz believes ministers interacting with youth should be properly trained in “conscious sensitivity” because:
“Whether a catechist knows it or agrees with it or not, the fact is that some of his or her students are gay. They may be silently struggling. My daughter later related things that well-meaning Catholics had said and taught that wounded her in her adolescence. She believed that God must have made a mistake when creating her, that she was destined only for hell…My daughter heard the parishioners singing ‘all are welcome in this place,’ but she knew in her heart that some did not mean people like her. She still says that she did not leave the church; the church rejected her.”
As for Schultz’s own Catholic identity, it “has been battered.” She was nudged out of liturgical and catechetical ministries and refers to herself now as a “back-of-the-church Catholic.” Schultz’s husband became an Episcopalian, but she remains in the church because:
“I have been abundantly blessed by priests, religious and lay people who have ministered to me with love, which is something that the ‘micro’ church gets right, despite some of the ‘macro’ pronouncements from on high. A point I cannot emphasize enough and the synod must remember: the individual shepherds who actually smell like their sheep, as Pope Francis puts it, and who care for us where we are, are truly the saving grace of the church.”
In Crux, Michael O’Loughlin examines the question of lesbian and gay Catholics themselves and whether there is truly welcome for them in the Church. His article notes the split between the church’s teachings on homosexuality and the pastoral realities in local communities, where some bishops offer same-gender spousal benefits to church workers and baptize the children of LGBT people while others fire church workers and endorse criminalizing homosexuality.
O’Loughlin cites several LGBT people who found parish experiences to be extremely positive, with affirming support groups and accepting communities in whom they could be authentic and even bring their partner. This causes him to ask:
“So if parishes, where most Catholics live out their faith, seem to accept same-sex relationships, does the institutional church as well? Not necessarily.
” ‘I feel that in the Catholic Church as a whole, unfortunately, most gay people do not feel welcome,” said the Rev. Frederick Daley, pastor of All Saints, where the two Marks [two men interviewed for the article] worship.
“Why? Those interviewed pointed to a number of reasons, especially official church teaching that calls homosexuality ‘objectively disordered,’ as well as recent episodes of what they see as discrimination against gay Catholics. Those include the denial of sacraments to same-sex couples, high-profile firings of openly gay employees from Catholic schools and parishes, and continued vocal opposition to same-sex marriage from prominent church leaders. Earlier this summer, a retired Cardinal compared homosexuality to high blood pressure, a condition, he said, that could be cured.”
There is hope, however, in the person and actions of Pope Francis whose famous “Who am I to judge?” remark and other comments have set a new tone on LGBT issues. O’Loughlin concludes:
“Whatever happens in Rome, it is clear that by asking bishops to consult the laity on issues of homosexuality, Pope Francis has raised expectations, and [Mark] Cerosaletti, 56, from All Saints parish in New York, said he hopes for ‘more than just lip service.’
” ‘In keeping with Pope Francis’ call to be a field hospital for the world, the church needs to do a much better job of reaching out to its LGBT sons and daughters,’ he said. Otherwise, he worries, it ‘runs a real risk here of alienating a whole generation.’ “
However, lay voices reflecting the majority of American Catholics’ supportive belief about LGBT issues are absent at the Synod. US Catholic reports that the lay couples chosen to participate reflect institutional thinking, including the former head of the Marriage and Family Life Office in the conservative Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Could clergy, now awakened by the ‘Francis Effect,’ respond differently to LGBT people and their allies, asks one writer in National Catholic Reporter .
As for my thoughts, I offer a historical reminder. The Second Vatican Council was announced by a pope much like Francis who held a positive view of the world and sought to meet modern questions through dialogue and respect, and expectations for the Council were high. Yet, the original preparatory documents offered by those in the Vatican were quite conservative and reflected almost nothing of what was to come. Eventually, they were rejected wholesale by the bishops and new ones drawn up — and these documents like Dei Verbum and Gaudium et Spes launched Catholicism into a new age.
Though the Council and this upcoming Synod are not comparable events, I do believe their contexts are similar and they possess a common gift: the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, I remain cautiously hopeful that this Synod can be a first step towards a more pastoral, more compassionate, more inclusive, and more just Catholic Church. Therefore, my prayer the next two weeks will be that the bishops simply be open to the movements of the Spirit within them, within their meetings, and within the entire People of God whom they should be considering.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry