Synod Fathers on Gay Issues Couldn't Be Any Further Apart Than They Already Are

Below is the next installment of 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.

As God rested on the Sabbath, so too do the synod participants.  As a result, there was no discussion on Sunday, and no press briefing.  This pause gives me a little time to report on some of the interviews that journalists have done with synod fathers.

Of course, my interest is in what the bishops in these interviews say about LGBT issues.  It is amazing how far apart some of them are.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, of Munich, was interviewed by German television last week, and The National Catholic Reporter offered highlights.  Of LGBT issues, Marx said:

Pope Francis had met with an opponent of same-sex marriage but had also embraced homosexual partners on his U.S. visit, which many Catholics found most confusing, his interviewer remarked. Views on same-sex partnerships and same-sex marriage differed greatly from country to country, Marx said.

” ‘We must make it clear that we do not only judge people according to their sexual orientation,’ said Marx. ‘If a same-sex couple are faithful, care for one another and intend to stay together for life God won’t say “All that doesn’t interest me, I’m only interested in your sexual orientation.” That is impossible and it is an issue we must discuss — but it won’t be a main subject at this synod. As I have pointed out, the main subject will be the importance of marriage and the family and how to protect them in today’s world.’ “

On the other side, Kenyan Cardinal John Njue, of Nairobi, spoke with Crux, and offered strong words of opposition to any development on LGBT issues that might happen at the synod:

” ‘It is there in the Bible,’ he says, referring to the Church’s teaching against homosexuality. ‘It is clear.’

” ‘I think there is not much option,’ Njue said. ‘There are facts, such as the fact that God created humanity as Adam and Eve. Whenever someone starts running away from their identity, whatever they do will certainly not be the right thing.’

Cardinal John Njue

” ‘If we come to the point of saying that can be changed, there is no logic behind it, with all due respect,’ he said. . . .

“Even while rejecting the idea of criminalizing homosexuality, Njue still insisted on the right of the Church to flag gay relationships as flawed.

” ‘Where there is a mistake, a way must be found to help people who have made the mistake to understand that they have done something wrong and need to turn around,’ he said. . . .

“Africa’s Catholic bishops have sometimes been accused of either ambivalence or silence with regard to such measures, but Njue rejected those charges.

” ‘It’s not a question of criminalizing or condemning, but we have every right to help the person understand that the way you are living is not how you’re supposed to be,’ Njue said.”

I cannot think of two more opposite opinions about gay and lesbian people and their relationships.  My growing sense, though, is that Marx may be right in that homosexuality will not be the major issue of this year’s synod.  My hunch–and it is only a hunch–is that the participants realize that there is little room for negotiation in this area because people’s positions are so strongly held.  If the difference of opinion is obvious to an outside observer like myself, I can only imagine that it is even more plainly obvious to those involved in the private synod discussions.

Marx’s first point, though, is also right:  though homosexuality may not be a major focus like it was last year, it certainly will be discussed.  Last week, an Italian Cardinal insisted that the discussion of gay and lesbian issues is relevant to the family synod agenda.  Crux reported:

Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli

“One of the hot button issues being discussed by bishops is how the Church ministers — or doesn’t — to gay and lesbian Catholics, a topic one cardinal defended.

“Italian Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo scoffed at the notion that synod delegates should stick only to finding ways to promote orthodox teaching about families.

“When asked by a reporter why bishops were discussing issues related to gays and lesbians, he said, ‘This is part and parcel of the family reality for many reasons.’ “

Wise words from Menichelli.  Though the discussion of families with LGBT members, both as parents and as children, will be a tough one, it is not one that the bishops can easily shirk if they want their synod report to have any relevance to the modern world.  And I’m not even suggesting here that doctrinal change be debated, since obviously that is a non-starter at this point.  But there are so many pastoral challenges that bishops can address related to LGBT people, and they are challenges for which bishops, priests, and other church leaders need guidance.

I outlined some of these challenges in an interview this week with Crux’s Michael O’Loughlin, and so I will simply provide some excerpts from that report to detail what I think the Church needs:

” ‘A change in language and a change in pastoral practice are needed because justice demands it,’ [Francis DeBernardo] says. ‘Justice and Christian charity demand it.’

‘ ‘We have people being excluded from Communion, being excluded from being godparents, being fired from jobs because they marry, being denied leadership roles in parish communities, being excluded at funerals of their relatives,’ he said. ‘Any positive step on issues like that would be wonderful.’

” ‘A success would be a statement of unconditional welcome to LGBT people. That’s needed right now [because] while there is welcome in some areas, there are so many places where officially they are not welcome,’ he said. ‘A statement of unconditional welcome is so needed, and if that’s all we get from the synod, that will still be a success.’

” ‘When I say unconditional, I don’t mean, “We welcome people who follow the teaching of the Church,” or ‘We welcome people but we don’t accept their lifestyle,” ‘ he said. . . .

“But he said the larger issue is ministering to the increasing number of Catholic families who accept their gay and lesbian relatives.

