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:
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