The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released its national synthesis for the Synod on Synodality, which includes LGBTQ+ issues, although in a way that mixes some negativity among the more positive comments expressed.
The “National Synthesis of the People of God in the United States of America” was released earlier this month, compiled from some 290 synthesis from diocese and Catholic organizations. The synthesis claims it reflects an estimated 700,000 people who participated in local sessions and surveys.
In the first section, “Enduring Wounds,” the synthesis acknowledged the institutional harm the church has caused to many people. Marginalization was one of these wounds, and the synthesis divides excluded people into two groups. The first is “those marginalized who are made vulnerable by their lack of social and/or economic power,” such as immigrants and disabled people. In the second group are:
“[T]hose who are marginalized because circumstances in their own lives are experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the church. Among these are members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons who have been divorced or those who have remarried without a declaration of nullity, as well as individuals who have civilly married but who never married in the Church. Concerns about how to respond to the needs of these diverse groups surfaced in every synthesis.”
Dividing LGBTQ+ people from other marginalized communities is problematic, as is the framing that LGBTQ+ people are excluded not because of unjust power dynamics, but because “circumstances in their own lives are experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the church.” Such language does not represent reality. It seemingly victim blames LGBTQ+ people for not feeling included, instead of acknowledging the long history of church-enacted discrimination that has resulted in real harm.
A more positive tone was expressed in the section “Enhancing Communion and Participation,” which focused on being a welcoming church. It included the follow paragraph, with comments from synod discussion participants:
“The hope for a welcoming Church expressed itself clearly with the desire to accompany with authenticity LGBTQ+ persons and their families. Many ‘who identify as LGBTQ+ believe they are condemned by Church teachings.’ There is ‘an urgent need for guidance as [one parish] begged, “we believe we are approaching a real crisis in how to minister to the LGBTQ+ community, some of whom are members of our own families. We need help, support, and clarity.”‘ Often families ‘feel torn between remaining in the church and supporting their loved ones.’ In order to become a more welcoming Church there is a deep need for ongoing discernment of the whole Church on how best to accompany our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.”
The bishops’ conference also released a supplementary synthesis from “Region XVI,” which was the ‘region’ established for non-diocesan organizations to submit their own syntheses. LGBTQ+ issues showed up more prominently and positively in this document, which repeatedly emphasized the need for the church to be inclusive and welcoming in many respects. In the section on reports from educational institutions, the synthesis states:
“One of the most frequent desires participants expressed was for the Church, in both parishes and schools, to welcome and include people who identify as LGBTQ. Some participants stated that the Church should revisit its choice to describe homosexuality as a ‘disorder’ since it results in unnecessary harassment for members of the LGBTQ community.”
Perhaps most significantly, LGBTQ+ issues showed up in the section on peace and justice, including the synthesis from New Ways Ministry. In this section, the authors of the U.S. bishops’ synthesis wrote:
“Many of the participants expressed deep anger, frustration with, and hurt by the Church. There was a strong desire for the Church to acknowledge its failings with regard to its legacy of racism, its treatment of LGBTQ people, and its approach to people with disabilities and their families. . .
“Many participants were grateful to have been asked to participate in the process and strongly felt that only through a similar process of listening and accompaniment could the many injustices present within the Church, especially as it relates to racism, the LGBTQ community, women, and the many other marginalized communities.”
Finally, in the section on reports from religious congregations, the calls from women religious for LGBTQ+ inclusion included the following:
“Particularly with reference to teachings on marriage and sexuality women religious present a strong call to incorporate current knowledge from the natural sciences, human biology, behavioral sciences, and other empirical studies. Given what is now known from these disciplines about human sexuality in particular, current moral theology regarding sexuality is seen as untenable.”
It is very positive and important that the synthesis acknowledges the reality that everywhere in the U.S. church, the question of LGBTQ+ inclusion is being raised. LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies made their voices heard in this local listening phase in such a way that they cannot be ignored, even by a bishops’ conference which has traditionally ignored pro-LGBTQ Catholic voices. That development is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope that these messages will help the USCCB and its staff recognize that it is not “circumstances” in LGBTQ lives that are “experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the church.” It is implicit and explicit messages of unwelcome, ignorance, and discrimination which have been, and in some places continue to be, “impediments” to practice their faith fully in the church.
The National Synthesis from the U.S. is now in Rome, where a drafting team has been meeting to prepare the working document for the next Continental Phase, in which the reports from the nations of North America will be synthesized. As Bondings 2.0 has reported previously, synthesis from other countries have been remarkably more positive about LGBTQ+ issues than this U.S. report. Hopefully, the Synod office in Rome will honor LGBTQ+ people’s experiences and be honest about the clear calls from Catholics that change is needed.
This coming Sunday, New Ways Ministry is hosting the webinar “A Rainbow Synod: Global LGBTQ+ Perspectives on Synodality So Far.” Seven panelists from around the world will converse about their experiences of the synodal process so far. Participants will explore questions like: Which insights were most pronounced? What lessons have been learned? How do we proceed from here?
If you are interested in attending, you can register by clicking here.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, September 26, 2022