For Australia’s Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the global synodal process centers on one clear challenge: “the question of how the Catholic Church might become a more welcoming and inclusive community without abandoning long-held understandings.” New approaches to LGBTQ+ people can spring from these general ideas.
Crucial in this process, Coleridge argues, is exploring shifts in Western culture that influence our understandings of inclusion and welcome, as well as assumptions that once made sense but no longer function in a changing society.
In terms of how people relate to one another, Coleridge points out the harm in adages such as “hate the sin, love the sinner” and in the Catechism’s description of same-sex acts as “intrinsically disordered.” Western culture increasingly understands sexuality as integral to the person themselves, resulting in an interpretation of these maxims that condemns people, not just actions as sinful and disordered.
Historically, church teaching distinguished the sin from the sinner and the act from the person, naming certain actions moral or immoral regardless of intentions or context. Once again, cultural shifts complicate this duality, as we tend to center morality in the person rather than the act. Coleridge explains, “moral status can’t be assessed without reference to the subjective element, to personal intent, and relational context.” In other words, it is no longer possible to speak about actions as separate from people without in the process unintentionally condemning individuals themselves as well.
Lastly, as those working in ministry well know, there has long been a disconnect between the church’s public declarations on issues and the actual practice of pastoral care for individuals. So even as the institution refuses to recognize same-gender marriage and relationships, individual pastors and ministers often accompany and support LGBTQ+ Catholics in meaningful ways.
Yet younger generations refuse to accept this mode of operating as insincere, writes Coleridge: “The combination of public clarity and private mercy is now seen as inauthentic, even hypocritical.” What is needed, he argues, is a “new way of responding publicly to sin,” exemplified by Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” commentary. How exactly to hold current church teaching on same-sex sexual acts in tension with this type of response is unclear, but for the archbishop, learning to do so is the way forward in creating that welcoming and inclusive church we desire.
Coleridge points out that all Christians are called to ongoing conversion, forgiveness of ourselves and others, and of course, to the oft-misunderstood virtue of chastity, which he characterizes as:
“[S]exuality geared not to power and possession, but to self-sacrificing love. It points to a redeemed, eucharistic sexuality in which the lover says to the beloved, ‘This is my body given for you,’ not ‘This is your body taken for me.’”
Mutuality and justice in all relationships, not just sexual ones, are evidence of Christ’s resurrection and movements toward a church that fully embraces all. Rather than bemoaning misunderstandings of doctrine in our modern world, Coleridge invites us to ask, “What does the redeemed life look like now?” and to act in the spirit of welcoming all as if they were Christ in the flesh. It is essential, he insists, to embrace this process, “which is slow and messy, but which is also necessary if we are to be a community of disciples living the Gospel rather than some self-absorbed institution thriving on exclusion.”
—Angela Howard McParland (she/her), New Ways Ministry, August 6, 2022