At Pre-Synod Retreat, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe Encourages Centering Gay People, Others on Margins

Father Timothy Radcliffe, O.P. preaching at the pre-Synod assembly retreat outside Rome in 2023

The first of two global assemblies for the Synod on Synodality is now underway after opening with a Mass yesterday, and already LGBTQ+ issues have gained prominence. Today’s post features news and commentaries from the past week, in which news also broke about a separate document from Pope Francis expressing openness to blessing same-gender couples.

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe Notes LGBTQ+ Inclusion at Retreat

This past weekend, the assembly’s nearly-400 participants left Rome for a retreat which was preached by Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., former head of the worldwide Dominicans and an LGBTQ-positive voice. In his second of six meditations, Radcliffe picked up on the idea of the church as a home, and notes the Instrumentum Laboris recognized gay people as among those who feel the church is not a “safe home” because “It is experienced as exclusive, marginalizing many people.” He expanded on this idea with an anecdote:

“In the 1980s, reflecting on the Church’s response to Aids, I visited a London hospital. The consultant told me that there was a young man asking for a priest called Timothy. By God’s providence, I managed to anoint him shortly before he died. He asked to be buried in Westminster Cathedral, the centre of Catholicism in England. He was surrounded by the ordinary people who came to that weekday Mass, as well as by people with Aids, nurses, doctors and gay friends. The one who had been on the periphery, because of his illness, because of his sexual orientation and most of all because he was now dead, was at the centre. He was surrounded by those for whom the Church was home and those who would normally never enter a church. . .We must journey towards a Church in which they are no longer at the margin but in the centre.”

Radcliffe also quoted the theologian Fr. James Alison, an openly gay priest, as writing, “God is among us as one cast out.” In the past, Radcliffe has said Catholics should focus less on what others were “doing in bed” and more on helping people find God along their own path. He has also said that  same-gender love should “be cherished.”  His full LGBTQ-related record is available here. All of his meditations from this month’s retreat can be found at Vatican News.

Synod Participant Acknowledges Need to Hear LGBTQ+ Voices

One Synod participant, Catherine Clifford, a Canadian theologian, commented on expectations that Catholics have when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality. Asked by the National Catholic Reporter about these expectations, Clifford responded:

“There is a consensus from every continental region, that these are significant issues. I think what we hear is the pain and the woundedness: of many women who serve very generously, and whose gifts are not fully integrated into the life of the church; and of many families who have family members, colleagues, students, friends who belong to the LGBTQ community, and who’ve been also wounded by the attitudes and the language of the church’s teaching.

“I think we have to hear those voices. I don’t think that the synod is intended to resolve any of those issues in a definitive way. But it needs to acknowledge the reality. And it sets the course for how we will face those questions going forward. I think that’s the essential thing, so that the conversation remains open.”

Articles Highlight Hopes and Concerns of LGBTQ+ Catholics in U.S.

The National Catholic Reporter interviewed several leading LGBTQ+ advocates in the U.S. ahead of the Synod assembly’s start. Among the insights in that article:

“Brian Flanagan, a gay Catholic theologian and senior fellow at New Ways Ministry, said, ‘For those of us like me’ who have the patience and privilege ‘to stick it out, I think we are helping the church to grow into what will seem normal in a few hundred years. . .

“‘Even 10 years ago, there would have been too much fear that even raising up the experiences of LGBTQ people in a church setting would mean you would never get promoted to be a bishop or you would never get a job again as a Catholic theologian,’ Flanagan said.

“‘The church is also at the beginning of what I expect to be a couple of centuries of conversation about the diversity of sexualities and the diversity of gender identities. I don’t expect that they could figure it out in four weeks,’ he said.”

Yunuen Trujillo, author of LGBTQ Catholics: A Guide to Inclusive Ministry and a Bondings 2.0 contributor, lamented the lack of openly LGBTQ+ participants:

“[Trujillo] emphasized the statistical likelihood that there are closeted LGBTQ people participating in the synod, saying that it can be hard to come out because the church ‘has historically been an emotionally toxic space’ for LGBTQ Catholics.

“‘There’s an LGBTQ presence in every single ecclesial space,’ she said. If there are delegates who are closeted, ‘it’d be lovely if they use this opportunity to share their story and their witness of faith,’ she said.

“Trujillo said that she hopes the synod can make a statement about the ‘God-given gifts of LGBTQ Catholics.'”

Maxwell Kuzma, a transgender Catholic who has previously written for Bondings 2.0, explained his hopes:

“While Kuzma said changing doctrine would show ‘care and concern’ for LGBTQ+ issues, he said the core issue is that, even with present doctrine, many Catholic leaders and employers appear to crack down more harshly on LGBTQ+ people in relationships than heterosexual people living in situations contrary to official church teaching, such as cohabiting together before marriage.

“Kuzma said he hopes the synod will lead to ‘increased familiarity and comfort’ with LGBTQ+ people that leads to more ‘unity.’ Kuzma would like to see people willing to engage in conversations about LGBTQ+ issues instead of being ‘outright disrespectful’ or ‘dismissive.'”

Sam Albano, national secretary of DignityUSA, told NCR he also desired openly LGBTQ+ people as assembly participants:

“‘We are full members of the church, and if we’re going to be talking about our faith and our lives and our spirituality and how we can function as members within the church, we need to be present at the table.’ . . .

“Albano said he hoped the synod would recommend a change to the language in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. . .’That would be a step that would open up more avenues for dialogue and that would place the church in a less offensive posture,’ Albano said, noting that there was recent precedent for changing the section, given that it was most recently updated in 1997.”

Elsewhere in the National Catholic Reporter, theologian Mary Hunt, a self-professed Synod skeptic, offered five ways that the Synod might “turn a laudable idea flawed by structural problems into a truly historic, world-changing event.” Hunt’s suggestions include making the Synod an annual event, livestreaming it, and “include openly queer people, women priests, and a lot of non-Catholics,” commenting:

“That no openly queer people are on the current roster is lamentable. The operative word is “openly,” and how sad is that? Given the high percentage of gay men in the Catholic clergy, I would guess that those at the synod could fill more than a few of the roundtables at which participants will sit and discern.

“The shame is that highly skilled and committed LGBTQI+ people from groups like DignityUSA and the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics are not front and center. If there is to be the merest mention of same-sex anything it must include out people speaking their truths: ‘Nothing about us without us,’ or the whole thing is a sham. How tragic that some LGBTQI+ people will participate, but not be able to bring their full selves to the table.”

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, October 5, 2023

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National Catholic Reporter, “Orthodoxy is spacious’: At retreat, synod members hear about women’s hopes, LGBTQ issues

2 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    While much of the news related to the Synod has been positive, there will remain a stubborn group of ordained and lay people who might see this as a battle lost. I would like to live long enough to see same gender couples blessed by the Church. Then I would like to see those opposed come to an awakening that they aren’t being threatened by any of this. What harm is there in blessing someone? We bless animals on the feast of St.Francis. We bless ships going to sea. There needs to be an embrace of the divorced and re married,too , as well as LGBT couples. I pray the Pope can see this through and implement change. God knows we need it.

  2. Glenn Slocum
    Glenn Slocum says:

    A wonderful initial (or pre-initial!) report, Bob. Thank you so much for this, and I’m sure we will see many more reports from you. This is most useful and encouraging.


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