Lesbian/gay stories were included in preparatory materials for the 2018 World Meeting of Families (WMF), a potential sign that this year’s gathering in Dublin may be more inclusive than past events, despite a previous story about deleting lesbian/gay references to printed preparatory material.
A video included as part of the “Amoris: Let’s Talk Family, Let’s Be Family – The Joy of Love Six-Session Parish Conversation” catechetical materials featured the stories of Alison, a lesbian woman, and Gemma, the Catholic parent of a gay child. “God’s Mercy – No One Excluded,” the title of the specific session in which the video clip is included, was described as exploring:
“Pope Francis’ understanding of human fragility in the reality of family life, the importance of reaching out to all, regardless of their circumstances, and the priority of God’s mercy in how we approach that fragility. This challenges all pastoral agents and all families to reach out to people on the margins, which Pope Francis refers to as the peripheries. This session also explores the role of discernment in the concrete application of mercy.”
Gemma, the mother of four children, appeared in video clips throughout the six sessions. In session five, she addressed the issue of her gay child, Stephen:
“My son came out when he was 27, and I was quite ignorant at the time as regards to gay people and didn’t really understand. I got involved with a group of parents in the north of Ireland and spent quite a lot of time with them, and those very words – ‘intrinsically evil’ and ‘disordered’ – really upset us. . .I felt hurt at those words, I felt angry.”
Gemma said those words of church teaching which angered her “motivated me to turn my anger into something positive,” prompting her to begin supporting other parents within the framework of the Catholic Church. She described approaching her parish priest about forming a parents support group in the Republic of Ireland. The priest’s response, Gemma said, “really cloaked my story with great dignity” and he then took steps to begin such a group. She commented:
“I know having a gay son has really motivated me to be a better, better Christian and to be much more inclusive.”
Alison, who is gay, also appeared in the video clip and shared her story:
“The fact that I’m gay has never been a huge problem in my family situation. I came out to my parents when I was about 20. I’m not going to say they were absolutely delighted – [saying] “that’s wonderful” – [but] they were amazing, they were very good about it.”
In the second video clip for session five, Bishop Alan McGuckian, SJ, of Raphoe affirmed the principle of gradualism. This approach to moral reflection recognizes the goodness that exists even in situations which are not thought of as ideal, as well as the accepting gradual progress towards that ideal. This approach was considered controversial during the Synod on the Family, so it is notable that it should be includedin these official materials. McGuckian commented on in a gradualist vein:
“We have to celebrate so many people who serve the Church in so many beautiful ways, and who serve the world in so many beautiful ways, and whose lives do not conform to that perfect ideal.”
The video clip is could be evidence that WMF organizers are planning an inclusive event, intentions that were questioned when a paragraph on “other unions” and photos that could be interpreted as LGBT-related were removed from a print booklet that is another component of the “Amoris: Let’s Talk Family, Let’s Be Family” materials. No explanation of their removal has been provided thus far from organizers.
In response to the removal of the references from print materials, former Irish President Mary McAleese and others raised concerns that LGBT people would be excluded. However, at least two bishops have said the WMF should do just the opposite. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna said that same-gender unions were “part of a new narrative around the family in Ireland,” and needed to be included in the event. Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick said last year that, “everyone must be made feel welcome” in 2018.
Beyond including two voices that raised lesbian/gay issues, what is striking in the video series is that, on the whole, there is genuine honesty about how complex the concept of “family” is rather than focusing only on an heteronormative ideal as the institutional Church so often does. Asked to define what family is, one respondent said a place where members “live and fulfill their dreams,” while another said it was a place where someone “feels loved and cared for in all aspects of their lives.” None of the lay people interviewed stressed the traditional heterosexual family in their definition.
This video series’ grounding in reality exhibits creates space for the inclusion of LGBT families. Two voices is a start, and we can hope more voices will be added at the WMF itself so that the diversity of LGBT families and their experiences will be increasingly known to and celebrated by the wider Church.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 23, 2018