Youth Synod Document Shows Vatican Evolution on LGBT Topics

The following is a statement from Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry.

The Vatican has reached three new milestones in its evolution toward a greater dialogue with the LGBT community.

In the Instrumentum Laboris, a preparatory document released on June 19th which lays out the direction for the October 2018 Synod on Youth in Rome, the Vatican for the first time used the acronym “LGBT” to describe individuals with diverse sexualities and gender identities.  Similar to 2013 when Pope Francis became the first pope to use the word “gay,” this change in language signals that church officials are beginning to understand that they have to treat LGBT people with simple respect by referring to them with more accurate terms.

Another significant development is the acknowledgement that LGBT people have a desire to be part of the church.  In one section, the document states:  “some LGBT youth … wish to benefit from greater closeness and experience greater care from the Church.”

This acknowledgement is a welcome change from the hierarchy’s traditional rhetoric that suggests LGBT people are opposed to religion.  As New Ways Ministry knows from over 40 years of pastoral work with the LGBT community, LGBT Catholics have a deep spirituality, often forged by remarkable journeys overcoming rejection, alienation, and marginalization.  LGBT Catholics have stayed a part of the church, despite statements and actions which have offended and hurt them.

A third development is that the document shows that Vatican officials paid attention to concerns about LGBT issues which were raised by youth at a pre-synod meeting in Rome during March of this year, and also from youth around the world who made their views known to the Vatican online. In the Instrumentum Laboris, the Vatican acknowledges that many youth expressed disagreement with the church’s teaching on a range of sexuality topics, including homosexuality. This acknowledgement indicates a realistic perspective on the Vatican’s part, unlike at the 2015 Synod on the Family where only people who agreed with church teaching were invited to address the bishops.

New Ways Ministry welcomes these developments and prays that the Vatican will make real its intriguing acknowledgements of youth and LGBT reality by having an open and free discussion of these issues at the synod.

While these three developments are welcome changes in the church’s style of discourse, it must be noted that there is nothing in the new document which indicates that the Vatican is, as yet, willing to entertain changes in church policy on LGBT issues.  The furthest they have gone is to indicate a willingness to work towards being a “community open and welcoming towards all.”  This pastoral approach is important, but the Church’s outreach cannot end there.

The proof of the Vatican’s openness to LGBT issues will be how these topics are addressed at the Synod itself:  Will LGBT youths be represented as speakers to the assembly?  Will voices expressing dissent on LGBT issues be allowed by speakers who address the bishops?  If the Vatican does not enact such changes at the upcoming synod, the language of the Instrumentum Laboris will go down in history as lip-service—which youth are keenly adept at recognizing.

The National Catholic Reporter has noted that at the press conference releasing the Instrumentum Laboris, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri “said his office decided to make the Vatican’s first use of the LGBT acronym to refer to gay people because the March pre-synodal meeting of young people used the term and his office was ‘diligent’ about respecting the young people’s work.”

Yet, we also have to wonder if this development may possibly be traced to the effect that Fr. James Martin’s book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity has had on church discussions. In that text, which is based on a talk Fr. Martin gave at a New Ways Ministry event, the Jesuit priest asks church leaders, as a sign of respect, to use the LGBT community’s vocabulary for self-identification:

“. . . [R]espect means calling a group what it asks to be called. . . . Names are important. Thus, church leaders are invited to be attentive to how they name the L.G.B.T. community and lay to rest phrases like ‘afflicted with same-sex attraction,’ which no L.G.B.T. person I know uses, and even ‘homosexual person,’ which seems overly clinical to many. I’m not prescribing what names to use, though ‘gay and lesbian, ‘L.G.B.T.’ and ‘L.G.B.T.Q.’ are the most common. I’m saying that people have a right to name themselves. Using those names is part of respect.”

Martin’s book has been praised by church leaders around the globe, including Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life which plays a significant role in the Synod on Youth.  In fact, Farrell wrote a blurb for the book’s jacket cover.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministsry, June 20, 2018

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter, “Synod document takes inclusive tone toward youth who disagree with church

America Magazine, Synod working document: Young Catholics need church that listens to them

Crux, “Bishops’ youth summit to deal with sex, war, porn, LGBT issues and more

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