Allowing Local Strategies Sounds Like a Good Idea–Except If You're in Newark

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.

Today, I would like to look at a creative strategy being discussed here at the synod in Rome that may bode well for LGBT people. An idea that has been proposed by several bishops in several different ways is to allow for more local decision-making on pastoral approaches to some of the family issues considered more controversial such as divorce/remarriage and LGBT issues.

Bishop Johan Bonny

One of the first bishops to raise this question was Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, who made headlines at the end of 2014 when he became the first Catholic bishop to call on the Church to bless same-sex couples.  In Caelo blog carried an English translation of the text (original can be found here) of Bonny’s synod intervention on October 5th.  Here’s the relevant passage:

“In their local Churches bishops encounter a great variety of questions and needs, to which they must provide a pastoral answer today. Across the world, faithful and pastors have made use of the Synod and the questionnaire to present their pressing questions to the bishops and the Pope. Those questions clearly differ between countries and continents. There is however a common theme in those questions, namely the desire that the Church will stand in “the great river of mercy” (IL 68, 106). It is important that the Synod give space and responsibility to the local bishops to formulate suitable answers to the pastoral questions of that part of the people of God which is entrusted to their pastoral care. The individual bishops’ conferences have a special role in this. The Synod not only deals with ‘the family as Church,’ but also with ‘the Church as family.’ Every family knows what it means to work on unity in diversity, with patience and creativity.”

Michael O’Loughlin of Crux wrote a good article on the subject of local pastoral decision-making in which he connected the idea to changes that have come about since Pope Francis entered the scene:

“For decades, some bishops and theologians have complained of what they see as an excessive concentration of power in Rome, and the need to empower bishops’ conferences and local churches to handle more matters on their own.

“What has changed under Francis is the sense that movement in the direction of greater ‘collegiality,’ meaning shared authority, is possible.”

O’Loughlin also quoted another synod proponent of local decision-making:

“Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila said cultural differences might precipitate the need for various solutions, but always with unity in mind.

” ‘There is unity of the faith, one Church, one doctrine, but the situations differ,’ he said. ‘There was a serious proposal to see what space could be given to the bishops’ conferences to address issues somehow peculiar to them, but always in the light of the common faith.’ “

Abbot Jeremias Schroder, OSB

At today’s press briefing, Abbot Jeremias Schroder, OSB, arch-abbot of the Benedictine Congregation of St. Odile, Germany, said that many proposals for decentralizing pastoral strategies have been raised many times during the synod discussions, especially around dealing with cohabitation and pastoral outreach to homosexual people.  He said that the German Catholic public are very concerned with the issue of outreach to divorced/remarried people, and “that seems to be an area where regional pastoral solutions could be envisaged.”

He then went on:

“I also have the impression that the understanding of homosexuality, the social acceptance of homosexuality, is culturally very diverse and that seems to me very obviously to also be an area where bishops conferences should be allowed to formulate pastoral responses that are in tune with what can be preached and announced and lived in a given context.”

[You can view a video interview with Schroder in which he discusses the idea of local decision making by clicking here.  His discussion of this topic begins at about 1:05.)

I have to say that I have been very intrigued by this idea, and I left the synod press briefing feeling excited by this possibility.  But by the time I got back to my guesthouse room and re-connected my computer, I saw a story that made me wonder if local decision-making is really a good idea.

David Gibson of Religion News Service had posted a story with the headline:  “NJ archbishop sets rules for barring Catholics from Communion.”   Here’s the gist of it:

“Even as Pope Francis and Catholic leaders from around the world debate ways to make the Catholic Church more inclusive, Newark Archbishop John Myers has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.

“In the two-page memo, Myers also orders parishes and Catholic institutions not to host people or organizations that disagree with church teachings.

“He says Catholics, ‘especially ministers and others who represent the Church, should not participate in or be present at religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law.’ “

Myers’ local decision-making shows the downside of a decentralized approach.  It allows local bishops to be exclusionary in their pastoral ministry.   I mentioned this problems somewhat the other day in my post about criminalization laws for LGBT people.  In some cases in the world, bishops give tacit approval or even strongly support such laws, which are obviously opposed to Catholic teaching.  In these cases, it is good for the universal Church to have some oversight to fraternally correct bishops whose policies, pastoral or political, are not in line with Gospel values.

