The Synod on the Amazon is now underway at the Vatican, convened by Pope Francis to consider a particular church’s life and the many socio-economic and environmental challenges the Amazon region faces. Unlike the previous three synods this pope has called (on the family in 2014 and 2015, and on youth in 2018), LGBTQ issues will most likely not be discussed at this meeting. But that does not mean LGBTQ Catholic advocates should ignore an ecclesial event that could greatly impact our efforts for equality in the church. Here are a few thoughts on how the lessons coming from this Synod could be applied to LGBTQ issues.
Reading the Synod’s Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, it was hard to believe it was a document produced by the Vatican. Both the process of its development and the final product were far more in a Latin American theological vision than a European one. The document’s process began with a deep listening to the people. Tens of thousands of people in hundreds of assemblies offered information about their experiences, their church, and their region, and the document frequently references their input.
A small minority of critics have attacked the Instrumentum Laboris for raising issues such as married priests and women in ministry, but one of the working document’s authors, Fr. Augusto Zampini Davies, said, “if you want to listen, this is what happens. You might listen to things that you are not comfortable with – but you have to listen.”
The Instrumentum Laboris is also notable for its focus on a particular community, namely the indigenous communities of the Amazon. The document names in depth the multitude of injustices which they face: deforestation, the criminalization of protest, violations of their rights, extractive industries, assassination of their leaders, and more. But the document also affirms these marginalized indigenous communities as the protagonists of this synodal process, and asks not only what the church offers them, but what they offer the church. The document even goes so far as to say the Amazon is “epiphanic” in that it is a source of God’s revelation (19).
Finally, the Instrumentum Laboris identifies a need called for by Pope Francis for the church to undergo a conversion. This process involves, in the document’s words, “unlearning, learning, and relearning.” The “attitudes and mentalities that prevent us from connecting with ourselves, with others and with nature” need to be unlearned. We are then free to learn from the wisdom of the indigenous communities who teach us, and to relearn how to “weave links that connect all the dimensions of life” (102). In the end, the Instrumentum Laboris contemplates what a church with an “Amazon and Missionary” face looks like.
Consider what a similar discernment and focus would mean for LGBTQ issues in the church. What if church leaders actually made space for and invested in extensive listening sessions where LGBTQ people could share their experiences of life and of faith? What if the conversation were not only about what the church offers LGBTQ people, but what they offer the church? Even more radically, what if we posed the question of what a church with an LGBTQ face would be?
The Synod on the Amazon will continue for this month, taking up many of the issues raised in the Instrumentum Laboris. Observers will watch closely about whether there is movement on married priests or women in ministry. We must also closely follow what the people of the Amazon have said about promoting an integral ecology that links human development with ecological justice (to paraphrase Pope Francis).
Once this Synod concludes, the pope should announce a new synod to consider gender and sexuality. What surfaces from the listening may not be comfortable for some, and a conversion in the church will most certainly be required. Still, the need is clear and pressing. It is time for the universal church to contemplate, in a contextual, particular manner, the LGBTQ community, which is also an epiphanic source of God’s revelation.
One movement for an inclusive church already underway is the #VotesForCatholicWomen campaign. This initiative, launched by the Women’s Ordination Conference and co-sponsored by a number of church reform groups, calls for women religious to have voting rights at the Synod of Bishops just like their lay brother counterparts possess. To add your name to the campaign’s petition, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 9, 2019