At the synod’s daily press briefings, each guest, whether bishop, cardinal, youth, nun, or priest, has unanimously declared that the synod has been a unique experience of exchanging ideas between the bishop and other “adult” delegates with the youth delegates. I have to admit that at first I was a bit skeptical about the description of an atmosphere where everybody gets along and all are willing to share their ideas openly and also to listen in an equally open manner.
But, I’ve come to believe that there may be truth in these descriptions. I’ve changed my mind not because of being exposed to the constant repetition of this theme, but because of the genuine sincerity with which many of the speakers describe this experience.
At Wednesday’s press briefing, Abbot Mauro Giorgio Giuseppe Lepori, O. Cist., Abbot General of the Cistercians, and Fr. Alois, Prior of the Taizé Ecumenical Community, France; both spoke passionately about the importance of this unprecedented dialogue taking place. Abbot Lepori said the synod was an exercise in “community and communion” and that the synod was taking place not only in the meetings but also in the informal coffee breaks where participants have the opportunity to converse with one another.
Fr. Alois emphasized that the synod was showing the church how important it is to listen. “Many people want to be listened to, but they don’t find an open door,” he observed. The synod was teaching him how important friendship and relationship are in building up the church.
While I believe and agree with these church leaders, I also needed to acknowledge my own experience in more than 25 years of Catholic ministry with LGBT people, their families, and pastoral ministers. During this time, I have encountered literally hundreds of faithful Catholics–LGBT and allies–who have tried respectfully and repeatedly to have a conversation with their bishops and/or other diocesan officials. Most have never found an open door. In fact, very often, they have not even been given the courtesy of a reply. I had all those people in my mind and heart when I decided to ask these press briefing guests a question:
“Over the past few days, I have been hearing about what a unique, open experience the synod has been for all the participants and how you are all sharing ideas and listening with one another. But in my ministry, I have met hundreds of Catholics who have tried time and again meet with their bishop, but never receive such an opportunity, and they don’t have the ability even to share a cup of coffee with him. Will the synod’s final document include some instructions for bishops on how to listen? How can bishops around the world replicate this powerful experience you have all been having in the synod?”
The question brought a long pause, and a slight chuckle from the moderator, Greg Burke, the Vatican spokesperson, as well as the panelists looking at one another with looks that suggested they were hoping someone else would answer.
Abbot Lepori was the brave one. He acknowledged that the synod experience was indeed something special and different from ordinary church life. He described it as an “event” which he witnessed, and not something that can be easily or simply taught to others. He said he has observed “the wish is growing to leave the synod as witnesses,” not just as messengers delivering mail. He said he wanted to leave the synod as a witness and offer testimony of what took place here. He said he trusts the Spirit and the pope to convey the importance of the synod experience to others.
In answer to a question from another journalist, Fr. Alois expanded on his idea of the importance of the church to listen. “A ministry of listening is indispensable,” he said. In Paris, churches are open and have people stationed in designated places “just to listen” to people. They offer further assistance, if needed, sometimes referring them to a spiritual or psychological counselor, but their main purpose is to “listen to joys and sufferings” of people.
What a wonderful ministry! How powerfully our church can be transformed if more parishes in more cities instituted listening ministries such as this. So much reconciliation would be achieved between the church and LGBT people if there were opportunities for folks to be listened to by church representatives.
I hope that Fr. Lepori is right that the Spirit will help to spread the experience of the synod to bishops and church leaders around the world. After a summer of so much scandal and in-fighting, it is time for church leaders to open their ears, hearts, and minds to new voices.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 20, 2018