LGBTQ+ issues were a main topic at yesterday’s Vatican press briefing, during which a leader of a global organization of leaders of vowed women’s religious communities affirmed that the Synod assembly sought to address not only a synodal future, but past harms the church has inflicted on people, too.
Bondings 2.0 asked the three Synod delegates present at the day’s briefing a question based on the experiences of LGBTQ+ Catholics. The question acknowledged that many LGBTQ+ people and allies find the synodal process inspiring because church leaders are finally listening, yet some, are less positive after experiencing decades of exclusion and repression by the church. Bondings 2.0 then asked:
“While this new spirit of synodality is greatly welcomed as a present and future way to be church, it is important to know if there has been any discussion of acknowledging and responding to the past hurts, and not just to LGBTQ+ people, before this spirit of synodality had begun.” [Editor’s note: The video of the entire press briefing can be found at the end of this blog post. Bondings 2.0’s question and the panelists’ responses can be viewed and heard beginning at the 30:24 point in the video.]
Unusually, the question prompted a response from every panelist. Sr. Patricia Murray, IBVM, the executive secretary of the International Union of Superiors General and a papal appointment to the Synod’s Commission for the Synthesis [the final report of this assembly], answered first, saying:
“Thank you for that question. I think at many of the tables, if not all of them, the question of hurt and the woundedness of people, individually and collectively, has been dealt with and listened to. . .There have been discussions about how to symbolically, in a sense, represent that hurt. Some people have said that sorry is not enough. How does the church give a sign and symbol for hurts that have been caused? There is a deep awareness of the pain and suffering that has been caused.”
Father Viral Tiramanna, a professor of moral theology at the National Seminary of Our Lady of Lanka,
Sri Lanka answered next, acknowledging that LGBTQ+ equality was “a burning issue, in fact, all over the world today.” Less positively, he suggested “the church doesn’t have issues only to do with LGBTQ [people], for there are so many other groups.” PROFESSOR added, “let’s not make it [LGBTQ+] the issue because there are so many issues.”
Bishop Zdenek Wasserbauer, auxiliary bishop of Prague, answered by saying he was “very happy that the synod is very balanced, and it tries to talk about all the pain that exists in today’s world and church.”
Finally, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications who is also a Synod participant, added his thought that “if there are persons who are marginalized or are suffering, who have been wounded in some way, this of course does concern us in the synodal path.”
The next two questions from journalists were also LGBTQ-related, though this time from conservative media outlets critical of blessing same-gender couples, among other concerns. The panelists challenged the conservative narrative that this Synod would uproot church teaching by emphasizing the Synod is about process, rather than specific issues. None of the panelists, however, said LGBTQ+ inclusion was not being or should not be addressed.
Wasserbauer,said the “most important thing” in the assembly’s small groups is that everyone has a “freedom to express ourselves and express our opinion.” He acknowledged that at this Synod assembly “there is not going to be a decision on whether we can bless gay couples,” yet the “problem” to be addressed now is “to tell everyone, including members of the LGBTQ community, that they are part of the Catholic Church, that the church is open to everyone.”
Ruffini spoke directly about the question of blessing same-gender relationships, which he said “is not the topic of the Synod.” At least from his experience of small groups, he explained, “if you think we are discussing this primarily, this is not the case.” Certainly, LGBTQ+ issues are arising as people share their different perspectives, he said, but the focus is on synodality so they church can be “a welcoming church, that is inclusive.”
Responding to another question, Murray offered a helpful perspective about how to understand what is happening, drawing from her experience with religious congregations. Discernment is an ongoing process, and as it continues, as people listen and learn, the questions raised go deeper and deeper. She stated:
“We’re holding a unity in our diversity. We’re listening to very different opinions. We’re allowing them to enter, to nourish ourselves, to listen to what God is speaking through these differences and various opinions. . .In listening to those different voices, you can feel one’s own position being broadened, deepend, widened. . .[this] deep respect for conversation does lead you, at the end of the day, to a different place.”
Murray expressed gratitude that there is another year left in the synodal process, for synodality is a spiritual practice necessitating more and more learning, study, and “above all prayer.”
Like so often at recent Synods, responses to LGBTQ+ questions are varied, some more positive, some less so. One point of clarity now apparent at this Synod is that LGBTQ+ issues are being openly discussed at the assembly, set in the larger context about how to journey together, and how to reconcile with people who have been wounded by the church. Hopefully, as Sr. Murray suggests, the church’s discernment on LGBTQ+ issues will become deeper and deeper, too, the more we journey together.
–Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, October 17, 2023