Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who previously headed the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote about the synod for his weekly column in The Georgia Bulletin, the archdiocesan newspaper. He interpreted the synod through the lens of a recent meeting with the parents of LGBT children, described as “well worth the wait” and a “superb encounter.” Gregory continues:
“Like parents everywhere they love their children, and like faithful Catholics they also love our Church. Yet they also are deeply troubled to feel that our Church does not love their children, and therein is the conflict that fills and saddens their hearts.
“As parents, they have all faced and accepted the reality of having a child who has openly shared their sexual orientation with them in trust and in the hope of being lovingly received as a son or daughter. As devoted parents, they obviously reacted with concern that their child’s revelation would become the source of hurt and discrimination. They know that it too often does bring rejection and insult to a child that they love and cherish.
“What they hope for now is that our Church will become more loving and understanding of the worth and dignity of their children.”
Gregory admitted that many of these children had encountered a “hostile environment” at church, stemming from language about them that is “unwelcoming and condemnatory” and leading to a lack of welcome. The archbishop writes:
“I assured them that the Church must welcome all of her sons and daughters—no matter what their sexual orientation or life situation might be—and that we have not always done so with a spirit of compassion and understanding. I spoke of the distinction that our Church makes between orientation and behavior, which admittedly needs reexamination and development.
“We are all called to conversion—not just some members of the Church.”
Finally, Gregory laid out pastoral actions that go behind his kind words, including appointing a deacon as liaison for the parents’ group, inviting pastors in to speak about challenges to welcoming all, and celebrating Mass during the parents group’s fall retreat. Gregory concluded:
“I ask all of us to pray for them and their children that we might together discover ways to draw them closer to the heart of the Church—where they belong and where there is always room. I am very glad to know that the Bishops’ Synod is asking these very same questions right now in Rome!”
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, current USCCB president and a synod participant, spoke favorably of the synod sessions to the National Catholic Reporter. He repeatedly noted this synod is a middle step in an ongoing process. To understand the synod, Kurtz appealed pastorally to his experiences as a parish priest, saying:
“My view is that when we talk about people who are in irregular situations…I would approach it the same way I did when I was a pastor doing parish visitations.
“I would enter into the home of someone, I would seek to acknowledge the good that I saw — the good in those people — and then invite them to accompany me to Christ and to a fuller understanding of the church. Even to the point at that point of conversion. And I would always say, ‘Hey, we are all in the process of conversion.’ I come as an imperfect pastor…
“Now, as I think our summary said, this is not in opposition to the beauty of the church’s teachings. No, this is in a sense an affirmation of the church’s teachings. Let’s begin by seeing people where they are, and let’s accompany them to the light of Christ and the fullness of the light of Christ.”
Kurtz also depicted the synod and the whole church’s discussion on marriage and family issues currently underway as a family:
“I really do believe that when a family comes together, a family comes together to discern. Gosh, I hope we don’t always define that as debate. Now, sad would that family be if they didn’t have the freedom to express those differences so that they could come together in truth and charity.
“I guess I’m still hopeful. I feel that the process is doing what it’s supposed to do.”
” ‘The Holy Father is saying we still have to reach out to people who have same-sex orientation. We have to reach out to people who desire same-sex marriage. We can[‘t] just eliminate them.’…
” ‘I think that there are really people who believe, unfortunately, that the church is against people who are or we don’t honor or give dignity to people who are of same sex orientation, and that is not true.’ “
Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger spoke positively about the synod, and added a message to gay Catholics as well, saying:
” ‘We are only at a beginning, but I’m happy to see the Holy Father is willing to take the risk of encouraging people to speak frankly so that no one feels that their voice is silenced.’…
” ‘I like to say to say to gay Catholics, and to all Catholics, and I would also say to non-Catholics as well too to people of every faith, we love everyone, as the person that God created them to be.’ “
These more positive responses are in stark contrast to American bishops’ comments that the synod was “rather Protestant” and the “of the devil,” about which Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday. It is clear, however, that even the reluctant US episcopacy is catching up to Pope Francis’ merciful and welcoming style. Their words ultimately affirm the pope’s comment as the synod concluded last week that “God is not afraid of new things,” with the implication that neither should we be.
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gears up for their November meetings, let us pray the words of the newly beatified Pope Paul VI that these statements will only grow: “Come, holy Spirit!”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry