Some Synod Report Ideas Could Be Helpful If Applied to LGBTQ+ People

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—Despite the virtual absence of LGBTQ+ issues in the Synod assembly’s final report a number of passages in the document can be applied in a positive way to LGBTQ+ topics.  It is unfortunate that the Synod assembly did not make the explicit connection between these principles they articulated and the situation of LGBTQ+ people, especially Catholic LGBTQ+ people. 

Still, the following passages from the report, titled “A Synodal Church on a Mission,” outline a call for justice, a focus for further study, and a more welcoming form of pastoral care–all of which could lead to future magisterial developments on issues of sexuality and gender. Before the next Synod assembly in October 2023, Catholic LGBTQ+ advocates must work to show how these principles indeed apply to LGBTQ+ issues, too. 

The final passage excerpted below is an example of how one concept in the document can be used to deter any future developments in Catholic LGBTQ+ thought and practice.

Please note an official English version of the Synod report is not yet available. The passages below are working translations, and will be updated once the English version is released.


The importance of lived experience and expanding participation:

The richness and depth of the lived experience lead to indicating as a priority the expansion of the number of people involved in the synodal paths, overcoming the obstacles to participation that have emerged so far, as well as the sense of mistrust and fears that some have. (Chapter 1, “Synodality: experience and understanding,” paragraph M)

Types of poverty, including being voiceless:

There is not just one kind of poverty. Among the many faces of the poor there are those of all those who do not have what is necessary to lead a dignified life. Then there are those of migrants and refugees; indigenous, native and Afro-descendant peoples; those who suffer violence and abuse, especially women; people with addictions; minorities who are systematically denied a voice; abandoned elderly people; victims of racism, exploitation and trafficking, especially minors; exploited workers; economically excluded and others living in the suburbs. The most vulnerable of the vulnerable, for whom constant advocacy is necessary, are babies in the womb and their mothers. The Assembly is aware of the cry of the “new poor”, produced by the wars and terrorism that torment many countries on different continents and condemns the corrupt political and economic systems that are the cause.  (Chapter 4, “The poor, protagonists of the Church’s journey,” paragraph C)

Protecting the rights of those excluded; mentioning government exclusion as a problem:

The Church’s commitment must get to the causes of poverty and exclusion. This includes action to protect the rights of the poor and excluded, and may require public denunciation of injustices, whether perpetrated by individuals, governments, companies or societal structures. For this reason, it is essential to listen to their requests and their point of view, in order to lend them a voice, using their words. (Chapter 4, “The poor, protagonists of the Church’s journey,” paragraph F)

Justice in church employment:

The Church must be honest in examining how it respects the demands of justice towards those who work in the institutions connected to it, to bear witness to its coherence with integrity. (Chapter 4, “The poor, protagonists of the Church’s journey,” paragraph L)

The need for more dialogue in the church:

The Church is also affected by polarization and mistrust in crucial areas, such as liturgical life and moral, social and theological reflection. We must recognize the causes through dialogue and undertake courageous processes of revitalization of communion and reconciliation to overcome them. (Chapter 5, “A Church from ‘every tribe, tongue, people and nation,’ ” paragraph H)

The need for education in sexuality:

We recommend examining the topic of emotional and sexual education in depth, to accompany young people on their path of growth and to support the emotional maturation of those who are called to celibacy and consecrated chastity. Training in these areas is a necessary help in all seasons of life. (Chapter 14, “A synodal approach to training,” paragraph G)

Dialogue between science and theology:

It is important to deepen the dialogue between the human sciences, especially psychology, and theology, for an understanding of human experience that is not limited to juxtaposing their contributions, but integrates them in a more mature synthesis.  (Chapter 14, “A synodal approach to training,” paragraph H)

A new style of communication–free expression and mutual listening:

The experience of the conversation in the Spirit was enriching for all those who took part in it. In particular, a communication style that favors freedom in the expression of one’s points of view and mutual listening was appreciated. This avoids moving too quickly to a debate based on the reiteration of one’s own arguments, which leaves no space and time to realize the other’s reasons.

