Synod Final Report: Not Much Is Said, But A Lot Has Changed

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, on the final report of the Vatican’s Synod on Marriage and the Family:


Bishops and cardinals in the synod hall. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

While the final report of the Vatican’s Synod on the Family has not said much in regard to LGBT issues, in fact, a great deal has changed in regard to the discussion on these topics at the highest levels of the Church.

In paragraph 76, the synod’s final report focused its discussion of homosexuality solely on families with lesbian and gay members in them.  This is a step in the right direction, but it must not be the last step.  The other remarks–disapproving of same-gender marriages, and connecting international financial aid to marriage equality laws–have been stated before and are not surprising in this context, however, it is disappointing to see them repeated.

Most disappointing are the references in paragraph 8 to “gender ideology.”  The remarks show that the bishops do not understand the transgender experience or how people experience their gender identity, which is often received as a spiritual, life-giving revelation. More education in this area is needed in the church, particularly for our bishops.

The reference in paragraph 65 that adopted children should be raised by a mother and a father is also disappointing.  This statement denigrates the many heroic sacrifices made by lesbian and gay couples raising children unwanted by others, as well as the many single parent households raising children, often under very stressful economic and social conditions.

Helping to heal family divisions that exist because of lack of understanding of homosexuality or ignorance of Catholic teaching respecting the human dignity of lesbian and gay people is an important and needed ministry, especially in countries where awareness levels are low. In the United States, ministry with families such as these has been a great, shining hope for LGBT equality, as parents and family members advocate for including their loved ones in the Church.

Last year’s synod opened the door for greater discussion of LGBT issues in the Church.  While the discussion was not as explicit this year, we saw a variety of interesting specific proposals that could eventually have a positive effect on the Church’s pastoral ministry with LGBT people:  a transformation of Church language which has been offensive, harmful, and inaccurate; the need for local bishops to be allowed to respond more pastorally given the unique attitudes and practices of their communities;  the desire for the Church to be more of a listening presence and accompanying friend instead of a disciplinarian rule giver.

We heard bishops willing to speak up for lesbian and gay people, including an apology from the German speaking bishops for the harm that Church.  We heard bishops say that pastoral ministry must go forward regardless of whether a person’s opinions and life conform to the Church’s teaching.  We heard bishops say that the road has been paved for a better discussion of these issues in the future.

Even though this synod did not achieve a stronger statement of LGBT acceptance, the movement for a more inclusive and equal Church for LGBT members can take hope from this meeting because the discussion has moved forward and we’ve heard that a large number of bishops see the need for this discussion to continue into the future.

We are heartened by the proposal coming from one of the English speaking groups, and also Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny, for a totally separate synod in the future on LGBT issues.  Such an endeavor would not only give the time and focus needed to look at the myriad questions involved–including questions of gender identity, absent entirely from this synod– but also to hear, first-hand, from LGBT people themselves, their families, and pastoral ministers.

The bishops at this synod said they want a church that is a listening church.  In 1997, the U.S. bishops, in their pastoral letter Always Our Children, on families with lesbian and gay members, advised pastoral ministers: “Strive first to listen.”  If bishops, pastoral ministers, and all Catholics will follow this sound, pastoral advice, they can transform the church into a welcoming and inclusive community for all, including our LGBT brothers and sisters.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

15 replies
  1. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos Florido, osf says:

    I believe that Francis DeBernardo did an extraordinary job reporting from and about the Synod and he must be praised for such wonderful contributions! I wish I could thank him personally. He certainly will be in my prayers and Eucharist intentions. We are blessed having him as part of the New Ways Ministry staff.

  2. jj
    jj says:

    The sad conclusion I drew from the synod report is that it is utterly pointless to believe the official church magisterium will emerge from its cluelessness about sexuality for at least another one or two lifetimes — if then. Rather than cling to desperate hope for a miracle, it’s time to move on to affirming institutions and places of worship that aren’t so invested in medieval thinking. The Catholic church should be one of the last places anyone would ever consider referring people who are coming out or struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. Never have I been so fatalistic. But I see nothing to be gained by waiting, eagerly, for a few, stale crumbs thrown our way amidst a continual onslaught of slights and disparagements. Thank you and the NWM staff for trying. For me, the message for all of us is clear — it’s time to move on.

  3. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    “Not Much Is Said, But A Lot Has Changed” – agreed Frank, absolutely. There was a report earlier pointing out that Vatican II dramatically changed the Catholic Church, without any change at all to doctrine or rules.

    Damian Thompson at the Spectator is exultant that as he sees it, “The conservatives have won”. His justification for that claim is that no rules have changed. What he completely misses, is that rules are no longer the point. Pope Francis has even slammed very directly those who insist on rigid rules, while overlooking the people involved. On divorce, there’s no change on rules, but strong emphasis on personal accompaniment, and responding to people on a case-by-case basis. That sends a clear signal to the more progressive bishops and priests, that the “interior forum”, and conscience, are key.- and a rebuke to those who want to respond only with recourse to a rule book.

    For LGBT Catholics, progress is less direct, but still there. By repeating existing doctrine on the importance of respect and non-discrimination, while carefully avoiding any repetition of “intrinsically disordered” or “moral evil”, it decidedly shifts the balance from obviously damaging parts of existing teaching, to the much neglected, more positive elements. Furthermore, by deliberately refusing to take a position on the core issue of same-sex orientation and relationships, it leaves the way open for much needed further study, which is now likely to follow – possibly with input from lesbian and gay people themselves.

    I look forward with great interest to Pope Francis; own response.

  4. Tim Sydney
    Tim Sydney says:

    Thanks Francis for your excellent updates and reports! While no major moves as you say, each stipend even the conversations are progress. The Spirit moves in mysterious ways, let’s hope it is not too mysterious and that the conversations and active listenings to LGBT Catholics and their families bears fruit in our respective lifetimes!

  5. Adam James
    Adam James says:

    Thanks for the great reporting, and the hard work by all at New Ways Ministry. And the final report is NOT FINAL. Everything is possible with GOD.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  2. […] of LGBTI People, said of these assertions, recently restated in the Synod on the Family’s final report, “the notion that aid was given on the basis of civil unions is completely false,” […]

  3. […] As with much of Alison’s writing, this essay is packed with gems for reflection, making it difficult to summarize succinctly.  I encourage interested readers to examine the entire text to get the full flavor of his thought.  (For New Ways Ministry’s version of how the synod has already changed the Church, click here.) […]

  4. […] ” ‘The synod’s final report focused its discussion of LGBT issues solely on families with lesbian and gay members in them. . .This is a step in the right direction, but it must not be the last step.’ ” [For New Ways Ministry’s full statement on the synod, click here.] […]

  5. […] for our ” New Ways Ministry isn’t worried. Synod Final Report: Not Much Is Said, But A Lot Has Changed “In paragraph 76, the synod’s final report focused its discussion of homosexuality solely […]

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