Reports from Synod Working Groups Reveal an Awareness of Sexuality, But Lack LGBT-Specific Discussions

In addition to the main assemblies where Synod delegates give interventions, the delegates are broken up into 14 working groups differentiated by language. Yesterday, each working group released a written summary of what it had been up to during the first week of the Synod. Nearly every group referenced sexuality in some way or another, but LGBT issues specifically were only alluded to in just two, possibly three, reports. All fourteen reports can be found by clicking here.

Some working groups pursued a more traditional line on sexuality. English Group A, led by India’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias, noted that a “proclamation of chastity, as achievable and good for our young people” was not included in Instrumentum Laboris, or Synod working document, paragraphs 52-53.

English Group D, led by U.S. delegate Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, criticized the Instrumentum Laboris for failing “to take into account the struggles of those in many third world countries where economic and medical assistance from wealthier nations is frequently tied to an acquiescence to Western moral values in regard to sexuality and marriage.” Such “ideological colonization” is particularly harmful to the young, the group claimed. This talking point echoes similar statements made by bishops during the Synod on the Family, as well as Pope Francis, but which have proven to be without basis.

Other groups stated only that sexuality was a topic which had emerged and needed to be addressed, but with little additional commentary. English Group C, led by Pakistan’s Cardinal Joseph Coutts, made passing reference to sexuality in that it wanted the institutional church to be clear with young people that they are welcome despite any disagreements with church teaching on sex and sexuality.

French Group C also referenced sexuality, suggesting that the final synod document, which it proposed be an instrumentum conversationis (a conversational document, perhaps including minority or opposing voices), include as one of its proposed six sections “The Body, the Emotional Life, and Sexuality.”

Italian Group A, led by Italy’s Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, recognized how troubles involving sexuality were one of several causes limiting young people’s involvement in the church.

Spanish Group A, led by Honduras’ Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, approved as one of 44 propositions that it is necessary “to reform the whole topic of anthropological challenges and the review of themes like love, sexuality, women, and gender ideology” (but left unclear whether this meant reforming the Instrumentum Laboris’ treatment of the issues or the issues themselves more generally in the church).

Italian Group B, led by the Vatican’s Cardinal Fernando Filoni, wrote:

“”A field in which this accompaniment proves particularly important is that of the affective life and of sexuality, where young people need those who speak to them with clarity, profound humanity and empathy, helping them to recognize the signs of the love of God present in this field [of the affective life and sexuality].”

Two working groups had a wider vision. French Group B, led by France’s Bishop Bertrand LaCombe, offered perhaps the most bold comments on sexuality:

“It now seems necessary to approach the issue of sexuality more openly with young people and to discuss all the subjects related to it. The Church is called to update her teaching on these themes knowing that she is a servant of the mercy of God. In this sense, it might be useful to develop and propose to the particular churches a document dealing with issues of affectivity and sexuality.”

The German working group listed “the challenge of sexuality” as the first item in a list of topics and named conflicts around sexuality and gender as one of three main reasons young people are leaving the church. This group’s call was for a deepened anthropology, or understanding of the human person:

“The question of physicality and sexuality, the digital world, the inability to decide, the longing for spirituality are phenomena that require an anthropological deepening. . .[W]e believe that, given the importance of sexuality, the mere description of the phenomenon and of some of the problems in Sections 52 and 53 of the text is not satisfying. We support an anthropological deepening and orientation for this dimension – with an emphasis on the quality of human relationships.”

Finally, the question of family and its forms surfaced in one working group. French Group A, led by Martinique’s Archbishop David Macaire, encouraged the Synod to emphasize that family is composed of a heterosexual couple open to children. English Group B, led by Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, debated the many other forms of family beyond the “traditional” model, referring to these alternative forms as “non-ideal groupings from the Christian perspective.” Their report asked:

“Does leadership in the Church require bishops and priests to proclaim the Gospel truth by denying that these are families? Or does our leadership require us to accompany the young people in the reality in which they find themselves? Perhaps these are not contradictory realities: St. John recounts that Jesus both accepted the woman caught in adultery and proposed something else. Is it possible for us to both accept and even honour the family unit that a young person finds herself in and to share the Gospel ideal to her?”

As there will be no midterm relatio like the one released during the Synod on the Family, and as the content of delegates’ interventions remain private unless they choose to release their texts, these working group summaries provide perhaps the best insight into what Synod delegates are thinking and doing.

My overall impression reading through the working group’s texts is that, for the most part, the bishops are truly making an attempt at listening to and incorporating the voices of young people. There are still generational gaps, some of which may not be overcome, and some oddities, like when on group suggested church documents include QR codes which lead to special youth chatrooms.  There are, of course, bishops who will keep resisting, holding out for an older version of the church. But the Synod delegates overall seem to be making a well-intentioned, honest effort at getting this right.

In trying to get it right, there appears to be a growing consciousness that, somehow, somewhere, and at some point, the institutional church is going to have to address honestly questions of sex, sexuality, and gender, in which LGBT-specific topics are surely involved. Whether the Synod delegates themselves will get it right on sexuality, and specifically LGBT issues, is not clear, but the working group reports are a small sign that the delegates just might be on the right track.

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 10, 2018

3 replies
  1. Sarasi
    Sarasi says:

    What are the consequences of speaking of ideal and non-ideal families from the standpoint of structure or composition? Is this a legitimate distinction? Is the woman who forgoes an abortion to carry a child to term and raise that child as a single mother with the support of her own family and friends in a “non-ideal” situation? In what respect? Aside from being a huge slap in the face given the Church’s position on the subject, the notion strikes me as overly rigid and ignores the fact that meaning-making is an ability God gave to everyone and infuses all relationships and family types. Additionally, has someone explained to the clerics that people do not learn to be ‘male’ or ‘female’ from their parents–their usual argument for why a family must be composed of a man and woman. This is another myth which assumes that knowledge flows from relational structures, not relational meaning . . . an active ability that is part and parcel of being human.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Synod on Youth
    I know that New Ways Ministry is ever the optimist. However, I do not share your optimism there will likely be little improvement in the Church’s relationship with LGBT youth or adults. Those working groups that did mention human sexuality did so in a glancing way. In other words, they spoke at the issue without addressing it in any concrete way. John Dunning, a Catholic theologian has said and I paraphrase, “In order to address an evil, you have to name the evil that you are talking about.” I believe the same principal applies to the Synod on Youth.

    Describing LGBT monogamous families (as well as divorced and remarried families) as irregular and non-ideal are hurtful pejorative adjectives. May I suggest that alternative families might be more acceptable. I remain open to other suggestions.

    In addition, the bishops are having a one-way conversation with themselves. There is no participation of persons from those alternative families. Or even the youth being raised by such families.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Slam dunk on all of the points you just made, Don. These bishops seem to be jawboning at one another, in a hermetically sealed room, where they have no tolerance for the information and experience offered to them by real families, who are engaged in real lives and real human relationships. Who needs these guys? And who among the laity takes their opinions seriously? What’s their practical usefulness and purpose within the Church, at this point in our religious history?


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