As the Synod Begins, The Walls Come Tumbling Down

Bondings 2.0 writers Robert Shine and Francis DeBernardo are in Rome for the month of October covering the first global assembly of the Synod on Synodality, particularly LGBTQ-related developments. For the blog’s full coverage of this multi-year synodal journey, click here.

REPORTING FROM ROME—The Synod on Synodality’s first global assembly began this week here in Rome. Its opening Mass on Wednesday was preceded by the blockbuster announcement that Pope Francis is on record supporting blessings for same-gender couples, albeit in a limited way. If anyone worried that LGBTQ+ issues were going to get short shrift in synod discussions, the pope’s announcement guarantees that they will be on everyone’s mind.

As Bondings 2.0 reported previously, the pope’s comment on blessings came in response to questions posed by five conservative cardinals. It seems the conservative cardinals’ strategy of releasing their questions on the eve of the Synod assembly sort of backfired. Instead of trying to squash the conversation about LGBTQ+ issues at the assembly this month, they potentially opened the door for greater discussion.

As someone who has covered two synods already (the Synod on the Family in 2015 and the Synod on Youth in 2018), I want to offer a small caution to Bondings 2.0 readers: don’t believe everything you read in the press–including this blog!

What I mean is that almost every single article about the Synod I have read last week and this week foregrounds that LGBTQ+ issues will be discussed. LGBTQ+ issues are “hot button” ones, so they make for interesting news. Reporters therefore definitely mention them in their stories, and may even tend to focus on them. The reality is that the Synod assembly will likely cover many, many different topics–poverty, access to the Eucharist, priestly formation, to name just a few–and yet none of these will be as interesting as sexuality and gender to press and to many Catholics. In fact, these other topics don’t even make it into news stories.

It can seem like Bondings 2.0 is a prime example of a news outlet making LGBTQ+ issues the main focus of the Synod. That is because we focus on this topic every day, which might give our readers a skewed view of the synod. My warning is to remember that this blog’s focus is not always the Synod assembly’s focus.

However, the fact that LGBTQ+ issues made it into the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document of this assembly, is a historic fact worth celebrating. At the Synod on the Family, in 2015, LGBTQ+ issues were basically a footnote to the proceedings. At the Synod on Youth, in 2018, these topics were discussed more, but certainly not a main focus. Now, in 2023, it is going to be impossible for the Synod not to address these issues in some way, shape or fashion.

How did that happen? It happened because millions of Catholics around the world used their voices to raise these issues in the thousands of Synod conversations and consultations that took place. More broadly, it is the culmination of Catholics imploring church leaders for decades to at least discuss these topics. It hit me yesterday that we finally got the dialogue that we have been calling for over the last 50 years.

Not to be too dramatic, but the image I had yesterday as I was thinking about this development was of the Berlin Wall coming down. If you have seen the images of that historic moment, you will remember that individual people, loads of them, came with hammers and other tools to take the wall down. It was the grassroots, hundreds of them, who tore down the Wall.

I acknowledge, too, that Pope Francis accelerated this moment. Throughout his papacy, Francis has been calling on the church to become a listening church, a church that encounters new things and new people, a church of dialogue.

In 2018 when I was here in Rome for the Synod on Youth, I remember when the Vatican announced that the topic of the next Synod would be synodality, a little understood term at the time. I was flabbergasted. I thought it was the height of navel-gazing. However, two years ago, as the plan for this Synod on Synodality began to be rolled out, I saw the genius of picking this topic. Instead of focusing on a topic, Pope Francis focused on a process. And it is a process that has not only brought into church discussion so many topics that people have been clamoring for, but it also has the potential for institutionalizing this process of consultation as a regular part of church life.

It is unclear what the outcome of this Synod assembly may be. In the past, Synod meetings issued final reports. This assembly may do likewise, or it may instead identify areas for further consideration at the Synod on Synodality’s final global assembly next October. Either way, if at the end of the month, the Synod assembly says something positive about LGBTQ+ issues, that would be another historic moment.

Regardless of what the Synod says or doesn’t say about these issues, however, this moment may still be considered transformational if this meeting becomes the first instance of many future discussions and consultations in the Catholic Church on all kinds of issues, including gender and sexuality 

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 6, 2023

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