The third in our series of three reflections from a specifically LGBT perspective on last month’s family synod, is at Queering the Church by Terry Weldon, who suggests that although this synod has done nothing to change formal doctrine on sexuality, the significance lies on the longer term. Simply by opening up serious discussion on previously taboo subjects, there is now a realistic prospect of meaningful change to come – at the very least, in pastoral practice.
For Gay Catholics, Nothing Has Changed – Everything Is Changing
The familiar phrase, “La plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” is usually interpreted as “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. For lesbian and gay Catholics in the wake of the synod, this formulation could equally be reversed: “the more things stay the same, the more they change”.
In the entire proposed final “Relatio” of the synod, only one paragraph dealt specifically with homosexual people – and narrowly failed to secure the two thirds majority support required for approval.
The pastoral care of people of homosexual orientation
55 Some families live the experience of having within them people of homosexual orientation. In this regard, we have questioned with regard to pastoral care what is appropriate to deal with this situation by referring to what the Church teaches: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. “In this regard there should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination”
There are two parts to this, dealing in turn with gay marriage, and with the need for respect. Both are established principles, deeply embedded in Vatican teaching. The section on gay marriage is found in paragraph 4 of the 2003 CDF “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons“, the words about respect and sensitivity are found in both the Catechism and the CDF 1986 “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”. There’s clearly nothing new in either of these. As established teaching, the paragraph should surely have deserved unanimous support, but could not muster even two thirds. Why not?
Cardinal Nichols of Westminster has suggested that for some bishops, the problem could be that this paragraph simply did not go far enough, specifically by dropping the terms of “welcoming” and “valuing” that were so notably included in the interim report after the first week. I can also imagine some bishops having serious misgivings about quoting the line from the 2003 “Considerations” on gay marriage and civil unions. That document was unequivocally opposed to any form of recognition of either gay marriage or civil unions for same – sex couples. Opposition to gay marriage remains steadfast, but on civil unions, there’s a clear rethink under way since that document was published. As has been frequently noted at this site, and also at Bondings 2.0, in recent years a steadily increasing number of bishops and cardinals, of steadily increasing seniority and influence, have been expressing support for some form of legal recognition that stops short of the word “marriage” (either for their intrinsic value, or just tactically, to forestall the introduction of full civil marriage for gay couples).
The simple fact is, that just as the secular world is evolving on gay marriage, non-discrimination and LGBT equality, so is the Catholic Church, along with other denominations. The specific references to welcoming and valuing were not included in the proposed Relatio text, but they did appear in the interim report, and will for ever after remain in the public domain. Even if they have not received formal endorsement by the synod as a whole, we can conclude that there was substantial support in some quarters, or they would never have made it into the interim report at all. The same applies to the recognition of the harm caused by the language of “intrinsically disordered”. The importance of respect, compassion and sensitivity have been part of official teaching for decades – but until recently, has been widely ignored. No longer – that has now grabbed public attention, and will not disappear. “Intrinsically disordered” on the other hand, probably will, Even now, it’s part of the Vatican documents, but seldom heard elsewhere. Even more remarkable are some of the observations in the small group reports, and commentary from some synod participants.
In one group, along with the recognition that LGBT people experience serious discrimination and marginalization which the Church should oppose, was an admission that this discrimination and exclusion is also experienced within the Church itself, and must be eradicated. In personal interviews, some leading cardinals have noted that the teaching itself will inevitably develop over time.
Above all, what has changed is the simple fact that what for so long was presented as “constant and unchanging tradition”, delivered from on high to a meek and acquiescent laity, is now firmly up for frank discussion. That has already occurred at the synod in a manner that would have been unthinkable under the previous two popes, and will now be starting worldwide, at all levels of the Church.
- Synod Reflection (1 – Dignity): “An Extraordinary Time in our Church”
- Synod Reflection (2): New Ways – “Writing Letters to Our Bishops”
- After Catholic Synod: Disappointment, Yet Hope Remains (Advocate)
- What the Synod of Bishops that discussed divorced, LGBT Catholics did – and didn’t – do (Fr James Martin, SJ)
- Editorial: The church needs the commotion the family synod caused (National Catholic Reporter)