Youth from around the world have issued a call for the Catholic Church to openly and honestly address matters of sexuality, including homosexuality, and to do so from a Church that is a welcoming place for all people.
Some 300 young people gathered in Rome for the Pre-Synodal Meeting of Young People, occurring in advance of the bishops’ “Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” in October 2018. The young people meeting in Rome, not all of whom were Catholic, released a final document that summarized their week-long discussion, as well as input from some 15,000 youth on Facebook.
In the document’s first section, the authors listed “discovering our sexuality” among “crucial moments” in developing one’s identity. They also called for “rational and critical explanations to complex issues,” adding that “simplistic answers do not suffice.” The document continued:
“Other things that can both shape and affect the formation of our identities and personalities is our experiences with the Church. Young people are deeply vested in and concerned about topics such as sexuality. . .As we grapple with these challenges, we need inclusion, welcome, mercy and tenderness from the Church – both as an institution and as a community of faith.”
Elsewhere in the document, the authors admit there are divisions not only in the world, but in the Church, on issues related to sexuality:
“There is often great disagreement among young people, both within the Church and in the wider world, about some of her teachings which are especially controversial today. Examples of these include: contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, marriage, and how the priesthood is perceived in different realities in the Church. What is important to note is that irrespective of their level of understanding of Church teaching, there is still disagreement and ongoing discussion among young people on these polemical issues. As a result, they may want the Church to change her teaching or at least to have access to a better explanation and to more formation on these questions. Even though there is internal debate, young Catholics whose convictions are in conflict with official teaching still desire to be part of the Church. Many young Catholics accept these teachings and find in them a source of joy. They desire the Church to not only hold fast to them amid unpopularity but to also proclaim them with greater depth of teaching.”
Later in the document, when addressing the manner of how the Church should act, the authors say “an attractive Church is a relational Church,” and one that takes seriously their questions and debates:
“Today’s young people are longing for an authentic Church. We want to say, especially to the hierarchy of the Church, that they should be a transparent, welcoming, honest, inviting, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community. . .
“The young have many questions about the faith, but desire answers which are not watered-down, or which utilize pre-fabricated formulations. We, the young Church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about controversial subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing without taboo.”
Last week, I expressed concern that LGBT issues would not be taken up at the young people’s meeting, especially given the conservative background of the three U.S. delegates. But the pre-Synod document proves to be remarkable and exciting for many reasons. I highlight two here that are the most relevant for LGBT advocates.
First, homosexuality appears twice in the document and this inclusion alone is a positive step. But what is more significant is the young authors’ approach to homosexuality and sexuality in general. They do not reiterate harmful language like “same-sex attraction” or “intrinsically disordered,” nor simply offer “respect, compassion, sensitivity” (though these are important values). Indeed, they reject “pre-fabricated formulations.” Their approach is more humble. It admits the realities that even among Catholics a diversity of views on sexuality exists and that LGBT-positive Catholics still yearn to be part of the Church. Rather than offering stock answers, the young authors seek an open and critical engagement from church leaders that truly grapples with this contested issue.
Second, while specific issues like sexuality, climate change, and racism are mentioned by name, this document’s agenda is much broader. Questions of sexuality must be read in the context of the youths’ repeated calls for the Church to be a place of welcome and to be a pursuer of social justice. The document envisions a Church that is dialogical and relational, that exists in the world, and that accompanies people with loving care rather than judgment. In short, while there is no specific demand for LGBT equality, which would have been a stretch given the global nature of the meeting, there is a call for the precise conditions which will make such equality possible.
Reading this document, I am filled with unbounded hope. The question now is how attentively the bishops preparing for October’s synod will pay attention to the youths’ views, and whether they will have the courage to respond proactively to the young people’s call for an open and honest conversation.