This post is the sixth in Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.
Not every day here at the synod is an exciting day. Yesterday was a gloomy, rainy day in Rome, and a kind of lethargy hung over the regularly busy city. The same kind of malaise seemed to permeate the daily press briefing, with little information being put forth that was of interest to Catholics concerned with LGBT issues.
At the press briefings, Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi gives an overview of what has transpired since the day before. Today his report was followed by reports from four different sub-spokespersons who reported on what bishops in different language groups said. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is the English sub-spokesperson, and he related a long list of different comments from bishops, though, as is the standard practice, the bishops who stated these various comments are not identified.
Mercy, particularly for those who do not follow church teaching, was a major theme of today’s comments from the bishops, Rosica noted. Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter captured the main highlights of Rosica’s reporting on mercy:
“Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica, who assists the press office with English-language media, said one Synod prelate had said: ‘Mercy cannot be encountered unless it is measured against an eternal law.’
” ‘One must seek truth in order to experience mercy,’ Rosica quoted that prelate. ‘And the church must seek truth when confronting the theme of marriage. Means giving people a challenge; it is not covering reality with giftwrap.’
“Another Synod prelate, Rosica related, had said: ‘Unless we acknowledge openly people’s situations, we will not be able to address those situations clearly.’
” ‘Mercy towards sinners is not a form of weakness, nor an abandonment of church teaching,’ Rosica quoted that prelate.”
” ‘We have to learn how to speak the truth in love in many situations, because in many situations people are completely powerless over what has befallen them,’ he said. ‘And our communities of faith have to be communities that welcome people.’ “
Also speaking at the press briefing was Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, who is the Archbishop of Trivandrum, in southern India, and the president of the bishops conference of India as well as the head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. He explained his own view about mercy:
“When we speak of god’s mercy, we also talk about an openness to be converted by God’s mercy. Persons must be well motivated. The Gospel demands this as a condition. [We say] “The Kingdom of God is at hand, be converted.” Jesus said “I forgive you, but sin no more.”
Taken all together these comments show that there is a debate about how mercy is to be understood going on in the synod. Is mercy something that recognizes reality, accepts that people are sometimes powerless to their situations, and welcomes unconditionally or is it something that “demands” conversion as part of the process?
As far as LGBT issues are concerned, this is a critical point. Will LGBT people be welcome in the Church only if they agree to follow the church’s teaching–which in many cases would be a violation of their consciences–or will they be welcome as they are with their “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community” that last year’s mid-term synod report described?
Today’s press briefing focused on bishops’ comments on the second part of the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document of the meeting. The second part is entitled “The Discernment of the Family Vocation,” and it focuses on more spiritual, rather than sociological or cultural, aspects of family. So, we were told that a great many of the bishops’ interventions covered topics such as the importance of family prayer, the family as a place where suffering is shared and comforted, the family as a school for teaching about love and concern for others, the spirituality of the family, the mission of the family to help other families, and the family as the place where the life of faith is lived out every day, the family’s concern with raising children and protecting the elderly, and the vocation of the family.
What struck me as I listened to all these descriptors of the family is that they are all describe families I have met that have LGBT members either as sons and daughters or as the heads of the household. In describing the vocation of family, the bishops are describing the characteristics of ALL families, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity of their members. I hope that they recognize that even in their own thinking, the issue of procreation and the concept of gender complementarity are not the fullness, or even the lion’s share, of family life. If they would recognize this truth, I think they would be more disposed to welcome LGBT families into the Church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry