In the past week, some delegates to the Synod of Synodality’s October 2023 assembly in Rome have begun to talk to reporters about their experiences and about the discussion of LGBTQ+ issues at the meeting. Some expressed surprise or regret regarding the relative silence of LGBTQ+ issues in the Final Synthesis report of the first general assembly. At the same time, they also expressed hope for continuing conversation in the coming months and in preparation for next year’s second general assembly of the Synod on Synodality.
In America magazine, Fr. James Martin, S.J. wrote about some of the conversations that occurred at the assembly, and the tensions that they raised:
“While I can’t share the content of the table discussions or the interventions, I can say that we had frequent discussions of the topic at many tables (not only mine, but several others) and that there were several relevant interventions during the plenary sessions. The approaches fell along two lines: First, there were people, like myself, who shared stories of L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics struggling to find their place in their own church, along with calls for the church to reach out more to this community. On the other hand, many delegates objected even to using the term ‘L.G.B.T.Q.,’ seeing it more reflective of an ‘ideology’ foisted upon countries by the West or a form of ‘neo-colonialism,’ and focusing more on homosexual acts as ‘intrinsically evil’” From my point of view, I wish that the synthesis was more reflective of the rich conversation around the topic and admitted our divergences, as was done in other controversial areas.”
Fr. Martin notes that “the lack of any mention of the term ‘L.G.B.T.Q.’ in the final synthesis […] was, for many people, including myself, a disappointment,” and yet he suggested that the final synthesis report provides “an open door to further conversation by the synod in our next session and the church.”
In an interview with America’s Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago affirmed that he was surprised by the absence of explicit reference to L.G.B.T. issues in the report. Cupich stated:
“Only because there was, at least in the groups that I was in, quite a bit of reference to that. People spoke of their experiences. There were some very compelling testimonies on the part of people about that in terms of their families. That was not fully reflected in the document. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to return to it next year. I think that’s going to happen.
In a separate interview with Joshua McElwee and Christopher White of the National Catholic Reporter, Cardinal Cupich similarly stated:
“There was no intention of wanting to hurt anybody” by not using the terms LGBTQ or gay […] I do think we have to go back to the question: Do we call people the way they want to be called?. . . And I think that … that’s a sign of respect; that also has to be a part of the discussion going forward in the future.”
Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego,, in conversation with Gerard O’Connell, also addressed other causes for removing explicit reference to LGBTQ+ issues, linking them to questions of geopolitical and cultural realities:
“One of the reasons for the difficulties with terminology now is that it has gotten tied up, particularly in Africa, with American foreign policy and conditioning foreign aid. And it’s widely interpreted as a colonialist [effort]. […] And so that is widely felt by many parts of the world. So that is a big part of the problem, too. The fact that foreign aid is conditional on the L.G.B.T.Q. issue, so that creates a rancor about the term.”
And yet a prominent African Jesuit and synod delegate, Fr. Agonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J., when asked by the National Catholic Reporter about LGBTQ+ issues, emphasized that “Nothing is closed.” Fr. Orobator, a former president of the Jesuit conference of Africa and Madagascar, noted that “It’s clear that there is no issue that is off the table. And therefore, even now, because this document is not a final document … no issue is finalized or closed.”
Perhaps appropriately, a final word on LGBTQ+ issues at the Synod belongs to Pope Francis. When asked about the discussion of LGBTQ+ Catholics at the Synod in a wide-ranging Italian interview, Pope Francis responded:
“When I say ‘everyone, everyone, everyone,’ it’s the people. The church receives people, everyone, and does not ask what you are. Then, within the church, everyone grows and matures in their Christian belonging. It’s true that today it’s a bit fashionable to talk about this. The church receives everyone.”
New Ways Ministry will continue walking the path of synodality and bringing the voices of LGBTQ+ Catholics and their allies from the margins to the center in the coming months. Join us as we continue the conversation on Thursday, November 9, at 7:30 pm Eastern US time as we discuss “The Synod & LGBTQ+ People: What Happened?” You can register for this online dialogue by clicking here.
—Brian Flanagan, New Ways Ministry, November 3, 2023