” ‘The Church is faced with a pastoral problem of not just reaching out to gay and lesbian people, but reaching out to people who support and love them,’ he said. ‘That’s particularly true with the younger generation. They are going to lose the entire younger generation if they keep having the harsh and divisive rhetoric of homophobia, regardless of their orientation.’ “

I couldn’t have said it better myself!  Wait a minute. . .    🙂

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



10 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    You wrote: “They are going to lose the entire younger generation if they keep having the harsh and divisive rhetoric of homophobia, regardless of their orientation.“ BINGO! That’s got to be one of the most true and prescient statements ever made here. I’m already seeing it among the professing Catholic young people at our University’s Cardinal Newman Catholic Center. They have no problem whatsoever relating to their GLBT classmates in solidarity as very close friends and generational peers. Any attempt by the clerical leadership or student peer ministers to criticize loving same-sex relationships as “intrinsically disordered” would be met with anger and fierce resistance, to say the least. The question for Church leadership is whether it wants to continue hammering a “party line” that an entire younger generation — especially among its university-educated cohort — finds completely unjust and unacceptable. (I suspect they also feel the same way about the prudent use of medical birth control by heterosexual couples — but that’s a whole other “hot button” topic!) Bottom line: if the Church refuses to listen to the inner wisdom and spiritual guidance of its still-faithfully-committed younger generation, there won’t be much left of a functioning Church per se, in another 100 to 150 years.

  2. ermadurk
    ermadurk says:

    I was just about to quote the same portion posted above. I have found it to be so true. Rejection by the church of one GLBT member of a catholic family that cherishes each of their children, will either alienate them from the Church, or, motivate the parents to a sincere, and relentless activism to help the Bishops understand what sad effects their negative statements have on GLBT persons and their families. This is such a valuable posting; I hope more busy people take the time to read it.

  3. Lydia Lombardo
    Lydia Lombardo says:

    One more Catholic of the very older generation: I am also affirming what the last two commentators brought up. For me, this is the most important issue to consider: keeping this younger generation Catholic. And it’s not going to happen if the church rejects their GLBT friends and continues to make getting married a hassle. I keep reading about marriage preparation and how more time is needed to make sure couples are steeped in the church’s teaching( contraceptive no-no, disordered Gays, etc.) because that is what’s happening. My grandchildren do not find the institutional church relevant to them and the strict adherence to getting married at a certain time and in church drives them away. Most of my grandchildren are now in college and, indeed they are the next generation and we are about to lose them. And yes, all but one was catechized. And yes, our extended family (nephews) already have gay members who have been welcomed unconditionally by all of us. Can the church do less? Thank you for the article and wonderful comments. Grandma is heartsick because the Faith handed down for generations is about to disappear from our family…. and the greater church family.

  4. Friends
    Friends says:

    And let me add my profound thanks to all of our responders! I had wanted to share with everyone an absolutely luminous and very pertinent song by the Christian-identified Canadian singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn. The song is called “God Bless The Children” — and many versions of it were once available on YouTube. But YouTube is now blocking just about everything that was ever released commercially. thus rendering the once popular service completely useless. Nonetheless, you can find the song lyrics here:

    If the lyrics intrigue or move you, e-mail me at and I’ll gladly return you a copy of my own .mp3 of Bruce’s live performance, from the mid-1970s.

  5. matt n
    matt n says:

    it was much better for gay catholics when i was younger. the issue got more difficult because the jp2 and benedict papacies adopted the “intrinsic disorder” language and felt it necessary to actively speak out against gay people. they created this problem and it has come back to bite them. they failed to realize that almost all catholics don’t like the church calling their gay relatives sick. it’s incumbent upon the synod fathers to drop the intrinsic disorder language immediately. that’s the best thing they can do for us, and for themselves. those two words are a huge barrier to catholics feeling good about the church again. they will not bring back catholics until they repudiate those words completely.

  6. Sue St Louis
    Sue St Louis says:

    ‘We have people being excluded from Communion, being excluded from being godparents, being fired from jobs because they marry, being denied leadership roles in parish communities, being excluded at funerals of their relatives,’ he said. ‘Any positive step on issues like that would be wonderful.’
    Thank you, Frank. I agree. Our story…
    Being told, minutes before my partner’s mother’s funeral, that I and my partner were not to recieve communion, the family rallied in support of us. My partner’s two siblings, and their wives, we, and the 6 grandchildren, approached the young priest, at the funeral mass, crossed our arms and refused cummunion. The hundreds of friends and relatives that have been appalled by the callousness of this priest, has helped to ease the pain, but there has been no apology from the parish priest, or the bishop (Rochester, NY). On the contrary, all we have been given, is lectures on the sanctity of marraige between a man and a woman. We chose not to go public with this issue, and went though church channels. That might have been a mistake. This happened a few weeks before the Pope’s visit to our country. This priest was on a witch hunt, and he needs to be stopped. He ripped us apart, and has suceeded in ripping an entire family away from the Church.
    Were do we go from here?


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  1. […] interviews during and after the Synod, Marx said God would not focus solely on a person’s sexual orientation, but on whether people in same-gender relationships were “faithful, care for one another and […]

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