(At the end of today’s post is a link for a petition calling for women to have equal voting rights at the synod. Please see below to add your signature to this effort which New Ways Ministry is co-sponsoring!)
Yesterday’s press briefing at the Vatican’s Synod on Youth featured one of the most well-known U.S. auxiliary bishops: Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles. Bishop Barron had a long career in producing media and resources for evangelizing people, and is seen by many as having a successful way of communicating with youth.
During his statement at the press briefing, Barron talked about the church’s challenge to reach out to the “nones,” the large segment of the youth population who belong to no formal church or religious institution. This demographic, named because they mark “none” on questionnaires which ask about their religious affiliation, has been the object of much research and discussion in church circles over the past five years. Many of them have reported that churches’ negative messages about LGBT people are one of the main reasons that they are alienated from religious structures.
In a 2017 television interview, Bishop Barron tried to repair the relationship between young people and the Catholic Church over LGBT issues by saying that “message one” to lesbian and gay people should be:
“You are a beloved child of God, who has been embraced by the mercy of Jesus Christ and invited to a full share of the divine life. You’re a son of God, called to eternal life.”
Barron went on to say that the starting point for engagement with gay people should be inclusion, in the way Pope Francis has been modeling.
So today, during the question and answer period, I asked Bishop Barron that given the way youth perceive the Church as being negative towards LGBT people, and given that he has stressed the need for love and inclusion, did he think it would have been good to extend that message of inclusion to the synod itself by inviting Catholic youth who are LGBT to be among the young people participating in the synod discussions.
Bishop Barron responded by saying that he would reaffirm his 2017 message that “The church’s first move in regard to everybody,” including gay and lesbian people “is to reach out and say just that, ‘You’re a beloved child of God.’ ”
However, he then added to his 2017 message by stating, “Having said that, the church also calls people to conversion. So, Jesus calls but then he always moves people to fullness of life. And so, the church also has a set of moral demands to everybody and it calls them to conversion.”
He further elaborated:
“My hesitation is that inclusion is more of a secular term. I’d use the word love. The church reaches out in love, and love is willing the good of the other. Sometimes that means calling people to a change of life. So I think that’s where the church’s attitude is situated is including both those moments, of course outreach and love, but acceptance and inclusion doesn’t mean we don’t call to conversion.”
He then concluded by saying: “[As for ] the presence of gays and lesbians here, I really couldn’t comment. I’m not sure how that decision was made or not made.”
At the press briefings, journalists don’t have the opportunity for a follow-up question, but if we did, I would have pointed out that his final remark didn’t really answer my question. I hadn’t asked why gay and lesbian young people were not given a chance to participate in the synod. I asked him if would have liked to see them included. I didn’t ask about the process (which is how he answered), I asked his opinion (which he didn’t give). At a press conference at the synod on the family in 2015, I asked then-Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago if he would have liked to hear from gay and lesbian people at that synod, and his answer was an immediate and unqualified “yes.” In fact, he said, he held listening sessions before that synod and wanted particularly to hear from lesbian and gay people and their experience of family.
I don’t think that by “conversion” that he was advocating “reparative therapy” to attempt to change a person’s orientation. However, I do think that he meant that the church should be welcoming and compassionate to gay and lesbian people, but then it should encourage them to a “conversion” of accepting the church’s ban on lesbian and gay sexual activity and relationships. That’s my impression based on having heard similar messages from other Catholic leaders over the years in which they used “conversion” to mean coming to accept the church’s teaching.
Of course, he may have been suggesting that gay and lesbian people simply needed to be converted to a life of faith, but that would have implied that there aren’t already millions of LGBT Catholics who are baptized and full members of the church.
My question to Bishop Barron was only about lesbian and gay people, not transgender folks. I did this for two reasons. First, his original 2017 remark only mentioned gay and lesbian people. Second, because I already knew that Bishop Barron has a very negative approach to gender identity questions. In 2015, he responded to the widely-announced gender transition of Caitlyn Jenner by referring to transgender identities as a form of Gnosticism, a heresy of the early church, and also making an analogy between transgender people and pedophiles.
Throughout the press briefings, the bishops and other synod participants have been describing how good it is to hear from so many diverse voices and that the young people are challenging the bishops to find new and better solutions to church ministry. Yet, without the voices of LGBT youth there, the diversity they are lauding is significantly diminished.
Sign the Petition for Equal Votes for Women at the Synod
And, speaking about the importance of diversity of voices, Deb Rose-Milavec, the executive director of FutureChurch, raised the issue yesterday of why the women religious who are participating in synod discussions are not allowed to vote at the meeting. According to procedures, only bishops are allowed to vote, yet the synod organizers have made exceptions for two religious brothers who are at the meeting, but they have not done so for the women. Ecclesiastically, there is no difference between the religious brothers and the religious sisters, and yet the women have been excluded from voting. Heidi Schlumpf of The National Catholic Reporter captured the exchange between Rose-Milavec and the press briefing participants in her synod report for yesterday.
New Ways Ministry is co-sponsoring a petition with FutureChurch and other Catholic organizations who are calling on the Synod to allow the women religious participating in the synod to have equal voting privileges as the non-ordained men there. We urge you to sign and share the petition today by clicking here!
For Bondings 2.0’s previous coverage of the call for equal votes for women at the synod, please click here.
You can read and follow Rose-Milavec’s information-packed daily reports from the synod by clicking here.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 13, 2018