For two weeks, Catholic leaders are gathering for The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family to address “the pastoral challenge of the family in the context of evangelization.” On Monday, the Synod released a relatio, its mid-term report, which offers some hopeful directions in the way that Church leaders should address lesbian and gay people and their families. While this is not a final document, it includes encouraging statements that signal a shift in the approach to gay and lesbian people.
Most notably, Catholic communities are offered the challenge of “accepting and valuing” the sexual orientation of lesbian and gay people.
Further, they are challenged to recognize that lesbian and gay people “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” These recognitions are total reversals of earlier church statements, which labeled such an orientation as “objectively disordered” and viewed gay and lesbian people in faith communities as problems and suspect persons.
Though the relatio also speaks about the importance of not “compromising Catholic doctrine on family and matrimony,” the move toward accepting and valuing the gifts of gay and lesbian people is a major step forward, and I hope that local bishops and pastors will respond to the relatio’s challenges with new ways of welcome and acceptance.
Unfortunately, same-gender marriages are not still recognized–which is not a surprise. However, for the first time, the relatio recognizes that gay and lesbian couples offer one another ‘mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.’
This recognition of the holiness of gay and lesbian couples is an important development, and I hope it will lead to further developments of full recognition in years to come.
In addition, I hope that the statement of accepting the children of lesbian and gay couples will trickle down to parishes where such children have been excluded from sacramental life and educational opportunities.
What is also significant and hopeful is what is not said. In stating that same-gender marriages are not accepted by the hierarchy, there is no vicious condemnation of them, as previous hierarchical statements have included. We don’t see the gloom and doom and apocalyptic horror that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and their followers have foretold because of the advent of same-gender marriages.
With that being said, I am troubled by the suggestion that international bodies should not “pressure” pastors to accept “gender ideology.” Gender ideology is an empty, catch-all phrase meaning anything that church leaders don’t want to accept about gender. Unfortunately, the influence, or “pressure,” that many international bodies are attempting to exert is that of protecting the civil and human rights of LGBT people by ending criminalization so they do not suffer penalties and violence. It is very disappointing that the relatio doesn’t make this distinction.
Defending human rights is a pro-life and pro-family measure, but unfortunately, the human rights of LGBT people are not explicitly mentioned as worthy of defending.
Perhaps the most welcome statement, in terms of general approaches to marriage, family, and sexuality, is the admonition: “The indispensable biblical-theological study is to be accompanied by dialog, at all levels.” This call to dialogue has been absent in church discussions of sexuality for way too long. This admonition presents the hope that future changes that are even more welcoming and accepting of lesbian and gay people and their families can develop down the road.
Once church leaders engage in dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics, I am confident that these leaders will see the deep faith, love, and witness to the Gospel that is active in their lives and loves.