Are Voices of Young U.S. Catholics Being Represented at Synod on Youth?

The Vatican’s Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, a gathering of approximately 300 bishops from around the world to discuss pastoral strategies aimed at young people,  begins today  in Rome.  Bondings 2.0 hopes to carry complete coverage of the event throughout October, tracking any developments that are relevant to LGBT issues.  Associate Editor Robert Shine will be covering topics this week.  Beginning on October 8, Editor Francis DeBernardo will provide the bulk of the coverage until the synod’s closing on October 28th.

As the synod gets underway, an important question is whether the views young Catholics will be fairly represented by the bishop-delegates and other participants.  Today’s post will examine the LGBT record of the U.S. bishop delegates.  Tomorrow’s post will look at some of the bishop-delegates from around the globe.

The U.S. will be represented by five bishops elected by the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The five elected bishops are:

  • Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the USCCB;
  • Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice-president of the USCCB;
  • Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth;
  • Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport;
  • Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

Additionally, two delegates were appointed by Pope Francis directly, Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, and Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich. Tobin has withdrawn citing his pastoral obligations to his archdiocese because of the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

This LGBT record of this slate of bishops is overwhelmingly negative, with only a few exceptions to offer hope.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia: Perhaps most troubling choice because of his negative stands on LGBT issues is Archbishop Chaput. This month, the archbishop then published a blistering attack on the Synod which he claimed was written by an unnamed “respected North American theologian.” Included in the attack was criticism of the Instrumentum Laboris, the document which outlines synod discussion topics, for advancing a “false equivalence between dialogue with LGBT youth and ecumenical dialogue” and for distortions of church teaching on sexuality.

Chaput participated in the 2015 Synod on the Family, where he said that “same-sex attraction is not part of God’s plan,” though conceded the language of intrinsically disordered “isn’t useful anymore.” In a newspaper column at that time, he wrote of lesbian and gay people, “do we and they want Jesus Christ on his terms or on ours?” He said the 2014 Synod had “confused the faithful.”

Stateside, Chaput has been incredibly harsh on LGBT issues in the Philadelphia archdiocese. In 2016, the archbishop released guidelines which sought to bar married lesbian and gay Catholics from parish ministries, which he claimed was his response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. In 2015, ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia, Chaput ejected LGBT organizations from hosting programs at a Catholic parish and warned LGBT Catholics against protesting. In past years, he also has implemented a morality pledge for parents of Catholic schoolchildren that includes non-support of LGBT equality, dismissed the concerns of a Catholic mother with gay sons, and said he was “very grateful” lesbian educator Margie Winters had been fired by the Sisters of Mercy. This list of problematic statements and actions against LGBT people goes on.

Chaput has also publicly said he was “grateful” that Donald Trump withdrew U.S. Department of Education guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students, and he signed a poorly-written letter which claimed religious liberty was under attack because of LGBT equality, and another letter which attacked transgender identities as illegitimate. The archbishop’s full record on LGBT issues as reported by Bondings 2.0 can be found here.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston: Cardinal DiNardo’s election as USCCB president in 2016 was a potential sign that strong opposition to Pope Francis’ agenda remained among the U.S. bishops. The cardinal participated in the 2015 Synod on the Family, where he was among thirteen cardinals who signed a letter to Pope Francis essentially criticizing the pope’s handling of the 2014 Synod. Commenting on archdiocesan survey results ahead of the 2014 assembly, DiNardo said marriage equality was not something Catholics wished to discuss. In 2015, the cardinal opposed changes to the USCCB’s document on elections which had been criticized for its fixation on opposing marriage equality and a handful of other issues. In 2013, The Associated Press reported that DiNardo commented on Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment by saying it is really just what would be said about anyone. The cardinal’s full record on LGBT issues as reported by Bondings 2.0 can be found here.

Archbishop José Gomez

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles: Gomez, a member of Opus Dei, an international traditionalist Catholic movment, participated in the 2015 Synod on the Family. His election as USCCB vice-president in 2016 was, like DiNardo’s, a potential sign of sustained opposition to the pope. Previously, the archbishop has opposed the teaching of LGBT history in California public schools.  He also opposed the re-authorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act because it now includes ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes. He has however let the archdiocese’s Catholic Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Persons continue, and allowed LGBT-related sessions at the Religious Education Congress sponsored each year by the archdiocese. The archbishop’s full record on LGBT issues as reported by Bondings 2.0 can be found here.