This basic attitude creates a favorable context for examining issues that are controversial even within the Church, such as the anthropological effects of digital technologies and artificial intelligence, non-violence and self-defence, problems relating to ministry, themes connected with corporeality and sexuality and others. (Chapter 15, “Ecclesial discernment and open questions, paragraphs A and B)

The need for more information in discernment and for avoiding traditional patterns: 

To develop authentic ecclesial discernment in these and other areas, it is necessary to integrate, in the light of the Word of God and the Magisterium, a broader information base and a more articulated reflective component. To avoid taking refuge in the comfort of conventional formulas, a comparison must be made with the point of view of the human and social sciences, of philosophical reflection and theological elaboration.  (Chapter 15, “Ecclesial discernment and open questions, paragraph C)

The relationship between love and truth:  

Among the issues on which it is important to continue reflection, there is that of the relationship between love and truth and the repercussions that it has on many controversial issues. This relationship, before being a challenge, is actually a grace that inhabits Christological revelation. In fact, Jesus fulfilled the promise that we read in the psalms: «Love and truth will meet, justice and peace will kiss. Truth will sprout from the earth and justice will appear from heaven” (Ps 85,11-12).  (Chapter 15, “Ecclesial discernment and open questions, paragraph D)

Harsh doctrine as betrayal of the Gospel:  

The difficulty we encounter in translating this clear evangelical vision into pastoral choices is a sign of our inability to live up to the Gospel and reminds us that we cannot support those who need help except through our personal and community conversion. If we use doctrine harshly and with a judgmental attitude, we betray the Gospel; if we practice cheap mercy, we do not transmit God’s love. The unity of truth and love implies taking on the difficulties of others to the point of making them one’s own, as happens between true brothers and sisters. For this reason, this unity can only be achieved by patiently following the path of accompaniment.  (Chapter 15, “Ecclesial discernment and open questions, paragraph F)

The insufficiency of the church’s anthropology:

Some issues, such as those relating to gender identity and sexual orientation, the end of life, difficult marital situations, ethical problems connected to artificial intelligence, are controversial not only in society, but also in the Church, because they ask new questions. Sometimes the anthropological categories that we have developed are not sufficient to capture the complexity of the elements that emerge from experience or scientific knowledge and require refinement and further study. It is important to take the time necessary for this reflection and invest the best energies in it, without giving in to simplifying judgments that hurt people and the Body of the Church. Many indications are already offered by the magisterium and await to be translated into appropriate pastoral initiatives. Also where further clarifications are necessary, the behavior of Jesus, assimilated in prayer and conversion of heart, shows us the path to follow.  (Chapter 15, “Ecclesial discernment and open questions, paragraph G)

Shared discernment and relying on expert skills:  

We propose to promote initiatives that allow shared discernment on doctrinal, pastoral and ethical issues that are controversial, in the light of the Word of God, the teaching of the Church, theological reflection and, valorising the synodal experience. This can be achieved through in- depth analysis between experts of different skills and backgrounds in an institutional context that protects the confidentiality of the debate and promotes frank discussion, giving space, when appropriate, also to the voice of the people directly affected by the controversies mentioned. This process must be started in view of the next Synodal Session. (Chapter 15, “Ecclesial discernment and open questions, paragraph K)

On the gift of speaking and listening in the church:

Being invited to speak and be listened to in the Church and by the Church was an intense and unexpected experience for many of those who participated in the synod process at a local level, especially among those who suffer forms of marginalization in society and also in Christian community. Being listened to is an experience of affirmation and recognition of one’s dignity: this is a powerful tool for activating the resources of the person and the community. (Chapter 16, “For a Church that listens and accompanies,” paragraph B)

Listening to victims of all kinds of ecclesial abuse:

The Church must listen with particular attention and sensitivity to the voices of victims and survivors of sexual, spiritual, economic, institutional, power and conscience abuse by members of the clergy or people with ecclesial positions. Authentic listening is a fundamental element of the path to healing, repentance, justice and reconciliation. (Chapter 16, “For a Church that listens and accompanies,” paragraph F)

