Trying to Interpret the Language of the Synod

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.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

One of the things that I am learning from covering the synod here in Rome is that there are a lot more questions and perspectives on family than I would have ever imagined existing.    Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, there are a lot more pastoral strategies possible to address this diversity, and some can have an impact on LGBT issues, even if they are not directly intended to do so.

At the press briefing today,  Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, reported on the interventions and reports made by synod English speakers on Saturday afternoon.  Part of the challenge of getting information from the synod discussions is that any materials comes through one of of several language reporters, who summarize what was said, though without identifying who said it.  While not an ideal situations, it must be said that of the four language reporters (Italian, English, French, Spanish/Portugese), Father Rosica is always the most thorough and detailed in his reports, providing what I consider the best information.

The downside is that since we don’t receive the full texts of comments or even who said them, we are left to wonder if the remarks are intended to address a particular issue, leaving us to speculate.

Rosica reported today on an interesting pastoral observation and strategy presented by one of the synod fathers.  The unnamed speaker pointed out that there seems to be a “nothing or all” mentality in the synod, meaning that either the bishops should change nothing about the church’s approach to certain issues or it has to change everything about that approach.

The speaker indicated that neither is a real option, and suggested that the bishops look at a “great scope of pastoral possibility and creativity” available as responses to certain pastoral situations.

Of course, my ears perked up at this suggestion, immediately thinking that there are many creative pastoral possibilities that bishops can institute in regard to LGBT issues.

My speculation that the speaker may have been referring to LGBT issues was confirmed as more was said about this idea.  The speaker suggested that the pastoral approach of proclaiming a Church truth in public,while privately and pastorally bending and being merciful to individuals no longer holds.  He also added another insight: the difference between sin and sinner doesn’t work any more for sexuality.  As I understood this last part, you can’t separate “sinner”  from “sin,”  loving one, while rejecting the other.  Or , to say i another way: you can’t condemn sexual behavior without also condemning the person, or perhaps,  stated more positively, you can’t accept a person, without accepting their sexuality.

Whether or not the speaker was addressing LGBT issues is impossible to say for certain, however, even if he wasn’t, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to see how these concepts are naturally applicable to such issues.

Fr. Rosica also mentioned a number of other ideas presented that seem applicable to LGBT issues, regardless if they were intended as such:

  • For God,no human being is a stranger.
  • The sexual act and human sexuality represent only one part of family and marriage
  • The Church must be  an accompanying mother who reaches out to all

The biggest surprise for me was hearing that a bishop described the need for the Church to recognize that in the contemporary world there are new “family structures,” such as  single parent families, mixed faith families, families separated by migration, families which include caring for grandparents, families where grandparents are the primary caretakers, and–here’s the surprising part–families of same sex couples.  Rosica reported the bishop’s thoughts:

“Many families are simply left out of our pastoral strategies and we have to develop pastoral strategies for the many different situations that families find themselves in today.

“We have to reach out to those that do not fit our traditional categories. New families can no longer remain alienated from the church and the church cannot remain absent from these new situations.”

The diversity of perspectives here has made me realize that there may be a variety of approaches to more positive pastoral care for families with LGBT members.  Pope Francis has said that God is a “God of surprises.”  Perhaps a positive response on LGBT issues from this synod may surprise us all in the creative way it is formulated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


5 replies
  1. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    A friend’s son is living with his girlfriend, and his mom just found out. These “kids” are 27 years old, in grad school and working. The family is close, and has many get togethers. The “kids” make the effort to visit. Yet now, my friend is furious and will not speak to her son. She is freezing them out because they are “living in sin” and “throwing it in her face.” Here is the fact: the son and his girlfriend love one another and are a committed couple. It is my friend who is missing out on many family meals and visits. The son is not changing. He is committed to living with the woman he loves and will or won’t marry when they choose. Her son is the same son as before my friend knew the information about living arrangements. He is an upstanding, caring young man. The fact that he will not marry exactly when and how his mom wants should not ruin their relationship. The church is the same way. Everyone knows the church’s teaching. Some follow the letter of the law, some the “spirit,” some reject the laws. Does a good parent insist on total compliance before extending love and even hospitality? Of course not. The church, like my friend, is missing out on many powerful relationships and interactions by being the “mean mommy.” The natural reaction of a child in this condition is to walk away. My friend would not have to change her view on marriage and living together (she is against living together). Her son knows what she thinks. Freezing him and his girlfriend out only makes him question if his mom loves HIM or RULES more. And even if they “make up,” the son will always remember how his parents reacted and treated him.

    When I used to teach middle school and high school kids about sexuality (or anything, really) I always started with the fact that they can and will make whatever choices they want to make, and there is nothing a parent or educator can do about it (free will, people!). THEN and only then did I say why I thought what I did, how sex for me is a sacred act, and that is is sacred partly BECAUSE it is not shared casually. I talked about the intimacy that is so rare but so beautiful in life. I talked about the 40 year relationship with my husband and how sex with one person can be the opposite of boring. It can also be boring. I tried to tell them that it is the relationship itself that becomes so irreplaceable over a long period of time. And that it is only commitment, longevity and love that creates a truly intimate relationship. Did my kids have a couple questionable relationships? Yes. Are they still great kids/people? Again, yes. They grow up and do better. But they do hear me. They figure it out. And they need me the most when they have made a mistake. They know when they have made a mistake, I don’t need to emphasize this. At that time, they need a hug, soup, and HOME. They need to feel there is a place for them to BE.

    I think this is what the Pope means by the church being the mother. The rules can be the rules, but moms are different in their parenting approaches. My friend who is rejecting her son right now is suffering the loss of a primary relationship. The church is suffering the loss of many who yearn to be able to come home. The question is, can you come home even if you do not do everything your mother asks? Does the love go away? Moms can make their point. But I think it is is tragic for families to give up years of meals, sharing, and communion over a rule. Jesus showed us what to do. Break bread. Stop scolding. Try not to sin and examine what that really means. Be serious about your soul. But walk with and support one another.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] on the family here in Rome.  A few minutes before the briefing began, I received a comment to Monday’s blog post from Annette Magjuka, a regular reader and commenter to Bondings 2.0.  Annette’s comment, […]

  2. […] trying to be a voice of LGBT equality at the synod’s public press briefings every day.  (Click here or scroll down to read today’s report.) We want him to stay there until the end of the synod, […]

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