How Are Synod Assembly Participants on LGBTQ+ Issues? — Part II

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 announced New Ways Ministry’s new resource that details what participants in the upcoming Synod assembly in October have said or done when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. Today, a second batch of participants has been added to that resource, and we highlight five more bishops with positive records.

In researching the participants, we found that over 40 of the bishops appointed to the Synod assembly had a public record on LGBTQ+ issues. The list, available here, shows that in many cases, these bishops’ records have been quite positive—including calling for the church to reexamine its teachings on homosexuality, supporting blessing same-gender couples, endorsing civil unions for such couples, acknowledging pastoral care for LGBTQ+ people needs improvement, advocating for non-discrimination protections, opposing criminalization laws, and apologizing for when the church has failed LGBTQ+ people and their families. (And, as a reminder, the President of the Synod is Pope Francis, who has opened up a new era of dialogue and positive actions on LGBTQ+ issues. His full record on LGBTQ+ issues can be found on New Ways Ministry’s website here.)

Tomorrow, we will feature participants who are not bishops—lay people, vowed religious, and clergy—who have LGBTQ+ records. We will also provide a commentary covering all of the participants that we have named in this three-part series. (Note that, as research continues, more participants may be added. If you know of further updates to a participant listed below or of another participant who should be added, please email [email protected] with that information.)

Below is information about five more of the bishops participating in the Synod assembly who have supportive LGBTQ+ records.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., Relator General of the Synod and Archbishop of Luxembourg (Luxembourg)

In 2023, Hollerich expressed concern with the Catechism’s use of “intrinsically disordered” to describe same-gender sexual activity. He said sexual orientation should not be conflated with sexual acts, adding, “But how can you condemn people who cannot love except the same sex? For some of them it is possible to be chaste, but calling others to chastity seems like speaking Egyptian to them.” In 2022, Hollerich condemned discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in strong terms during an interview with the Vatican’s official newspaper. He made similar comments earlier in 2022, and he supported church workers in Germany’s #OutInChurch initiative, a movement to make LGBTQ+ church workers more visible. In 2021, Hollerich expressed openness to blessing same-gender couples. In 2019, at the Vatican’s summit on clergy sexual abuse, Hollerich defended gay priests scapegoated for the abuse scandal. Hollerich was recently named to the Council of Cardinals, who are among Pope Francis’ closest advisors. (More available here.)

Cardinal Robert McElroy

Cardinal Robert McElroy, Diocese of San Diego (United States)

In a 2023 essay, McElroy objected to the “profound and visceral animus” towards LGBTQ+ people found in some parts of the church, describing this anti-LGBTQ+ reaction as a “demonic mystery of the human soul.” He also wrote that issues of gender and sexuality would very likely be discussed at the October assembly of the Synod, framing the topic as a “pre-eminently a pastoral question.” In 2018, McElroy publicly refuted the way gay priests were scapegoated for the clergy sexual abuse crisis, saying that such abuse was a matter of power, not sexual orientation. That same year, he supported Aaron Bianco, a gay pastoral worker in his diocese who was threatened with harm by traditionalist churchgoers because of being married to a man. In 2016, he was the first (and one of just a few) who offered condolences to the LGBTQ+ community after the Pulse nightclub mass shooting, saying the tragedy was “a call for us as Catholics to combat ever more vigorously the anti-gay prejudice which exists in our Catholic community and in our country.” That same year, McElroy supported Pope Francis’ apology to gay and lesbian people, and he called for greater affirmation and welcome for the LGBTQ+ community. (More available here.)

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen and of the Military Ordinariate of Germany (Germany)

In 2021, Overbeck published an essay questioning current church teaching on sexuality, saying he rejects adherence to an ethics that “wants to practically deny people who love someone of the same sex the possibility of a successful and fulfilling relationship. The life experiences and deep feelings of those who are homosexual or transgender have touched me very deeply. Church teaching must integrate these concrete testimonies of life.” Elsewhere, he said the church needs to fundamentally reassess its approach to homosexuality. In 2021, after the Vatican issued its ban on blessing same-gender couples, Overbeck said “why not” when asked about them, and he has expressed his support for such blessings several times. The Diocese of Essen under the bishop’s leadership held a virtual symposium on the topic following the ban. That year, Overbeck said personally that no priest who participated in Germany’s blessing protests would be sanctioned. In 2019, Overbeck defied the Vatican’s ban on gay men in the priesthood. He allowed the story of a married gay church worker to appear in the diocesan magazine the following year, too. (More available here.)

Archbishop Charles Scicluna

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta (Malta)

In 2022, Scicluna encouraged parents to accept LGBTQ+ children as a mandate of the Gospel. That same year, he met with LGBTQ+ advocates in Malta. He also rebuked a priest who made anti-gay comments, going so far as to threaten the priest with sanctions if the harmful rhetoric continued. In 2019, at the Vatican’s summit on clergy sexual abuse, Scicluna repeatedly rejected any link between gay priests and abuse. In 2015, Scicluna did not punish—and even affirmed—the LGBTQ+ outreach ministry of a priest who blessed a same-gender couple’s union. He has said the church should apologize to LGBTQ+ people (though opposed civil unions), and he condemned “conversion therapy” with an apology for a church report which had supported it. Since 2014, Scicluna has participated in IDAHOBIT events. In 2013, while he was an auxiliary bishop, he called for the church to respect gay people. He gave a soft defense of love in same-gender relationships, saying at one point, “Love is never a sin. God is love.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.SS.R., of Newark (United States)

In 2023, ahead of a vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to revise healthcare directives, including items concerning gender-affirming care, Tobin said it was essential to consult with transgender people in that process. In 2019, Tobin said the language the church uses in its teachings on homosexuality was “very unfortunate” and should evolve to be “a little less hurtful.” In 2018, Tobin described LGBTQ-related church employment issues as a “very difficult question.” In 2017, Tobin welcomed a group of LGBTQ+ pilgrims to Newark’s cathedral, telling them in a message before the event, “I am delighted that you and the LGBTQ brothers and sisters plan to visit our beautiful cathedral. You will be very welcome!” On the day of their visit, he greeted the pilgrims warmly, an experience one attendee said “felt like a miracle.” That same year, he publicly challenged the USCCB’s decision to make its Committee on Religious Liberty, which often leads the conference’s anti-LGBTQ+ work, a permanent structure. In 2016, he criticized the USCCB’s priorities, which focused on marriage and religious liberty, as being inconsistent with Pope Francis’ vision. (More available here.)

Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will feature non-bishop participants with LGBTQ+ records. For the first post in this series, click here. You can find the list of Synod assembly participants by clicking here.

For the blog’s full coverage of the Synod on Synodality, click here. For all of New Ways Ministry’s resources on the Synod, click here

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, July 12, 2023

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