But, as I’m learning here at the synod by hearing so many different cultural perspectives of our universal Catholic Church, solutions don’t have to be binary:  Plan A or Plan Z.  In fact, there seem to be a great variety of ways to approach a problem, more than my puny mind has ever imagined, that’s for sure.  We just need to both trust and facilitate the Holy Spirit by letting all the voices and all the perspectives speak their truths so that we can arrive at good solutions for all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




17 replies
  1. booctsdadttnet
    booctsdadttnet says:

    It is wrong to pass the buck to bishops in Africa or even New Jersey to determine how gay Catholics and their supporters are treated. I have terminated my financial support of the church and am seriously thinking about terminating my association with the Catholic Church. Today we are suddenly quoting specific Cardinals? Gary W. Cox, Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese

  2. Deb Whalen Word
    Deb Whalen Word says:

    or. Philly, or… it goes on and on Frank. While there are wonderful pastoral men in some diocese…there are also some mean spirited, narrow minded folks who can make it even more difficult. While there are some advantages to working within the local culture (isn’t that how we Christianized a few holidays in the early years?) I wouldn’t want some of these guys to have anymore local authority than they are already abusing.

    • Gary W. cox
      Gary W. cox says:

      She’s right. What happened to “I believe in one holy and apostolic Catholic church”? Should that be changed to “I believe in whatever our local Bishop mandates”?

  3. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    A decentralized approach using local strategies to family issues, although well intentioned, will fail. It must fail. There would be one too many bishops acting like the mighty and powerful oz and making people’s lives miserable if left to their own devices.

    A language approach toward change is also being discussed at the Synod and is directionally truthful. Jesus showed us the way to peace, love and compassion. Drop the stones. He also taught us by example to stand up in peace to faith leaders who of their own collective will, try to separate us from God. The Church walls are meant to bring people in, not to keep people out. Church walls are built to make a holy space for us to go and be and encounter the universal love of God. A space to give us healing, joy, and abundant life on earth.

    The language approach is actually on the right tract as a two step process. First, it is necessary to edit the books. For example, the hateful language intrinsically disordered and gravely evil is a devastating language problem with devastating consequences. It needs to go! Toxic words like that don’t belong in the Catholic Church of all places! These words must be nullified, purged from the CDF docs and catechism, pulled out at their roots literally and symbolically to detoxify a once lovely garden now in the throes of decline. Hateful language allows no space for meaningful dialogue. Words like that offer no chance of healing or moving forward. They only fuel discrimination in the world and bring suffering for all of us, even for our Church. Pull out all the weeds that are choking us to death and then step two…

    Lets all stand in the river of mercy together and watch hate float by us.
    Then the answers will come to us through the Spirit of God.

  4. thom
    thom says:

    I have to agree with the previous commenters. What these religious leaders and pastors seem to be proposing is gerrymandering the country’s (or world’s) dioceses into divisive theological-philosophical parties or factions—a proposal that seems as though it could only serve to create diocesan barrios of ideology.

    If the historic-migratory-geographic-demographic trend of the gay individual is any indicator, such a proposal isn’t going to solve any problems, and may only exacerbate lasting unresolved contentions. In other words, gay men and women have traditionally migrated towards larger cities and metropolitan areas where tolerance, acceptance, or even celebration of gay cultural identity and contribution are welcomed. But, the fact that these metropolitan areas become marketable and prolific areas of commerce, creativity, progressivism, and academia[1]…does not supersede the fact that young gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual people RENEWABLY and CONTINUOUSLY find themselves growing up in rural, conservative, repressive, shame-mongering pockets of the country (or the world) where growing up LGBT or being public about one’s sexual orientation or identity can be not just difficult, but dangerous and life-threatening.

    Just because adult LGBT people move to big cities (or as in this proposal, LGBT-friendly Catholic barrios) doesn’t mean the gay gene pool biologically moves there. There will always be young LGBT people in rural areas who need and deserve to grow up without fear and persecution or exclusion. The point being… there is ALWAYS GOING TO BE WORK TO DO ON THE LGBT RIGHTS AND ADVOCACY FRONT. It’s not an issue of intolerance that can be ignored simply by moving to a more friendly parish.

    If we have learned anything from our demographic-geographic-migratory history, why would we emulate it and duplicate it in a Catholic diocesan geographic paradigm?

    I understand that these religious leaders are likely making the proposal out of sheer frustration at being hog-tied to doctrine that disenfranchises them from the fullness of their evangelization of the Gospels. However, I suppose I’m saying that their proposal of “decentralized pastoral strategies” is not a solution at all. It’s just ignoring the fact that we would be allowing some dioceses to continue being bigoted and discriminatory [against what we interpret in the lessons of Jesus Christ to be unrestricted acceptance and fellowship of our fellow brethren]. There is no bravery in that solution. It also hardly makes us a “universal” church if it creates issues of disrespectful doctrinal disparagement from parish to parish (or diocese to diocese).

    If we wish to be activists for the least of our brethren, we ought to think about our brethren EVERYWHERE, not just in LGBT-friendly dioceses.

    It is dreadfully and utterly disappointing that Archbishop Myers would actively enact persecutorial and exclusionary mandates DURING the synod in complete aggressive contradiction with his pope’s plea and prayer for renewed inclusive compassion. It would seem that Archbishop Myers is creating his own barrio regardless of synod conclusions.

