Synod Bishops Offer Little Hope for Positive Report on LGBT Issues

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.

Yesterday was the day that many people had waited for:  the release of the reports of the synod’s 13 small group discussions on the part of the Instrumentum Laboris which contained the three paragraphs on homosexuality.

synod hall prayer

Pope Francis leads the synod participants in an evening prayer on Tuesday. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

The results were not impressive, leaving me to think that Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, England, was correct when he told Vatican Radio that in regard to homosexuality:

“I’m a little concerned that we haven’t faced up to those issues.”

From the small group reports, it looks like there was not much discussion on the topic, with one group acknowledging that they didn’t have time to even begin to discuss it.

Perhaps the most surprising revelation was that one group was suggesting that their be a totally separate synod on the topic of homosexuality–something that, I hope, might finally give LGBT Catholics an opportunity to speak directly to the church hierarchy.

Perhaps the most poignant revelation came from the German language group where the bishops asked forgiveness for those whom Church teaching has harmed, including gay and lesbian people.

The 13 small groups were conducted in French, English, Spanish, Italian, and German.  The following are the relevant passages from the English groups’ reports and the German group (thanks to Michael Brinkschroder for the translation):

English Group A:     Cardinal George Pell, Moderator; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Relator (Reporter)

“We spoke of the importance ofpastoral attention topersons with homosexual tendencies, with special attention to families in which a person with same sex attraction is a member. The Church as the spouse of Christ patterns her behavior after the Lord Jesus whose all-embracing love is offered to every person without exception. Parents and siblings of family members with homosexual tendencies are called to love and accept these members of their family with an undivided and understandingheart. We call on the synod to affirmand propose anew the entirety of Church teaching onlove and chastity. We encourage parents and family members to have confidence in it as they love and accompany one another in responding to the Gospel’s call to chaste living.”

English Group B: Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Moderator; Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Relator 

No comments made on homosexuality section.

English Group C: Archbishop Eamon Martin, Moderator; Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Relator

“The group was also divided on the question of support for families with homosexual members and for homosexual people themselves. Some wanted to delete any reference to homosexuality, but this won little support in the group. We opted for a briefer treatment, but also asked that the final document include at an appropriate point a clear statement of Church teaching that same-sex unions are in no way equivalent to marriage. We were clear, however, that in this Synod we were not addressing homosexuality in general but within the context of the family. We were equally insistent that we address this issue as pastors, seeking to understand the reality of people’s lives rather than issues in some more abstract sense.”

English Group D:  Cardinal Thomas Collins, Moderator;  Archbishop Charles Chaput, Relator

“The section on the pastoral care of persons with homosexual tendencies sparked much discussion. Some members thought that this issue should be removed from discussion in the Synod on the Family. They felt that it’s important enough to have a specific synodal meeting on the topic itself.Some suggested that the wording of the Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 2357-2359 should be used. Others saw that option as possibly damaging the credibility of the Church in Western Europe and North America.”

German Group:  Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Moderator;  Archbishop Heiner Koch, Relator

“At this point a confession is important for us: In the wrongly understood attempt to hold up the doctrine of the church, it happened over again that hard and merciless attitudes appeared in the pastoral (work), that has brought suffering for people, especially for unmarried mothers and extramaritally born children, for people living in premarital and non-marital cohabitation, for homosexually oriented people and for divorced and remarried (people). As Bishops of our Church we are asking these people for forgiveness.”

The German group also addressed the question of gender:

“According to the Christian understanding of the unity of body and soul, biological sex („sex“) and the socio-cultural gender-role („gender“) can be distinguished analytically, but not separated from each other in principle or arbitrarily. All theories, that regard the gender of the human being as a retrospective construct and want to establish its arbitrary exchangeability, must be regarded as ideologies. The unity of body and soul includes, that the specific social self-understanding and the social role of man and woman takes different shapes in cultures and are subjected to change. Therefore, the consciousness of the full personal dignity and public responsibility of women is a positive sign of the times, which is estimated and supported by the church (Pope John XXIII. Pacem in terris 22).”

[If any readers who understand French, Spanish, Italian can scan those reports and provide translations on the sections concerning LGBT issues, we would greatly appreciate it.  You can find links to the various reports by clicking here.]

