The Vatican's New Questions About LGBT Ministry

The Vatican has released a preparation document for the 2015 Synod on Marriage and the Family, and, as they did for the 2014 synod, the meeting’s organizers are asking for wide consultation “at all levels” of the Church on a variety of topics, including pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay people.

The National Catholic Reporter described the document, known as a lineamenta:

The 2014 Synod

“The document is part a summary of the last meeting, known as a synod of bishops and held at the Vatican last October, and part a series of 46 questions meant to help prepare for the next synod. The Vatican synod office is sending the document in coming days to bishops’ conferences around the world.

“In its preface, Tuesday’s document states that the questions are aimed ‘an in-depth examination of the work initiated’ at the last synod.”

(An Italian language text of the document is available by clicking here. When an English language version becomes available, we will let you know about it.)

In several spots, the document calls for participation by the laity, perhaps most strongly in this statement:

“The episcopal conferences have the responsibility to continue to examine … thoroughly and seek the involvement, in the most opportune manner possible, all levels of the local Church, thus providing concrete instances from their specific situations.”

As for LGBT issues, the document makes use of the term “persons with homosexual tendencies” to describe lesbian and gay people.  Despite this inaccuracy, the questions that relate to this topic hold some promise for productive discussion and possible changes in pastoral practice, as well as some problems. The document states:

“The pastoral care of persons with homosexual tendencies poses new challenges today, due to the manner in which their rights are proposed in society.

“How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies? What are the responses that, in light of cultural sensitivities, are considered to be most appropriate?

“While avoiding any unjust discrimination, how can such persons receive pastoral care in these situations in light of the Gospel? How can God’s will be proposed to them in their situation?”

The positive side to these questions is that the first three are very open-ended.  They provide opportunities for people to answer freely and from their own experiences.  The emphasis on what is “appropriate” in light of particular cultures allows for a diversity of approaches to be discussed and appreciated.

On the negative side, the final question can be interpreted as pre-supposing knowledge of what God’s will is for this group.  I hope that is not how it was intended, but I also recognize that that may be the way it is interpreted by people who will answer the question.

Another troublesome aspect is the first sentence’s contextualizing LGBT ministry within the context of civil debates.  What I am afraid that this framing will do is allow people to respond in ways which hedge on pastoral ministry because they fear that any acceptance of LGBT people would be an endorsement of a civil or political agenda.  Pastoral ministry should not be hampered in such a way.  Church ministers should do outreach to LGBT people because the Gospel requires that they do so at all times.  They should not worry that their welcome of LGBT people would be confused with any political or social agenda in secular society.

It is interesting that these questions are not focused on pastoral care towards LGBT people, but to families with gay and lesbian members.  I hope that will include families which are headed by gay and lesbian people, and not just families headed by heterosexual couples who have LGBT children.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA commented on the new document in a Religion News Service article:

“LGBT people certainly need appropriate pastoral care that starts from a position of acknowledging our moral equality with all other people, and that accepts the reality of our lives and the families we create. But we are not a problem for the church to solve. We are human beings, baptized members of our church, God’s beloved just as are other members of the church.”

Regardless of the merits or drawbacks of these questions, the real import will be in whether bishops actually do the wide consultation that is called for by this document.  In 2013, the U.S. bishops did very little in terms of consulting the laity in preparation for the 2014 synod.  Now that they have had more time to consider options, they should have no excuse not to do the wide consultation the Vatican requests.  The Bishops of England and Wales have already laid out a process for such a consultation a month ago.  The U.S. bishops could easily emulate their model.

And, of course, we repeat that the 2015 meeting must include Catholic LGBT people speaking for themselves to the synod of bishops.  The 2014 meeting suffered greatly because of that omission.

According to Vatican Radio, there are about four months before the bishops have to submit the results of their consultation to the synod organizers:

“All the results of such consultation must be returned to the Synod Secretariat by April 15th so that the working guidelines, known as the ‘Instrumentum laboris’, can be published before next summer.”

If you do not hear from your diocese or parish that they are taking steps to do consultation, please contact your pastor and bishop and request that they do so.  Better yet,  just answer the synod preparation questions yourself and submit your responses to your local bishop.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


15 replies
  1. Terence
    Terence says:

    The simple fact of the process is extremely encouraging, but I am disappointed by the approach to LGBT issues. “Persons with homosexual tendencies” is offensive, and the emphasis on “families with” such persons will far too easily be interpreted as a reference to our parents and siblings, not to ourselves. The reference to “pastoral care ….in light of the Gospel” would be greatly welcomed – if taken seriously. Unfortunately, the track record of far to many Catholic bishops has been to confuse “the Gospel” message with that of the Vatican ideologues. I also wish that “in light of cultural sensitivities” had been balanced with “…….. scientific knowledge about the nature of human sexuality and orientation”.

