The news of a slate of mostly conservative bishops being elected to represent the U.S. Catholic Church at the Synod on the Family in Rome next October was disappointing.
Across the Atlantic, news about the synod preparatory plans of the bishops of England and Wales are much more optimistic.
According to The Tablet, these British bishops are going to “launch a wide-ranging consultation of parishes and clergy ahead of next year’s Synod on the Family.” The article reports:
Speaking at a press conference on Friday Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that material would be sent out to parishes and clergy after Christmas. The period of reflection should go on until June or July of next year ahead of the synod in October 2015.
"It is not so much a request for opinions as a request for testimony," Cardinal Vincent Nichols said at the bishops’ conference offices in London. "You will recall that the two great features of the synod in October was on the one hand for it to give a resounding trumpet call in support of marriage and stability of family life, and on the other hand express and strengthen the pastoral response of the Church in a wide variety of difficult and pressurised situations. We hope the material we prepare will find that same balance.”
Nichols also made a point of saying that the results of such discussions should be made public.
When a synod organizer sent a questionnaire to bishops last year to disseminate to the laity, the Vatican asked that the results not be made public.
Such an open discussion is what is needed here in the United States, and it was exactly that kind of discussion that Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups that work for LGBT equality, asked of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) last week. Coalition members including Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry, sent a letter to the conference last week in which they asked the bishops the following:
To prepare for this upcoming event, we urge each of you to initiate a wide conversation with Catholics in your dioceses on marriage, sexuality, and family life, so that so that you can better understand how these realities are experienced by people of faith who actively work to discern how to follow God’s Will. Since LGBT issues figured so prominently in this past October’s sessions, and since no openly LGBT person provided testimony at these events, it will be necessary to initiate those conversations with LGBT Catholics and their families, in particular....
Now is the time for bishops in the U.S. to replicate Pope Francis’ process on the local level by opening up a conversation on marriage, family, and sexuality. Many Catholics, especially LGBT people and their families, have waited decades for such an opportunity, and have been heartened by the fact that this year’s synod opened up this much needed discussion.
New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo, writing for the Equally Blessed coalition, posted an essay on Advocate.com explaining the importance of such a dialogue:
Since LGBT issues caused so much discussion and disagreement, it will be especially important for U.S. bishops to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. This synod showed that there were a majority of bishops who were willing to recognize that lesbian and gay people “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” in the words of an early draft report. Similarly, that same report noted that the “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” that same-sex partners offer one another “constitutes a precious support” in the couple’s life. It’s important for U.S. bishops to explore these ideas, and the best way of doing so is to listen intently to those closest to these issues....
The synod’s free and open discussion among bishops must be replicated in local churches. The Catholic laity are an educated and insightful resource. More importantly, they are the true experts on the topics of marriage, family, and sexual expression, since they are the people who live these realities every day, not the bishops. While Catholics develop their theology from scripture, tradition, and nature, they also develop it from examining the lived experience of people of faith. What leader of any organization would want to ignore the perspectives of the people who know an issue because they live it?....
Last year a number of bishops complained that they could not gather input from laity because they only had two months to do so. Now they have 11 months, which is plenty of time to circulate surveys, hold listening sessions, meet with leaders, and post response forms on diocesan websites. When the bishops want to get a message out about opposing some legislative or judicial measure, they do not seem to lack in creativity in using all sorts of media to alert Catholics. Let’s see them use the same creativity to gather opinions on these matters.
The U.S. bishops need to be encouraged to open such a dialogue; therefore, we urge you to write to your local bishop and ask him for such a possibility.
Use some of the arguments and language from this blog post, the Equally Blessed letter, or the Advocate.com essay to make your point. You can even start the dialogue yourself by sharing your personal story with your bishop so that he can see the faith lives of LGBT people and families, and also see the situations, positive and negative, that they encounter in their local churches. Check out Equally Blessed for more opportunities to support this cause.
The U.S. bishops need to follow the example of the U.K. bishops. But it is probably going to take the encouragement of the laity to get them to do so.