Disappointment and Hope in Vatican's Working Document on Synod

The Vatican has released its working paper for October’s Synod on Marriage and the Family, and while the sections on gay and lesbian issues are either neutral or negative, other parts of the document provide some reason for hope.

Called an Instrumentum Laboris, the document has so far only been released in Italian.  From translations quoted news sources, I’ve been able to piece together some of what the document has to say in paragraphs 130-132 which deal with lesbian and gay people.  [My own unofficial translation of these three paragraphs, thanks primarily to GoogleTranslate, follows my signature at the end of this post; you can read the official Italian version by clicking here.]

The 2014 Synod.

The National Catholic Reporter provided the following translation of parts of that section:

“The document contains a short, three-paragraph section on ministering to gay people, ‘Pastoral attention to persons with homosexual tendencies.’

” ‘Every person, independently of their sexual tendencies, is respected in their dignity and should be received with sensibility and delicateness, both in the church and in society,’ the document states.

” ‘It would be desirable that diocesan pastoral projects reserve a specific attention to the accompanying of families with persons of homosexual tendencies, and of the persons themselves,’ it continues.”

Most dangerous is the use of the term “homosexual tendencies.” Gay and lesbian people view themselves as having a sexual orientation which is a fundamental part of their psychic makeup.  Scientific studies acknowledge the permanence and naturalness of a homosexual orientation.  For church leaders to continue to use “homosexual tendencies,”  which seems to connote impermanence as well as simply a controllable desire to act and not a personality trait, reveals a stunning ignorance of the topic, as well as a disrespectful attitude towards lesbian and gay people.  The document did use “sexual orientation” at one point in the document; they should make sure it is always used when it is accurate.
The only neutral parts of their discussion on homosexuality is the recommendations that lesbian and gay people “should be received with sensibility and delicateness, both in the church and in society,”and “that diocesan pastoral projects reserve a specific attention to the accompanying of families with persons of homosexual tendencies, and of the persons themselves,”  Yet, these are bland and non-committal statements, with no substantive or specific details.   Those details will need to be worked out at the synod, and the result could either be very favorable or much more damaging to lesbian and gay Catholics.
Most shocking in the document is the section on Catholic pastors in developing nations being pressured to accept same-gender relationships under the threat of losing international aid money. This statement is a repeat of the same idea which appeared in the 2014 Synod’s final report. Thanks to GoogleTranslate, and my own admittedly limited knowledge of Italian, the section in the new document reads in English as:
“It is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer pressure in this matter [i.e, concerning legal recognition of same-gender relationships] and that international organizations connect financial aid to poor countries with the introduction of laws that establish the ‘marriage’ between people of the same sex.”
The claim that Catholic pastors suffer pressure from international aid organizations to support marriage equality has no basis in reality. There is not one shred of evidence that this dynamic has happened.  Indeed, on the contrary, it has been shameful that some Catholic bishops have supported laws which allow lesbian and gay people to be criminalized for who they are, making them vulnerable to arrest, torture, and imprisonment.
Moreover, this new document does not reflect any of the positive movement among bishops and lay Catholics which has been occurring over the past few years. The example of Ireland voting in marriage equality is a classic example that Catholic lay people want their Church to approach these matters differently.
Additionally, in reporting on answers to the Vatican’s synod surveys, bishops’ conferences have noted that their nations’ Catholics have responded critically of the official negative attitude toward lesbian and gay people.  And, as Bondings 2.0 has noted time after time, there is a growing movement among bishops, especially since the 2014 synod, on finding ways to accommodate committed lesbian and gay couples.
None of these developments are reflected in the document.
So, what is the reason to hope?
One reason is the presence of an unusually pastoral statement in the document which provides an opening for further discussion.  The National Catholic Reporter, which provided the following translation, referred to this sentence as a call to “open-mindedness:
“A style of communication open to dialogue and free from prejudice is necessary particularly with regard of those Catholics that, in area of marriage and family, do not live, or are unable to live, in full accordance with the teachings of the church.”
If bishops and priests take that statement seriously, and actually practice it, the much needed dialogue on LGBT issues in the Church–as well as so many other gender, sexuality, and relationships issues–could truly begin.
I’m also hopeful because, as I mentioned above, there have been many statements from bishops around the globe over the past few months which indicate an eagerness to discuss pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay people, as well as to discussing the idea of a positive Catholic approach to same-gender relationships and commitments.  A number of these bishops will be at the synod, and I imagine they will give courage to others there to speak out more positively on LGBT issues.
More on this document later in the week. It looks like October is going to be an exciting month!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Unofficial translation of the three paragraphs
from the Instrumentum Laboris which discuss homosexuality
The pastoral care of the homosexual person
130. (55) Some families experience having members with homosexual orientation. Regarding this, we raise the question of pastoral care which is appropriate to deal with this situation by referring to what the Church teaches: “There is no basis whatsoever to assimilate or establish analogies, even remote, between homosexual unions and God’s plan for marriage and the family.” Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. “In their regard every sign of unjust discrimination should be avoided.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4).
131. We reiterate that every person, regardless of their sexual tendencies, must be respected in their dignity and met with sensitivity and delicacy, both in the Church and in society. It would be desirable that the diocesan pastoral plans reserve special attention to the accompaniment of families with persons of homosexual tendencies, and of the persons themselves.”
132. (56) “It is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer pressure in this matter [i.e, concerning legal recognition of same-gender relationships] and that international organizations connect financial aid to poor countries with the introduction of laws that establish the ‘marriage’ between people of the same sex.”


9 replies
  1. terryweldon
    terryweldon says:

    A fair appraisal, Frank.

