I’ve been here in Rome covering the Synod on Youth for about two weeks now. I have a couple of confessions to make.
My first confession is that while I have been trying to raise the topic of LGBT issues at the press briefings here, I have to acknowledge that LGBT issues do not appear to be a main topic of the synod. I was surprised to realize this because I know that for many youth around the globe, LGBT equality is a major concern of theirs. And the list of bishop delegates has included a number of bishops with strong opinions on LGBT issues, many of them positive views.
But, unlike the Synod on the Family three years ago (which, to make another confession, is the only other synod I have been to), the discussion at this synod seems to be about broad, general, high-level questions, not particular issues. At the Synod on the Family in 2015, the conversation was dominated by particular issues: communion for the divorced/remarried, co-habitation, LGBT families, contraception, and so on. Here at the synod on youth, the discussion has been centering on topics like listening, accompaniment, discernment, vocation.
I guess I should not have been surprised since the synod’s formal title is “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” More about this title’s framing later.
So, if it seems to Bondings 2.0 readers that LGBT topics are important at the synod, that may be because that is what I am specifically reporting on. Other particular issues have emerged besides the broader, more abstract topics I mentioned above. Since this is a global synod, migration is receiving a lot of discussion. Bishops from countries in the developing world are rightly concerned about the fact that so many of their youth leave their homelands for education and employment opportunities.
The influence of digital and social media, both positively and negatively, is also a primary focus here. Synod delegates are very focused on how church leaders and ministers can use electronic media effectively to influence the faith development of young people. Since digital media is ubiquitous in the lives of the younger generation, this is an important focus for discussion.
Reporters only hear about what is brought up at the synod meeting itself (no press are allowed in during the sessions) if someone mentions it at a press briefing or from the very few texts of the synod participants’ talks that are released to the press. For instance, today Anastasia Indrawan, a youth auditor from Indonesia, released the text of her talk, and she mentioned that Indonesian Catholic youth want to “embrace those who are in poverty and marginalized such as teenage parents and HIV/AIDS community, LGBT. They are as human as we all are.”
Now, as for the synod’s title, it obviously was a deliberate choice of focus by the synod organizers. However, the high-level focus of the title seems to have moved the discussion away from sexuality or other tangible, concrete topics (migration and digital media are the exceptions).
This omission may be a good thing because I don’t think this synod would be able to say something positive about sexuality, particularly LGBT issues. Any references to LGBT issues have been minor, guarded, and hedged: “We welcome everybody, but in regards to sex. . . .” I would not expect this synod to make any statement in regard to changing church teaching on LGBT issues. That’s not its focus. And, from what I can discern, opinions on this matter would probably be more inclined to be conservative rather than progressive. But, it would be nice, and it could be possible for the synod to make some sort of non-conditioned affirming statement of LGBT people and young people’s concerns about equality.
My second confession is that while my reporting has generally been about LGBT and some of the other topics, this synod appears to be much more about process than topics. What I mean is that it seems that the synodal experience is helping at least some of the bishop delegates to realize how much they need to listen to youth–and others–in the church to tell them about the modern world. If this goal is achieved, it can have a great impact on how our church operates: a listening church.
In Episcopalis Communio, a document about institution of the synod which Pope Francis released a few weeks before the meeting opened, the pope expressed hope for exactly this kind of church:
“Similarly, the Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God: ‘For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, that with him we may hear the cry of the people; to listen to the people until breathing in the desire to which God calls us’.
“Although structurally it is essentially configured as an episcopal body, this does not mean that the Synod exists separately from the rest of the faithful. On the contrary, it is a suitable instrument to give voice to the entire People of God, specifically via the Bishops, established by God as ‘authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church’, demonstrating, from one Assembly to another, that it is an eloquent expression of synodality as a ‘constitutive element of the Church’.
At Monday’s press briefing, U.S. Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said that he (and other bishop participants) would like to see the synodality process take place at every level in the church–nations, dioceses, parishes. It will be up to the bishops who have participated in this particular synod, he said, to bring that methodology home with them and put it into practice.
Along the lines of process, this synod seems to be making major strides in terms of at least some substantial progress in allowing women greater participation in the synod. A number of bishops seem to have recognized the fiasco they are in this time around since two non-ordained religious brothers have been given the authority to vote, but the religious sisters have not been granted that privilege. This unjust omission has prompted at least one bishop to call for a synod about women in the church. A good idea, but such a meeting will be doomed if men are the predominant participants at it. A smaller, more realistic step has been proposed by the Union of Superiors General (men) and the International Union of Superiors General (women). The National Catholic Reporter stated that the two groups are preparing a proposal for Pope Francis to allow women a greater role at future synods.
My third confession is that while I try to keep up with everything going on here at the synod, especially in regard to LGBT issues, I must admit that I am sometimes a day or two behind in getting the information out to you. There is just so much news and commentary to keep up with–and in more than several languages! I’m doing my best to get items out to you as quickly as possible, and I promise to get it all out by the end off the synod on October 28th. (There may be double postings a day.)
A corollary to this third confession is that because covering the synod has been a marathon, Bondings 2.0 has had to postpone other Catholic LGBT news and opinion. We are trying to cover only the most important stories. We will return to our regular daily coverage once the synod and its aftermath are over.
My last confession: it is pretty amazing to go to work at the Vatican every day!
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 23, 2018