One of the leading U.S. examples of Pope Francis’ style of church leadership is San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy. In addition to echoing the pope’s more gentle and inviting messages, he has also followed the pope’s example by calling a diocesan synod on family life, which took place this past weekend.
When the synod was announced earlier this year, Bondings 2.0 noted that LGBT issues were not explicitly mentioned in the outline of five topic areas (witnessing to a Catholic vision of marriage; forming a culture of invitation to unmarried couples; nurturing children; ministry to those persons who are divorced; bringing spiritual depth to family life in its various forms) but that they could, and should, be included in many of the discussions of the meeting. News reports on this past weekend’s gathering indicate that LGBT issues were, in fact, discussed, including a recommendation for more pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.
It seems that the morality of lesbian and gay relationships was not part of the discussion, or at least not an area that led to a recommendation. But pastoral outreach to LGBT people and families strongly encouraged. According to The National Catholic Reporter, one of the 15 recommendations sent to Bishop McElroy at the end of the synod was:
“[C]reation of a ‘Diocesan Office for Family Spirituality’ that would, among other things, ‘develop resources for parishes to minister to families’ including ‘the divorced, single-parent, widowed, deployed, deported, special needs, multigenerational households, LGBT.’ “
Indeed, a more welcoming approach to a variety of diverse populations seemed, according to news reports, to be one of the highlights of synod discussion. The Times of San Diego quoted both Bishop McElroy and Carol Gamara, a lay synod delegate in this regard:
” ‘Family is everybody,’ [McElroy] said. ‘Our notion of family is an inclusive notion.’
“Gamara of St. John the Evangelist said her own priority was more openness for herself and her parish.
” ‘I know … sometimes my own prejudices have maybe stopped me from welcoming people,’ she said, ‘and I think this has really opened my eyes to embrace and learn from the cultural diversities as well as generational diversities’ in the church.”
The Union Tribune newspaper noted that McElroy would like to see all parishes open their doors to LGBT people:
“McElroy said all parishes need to welcome LGBT worshippers. Some — the bishop cited Hillcrest’s St. John the Evangelist — have developed a reputation where LGBT worshippers ‘feel particularly welcome. And that’s a very good thing.’ “
Another area that the synod delegates recommended was an increased emphasis on the role of conscience in Catholic teaching. The National Catholic Reporter noted the recommendation the assembly made:
“[D]evelopment of education and ‘formation in the areas of conscience formation and the internal forum, not only to implement the pathway to sacramental participation [for divorced and remarried] outlined in “The Joy of Love,” but even more fundamentally to illuminate a core element of Christian discipleship itself.’ “
The Times of San Diego reported some of McElroy’s thoughts on conscience:
“McElroy said a second surprise of the synod was the embrace of the role of conscience in making moral decisions. Parishioners felt that others should be educated about this, delegates said.
” ‘Many Catholics tend to think of our moral life as being rule-oriented,’ McElroy said. ‘Rules are important primarily as a check on rationalization. The real core of Catholic teaching is and always was a decision of conscience.’
“The Catholic Church long has taught that you must follow your conscience, even if it is contrary to church teachings, McElroy said.
“McElroy said: ‘Our rules are not universalized in that they are meant to be guides in a great majority of circumstances.’
“Conscience takes into account a person’s circumstances and their belief that ‘God is asking me to do the opposite’ of church teachings, he said. ‘It’s in major decisions in our lives that conscience can be helpful.’ “
The synod was a response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, which itself was the papal report on the Vatican’s two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015. When Amoris Laetitia was released in April 2016, many commentators noted that its emphasis on the role of conscience was an avenue towards greater dialogue with LGBT Catholics, many of whom have made conscience decisions about their lives and relationships.
More on LGBT issues and the San Diego diocesan synod process in Part II of this post which will appear later in the week.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 9, 2016
National Catholic Reporter: “Theologians praise San Diego’s pioneering synod”
National Catholic Reporter: “San Diego diocese gets ready for synod on family life”
Catholic Moral Theology: “Diocesan Synod on the Family in San Diego: A Time for Discussion, Discernment, Direction”