The Synod on the Family is over and Catholics await the possibility that Pope Francis will write an apostolic exhortation on family life derived from the bishops’ deliberations. Many are curious whether the pope’s document will mirror the Final Report or deviate away towards a much hoped for, more merciful approach. Below are more reactions to the synod, and you can find Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Synod on the Family here.
At the moment, the church finds itself with a pastoral choice according to Jesuit Fr. James Martin. In an essay in Time magazine, he wrote about the church’s current “inclusion problem.”
The choice, in an overly simplified form, Martin wrote, is between a “John the Baptist method” which “asks for conversion as a prerequisite for joining the community” and the “Jesus method” where it is “community first, conversion second” as the story of Zacchaeus displays. The former seeks purification, the latter stress mercy. These are “helpful templates” for the church today, said Martin, who observed:
“As I see it, the movement for Jesus was always from the outside-in. He went out to those who were officially excluded or who felt excluded—in his time, that meant primarily the sick and the sinful—and brought them in. He restored them to the community. This is something the church may need to do more of: welcome, meet people where they are, and listen. Certainly conversion is in order for everyone—including me. But how can we change hearts if we don’t welcome them first?”
The National Catholic Reporter‘s editorial on the Synod highlighted how some voices were absent, including those of LGBT people. This choice to not meet people where they are and listen to stories left the deliberations seriously deficient, said the editors. Commenting on Pope Francis’ desire for the church to journey together, they wrote:
“It is essential to note here that the sense of ‘together’ is yet missing a significant component. . .[W]hile there may have been a more respectful tone when speaking about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, there was no attempt to actually consult members of that portion of the Catholic community.”
The editorial ended by noting the “kind of change possible” in the church after this Synod, saying the final report posits “a radically decentralized understanding of church authority” and “equally momentous change” in bishops’ self-perception.
If and how change emerges from the synod will depend, in part, on how the meeting is received by the people of God, according to one expert. Theologian Massimo Faggioli took up the question of reception, now applicable to synodal processes, in Commonweal where he wrote:
“The reception of councils and church teachings involves the laity and the sensus fidelium: without the laity there is no reception in the synodal Church. But it will be most interesting to see how the reception of this Synod and of Francis’s post-synodal exhortation and decisions will be the fruit of the work of the bishops.”
If legal scholar Douglas Kmiec’s reading of the Synod is any indication, reform-minded Catholics may not gladly receive the Synod’s report or Pope Francis’ possible upcoming apostolic exhortation. He wrote at the National Catholic Reporter:
“The synod’s brief discourse of same-sex marriage is equally hurtful [as its treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics]. It is a cruel hoax to say that the church is welcoming of those of same-sex orientation and yet in the same breath not give any acknowledgment of the poignancy of that human relationship. Is it not an extraordinary act of love for one human being to say to another: ‘I want to walk with you, to be your support, to care for you in illness and to share in your joys?’ That statement is no less extraordinary when it is made between two of the same gender. When the church declares itself closed and disapproving of such relationship, it separates itself from the welcoming nature of Christ, and instead, sets itself up as judge with a standard that is disregarding of the Thomistic advice not to make the perfect the enemy of the good.”
In Kmiec’s estimation, at this point, Pope Francis and the Synod Fathers have answered the question, “Who am I to judge?” with “We will.”
In terms of how the synod will affect the bishops, Robert Mickens of the National Catholic Reporter suggested the Synod’s real outcome was the outing of bishops’ real views before Pope Francis. Such acts clarify what reform in the church will really mean going forward. Mickens explained:
“In other words, the pope has gotten to know the bishops much better and is now in a stronger position to distinguish those who are on board with his vision of renewing and reforming the church from those who are not.
“But if the more than 250 bishops (there were also non-bishop synod fathers) who were at this latest synod assembly are truly representative of the worldwide episcopate, Francis may have a difficult road ahead.”
Worth noting is Pope Francis’ continuing transformation of the episcopate with more pastorally-focused and merciful prelates replacing conservative predecessors. John Allen of Crux notes two such appointments coming just days after the Synod’s conclusion.
In Bologna, Italy, he replaced a hard-line conservative with “Matteo Maria Zuppi, well-known in the city of Rome as a fixture in the center-leftCommunity of Sant’Egidio, known for its work in ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, and conflict resolution.” In Palermo, Francis “tapped 53-year-old Corrado Lorefice, another figure well known in Italian ecclesiastical circles for his anti-Mafia activism, his efforts on behalf of the victims of prostitution and human trafficking, and his writings on the Church’s “option for the poor.”
These replacements, as has been noted from early on in his papacy, may be Francis’ lasting impact on the church and may clear a path for more inclusive LGBT pastoral care.
Sidney Callahan wrote in America about what the Synod means not for the institutional church, but for families and added a historical reminder helpful for Catholic families hurt by or divided over current church teachings:
“The Christian family is proclaimed in Catholic teaching as ‘the domestic church.’ How fitting then that after the recent synod Catholic families can be more closely modeled on Vatican II’s more open vision of the church. Families too can be inspired to be more accepting, inclusive, just and personally responsive to individual conscience. . .
“Unfortunately in the course of human history, Christian values were often distorted, co-opted and overthrown by powerful regimes. . .In many of these struggles those on the side of core Christian values might have to oppose established powers, including the church.”
The Synod’s failure to invite women to participate fully generated much criticism. Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese’s question about why a lay brother was allowed to vote, but no woman religious (who would be canonically equal to a lay brother), written about in America, is one example. As Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson has suggested on several occasions, the Catholic Church will not evolve on LGBT equality without also evolving on equality for women.
Questions of gender justice in the church are certainly worth consideration by LGBT advocates. One adviser, Sr. Carmen Sammut, who heads the International Union of Superiors General, raised an interesting point about the bishops’ deliberations compared with the institutional discernment processes common to women religious’ communities. She told the National Catholic Reporter:
” ‘For me, the weakness for this method was that there was no real time allowed for a real discernment process. . .When you have such very big differences, how do you bring all that together?’ “
She added there was “no ideal family out there,” asking a question pertinent to all Catholics as we come to understand, affirm, and support families in their diversity:
” ‘How do you become free enough to go beyond fear?’ “
So what is next for LGBT Catholics? Will the church, its leaders and its families alike, be able to move beyond fear into the freedom of the Gospel where all people are welcomed, nourished, and celebrated?
GLAAD hosted a Google Hangout recently to discuss the topic of the future of the Catholic LGBT movement in the wake of the synod, welcoming Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA, and Ross Murray and Janet Quezada of GLAAD to the conversation. You can watch the discussion below or by clicking here.
What do you think? Is the choice for the church between the “John the Baptist method” and the “Jesus method”? Will Catholics receive the Synod’s report? Are bishops changing their tone? What is next for LGBT Catholics and their families? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry