Catholic LGBTQ+ advocates have responded positively to the Vatican’s latest document on the Synod released last week, praising church officials for reflecting a real style of listening and humility in it.
The Document on the Continental Phase, titled “Enlarge the space of your tent (Is 54:2),” included two mentions of LGBTQ+ people among those groups who have been excluded in the church and society. The document, which synthesized local reports from around the world, identified wider questions of gender and sexuality as pressing pastoral concerns, too.
This acknowledgement that LGBTQ+ issues surfaced broadly is part of why the document was praised by theologians like Natalia Imperatori-Lee, who called it a “real Vatican moment for the church” and one in which the authors had no agenda but “to see really where some of these contributions rhymed,” according to the National Catholic Reporter.
Catholic LGBTQ+ advocates were also pleased. New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo, executive director, called it a “new moment” in the church’s discussion of gender and sexuality, a testament not only to LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies’ extensive participation in the synodal process, but to the Synod office’s willingness to listen, too.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement that the document “demonstrates an exceptional level of transparency and acknowledgement of failure in numerous areas.” She continued:
“We recognize, and the Vatican document acknowledges, that many are skeptical about the Synodal process. This document indicates a spirit of humble listening and accountability. However, we are well aware that the summary has been written by those invested in the success of the Synod, and the ultimate outcome of the process rests with the world’s bishops. There are many in that group who fear the threat to their own authority that this process represents, or who are adamantly opposed to the kind of transformations many who participated in this process are calling for.”
While the U.S. bishops welcomed the document with a moderate statement, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, chair of the German Bishops’ Conference, said the first year of the synod “unleashed a dynamic” that has “already changed the Church.” He commented in a statement:
“The central challenge of a synodal church is the ‘desire for radical inclusion’ (nos. 11, 31 and above), which excludes no one, and the desire for the participation and co-responsibility of all the baptized, which is clearly expressed in all parts of the universal church becomes. . .The working document also expressly refers to the situation of LGBTQ people and people in same-sex partnerships, who often experience rejection in the church (cf. 39, 51). The reports from South Africa and Lesotho speak a clear language here.”
The working document is, however, just a waypoint in a much longer synodal journey. From here, dioceses and then continental assemblies will study this document and provide their feedback to Rome. Ultimately, next spring, the Vatican’s Synod office will release a further document to prepare for the Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome in October 2023—the first of two such meetings, the second of which will be in October 2024.
Theologian Massimo Faggioli told NCR that though the process may be long, the synod document signals real change:
“‘It will be more difficult to ignore all that, or to keep the status quo. This is why some bishops and some cardinals are worried or afraid, because they know that after this, it will be hard to say that something like the issue of women in the church is the concern of a small minority. It is obviously a global issue now, with very different sensibilities yes, but it is no longer a North American or European thing.'”
The same is true for LGBTQ+ issues: they are not only a pressing need in some areas of the church, but have been raised globally and demand the church’s attention. LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies must continue their enthusiastic participation in the synodal journey, finding new ways to make stories known and voices heard as the bishops begin meeting.
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, November 2, 2022