What if the term ‘LGBT’ does not appear in the synod’s final report as it did in the original working document known as the Instrumentum Laboris?
That was the question posed by The Tablet’s Christopher Lamb to the five synod participants at the press briefing yesterday. As you may recall, the Vatican made history and headlines by using the term ‘LGBT’ for the first time in one of its official documents when it issued the Instrumentum Laboris (IL)earlier this year. Headlines were again made a few weeks ago when Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput criticized the IL at the beginning of the synod by saying that “LGBT Catholics” did not exist as a category in church discourse.
While a few church leaders defended the use of the term in the document, that was all we have heard about its use in synod discussions. While it is likely that there will be some reference in the synod’s final document to LGBT issues (probably something along the line of welcome and pastoral accompaniment), it is not known if the the term ‘LGBT’ will actually be used. At press briefings, few speakers have used the term, usually opting for more outdated terms like ‘homosexual’ and the totally inaccurate, and thus offensive, ‘persons with same-sex attraction.’
So Lamb’s question was an excellent one, and very pertinent to the synod discussion. Perhaps evidence of the question’s import was the fact that there seemed to be a long, stunned silence of the five press briefing panelists, with each perhaps hoping that the another would answer.
[For the record, the panelists were Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, SDB, of Yangon, Myanamar; Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines; Bishop Bienvenu Manamika Bafouakouahou of Dolisie, Congo; Joseph Moeno-Kolio, youth auditor from Samoa who also represents Caritas International Youth Forum; and Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, editor of La Civilità Cattolica .]
Cardinal Tagle answered:
“In the interventions in the aula [synod hall] and in the small group to which I belong. . .the approach of the church to the community [or] people so-called ‘LGBT’ regarding sexual orientation, etc. was present and many times raised. The call for the church as a welcoming church, as a church that regards the humanity of everyone, is always present, not only as a theme but also as. . . a spirit, as an atmosphere. . . We got the draft of the final document only this morning and we have to spend the whole afternoon and evening reading it. Maybe the question could be raised again tomorrow. . . My hunch is that it will be there. In what form and how it will be approached, I don’t know. I’m confident it would be part of the document.”
Tagle has a good record on LGBT issues and has acknowledged that the church has caused much harm sexual and gender minorities. However, my hunch is that he did not really answer Lamb’s question, which was about the term ‘LGBT,’ not LGBT issues. That’s an important distinction. My reason for thinking that Tagle didn’t understand the question is that he said “in what form and how it will be approached, I don’t know.” That suggests to me that he is talking about the topic, not the term. (I admit I could be wrong. I’ve learned that sometimes at these press briefings, speakers don’t always understand the meaning of a question, nor do they always answer with pinpoint accuracy.)
Lamb’s question is important, though, because if the term ‘LGBT’ is not used, it could indicate that the synod is acknowledging that the Vatican was wrong in using it in the first place. Lamb put it another way in his question. He said that if the term is omitted in the final document, there could be the danger that it will be interpreted as “the synod fathers listening, but not necessarily hearing or absorbing” the youths’ concerns. This is a major issue of credibility for the synod.
In answer to another question about the presence of gay men in seminaries, Tagle answered:
“Humane regard of the church to people whatever their sexual orientation may be was very much discussed. Regarding seminaries, that particular issue, at least in my group, did not surface. But it was also very clear while the constant attitude is that of respect for human dignity and the human person, we also recognize that in different states of life, especially in the church, there are some demands, or some requisites or some requirements that we have to look at for the proper exercise of a charism or a ministry. And we hope that that humane and respectful stance towards a person will not be seen as contradictory, for example, to some requirements that a particular job requires.”
I’m not quite sure what Tagle meant by his answer. Was he saying that the church needs to respect gay seminarians even while it requires celibacy of them? Or was he saying that the church can respecting gay men even while it bans them from the seminaries because they do not have the “requirements” for priestly ministry? I hope it was the former, but I fear it was the latter.
Earlier in the press briefing Tagle discussed how much he has learned from listening to the stories and questions of young people. He said:
“It is easy to propose, here and there, solutions. I need to be humbled by that moment of unknowing, that moment of being to be able to say ‘I also do not know.’
“You search the synod that pretends to provide all solutions and and all answers, clear solutions and clear answers. Life is not clear.”
What a great admission to hear from a churchman!
He closed the press conference by answering a question about a pilgrimage he led last week in Rome to bring attention to the rhetoric of hatred and fear that is being used around the world towards migrants and refugees. Describing the purpose of that activity he said it was designed to highlight “the culture of personal encounter.” He expanded:
“When [migrants] move to save their lives, there’s already the fear that prevents others from receiving them. So this campaign wants to put a human face to this phenomenon. And if we could meet a migrant or a refugee, listen to their stories, we hope that we can recognize ourselves, and then we start, instead of fear, we hope that it would lead to solidarity.”
Wouldn’t it be great if the same beautiful logic were applied by church officials to LGBT people?
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 24, 2018
National Catholic Reporter: “Participants: Final synod document to focus on all young adults”