SYNOD: Same-Gender Couples Mentioned in Synod Talk, But Not In a Very Positive Way

The issues of same-gender relationships made its debut at the Synod on Marriage and the Family on Monday in a talk by a married couple on evangelization.  And while it was exciting to see same-gender couples finally mentioned in a Vatican meeting as something other than pariahs, their statement certainly wasn’t a clear endorsement, for which we still wait, hope, and pray.

Ron and Mavis Pirola, who are the chairs of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council, were discussing the challenges of presenting church teaching to the modern world, nothing that  “We need new ways and relatable language to touch peoples’ hearts.”  According to The Vatican Insider, the couple elaborated on this idea:

“ ‘The domestic church’ represented by the family, ‘has much to offer the wider Church in its evangelizing role,’ the couple continued. ‘For example, the Church constantly faces the tension of upholding the truth while expressing compassion and mercy. Families face this tension all the time.’ The couple went on to illustrate this with an example relating to homosexuality. ‘Friends of ours were planning their Christmas family gathering when their gay son said he wanted to bring his partner home too. They fully believed in the Church’s teachings and they knew their grandchildren would see them welcome the son and his partner into the family. Their response could be summed up in three words, “He is our son.” ‘ “

The couple commented on their’ friends’ response by saying that it was

“a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond  to similar situations in their neighbourhood! The Church’s teaching role and its main mission to let the world know of God’s love.”

The welcome, yes, is very important. And it is admirable that they are encouraging parishes to welcome LGBT people as this couple weclomed their son and his partner. But it is hard to interpret what the Pirolas’ silence about the evaluation of the gay couple’s relationship is.  Does it mean that they accept the couple or that they don’t want to talk about the relationship?  It is hard to say.  The clause “the Church constantly faces the tension of upholding the truth while expressing compassion and mercy” makes me think that their intention is the latter.  When “truth,” “compassion,” “mercy” are all in the same sentence in an official church context, it usually means that the speaker does not support the idea of full equality for LGBT people and their relationships.

Ron and Mavis Pirola

The Pirolas’ follow-up example seems to support a conservative interpretation of their statements about the gay couple.  They illustrated their point with a different story, but with another condescending remark:

“A divorced friend of ours says that sometimes she doesn’t feel fully accepted in her parish. However, she turns up to Mass regularly and uncomplainingly with her children. For the rest of her parish she should be a model of courage and commitment in the face of adversity. From people like her we learn to recognize that we all carry an element of brokenness in our lives. Appreciating our own brokenness helps enormously to reduce our tendency to be judgemental of others which is such a block for evangelisation.”

The remark is condescending because it doesn’t at all take into account what the divorced women’s feelings and perception about the situation might be.  The married couple attribute positive spiritual motivations to a woman who may not be experiencing these at all.

Gay and lesbian issues were not expected to make their debut on Wednesday, when the synod addresses “Difficult Pastoral Issues,” which is where pastoral care of families headed by same-sex couples was listed.  Martin Pendergast, a British Catholic LGBT advocate has wondered how the synod will be able to discuss such pastoral care without actually having a same-sex couple or openly lesbian or gay person speak at the synod.  The inadequacy of the Pirolas’ comment shows the problem of having others speak for a group of which they are not a member.  Indeed, they were not only speaking as lesbian and gay people, but they weren’t even speaking of parents of such people, as their example came from the experience of their friends, not themselves.

When Pope Francis opened the synod he asked the bishops and cardinal to speak “boldly” and not worry about offending him.  Although the Pirolas are not members of the hierarchy, their language and examples certainly don’t fit into the category of bold speaking.  Their intervention is one small step forward in that it acknowledged how Catholic families love their LGBT members, but it is a step which also reveals how many steps our Church still has to go to reach full justice and equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


6 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    By the way, in case our pilgrims in Rome haven’t heard: The U.S. “Supremes” just declined to review the decisions of four Federal District Courts, which had STRUCK DOWN the prohibitions against same-sex civil marriages in an additional number of states. According to National Public Radio, the number of U.S. states in which same-sex marriage has now been effectively green-lighted by the Supreme Court stands at THIRTY! Just Google the topic for the most recent news. Now if only we could bottle some of this ever-increasing tolerance and acceptance of same-sex civil marriage…and export it to Rome!

  2. Anthony J Borka
    Anthony J Borka says:

    I think you were too critical of their remark which I think indicated acceptance and they were criticized by the antigay group Voice of the Family for being too lenient and denied Catholic truth,so they think.

  3. Terence
    Terence says:

    I agree that to our ears, their tone is condescending – but we need to consider who they are, and the audience they were addressing.
    Remember that the married couples who are attending were handpicked by the bishops, as supporting and promoting fully approved Vatican doctrines on sex and family. When I read the list of nominees, I was deeply depressed, expecting little of value from them. Coming from them, anything better than a simple endorsement of the Catechism on “disordered”, or opposition to gay marriage, is welcome.
    Also, much as their statement is fully in accordance with standard teaching on “respect, dignity and compassion”, that part of the teaching is too often ignored. If it sounds condescending to us, for many bishops, to whom the words were addressed, it should be an important reminder that in their attempts to enforce adherence to “church teaching”, in many cases they are applying only one half of that teaching, and flouting the other, important half, themselves.


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  1. […] in a recent piece for The Tablet.   At the synod, Ron and Mavis Pirola used the example of welcoming a gay son and his partner to a family Christmas dinner to illustrate the power of family […]

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