The Vatican released the latest working document for the Synod on Synodality yesterday, which included LGBTQ+ issues at two points. The document is a signal for LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies to keep participating in the synodal process.
The 56-page working document, “Enlarge the space of your tent (Is 54:2),” is the culmination of the Synod’s first, local listening phase carried out since October 2021. It is compiled from the syntheses of this phase received from 112 of the world’s 114 episcopal conferences, plus other reports, like those of Vatican dicasteries and religious congregations.
Wide-ranging in the scope of issues addressed and heavily emphasizing an inclusive church, LGBTQ+ issues are mentioned explicitly at two points. In paragraph 39, the text notes that LGBTQ+ people are among those feeling “a tension between belonging to the Church and their own loving relationships.” The need to address same-gender relationships appears explicitly in the same section:
“39. Among those who ask for a more meaningful dialogue and a more welcoming space we also find those who, for various reasons, feel a tension between belonging to the Church and their own loving relationships, such as: remarried divorcees, single parents, people living in a polygamous marriage, LGBTQ people, etc. Reports show how this demand for welcome challenges many local Churches: “People ask that the Church be a refuge for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect. They want the Church to meet people wherever they are, to walk with them rather than judge them, and to build real relationships through caring and authenticity, not a purpose of superiority” (EC USA). They also reveal uncertainties about how to respond and express the need for discernment on the part of the universal Church: “There is a new phenomenon in the Church that is absolutely new in Lesotho: same-sex relationships. […] This novelty is disturbing for Catholics and for those who consider it a sin. Surprisingly, there are Catholics in Lesotho who have started practising this behaviour and expect the Church to accept them and their way of behaving. […] This is a problematic challenge for the Church because these people feel excluded” (EC Lesotho).”
In paragraph 51, which focuses on the need for the church to be sensitive to cultural contexts, the document quotes the following from the South African episcopal conference:
“’Southern Africa is also impacted by the international trends of secularisation, individualisation, and relativism. Issues such as the Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception, ordination of women, married clergy, celibacy, divorce and remarriage, Holy Communion, homosexuality, LGBTQIA+ were raised up across the Dioceses both rural an urban. There were of course differing views on these and it is not possible to give a definitive community stance on any of these issues’ (EC South Africa).”
In paragraph 40, the document notes that, despite differences, “there are remarkable similarities between the various continents regarding those who are perceived as excluded, in society and also in the Christian community.” Among these are people discriminated against because of “race, ethnicity, gender, culture and sexuality.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, praised this document as representing a “new moment” in the church’s discussion of gender and sexuality. In a statement, he explained
“It is great news that the new Vatican document about the global synod mentions that the marginalization of LGBTQ people is a strong pastoral concern reported by many national episcopal conferences. This document is evidence that we are in a new moment of conversation about LGBTQ issues in the Catholic Church.
“The document acknowledges that LGBTQ issues have become central to Catholic discussions today. For decades, these topics were barely mentioned, and if they were raised, they were in a spirit of condemnation, not one of pastoral concern. . .
“The fact that LGBTQ inclusion was raised in this document indicates that this is a topic of global concern, not just the hobby-horse of some Western nations. The document specifically mentions that questioning church teaching on LGBTQ issues was raised widely, for example in African contexts, and including ‘dioceses both rural and urban.'”
DeBernardo attributed two factors which led to the inclusion of sexuality and gender being mentioned in the report: the strong participation of LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies in the local phase of the synod’s process; and the Vatican Synod office’s leadership clearly hearing the faithful’s raising up of such issues. He concluded, “We hope that this change of course will continue with further and deeper listening, discussion, and dialogue.” A full version of his statement is available here.
The next step of the synodal process is the Continental Phase. This step begins with reflection on the new working document at the diocesan level, then moves to continental assemblies of bishops. Ultimately, next spring, the Vatican Synod office will release a further document to prepare for the Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome next October.
New Ways Ministry continues to provide opportunities to participate in and learn from resources for the Synod. In November, there will be two LGBTQ+ Spiritual Conversations for the Synod, similar to those previously held, which are a time for prayer and small group discussion. To learn more or to register, click here.
A recording of New Ways Ministry’s recent webinar, “A Rainbow Synod: Global LGBTQ+ Perspectives on Synodality So Far,” which featured LGBTQ+ advocates from five continents sharing their experiences, is available here.
For all of New Ways Ministry’s resources on the Synod, including previous webinars, click here.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, October 28, 2022
National Catholic Reporter, “New Vatican synod document mentions women’s ordination, LGBTQ relationships”