    Nevertheless, the call for consultation with “all levels” of the church is important, and a major step forward. It is unlikely that too many bishops will seek specific input from LGBT perspectives, and for those of our community who are not actively involved in parish structures, there will be no automatic opportunity to have our views heard. We should not simply wait for an invitation that is unlikely to come – instead, we should take every opportunity to involve ourselves in the process, even uninvited, by submitting responses to the bishops directly, as individuals and as groups.

  2. Joseph Gentilini
    Joseph Gentilini says:

    I am hopeful that the Synod will recognize that God lives in the lives of LGBT persons, but still doubt that it will be fruitful. The use of the term ‘homosexual tendencies’ makes me leery of success.

    • bwelch3
      bwelch3 says:

      The reference to persons with homosexual tendencies will elicit little or no outreach effort by the Catholic hierarchy or institutional church for synod input by Catholic LGBT persons and their families, nor methods for gathering their valuable lifetime experiences.

      • bwelch3
        bwelch3 says:

        When Catholic Church prelates and agents of the institutional Catholic Church stack the deck by categorizing a whole community as “defective, “ for example “defective creation” “defective heterosexuals” or “non-conforming humanity,” and as “objectively disordered and intrinsically evil” by their nature and being who they are, there is no incentive to engage them in dialogue, or value their gifts, talents, and lived experienc as active participants and contributing members of family life of the Catholic Church and society at large.

        In the United States alone, governing bodies of the Catholic Church, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops and state conferences of bishops, as well as some archdiocesan and auxiliary bishops, have spent millions of dollars to portray families with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transexual (LGBT) children and other members, as well as those persons and their families, as destructive elements and threats to the Church and society at large. Numerous cardinals, bishops, pastors, and clerics have vehemently conveyed a message of unwelcome to LGBT persons, their families, friends and supportive others in the life of the Catholic Church , including removal from employment, volunteer positions, and pastoral ministry, and the denial or withholding of access to the holy sacraments by baptized Catholics.

  3. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    This is another step for the Vatican toward dialoguing with the LGBT Catholic community (all, including those that have found it too painful to stay within the institutional church) instead of about the LGBT Catholic community. I would suggest that our brother Francis receive a DVD copy of Before God We Are All Family and For the Bible Tells Me So. It is my hope that my brothers and sisters in the clergy and religious life will arrive at the place where they honor the graces and promises of our baptism: unconditional love and trust in our ability to hear the voice of God.

  4. Don
    Don says:

    What is wrong with “homosexual tendencies”?

    Homosexual just means attraction to ones own sex and tendencies means an urge to act or feel in a particular way.

    • Ned Flaherty
      Ned Flaherty says:

      “Homosexual tendencies” is the Roman Catholic church’s way of saying that all humans, including all LGBT people, are born heterosexual, and LGBT people just have behavioral problems because they have slight “tendencies.” It’s kind of like getting the gay sniffles during the winter; it’s supposed to go away eventually with proper diagnosis, treatment, and diligence (ex-gay therapy). The clergy always depict non-heterosexuality as an affliction, an addiction, a disorder, and a disease, and they always claim that LGBT people are “suffering” with themselves rather than just living life.

      As proof of how ridiculous this term is, imagine if every non-LGBT person on earth was constantly referred to by clergy as “suffering from heterosexual tendencies.” No heterosexual would accept being described as a mere “tendency” or as “suffering,” and no LGBT person should accept such dehumanizing vocabulary, either.

      • Friends
        Friends says:

        Brilliantly analyzed and stated, Ned! When flat-out genetic ignorance is coupled with blind theological arrogance, we’re beholding a double-dose of human stupidities. We KNOW that sexual orientation is every bit as inherent as one’s genetic eye color, hair color, skin color and dominant-handedness. Hair color can be “dressed up” cosmetically, and I suppose colored contact lenses could be worn — but the other three attributes are NOT amenable to fundamental modification. In fact, I believe the closest analogy is between dominant-handedness and sexual orientation. If you try to force a left-handed kid to become right-hand-dominant, or vice versa, you will drive the child absoluely bonkers, to the point of acute neurosis. The development of stuttering has been observed in clinical studies, as a consequence of trying to change a child’s dominant-handedness. And I would suggest that acute social dysfunction is the consequence of trying to change a child’s inherent sexual orientation. Let children be what God made them to be. Why do theologians have such a problem dealing with what is perfectly obvious to any sane and rational person?


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  3. […] Ways Ministry, another pro-LGBT Catholic group, also responded to the Vatican document, with a blog post positing that “the questions that relate to this topic hold some promise for productive […]

  4. […] Ways Ministry, another pro-LGBT Catholic group, also responded to the Vatican document, with a blog post positing that “the questions that relate to this topic hold some promise for productive […]

  5. […] Ways Ministry, another pro-LGBT Catholic group, also responded to the Vatican document, with a blog post positing that “the questions that relate to this topic hold some promise for productive […]

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