    My own initial response is likewise that it contains both bad news and good news. The bad news, is that it has so little to say about us. The good news is – also that it has so little to say about us. It’s obvious to me that the drafters of the document have no idea how to deal with the issue, and would far prefer that the matter simply go away quietly. It won’t.

    Cardinal Marx is on record as saying that the issue of our unions will be “central” to the synod. That may be overstating the case, but there are many other bishops who will be determined to have some full discussion towards at the very least, greater welcoming. With three weeks of deliberations to come, there will most certainly be extensive discussion, either openly or behind the scenes. The document shows a clear undertone of greater mercy and compassion than hitherto, towards divorced and remarried couples, cohabiting couples, and those using contraception, with an explicitly stated recognition of the difficulties faced by people in real life, and the importance of individual conscience. In synod discussions, the contrast between this more compassionate approach to opposite couples and ourselves will be laid bare.The defenders of the status quo will be forced to find some justification for the double standard – some will conclude that there is none.

    Even if the final synod conclusions so how no advance towards greater understanding and sensitivity, that still will not end the matter. The final say (on the synod) will be in the hands of Pope Francis himself. Even his verdict will not end the matter. We all know how public support for LGBT causes is continuing to grow, worldwide – even in Africa, and by people from all Christian denominations. Lay Catholics are ahead of the bishops on this. This matter will not go away any time soon, no matter how fervently the Vatican bureaucrats might pray that it would.

  2. Karyn Jacobs
    Karyn Jacobs says:

    What would we do without your voice, Frank?! Thank you.

    When I read “tendencies” I felt so discouraged, but then I remembered what the past 30 years were like and I go back to feeling hope that someday they will get it right.

    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      You are too kind, Karyn. It’s not just my voice, it is the voice of so many wonderful Catholics like yourself who are doing so much good that is making our Church a better and better place, despite not having official recognition.

  3. Jim McCrea
    Jim McCrea says:

    I, on the other hand and at 75 years of age, have just about given up expecting anything good on this subject to come out of this next synod …. and from this denomination in general.

    They keep offering too little and too late.

    It’s getting to be time to shake the dust off of my sandals and move on and out.

  4. juniorstopdiscriminationtodaymayema
    juniorstopdiscriminationtodaymayema says:

    Reblogged this on juniorstopdiscriminationtodaymayema and commented:
    The Catholic church in Sydney has sent letters to at least two companies that publicly support same-sex marriage, to express its “grave concern” and accuse them of “overstepping their purpose”.

    The companies said the letter did not change their stance on same-sex marriage.

    Guardian Australia has seen the letter addressed to Steve Walsh, the chairman of law firm Maurice Blackburn, sent by the business manager of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Michael Digges.

    In the letter, Digges writes the church is a “significant user of goods and services from many corporations, both local and international” and reminds the firm that many of its “employees, customers, partners, suppliers” would belong to the Catholic faith.

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    “You are publicly supporting a strategic, political and well-funded campaign designed to pressure the federal government into changing the Marriage Act,” he writes.

    “I wonder whether you have questioned whether it is the role of a corporation such as yours to be participating in such an ­important matter that impacts all of Australian society now and into the future.

    “For corporations to speak on such issues on behalf of shareholders, employees, clients/customers, suppliers and other stakeholders is indeed overstepping their purpose and is to be strongly resisted.”

    An open letter of support posted on the website of advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality (AME) features more than 180 signatories from across the corporate world, include Australia’s big four banks, McDonald’s, KPMG, Qantas, Twitter, Telstra and Airbnb.


    AME’s deputy director, Ivan Hinton-Teoh, told Guardian Australia it was “ironic” a religious institution would consider a corporation’s views on civil law as “overreach” and said with 72% of Australian now marrying outside the church, “reform to the Marriage Act is reform to a civil institution”.

    He said they had not received any negative feedback from their corporate partners due to the church’s letter. Instead, more corporations, including the Greater Building Society, had joined the campaign and it was clear the church’s most recent action “will not have an effect”.

    The Greater Building Society’s chief executive, Scott Morgan, said it was “thrilled” to be joining corporate support for equal rights for all Australians. “At the Greater, we believe wholeheartedly that our diversity gives us strength. We want all of our employees and customers to enjoy the same basic rights.”

    Hinton-Teoh said these organisations “would have considered what the community response was going to be to their support of marriage equality”.

    “And it shows very clearly these corporations are acutely aware that the majority of Australians are now impatient for reform.”

    A 2014 survey by Crosby Textor found that 67% of respondents who belonged to the Catholic faith strongly supported same-sex marriage.

    Maurice Blackburn principal Liberty Sanger told the ABC the letter was “uncalled for” and “a very heavy-handed response”.

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    “Now it may well be that their intention was to try and frighten us into not participating in the debate,” Sanger said. “If that was the objective, well it’s … obviously had the opposite effect.”

    A spokesman from Football Federation Australia confirmed it too received one of the letters and would not be changing its stance.

    Last week a booklet warning that “same-sex friendships” are very different from “real marriages” was distributed to school students around Australia as part of the Catholic church’s lobbying against changes to the Marriage Act.

  5. Jason
    Jason says:


    You missed A LOT within that document that is critical to evaluating it’s stance. Most especially, everything contained within Chapter III, part B (Capitolo III, B). That’s a whole 10 paragraphs. If you need someone to help translate, I went to grad school in Pisa. But you really should look at paragraphs 110 through 120, and more, because it is critical to this analysis.


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  1. […] of organizations which promote equality in Catholic LGBT issues has responded to this week’s Vatican release of the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document of the October 2015 synod on marriage and […]

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