Mercy and compassion for those who are excluded from church:  

In different ways, people who feel marginalized or excluded from the Church, due to their marital situation, identity and sexuality, also ask to be listened to and accompanied, and that their dignity is defended. In the Assembly there was a profound sense of love, mercy and compassion for people who are or feel hurt or neglected by the Church, who want a place to return “home” and where they feel safe, to be listened to and respected, without fear of feeling judged. Listening is a prerequisite for walking together in search of God’s will. The Assembly reaffirms that Christians cannot lack respect for the dignity of any person. (Chapter 16, “For a Church that listens and accompanies,” paragraph H)

How to welcome those excluded:

What should we change so that those who feel excluded can experience a more welcoming Church? Listening and accompaniment are not just individual initiatives, but a form of ecclesial action. For this reason they must find a place within the ordinary pastoral planning and operational structuring of Christian communities at different levels, also enhancing spiritual accompaniment. A synodal Church cannot give up being a Church that listens and this commitment must be translated into concrete actions. (Chapter 16, “For a Church that listens and accompanies,” paragraph N)

One section of the report highlighted a concept that will not be helpful to future discussions of LGBTQ+ issues.

Gender Binary and Complementarity:

We were created male and female, in the image and likeness of God. From the beginning, creation articulates unity and difference, giving women and men a shared nature, vocation and destiny and two distinct experiences of the human. Sacred Scripture testifies to the complementarity and reciprocity of women and men. In the many forms in which it occurs, the alliance between man and woman is at the heart of God’s plan for creation. (Chapter 9, “Women in the life and mission of the Church,” paragraph A)

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, October 30, 2023

6 replies
  1. Dr Claire Jenkins
    Dr Claire Jenkins says:

    These paragraphs seem to me to be a positive way forward for discernment of the variety of human anthropology especially in relation to human sexuality and gender identity. I have long argued with others that a multidisciplinary perspective is required for fuller understanding. This development can often be frustrated by the political use of the term LGBTQ. What is important now is that the magisterium lives up to these synodal intentions and truly listens to all who are marginalised – nevertheless a tall order.

  2. Stephen Golden
    Stephen Golden says:

    Robert, I greatly admire your insight and reportage. This article is the very epitome of what you offer to us and to the world. Thank you.

    You give me the reasons why I should stay in this Church just a little while longer.

  3. Brian McNeill
    Brian McNeill says:

    The big question is who edited out the LGBTQIA+ discussions that were held at the synod, ( see Cardinal Cupich’s interview in America magazine 10/29/23,) why, and with the permission of whom? In editing us out their clear message is that we do not want you, you are not welcome here, please go away. Those of us who choose to stay despite this antipathy, must be, and will be stronger than their hatred. The clerical elite will not risk anything, ever, for LGBTQIA+ Catholics, which is a good argument for having as little to do with them as possible and forming our own basic Christian communities, as we find in Dignity USA.

  4. Anna
    Anna says:

    “We propose to promote initiatives that allow shared discernment on doctrinal, pastoral and ethical issues that are controversial… This process must be started in view of the next Synodal Session.”
    This, at least, seems promising.

    The section on “complementarity” seems totally unnecessary and is nothing short of infuriating.

    Thank you very much for your analysis!! Very helpful.

  5. Andrea Keirstead
    Andrea Keirstead says:

    I was also hopeful because since everyone voted before it was published, I think some of the African (and possibly Asian) bishops who live in places where even being LGBT is punishable by imprisonment or death, and who may have sided with the oppressors, may be going home thinking of the need for change in their local churches.

  6. Loras Michel
    Loras Michel says:

    Applying a beautiful frosting to an invisible wedding cake does create a challenge. Yet, with God all things are possible, and that truth lies within every person’s grasp. We all are called to make these principles a reality right now especially in the lives of those who feel not quite even acknowledged or wanted in this life while not quite awake enough to imagine what lies ahead in the next. Hope lies in the middle of all this and has the power
    to sustain what is at the moment.


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