Why Didn't the Synod Have a More Robust Discussion of 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.


Bishops in the synod hall. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

In yesterday’s post, I reported on the English and German language discussions of pastoral care for lesbian and gay people and families with LGBT members. For today’s post, I had planned to look at the reports from the eight other groups, representing discussions in French, Spanish, and Italian.

Unfortunately, I am unable to do so.  The problem is not a language barrier  (Google Translate is always helpful for at least a rough translation), but simply because there was no discussion of LGBT issues in any of the other eight groups.  The only mention came from the “French B” group, which stated:

“We lacked the time to think about the situation of homosexuals in our various societies and different dimensions of pastoral care of the Church to them.”

[Translation, once again, thanks to Michael Clifton of David et Jonathan, France’s national Christian LGBT association.]

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that one English group did not include any reference to any discussion of paragraphs 130-132 (which focused on LGBT issues) of the Instrumentum Laboris, the synod’s working paper.  So, of the 13 small groups, only three English groups and the one German group even discussed the specific wording of the sections on ministry to families with LGBT members.

No doubt the topic came up in other discussions during the synod.  And there’s always the chance that individual bishops submitted amendments about the paragraphs focused on lesbian and gay people.  Still, I think it is remarkable that 2/3rds of the groups did not discuss the topic at all, or at least with enough substance that would be worth reporting.

Admittedly, they had a lot to discuss, so perhaps the omission of such discussions is understandable.  In a recent National Catholic Reporter  column, Jesuit Father Thomas Reese provided a good line-up of just some of the issues that the bishops had been discussing:

“Social and economic factors impact families: unemployment, housing, war, terrorism, climate change, interreligious differences, consumerism, social media, education, and on and on. Every problem in the world has an impact on families, from addictions to political corruption.

“Families are the place where one learns or does not learn the Christian faith, to say nothing of simple moral habits and virtues.

“And we have not even gotten to the theological and canonical issues surrounding families: marriage as a sacrament, annulments, liturgical ceremonies, the family in the church, etc.”

Scores of moral issues surround the family, everything from the sexual act itself to fidelity, abortion, contraception, surrogate mothers, homosexuality, divorce, gender equality, child abuse, spousal violence, and so on.

Yet, I think it is remarkable that in a synod on marriage and family,  2/3rds of the groups did not think it was worth it to discuss what is clearly, by many bishops’ own words, one of the most significant developments in family life in human history:  the recognition and acceptance of same-gender marriage and families headed by same-gender couples.

In one sense, this might be a good sign.  For one thing, if they had discussed the topic, it might have unleashed a barrage of homophobic statements.  Another thing is that perhaps their silence on the matter means that all of the talk about how marriage equality would have such a harmful effect on family life was really just idle chatter. Perhaps the bishops realize that economic, political, and other social and cultural forces have a much greater negative effect on family life than does the affirmation of same-gender couples.

Perhaps some bishops felt that instead of approaching the topic head-on, they stood a better chance of accomplishing some effective reforms by working for other measures that would indirectly create a more welcoming climate in the Church.  Two examples of such measures are the reform of offensive language in Church documents and discussions, as well as allowing more each bishop more local control on pastoral issues on the topics which have different cultural manifestations around the globe.

Yet, by ignoring such an enormous cultural shift as marriage equality, it makes it seem like the bishops are trying to deny its existence.  If that is their strategy, they are doomed to fail in their discussion of the family.  How can they say they are discussing “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World” (the synod’s official title) without dealing with one of the main features of some contemporary families?

Is it because the bishops think the topic is too broad? Is it because they realize that Catholic categories of thought don’t have the ability to discuss this issue?  Are they simply afraid or uncomfortable in discussing it?  Do they think it is not an appropriate topic for family issues?

I have to admit that I don’t know the answer.  I just wish they had shown a little more effort on LGBT issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


11 replies
  1. Brian Kneeland
    Brian Kneeland says:

    They would do well to add one more meeting of the Synod just on LGBT issues and language. Then, perhaps they could come up with a document like the US Bishops pastoral letter of so long ago.

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    Francis, to your closing list of questions, I would suggest the answer is: ALL OF THE ABOVE! But the principal problems are, a.) that the conventional Catholic theological categories won’t even allow for the potential ethical legitimacy of lovingly-bonded same-sex relationships, and b.) these guys, many of them closeted and most of them emotionally frustrated in their own unnatural (i.e., forcibly celibate) life situations, are mortally uncomfortable in considering the subject of intimate relationships which have a sexual component. As in so many other issues, the absurd (and completely unnecessary and arbitrary) imposition of celibacy upon the RCC’s ordained priesthood is the root of this dysfunction. Virtually all other Christian denominations jettisoned mandatory clerical celibacy at the time of the Reformation — because they saw the mischief and mayhem and hypocrisy that it created. Until Rome finally (and much belatedly) gets the memo on this fundamental insight, there will be no deeply reconsidered theology of human sexuality issuing from the Vatican. Which, of course, opens the way for the Catholic laity to “take matters into their own hands” — as they have clearly done, especially on the subject of modern medical contraception. Acceptance of the legitimacy of faithfully-bonded same-sex relationships is not far behind, and is gaining fast, as a matter of common sense and simple justice in the discernment of lay Catholics. As long as these bishops remain virtual dinosaurs in the contemporary world, they will be treated as such!

  3. James BEDORE
    James BEDORE says:

    Hi Frank,

    And it is also possible to some degree, that simply you being there, asking questions and doing interviews, provoked more discussion in the English language groups. Well done. Best, Jim Bedore


  4. Edward Poliandro
    Edward Poliandro says:

    Dear Frank, I read your writings each day as I wake up.Thank you for making us all feel more connected. While I am as disappointed as you are in how this is ending, my view of family life and the bishops as individuals and as regional voices has broadened widely, thanks to you. I do appreciate your analysis below. In New York, we have a strategy: to write to bishops and others who do the right thing.Can you produce a list of the top five who you got to know that would appreciate a thank you note and what they said .Maybe this strategy could even be shared with your elist. Also, I could see you doing a webinar for all of us back home on your adventures. That would be enormously helpful for many and keep this alive , perhaps even allow us to work on a common strategy. Any way, you have done a yeoman’s job in reporting . Thank you for your prophetic presence. Ed

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos Florido, osf says:

    I like Edward approach, even though I believe that almost nothing was gained for the benefit of LGBT persons. My suggestion: Go about your Christian life ignoring the narrow mindedness of the majority of bishops, either by joining RC parishes that are welcoming or joining one of the churches that are open to serving LGBT individuals. The RC is the largest denomination with lines of apostolic succession but not the only one. The Episcopal Church and most Old Catholic churches have similar lines. The RC has in the past recognized that the latter have valid sacraments–not that such recognition is essential. In any case, your calling comes from the Spirit not from Rome. I wonder how many of the RC bishops are (more or less) closeted gays.

  6. Loretta Fitzgerald
    Loretta Fitzgerald says:

    Nothing goes to waste for those who love God. The breath and depth of the nuances and underpinnings you perceive, Frank, are so valuable. Thank you so much for being there and being our voice. I am not discouraged. You have made our presence in the Church known. They can ignore, but they cannot deny it.

  7. John
    John says:

    The Catholic bishops are missing a GREAT opportunity to open the doors for LGBT around the globe.A new frontier awaits The Church!

  8. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    It is hard to believe that the subject was not thoroughly discussed at the Synod. Perhaps one reason is that the bishops found themselves wanting in education thereby diminishing their ability to discuss the topic in any depth..


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