What’s in a Name? “LGBT” in Church Document Stirs Synod Controversy

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 reported on Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia’s comment during the Synod on Youth that LGBT people do not exist as a category in the church. Since then, a number of Catholics have weighed in on the issue of whether “LGBT” and similar terms are appropriate in church contexts.

Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Building a Bridge on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church, reported that another key Vatican official had defended use of the term. Martin tweeted:

“Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication Paolo Ruffini: ‘Regarding the word “LGBT” in the “Instrumentum Laboris” for @synod2018: This was used explicitly in some of the contributions from episcopal conferences and in observations from the Secretariat of the Synod.’ (My transl.)”

Martin, who has repeatedly spoken and written about the importance of using the names and identities which LGBT people have chosen for themselves, added his own defense on Twitter:

“Why should we use ‘LGBT’ or ‘LGBTQ’ in the church? Because people have a right to name themselves, and this is the name many choose. And there is such a ‘thing’ as an ‘LGBTQ Catholic’ and a ‘transgender catholic.’ They are members of the Body of Christ. . .For those who object to ‘LGBT Catholics’ because it’s somehow divisive to recognize distinct groups within the church: We refer to, e.g., ‘Latino Catholics’ and ‘Young Adult Catholics’ without objection. ‘LGBT Catholics’ are simply another member of the Body of Christ.”

Cardinal Wilfred Napier of Durban, South Africa, who is participating in the Synod on Youth this month, challenged Martin with the following tweet:

“Question is: Why define people by their sexual inclination or preference or practice? Especially when runs counter to Nature, the Church’s Law, Tradition & Teaching?”

Martin replied that using terms like “gay” and “LGBT” is not an “ideology” as some claim, but a way of showing respect. Napier tweeted back:

“Once you use the words: ‘Have the right to’, and don’t state the source of that right, you are invoking an ideology aren’t you? After all you don’t reveal its source or authority, whether from God, the Scriptures, Church Teaching or some United Nations pressure group?”

Elsewhere on Twitter, a gay-negative priest posted a homophobic tweet against using respectful terminology. Commenting on a photo which showed men in drag, he wrote:

“Why is it a mistake to use the term ‘gay’ for Catholics with same sex attraction? Because this is what most people think of when they hear ‘gay’:”

John Gehring, a Catholic working with Faith in Public Life, responded to the priest on Twitter:

“Crazy idea. Maybe a priest has better things to do than mock people using sweeping generalizations. Oh, and when I think of the word gay I think of friends, colleagues and, yes, priests who are people I’m proud to know & who are much larger of spirit than this pathetic tweet.”

Finally, theologian and church historian made an interesting comparison of this debate during the Synod on Youth to Vatican II. He tweeted:

“This ‘don’t use LGBT in synodal documents’ thing reminds me of big taboos at Vatican II-words that could not be mentioned in the final documents of the council: Galileo and evolution. But Vatican II couldn’t ignore change completely (That is why footnotes are important) #Synod18″

The term “LGBT” appeared for the first time in a Vatican document this past June when the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, for the Synod on Youth was published. That document also acknowledged that there are many LGBT youth who wish to have a closer relationship with the institutional church, likely drawing from insights gathered during a pre-synodal Vatican gathering of young people last March.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri

At a press briefing earlier this week, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, rebuked Chaput for publishing a full critique of the Instrumentum Laboris (the synod’s working document in which the term “LGBT” is used) in First Things, a conservative Catholic journal. National Catholic Reporter explained:

“Without referring to Chaput by name, the cardinal noted that one member of the upcoming gathering’s planning council had circulated a theologian’s concerns about the document.

“‘The person in question is a member of the council,’ said Baldisseri, the head of the Vatican’s synod office.

“‘He was present at the moment this text was presented,’ the cardinal continued. ‘If he had some objections, he could have demonstrated them; we would have inserted them, calmly.'”

Included among his many critiques in the First Things article, Chaput said the working document offered a “false equivalence between dialogue with LGBT youth and ecumenical dialogue.”

Baldisseri said he could not understand Chaput’s motives for criticizing the Instrumentum Laboris after its publication.

At Saturday’s press briefing, a young man from Argentina participating in the bishops’ meeting stated both that “The young are witnesses of reality today” and that “Pope Francis trusts in the dreams of the young.” When it comes to LGBT issues, young people truly are witnesses of an evermore inclusive reality in both society and, more slowly, in the church. But they are not only witnesses; they are active participants in creating that reality. In many contexts, more youth and young adults are coming out and at earlier ages. The desire to be known authentically is one of the human person’s deepest needs, and this knowing can only happen when properly expressed. That is why language matters greatly.

Archbishop Chaput and church leaders who agree with his proposal to erase LGBT Catholics from the Instrumentum Laboris do not seem to trust young people to speak well about their identities and their realities. These church officials would prefer instead to keep using the harsh, discarded language of “same-sex attracted” and “homosexual inclinations.” But it seems Pope Francis and Synod officials have affirmed a different course–one that trusts young people by allowing them to contribute not through “church speak” but in their own words. It remains to be seen if that trust will go beyond a linguistic change, which is indeed something, but only a beginning.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 7, 2018

2 replies
  1. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    So Cardinal Napier of Durban challenged Fr. Martin with a tweet saying, “Question is: Why define people by their sexual inclination or preference or practice? Especially when runs counter to Nature, the Church’s Law, Tradition & Teaching?”

    As with the old ban on mentioning Galileo or evolution (which is like removing your rearview mirror to protect you from what it shows), this relentless bossiness (which too many Church leaders think is the purpose of their religion) only drives people away from the Church. Napier’s concept of nature (with a capital “N”) is all about dictating to the world what it must be rather than observing God’s creation (as Galileo did) to learn about it. Unfortunately for you, Cardinal, to quote Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    Picking a fight with science puts the Church on the losing side. Saying this makes the bossy cardinals crazy, which is a large part of what made me walk away at age 14. I am now 62, and glad for voices like New Ways and Fr. Martin, who are not driven by fear. It is in my nature to be gay, and if Napier insists that this contradicts Scripture (as if the Bible is a science text), then I am happy to say Scripture is wrong. Go ahead and show me the instruments of torture.

    Science is still under attack, of course. Does the Church want to align itself with Trumpism? Medievalist obscurantism is its idea of strength? In that case, someone should tell the Augustinians at my alma mater, Villanova, to tear down its science building, named after the Augustinian father of genetics, Gregor Mendel, and tell Dr. Sion of the Astronomy department to put down his telescope. Alternatively, it could stop telling nature (small “n”) what to do and learn from it instead.

  2. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    LGBTQ is not a “word” it’s an acronym. The words are Lesbian, Gay, bisexual, transgender and Queer. We are people and those are the words we want used to describe us, each of us individually. But these men can’t even say word sex without cringing. How did it come to this? If Francis really wants to hear from youth and trusts youth, he better sit up and make it happen or there won’t be any youth left in the church to hear. What a travesty.


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