In an historic first, a Vatican official spoke to an audience of LGBTQ and ally Catholics this past Sunday, encouraging them to participate in the synodal process. At the same time, the meeting helped her to learn something about LGBTQ experiences in the church.
Sister Nathalie Becquart, XMCJ, the undersecretary for the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, gave her address titled “Synodality: A Path of Reconciliation” via Zoom on April 3rd. The event was sponsored by New Ways Ministry and was a part of their Father Robert Nugent Memorial Lecture program, named for one of New Ways Ministry’s co-founders who passed away in 2014.
Catholic News Service reported (via Crux):
“‘The aim of a synod is to foster communion and build a consensus,’ Becquart said to an audience made up primarily of LGBTQ Catholics via Zoom from Rome. ‘If we really listen to one another … if we listen deeply, we will discern how the Holy Spirit is calling the church to move forward.’
“Becquart opened her talk by listening. ‘A listening church is a church that begins by listening,’ she said. . .
“She called participants’ attention to the first sentence of the synod preparatory document: ‘The Church of God is convoked in synod.’ These words emphasize the need importance of listening to everybody, ‘especially those who feel they have no voice, those from the margins,’ she said.”
While many attendees responded positively to Becquart’s invitation, Crux noted divergent responses in the question period to which the Xaviére sister responded:
“In the Zoom chat, some participants expressed ‘trepidation’ over the synod process; others said they were ‘wary.’ A few said they weren’t convinced even if the church listens to LGTBQ Catholics, it will make much difference for those who have felt marginalized by the church and the pain this has caused them. . .
“In her remarks, Becquart said she understands well the need to recognize the difficulties and the pain of those who feel separated from the church but that she believes ‘with the Holy Spirit, we can find ways of reconciliation … if we truly believe it is the church of Christ, we are the body of Christ. … I can’t tell you more. It’s a matter of faith.'”
The Washington Blade reported that Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry who moderated a question period, raised this lack of trust on behalf of the LGBTQ community who have been mistreated by church leaders. Becquart responded:
“‘We can recognize that. . .And as I said, you know Synodality is a way to recognize reality, the wounds. And it’s a call to be very humble. . .you can be confident that we will try to have you contribute and give your voice to find this dialogue.'”
DeBernardo noted that over 1,000 people from 37 countries had registered for the event. Approximately 500 participated.
In introducing Becquart at the beginning of the program, Robert Shine, the associate director, said to her:
“‘Part of the synodal process is rediscovering church as community in which we all have to be the protagonist. LGBTQ families seek to do just that. . .Your presence here is a sign our church leaders are increasingly ready to walk with us.'”
DeBernardo also spoke with the National Catholic Reporter:
“‘We think it’s a sign that not only is the Vatican serious about reaching out to all kinds of people for the synod, but also a sign that they really are ready to listen to LGBTQ people and their experiences,’ DeBernardo said. . .
“DeBernardo suggested that it was ‘no accident’ that the first Vatican official to address a New Ways Ministry-sponsored event was a woman.
“‘Women, in particular women religious, are much more open to LGBTQ issues than men,’ DeBernardo said. ‘I think it also is a sign that leadership among women in the church can really affect the way the church progresses and the way the church leads.'”
DeBernardo told the Blade that the event was not only a time for attendees to hear from Becquart, but for her, one of the highest ranking women in the Vatican, to hear from LGBTQ Catholics. He commented on the exchange:
“‘My sense from her answers is that she genuinely wants to reach out to all people, including LGBTQ people, to participate in the synod consultations. For her, the synod is a form of reconciliation, and she was very sincere in encouraging LGBTQ people to participate.'”
Sr. Becquart’s address was hopefully only a first step in more exchanges between Vatican leaders and LGBTQ people to help foster understanding and reconciliation as the church undertakes the synodal journey together. A recording of Sr. Becquart’s lecture is now available on the New Ways Ministry website, which you can access by clicking here.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, April 12, 2022