During a press briefing at the Youth Synod, Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto in Italy was asked a question about Pope Francis’ emphasis on pastoral ministry being “accompaniment” of people on their spiritual journey. That has been a major theme of Francis’ papacy, particularly the accompaniment of people who are alienated from or marginalized by the church.
Forte responded that there are two types of accompaniment. One type is listening. The other type is guiding. There’s a profound difference between these two types of pastoral ministry, and the distinction shows how very different people can say they are following the pope while doing widely different types of ministry.
The ramifications of this difference for LGBT issues are very significant, and it shows how people with very different attitudes toward LGBT people can claim they are providing accompaniment to them.
Guiding would be providing a person with principles, goals, methods that help them live a life of faith. This model implies that the pastoral minister has the answers and that the person ministered to needs this information.
Listening is the total opposite of this model. It implies that the pastoral minister is open to hear what the person being ministered to has discovered about themselves and their relationship with God. If a Listener has any input to provide, it is usually to point out places where God has been active in the person’s life which might have been missed.
Listening can also have a deeper level, too. When a person agrees to be an audience or listener to another person, he or she is also showing a willingness to be changed by what the person has to say. That is a very vulnerable position for a listener to be in, but in some ways it is the only one that reflects the authenticity of being a listener for someone. If a person says he or she is a listener, but only listens so as to be able to get a turn to refute the speaker, then true listening has not occurred. Real listening is a risky endeavor. It means that you may not be the same person after the encounter.
So, what does this have to do with LGBT pastoral ministry? I think that we need to recognize that when we hear that pastoral ministers want to accompany LGBT people, we need to discern whether by accompaniment they mean guiding or listening. In yesterday’s post about Bishop Robert Barron, he discussed being open to LGBT people, and he was serious, I believe, about wanting to accompany them. But I think that his accompaniment model is strongly weighted toward being a guide, rather than a listener.
Furthermore, even if we assess that the pastoral minister wants to listen rather than guide, I think that we need to ask if the act of listening involves the risk of being vulnerable and open to possibly change one’s thinking.
This distinction is very important because there have been many reports by synod bishops which say that they are very inspired to be listening to the young people who are also participating in the meeting. Yet, at the same time, these same bishops are also saying that they discern that young people need to be guided spiritually. Such a conflict in approaches means that the synod fathers may not be in a position to be changed by what they hear.
At this point in our church’s life, I think that many pastoral ministers are moving more into the first kind of listening mode—that of being a sounding board—but not all are willing to give up the role as guides.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 14, 2018