After signs of progress from the mid-term report of the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family, the Vatican’s final report significantly backtracks on LGBT issues from the promising draft. Despite this disappointment, the synod’s process and openness to discussion provide hope for further development down the road, particularly at next year’s synod, where the make-up of the participants will be larger and more diverse, including many more pastorally-oriented bishops.
It is very disappointing that the Synod’s final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included.
Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples. Additionally, their further comment about supposed “international pressure” to accept same-gender marriage selfishly views the hierarchy as the victims, not the LGBT people who receive unjust and oppressive treatment by governments, church, families, and society.
Pastoral care should focus on for LGBT people as total human beings, many of whom have suffered significant alienation and personal harm, and not just as sexual beings. Pastoral care should also focus on the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Church, something that the earlier draft highlighted.
One major error the bishops made in the final report was to quote the Vatican’s 2003 document condemning same-gender marriage, which referred to adoption by gay and lesbian couples as a form of “violence” toward the children. Such language is pastorally harmful and destructive to any welcome to lesbian and gay people.
It’s important, however, to keep two things in mind.
First, the paragraphs on homosexuality, which did not receive the required 2/3rds vote, and which were more welcoming of LGBT people, failed by only a handful of votes, indicating significant support from a majority of bishops. Second, this report is not the final word, but as a Vatican spokesperson explained, it is still a working document which will be discussed in the coming year.
What was good about this two-week long meeting? The real value of this synod is that it has started the discussion among the hierarchy on LGBT issues which has been going on for decades among the lay people and theologians in the Church. The bishops began to catch up, and I don’t think that the discussion will stop here, but will only continue, with more promising outcomes for LGBT people and their families in the future.
It is not surprising that the paragraphs on lesbian and gay people proved to be among the most controversial of the synod’s proceedings. The paragraphs on homosexuality were among those that received the lowest affirmative votes.
This result shows that there is still much to be examined and explored on LGBT issues in the Church.
Let’s hope and pray that at next year’s synod, the bishops will invite lesbian and gay people and couples to give their personal testimonies so that the bishops can learn first-hand about their experiences of faith and love.
More importantly, though this synod revealed that there are some strong voices for LGBT equality and for change in church teaching, something which was not known clearly before the meeting. Now that these voices have been bold enough to speak, more bishops who think like them will surely follow their example.
The biggest problem in the Church up to this point has not been lack of support among the hierarchy on LGBT issues, but lack of courage for those bishops to speak out what they truly think.
The silence has ended. Nothing will be the same.
Between now and next year’s synod, the discussion in the Catholic Church–at all levels–on LGBT issues, as well as other issues of family and sexuality, will be more open and robust than it has ever been. That is a very good thing!