    [1] See for instance, Richard Florida’s rather sensational theories in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class (Basic Books, 2002), in which he proposes that diversity—particularly the gay population—contribute to the dynamism of a region’s economy.

  5. Thomas Bower
    Thomas Bower says:

    One Holy Catholic Church. It is hard for the Church to change, but do we really want a different church in each diocese? This has led to the current wink and nod status of LGBT people in a variety of parishes. Life is ok if you hide who you are; is that really living the abundant life Christ promised as a lie?

  6. Dan Moriarty
    Dan Moriarty says:

    VERY interesting. Thanks. Yeah, decentralization, collegiality, etc. have often been used defend repressive practices from those central powers who would challenge them. Think states rights in the civil rights struggle in the US. It’s a legitimate debate. It does seem that a lot of progress has been made by starting local before influencing the national or global. Same-sex marriage is a good example. But it can go both ways, as it has with the death penalty: the feds stopped it, then allowed it again, some states abolish it, while others (like Texas) go nuts with it. And being culturally sensitive and employing a diversity of approaches to an issue makes sense, but it can also be a way of deferring to local authorities on things that should be universally protected, like human rights. There are European cardinals promoting collegiality with an eye toward enacting more pastoral and embracing approaches to things like homosexuality, but they’re also abandoning their duty to challenge their brother cardinals in places like Africa – or Newark! – who think homosexuality is intolerable. Also, it’s interesting to me how conservative voices who always seemed more concerned with universal orthodoxy under previous popes are suddenly concerned with collegiality, now that Francis is promoting ideas that make them uncomfortable. Seems to me that it’s “collegiality” when it’s them resisting Rome, and “cafeteria Catholicism” when others do it.
    Thanks for this coverage, and for presenting this issue, challenging us to weigh the pros and cons of increased collegiality on such pressing and divisive issues.

  7. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    The church must not discriminate in my name. My Catholic faith has always required me to speak up against oppression and injustice. The church must stop discriminating against LGBT people. The archbishop who stood with the Ugandan official who announced the law requiring jail sentences for gays and asked families to turn in their gay children?! How can people of conscience stand anywhere near a church that does this? The Catholic church must fix this, and now. The majority of Catholics are totally against this heinous discrimination.

  8. Gary W. cox
    Gary W. cox says:

    Go ahead and tell people they can not receive communion if they support their LGBT children or friends. See how long the church lasts. Exactly how many Cardinals are homosexual? I have heard half. How can they be so homophobic and hypocritical? I would also like to know how many are celibate. I have a friend in Portugal who tells me many priests in Europe have mistresses. I think the pope needs to clean up the Vatican, a complete overhaul would be better than any apology.

    • amagjuka
      amagjuka says:

      Many behaviors are throwbacks to when women were considered property. All the emphasis on sex, sex, sex is an attempt by the “powerful” men to control the “flock.” People aren’t having it anymore. We know in our guts (conscience) that the call is to LOVE, include, and support one another. Young people will never discriminate because a bishop tells them it is “holy” to do so. No way.

  9. Friends
    Friends says:

    This is the ideal opportunity to post the link to a hilarious broadcast review of the recent Synod shenanigans — including the Vatican official who “came out” in a public announcement!

    In particular, you may want to fast-forward to the last ten minutes of this weekly syndicated GLBT news program, called “This Way Out” — which airs on more than a hundred radio stations around the world. Here’s an archived version of their most recent broadcast, courtesy of Wesleyan University’s WESU campus radio station:

    In this recording, which frames the program’s Synod news report, the fabulous singer-songwriter-comedian (and former Harvard University Lecturer in Mathematics), Tom Lehrer, originally satirized “The Second Vatican Council” with his own brand of deliciously twisted humor. Some sample lyrics:

    Get in line in that processional,
    Step into that small confessional,
    There the guy who’s got religion will
    Tell you if your sin’s “Original”!

    Trust me…unless you completely lack a funny bone, you’ll be convulsed in laughter before it’s finished!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] at Seton Hall University because Hall expressed support for the NOH8 Campaign. Myers released a 2015 memorandum to church ministers saying people in same-gender civil marriages, and even Catholics who support […]

  2. […] divergent–not least of all when it comes to LGBT couples and families.  Germany’s Abbot Jeremias Schroder was one of several synod participants who called for this local option, and he used lesbian and gay […]

  3. […] October, Bondings 2.0 criticized Newark’s Archbishop John Myers for issuing a pastoral directive to his priests instructing […]

  4. […] October, Bondings 2.0 criticized Newark’s Archbishop John Myers for issuing a pastoral directive to his priests instructing […]

  5. […] would be positive for LGBT issues in the church is a question  discussed partially in a Bondings 2.0 post last […]

  6. […] in the U.S. are doubling down in this incident and with Newark Archbishop John Myer’s memo mandating the denial of Communion to LGBT […]

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