LGBT topics were discussed at the synod press briefing on Saturday, the same day that the third set of reports from the small group discussion groups were released which also contained some references to LGBT issues. I’ll provide the references first, and make comments after each one and at the end. Overall, it doesn’t look like the synod has pushed the needle on LGBT issues very far.
The speakers at the press briefing who answered questions from reporters about LGBT issues were Cardinal Blase Cupich, Chicago, Cardinal John Ribat, MSC ,Papua New Guinea, and Archbishop Peter Comensoli, Melbourne, Australia.
The panel was asked if LGBT issues would be included in the synod’s final report. Cupich answered:
“There are a number in our group and in the reports today that wanted to make sure that we say something inclusive of everyone. I was asked a question, What is the final document going to say about people who are homosexual, who have same-sex attraction. My answer was I think the whole document has it. We want to make sure that people felt included by whatever form that takes.”
Ribat also added his own comments saying:
“The approach of the church is to be able to welcome everyone. And to make them feel at home. No one is excluded, and that is the church. . . .In our small groups we saying that no one is excluded. It’s really about not excluding anyone about welcoming everyone. The church is a home. I think the message is going out clearly in our discussions.
Comensoli added that LGBT people should not be treated any differently from other youth:
“Very simply, aren’t we all sinners? And aren’t we all looking to be found by God? And being found by God, how we might then find our lives in him?”
When asked about what “welcome” means, Comensoli answered:
“We are all sinners. We are all sinners who are called to the cross. When my friends who might be homosexual or lesbian or struggling with their gender, I speak with them with the friendship of Christ as I ought to, and as a friend I say, ‘how do we progress together toward the foot of the cross?’ ”
Cupich answered the same question about “welcome” by saying:
“We have to make sure that we don’t put obstacles in the way of God’s grace. We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward. Sometimes in that journey they stray or they take a step back, but we’re still with them in order to keep that journey going.”
While it is very good that they are stressing a welcoming and accompanying approach to LGBT ministry, the prelates seem to downplay any controversial element of ministry to LGBT people. They speak in generalities and do not recognize the unique needs and gifts that LGBT people bring to the church. While a welcoming approach is good and needed, it cannot be the last word. If the final document of the synod only stresses what LGBT people have in common with others in the church, it will not be sending a good message for how ministry with LGBT young people and adults should move forward.
Particularly disturbing is the emphasis in these remarks about our common sinfulness. While it is true that we are all sinners, this emphasis is usually not made in reference to other people in the church. No one says, “Elderly people are welcome in the church because we are a church of all sinners.” Making this point in reference to why LGBT people should be welcome (because all sinners are welcome), reveals an underlying assumption the speaker has about LGBT people’s sinfulness.
Sinfulness was also emphasized, though couched in positive language, in the report from the English Language Group D (led by U.S. Cardinal Daniel DeNardo; report written by U.S. Bishop Robert Barron) which stated:
“The arms of the Bernini colonnade in St. Peter’s Square, beckoning to the whole world, beautifully symbolize this desire to gather everyone in. This is why no one, on account of gender, lifestyle, or sexual orientation, should ever be made to feel unloved, uncared for. However, as St. Thomas Aquinas specifies, love means ‘willing the good of the other.’ And this is why authentic love by no means excludes the call to conversion, to change of life. Indeed, in St. Mark’s Gospel, practically the first word out of the mouth of Jesus is metanoiete (convert, turn your life around). Jesus finds people where they are, but he never leaves them where they are; rather, he calls them into the deep, into fullness of friendship with him. Part of the pastoral genius of Catholicism is precisely the maintaining of this delicate balance between welcome and challenge.”
This statement shows that “welcome” can mean a variety of different things. Here it seems to mean “welcome so as to change someone.” Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I don’t think they mean reparative therapy here, but conversion to a life of celibacy.
Similarly, in English Language Group B (led by Cupich; report written by Bishop Mark Edwards, OMI) contained a short section entitled “Youths who experience same-sex attraction.” It stated:
“We discussed the issue of Catholics who experience same sex attraction or gender dysphoria. We propose a separate section for this issue and that the main objective of this be the pastoral accompaniment of these people which follows the lines of the relevant section of the Catechism in the Catholic Church.”
Basically, this section does not add much to the discussion of LGBT issues. It basically says that the Catechism has all the answers. It shows no evidence that any real discussion of LGBT ministry took place in this group.
English Language Group A (led by India’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias; report written by Ireland’s Archbishop Eamon Martin) did not mention LGBT people, but it did make these oblique references which are related to LGBT concerns. Group A “discussed extensively the challenges and questions surrounding the Church’s vision of the body and human sexuality.” They asked that the final document “present the Church’s beautiful, yet challenging, vision, teaching and anthropology of the body, sexuality, love and life, marriage and chastity.” They also said the synod should restate the church’s opposition to discrimination against any person or group, and her insistence that God loves every young person, and so does the church!”
According to a Crux article, which contained translated excerpts and synopses of language groups other than English, Italian Language Group B made only scant reference to LGBT issues:
“Mention was made of the need to give ‘special attention and accompaniment’ to those with same-sex attraction, and challenges presented to young people by unemployment and a lack of job opportunities in their areas of study.”
Crux reported that Spanish Language Group B, led by Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer,head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
“wrote that the Church must assume a ‘welcoming and cordial attitude’ to encourage the integration and accompaniment of all people, ‘including those of different sexual orientations, so that they can grow in faith and in their relationship with God.’
“A welcoming attitude, however, does not mean a change in the Church’s teaching on sexuality. On the contrary, the group suggests that the ‘corresponding’ Vatican office develop an ‘orientation”’that systematically and clearly approaches the issue of sexuality, with anthropological arguments, ‘accessible to all young people, showing that the virtue of chastity is a joyful affirmation that creates the conditions for human and divine love.’ “
The Portugese language group included “pastoral care for homosexual young people” in a list of topics they said needed attention, but on which they did not elaborate.
The German language group (led by Bishop Felix Genn; report written by Bishop Stefan Oster, SDB) made no reference to LGBT issues specifically, but offered the following recommendation:
“We want a serious discussion with young people in the Church on issues of sexuality and partnership.”
No elaboration was provided. ‘
All of these comments could have been written before the synod. From their appearance, it doesn’t look like there was much discussion of the topic at all.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 22, 2018
Associated Press: “Young Catholics urge Vatican to issue inclusive LGBT message”
National Catholic Reporter: “Synod groups on sexuality: Church welcomes all, calls all to conversion”