Bishop Robert Barron

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles: Known for his catechetical media ministry, Word on Fire, Barron is considered by his peers as someone well-informed about evangelization and young people. In a 2017 interview with a gay journalist, Barron criticized a “preoccupation with ‘the pelvic issues'” present in the church, and said church leaders should not keep seeking to reverse marriage equality in the U.S., even if same-gender marriages do have a “negative impact” on society. However, speaking about the need for a pastoral approach to lesbian and gay people does not mean the bishop has translated that perspective into his own ministry. In 2015, the bishop compared the transition of trans woman Caitlyn Jenner to the ancient heresy of Gnosticism which is “just as repugnant to Biblical religion as it was nineteen hundred years.” Elsewhere, Barron analogized trans people to pedophiles, asking, “Friend, just as a thought experiment: would you tolerate someone who chose pedophilia as a lifestyle? If the answer is no, which it must be, then you can’t really believe your own argument that everyone has a right to choose any lifestyle that suits him or her.” The bishop’s full record on LGBT issues as reported by Bondings 2.0 can be found here.

Bishop Frank Caggiano

Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport: Caggiano is the bishop-delegate with the shortest public record on LGBT issues. After the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub, in which 49 people were killed, Caggiano was among few U.S. bishops who recognized the victims as largely LGBT. He said at the time, “There can be no place in our midst for hatred and bigotry against our brothers and sisters who experience same sex attraction or for anyone who is marginalized by the larger society.” The bishop’s full record on LGBT issues as reported by Bondings 2.0 can be found here.

Cardinal Blase Cupich

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago: The U.S. bishop-delegate with by far the most LGBT-positive record is Cupich, who Francis both appointed to the Archdiocese of Chicago and elevated to the cardinalate. Most recently, he removed a Chicago pastor who had led the burning of a rainbow flag, and rejected claims that gay priests are a cause of sexual abuse. In 2017, he invited LGBT people to dialogue saying, “I want to know more about what’s happening in their lives.” In 2016, Cupich was one of the few U.S. bishops to make a statement of sympathy and solidarity to the LGBT community in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre last year.  At the 2015 Synod on the Family, he stated that he thought synod bishops should have heard the voices of lesbian and gay couples at the meeting, and acknowledged that he did exactly that in his own pre-synod listening sessions.  He also spoke out against denying communion to lesbian and gay people, recommending that pastoral ministers respect individuals’ consciences. Newly appointed as Chicago’s archbishop in 2014, Cupich seemed to offer support for LGBT families having legal protections. While still bishop in Spokane, Washington, he weighed in on the state’s 2012 marriage equality referendum in a restrained and respectful that contrasted with many of his U.S. episcopal peers’ engagement with the issue.

Besides bishops, there will be several other Synod participants from the U.S., reported the National Catholic Reporter who are designated by the meeting as either “collaborators” or “observers.” These are: “Jonathan Lewis, assistant secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns in the Washington archdiocese; Fr. Robert Panke, rector of St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington; Sr. Briana Santiago, a member of the Apostles of the Interior Life, who participated in the pre-synod young adult forum in March; Yadira Vieyra, a researcher and immigration assistant in Chicago; and Sr. Sally Hodgdon, superior general of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery.”

U.S. voices were also included in a pre-synodal meeting of young people which occurred last March. At that event, Katie Prejean-McGrady, Br. Javier Hansen, FSC, and Nick López.  Bondings 2.0 reported then that, given each delegate’s background and the fact they were chosen by the USCCB, these conference participants likely did not represent the overwhelmingly LGBT-positive views of U.S. Catholic young people generally. However, the outcome of that international meeting overall was a document to the Synod bishops from young people which called for an honest and transparent grappling with sexuality issues and admitted how many young people reject church teaching on these matters.

Both statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests that not only are younger U.S. Catholics largely supportive of LGBT equality, but mistreatment of LGBT people is a main reason why such Catholics leave the church altogether. A 2016 report from the Public Religion Research Institute found that:

“[T]hose who were raised Catholic are more likely than those raised in any other religion to cite negative religious treatment of gay and lesbian people (39% vs. 29%, respectively) and the clergy sexual-abuse scandal (32% vs. 19%, respectively) as primary reasons they left the Church.”

Citing LGBT exclusion as the reason for leaving the Church was the third most citied reason, after an end in religious belief and not being raised in a practicing family. In short, the numbers show that young Catholics are leaving the church over LGBT issues in great numbers and, unlike their predecessors, not coming back. Young Catholics who remain are demanding full equality and inclusion for LGBT people.

Will these realities be represented fairly at the Synod on Youth? Will the vocal and increasing demands of young U.S. Catholics for justice when it comes to gender and sexuality be given voice? Or will bishop-delegates and other more conservative participants distort reality in pursuit of their own agendas? Thankfully, Catholicism is a global church, leaving space for the Holy Spirit and other delegates to respond to young Catholics worldwide who want more from their church.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 3, 2018

2 replies
    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Will these realities be represented fairly at the Synod on Youth?

    The simple answer is a resounding NO.
    When I saw the list of the five who the USCCB selected to attend, I immediately realized that there was absolutely no hope whatsoever that any serious listening on LGBT youth would even be considered at the synod.
    The inclusion of Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich will unfortunately only present a minority opinion. At least there will be one favorable voice. It is unfortunate that Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin had to withdraw because he would have been another strong favorable voice.


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