At Synod on Youth, French Bishop Says, “We mustn’t be afraid of sexuality!”

Bishop Emmanuel Gobbilliard, center, at the Vatican press briefing, October 8, 2018

A French bishop participating at the Synod on Youth has called on the church to not be afraid of sexuality, but to instead begin an honest conversation about it and to engage LGBT youth and their allies with a new pastoral model.

Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard, an auxiliary in Lyons, used his intervention on the Synod’s first day to call for a new conversation on sexuality. He explained that during the summer, he listened to many young people. He offered some thoughts from this experience, reported France 24:

“We mustn’t be afraid of sexuality!. . .

“As this synod begins, it is essential to remember how important it is to be able to speak freely about sexuality, for our youths and seminarians to be educated so that they can educate. . .Too often, young people discover sexuality through the prism of pornography or the embarrassed silence of (previous) generations.”

He also told journalists, “Sexuality is no longer a taboo within the Church but it’s still difficult to talk about it in simple terms.”

At yesterday’s press conference, Bondings 2.0 asked Gobilliard what church leaders could proactively do to try and rebuild trust with LGBT young people, as well as their family and friends, who may or may not be active in the church, but who have no desire to discuss sexuality with clergy because they have previously been so excluded or hurt. The bishop replied, in part:

“We are no longer dealing with a crowd that listens to us. We are entering a new pastoral model that is the model of the interpersonal relationship with people. I am also part of those people who need to be saved by Jesus. I am a poor guy like the others, and it is important to situate ourselves [there] as those who teach an absolutely immutable model so people would be able to receive it with eyes wide open. We must enter into the logic of pastoral encounter with each and everyone who is called to happiness, and everyone is called to holiness. Each group is called to life with Jesus, for holiness helps human rights. It comes from God himself. Everyone must be called to enter this relationship. Everyone must feel worthy to enter this relationship. Who am I to exclude someone from the relationship with Jesus?”

Gobilliard’s final question in the text above seems to echo Pope Francis’ famous question about gay people:  “Who am I to judge?”  The bishop also spoke about the question of identity:

“We met with Pope Francis a year ago for an hour and a half. The pope came without any papers and did not make any speech. He simply said, ‘I’m listening.’ He asked us to consider people not as adjectives but as nouns with qualifiers, as people with a personal, pastoral relationship who do not consider the divorced people as divorced and remarried or gay people as gay. . .

“I meet more young children [who] have this or that or that identity. I myself have multiple identities. I am a musician, an artist, I am a French bishop. I am a male but as a person I am crossed by these multiple identities. I am a complex being and I need to be welcomed as I am without being reduced to one of his identities. . .We are all part of those people whom the Lord loves to save.”

After the press conference, I asked Gobilliard if he thought conversations around sexuality need to be informed by contemporary knowledge and science, similar to how Laudato Si used contemporary science regarding environmental issues, Gobilliard, who mentioned he had studied psychology and sexuality, said, “Of course!”

Another synod delegate, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, made passing reference to LGB youth in his intervention last week while apologizing for clergy sexual abuse. He added an apology, too, “for the times when you were searching for your sexual, ethnic or spiritual identity and needed a moral compass, but found church people unsympathetic or ambiguous: I apologize.”

I had the chance to ask him today what pastoral work he might be doing in his own archdiocese when it comes to LGBT youth and what he might hope the Synod would do on this topic. Fisher replied:

“I think very often young people who are struggling in that area [of sexuality] would say either they get a kind of severity from the church or they get such ambiguity they are no clearer after the conversation about how to think through these issues. I think we have to be extremely compassionate and welcoming to young people, and honest with them, too. The church sets the bar high for everybody, not for people of one particular sexuality only. The challenge of chastity is very real as are the challenges of all the other virtues. But this is not picking on one group in particular and seeking to exclude them. If we have some way of communicating that through this synod and through the pastoral life of our dioceses that will be real progress.”

But Fisher was less sure the Synod would discuss sexuality extensively because “there are so many issues.” He commented:

“We’re every country in the world here, so what’s big in the States or Australia or countries like ours is not the first thing on the mind of people who are wondering whether they can feed themselves the next 24 hours or are dealing with educational disadvantage or some other issue. But these [LGBT] are real issues in many countries, certainly in my own and ones like it. I think we can presume there will be some discussion of it.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia argued against use of the term “LGBT” in the Instrumentum Laboris, or Synod working document, during his intervention last week. He sought essentially to erase “LGBT” and related terms as categories in church documents. He will not, however, be present during this second week as he is returned home to preside at a funeral.

Entering the Synod’s second week, it seems sexuality, and LGBT issues specifically, have been getting some “air time,” but remain just one of many issues before the bishops. At the press briefing yesterday, for instance, the vast majority of questions were related to clergy sexual abuse. Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna answered one journalist’s question about what the archbishop would say to survivors of abuse: “Not much. I would rather cry with them. Silence and crying is the first answer.”.

This week, the language-based working groups are fully underway and the Synod examines Part II of the Instrumentum Laboris which touches on themes of states of life or vocations, discernment, conscience, and forms of accompaniment. Whether these will be the basis for the honest conversation on sexuality which Bishop Gobilliard (and so many Catholics outside the synod) seeks is unclear. Will bishops recognize the universal nature of LGBT issues or will they retreat behind Archbishop Fisher’s claim that LGBT issues are pressing issues in just some countries? How they answer that question could very well be a decisive moment in the overall success or failure of this entire Synod.

Throughout October, Bondings 2.0 will provide coverage direct from Rome, where the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment is taking place.  To receive daily updates, subscribe to the blog entering your email address in the “Subscribe” box at the top of the right-hand column of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 9, 2018

2 replies
  1. Kris
    Kris says:

    So far I sense more awkwardness than hostility coming from these bishops towards LGBT people; I suppose this is progress, of sorts. But the status quo for these men is not an option.

    Awkwardness of any kind usually results from ignorance, and ignorance from unfamiliarity. Bishops are not truly familiar with LGBT people , directly, and, more particularly, with loving, monogamous LGBT couples. In fact, I suspect that for most of them their ‘knowledge’ of LGBT people comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, from the ‘clobber’ passages in Scripture, and from those vile words of Pope Emeritus Benedict in such unbalanced documents as his infamous letter, ‘On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons’.

    There needs to be face-to-face dialogue, a series of getting-to-know-you seminars. Little of note will change otherwise.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Ah, yes! Let us remember that “those vile words of Pope Emeritus Benedict in such unbalanced documents” were written by a man who grew up in Germany as a participating member of the Hitler Youth! Fair enough to allow that he had no choice in the matter, as membership was compulsory. Still and all, I would choose to look elsewhere for illuminated and charismatic spiritual guidance. Benedict’s personal baggage is distressingly compromised, to put it mildly.


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