The  Instrumentum Laboris,  the synod’s working document, focused paragraphs 130-132 on gay and lesbian family issues (The second number in parentheses refers to last year’s final synod report paragraph numbering):

“130. (55) Some families have members who have a homosexual tendency. In this regard, the synod fathers asked themselves what pastoral attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with Church teaching: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4).

“131. The following point needs to be reiterated: every person, regardless of his/her sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his/her human dignity and received with sensitivity and great care in both the Church and society. It would be desirable that dioceses devote special attention in their pastoral programmes to the accompaniment of families where a member has a homosexual tendency and of homosexual persons themselves.

“132. (56) Exerting pressure in this regard on the Pastors of the Church is totally unacceptable: it is equally unacceptable for international organizations to link their financial assistance to poorer countries with the introduction of laws that establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.

From the looks of it, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for any positive message on LGBT issues coming from the synod’s final report.  The Vatican spokesperson noted that there are over 500 amendments proposed to the working document, and we don’t know the details of what these include.  However, since there seems to have been a strong emphasis in the several reports I was able to read, it doesn’t seem likely that a positive amendment would stand a chance of being approved if it should make it to the draft text.

Perhaps, the most we can hope for from the synod is in the area of language renovation and, possibly, allowing bishops more latitude for local pastoral initiatives.  Or the hope that the pope will recognize the need for another synod or some sort of deeper examination on LGBT issues alone.

Bishop Doyle’s assessment, mentioned above,  offers some reasons why the topic of homosexuality may have been given short shrift in the synod:

” ‘It’s a combination of their being too difficult and also the basic theological anthropology, our understanding from the Scripture of man and woman, there is no room for a same-sex relationship. So I think they’re saying, “we don’t know what to do”.’

“He added: ‘We can’t leave people dangling in the air and in limbo. The Lord loves us all and we need to find a way of embracing everyone.’

“Bishop Doyle also said that his synod group ‘is a bit traditional, and I’m concerned there may be a little fear that in trying to explore the possibilities we’re undermining the eternal truths of the Church. And I just don’t think that is the case.’ “

There are still three more days to go and these will be focused on preparing the final report.   Once the bishops vote on the report, paragraph by paragraph, they will present it to Pope Francis on Saturday evening, who will then decide if and when to make the report public.  Last year’s report was made public almost immediately, and, as Cardinal Donald Wuerl told the National Catholic Reporter, it is very likely that such will be the case this year, given the intense focus the synod attracted.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    The church should have learned through the sexual scandals that it is exactly the things that are “too hard” that are most important to address. Pretending that we can have a synod on the family while excluding LGBT Catholics and their families is absurd. Most Catholics will not take evasion as an answer. In fact, evasion means that those in the hierarchy who continue to do harm will be emboldened. If the hierarchy believes that young people will stand for injustice and harm done in their names, they are sorely mistaken. Young people will have nothing to do with an institution that bullies, maligns, marginalizes, and fires LGBT people who only want basic rights: to be accepted for who they are and to be permitted to love and be loved in return.

  2. Donna Ryan RSM
    Donna Ryan RSM says:

    How disappointing this report is, after two years of consultation, prayer, and careful advising, and listening..
    A missing piece was that there was no educational preparation of the Bishops prior to this gathering. A council this important should have had months of reading, video viewing, studying to be informed about current scholarship from sociologists, philosophy of the human person scientists, theologies of forms of commitment, realities that people are living longer, with their development as persons evolving over decades .
    In my religious community, we spend at least a year studying the issues before we even arrive at a chapter, giving us a shared, informed conversation, beginning we explore openly a topic.
    We would never ignore this preparation process in our parishes and religious communities.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] from other regions. The German-speaking group of bishops at the synod stated that the church should apologize to people it has harmed, including lesbian and gay people. Cardinal Marx has also said the church should […]

  2. […] voices.” The German working group which he moderated acknowledged the harm that “hard and merciless attitudes” in the church have harmed marginalized communities that include gay people and urged […]

  3. […] yesterday’s post, I reported on the English and German language discussions of pastoral care for lesbian and gay […]

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