Many of the images below reflect ideologies driving the headlines that have been seen swirling around in various media outlets following a seemingly heavily controversial synod of bishops on the family.
There seem to be back-and-forth arguments everywhere as to what the Church is actually saying on the topic of homosexuality following the publication of both the synod’s midterm report on Oct. 13, as well as the final report given on Oct. 18, which removes much of the language in the first report that many found as opening a new door in the Church for people with homosexual orientation.
What was said?
Here is the paragraph from the synod’s original midterm report on the topic of homosexuality:
“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony? … Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.” (After Debate Report 51-52)
And here’s what paragraph 55 in the final synod report says:
“Some families live the experience of having persons of homosexual orientation within their inner structure. In this regard, we have questioned as to which pastoral care is appropriate to deal with this situation by referring to what the Church teaches: ‘There is no basis whatsoever to assimilate or to establish analogies, even remotely, between homosexual unions and God’s plan for marriage and the family.’ Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies need to be listened to with respect and delicacy. ‘In their regard every sign of unjust discrimination should be avoided.’ (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, 4).”
What’s the problem?
The bolded sections of the above paragraphs signify the parts of each report that were controversial, or taken out of context. Since the initial confusion after the publication of the midterm report started, the synod fathers, those bishops and cardinals participating in the synod, emphasized that the report was “a working document” that merely summarized the discussion that had so far taken place, and held no final weight.
Then a revision was made which removed the controversial phrases many of the synod fathers had dubbed as unclear and that could lead to confusion surrounding Church doctrine.
All of this lead to headlines, political cartoons, and articles that suggested basically 3 ideas:
1. The Catholic Church had finally change, that is, contradicted, her previous stance on homosexuality.
2.That there was a great divide amongst the synod participants, especially between certain bishops and Pope Francis.
3. Pope Francis is a progressive who can’t liberate the Church because he’s being held back by old, stuffy conservative frocks.
> CNN Belief blog: “A new welcome for gay Catholics in the Church”
“After decades of hearing messages from high church officials that lesbian and gay people were a threat to humanity and a danger to children, I had to rub my eyes a few times to make sure that I was reading this new, more positive language correctly…the document calls on Catholic communities to be ‘accepting and valuing’ of lesbian and gay people’s sexual orientation, and to recognize that lesbian and gay people “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.’
Quite simply, this is a total reversal of earlier church statements that labelled such an orientation as “objectively disordered,” and which viewed gay and lesbian people in faith communities as problems and suspect persons.”
> BBC News: “Catholic synod: Pope Francis setback on gay policy”
“BBC’s James Reynolds: This synod shows he faces serious internal opposition. Pope Francis has suffered a setback as proposals for wider acceptance of gay people failed to win a two-thirds majority at a Catholic Church synod.”
Image source (in order shown):
What is the truth?
When faced with these images and these assertions made by secular media outlets, there are many misconceptions which skew the reality of what happened, and present a false representation of a much deeper, broader discussion the Church is undergoing on the topic of homosexuality. Here are a 3:
1.Regardless of what is often said, the Catholic Church has always taught that each person, no matter their faults or sins, should be welcomed with mercy, and that includes those of homosexual orientation. A clear example is found in the Doctrine of the Faith’s document, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, issued in 1986, one year after St. John Paul II’s election.
In the letter, which was signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, it was written that “it is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.” The letter also encourages pastors to “provide pastoral care” for homosexually oriented persons without deviating from Church teaching. So, all said and done, the Church has always welcomed homosexual persons, and it is only the pastoral approach that is changing, nothing more.
2.In spite of what the aforementioned report from BBC suggests, the paragraphs in the final document regarding homosexuality were not tossed aside, but are rather being considered as topics to be deepened in ahead of next year’s synod.
Out of 62 paragraphs in the final document, which were voted on individually by the synod fathers, only 3 did not receive the majority vote, and of those three, two related to the topic divorced and remarried Catholics, and one, given above, to homosexuality.
At an Oct. 18 press briefing announcing the release of the final synod report, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi drew attention to these three paragraphs, saying that due to preparations for next year, the 3 paragraphs which lack the two-thirds majority “cannot be considered as dismissed, but primarily as paragraphs that are not mature enough to gain a wide consensus of the assembly.”
What Fr. Lombardi is saying is that, as mentioned above, the final report, although it’s final document for this synod, a work in progress which will be used as the “working document” for next year’s synod, which means that it may take another year to adjust the paragraphs to say exactly what the synod fathers want, but they are not throwing homosexuals out of the report altogether
3.What could possibly be the biggest misconception of them all, and seemingly most widely believed, is that Pope Francis is somehow pushing a gay agenda inside of the synod. Not only has the Pope remained silent throughout the synod discussions, merely listening to what his brother bishops had to say, in his final speech he made a blatant reference to pastoral temptations of being either too rigid with Church teachings, or neglecting Church doctrine altogether. He also made a reference to the temptation of not being faithful to Christ in order to please people:
“One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God…it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.
“This Synod is the first step in the process of a prolonged discussion that will continue in next year’s Ordinary Synod on the family”
“The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.
“The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” (the deposit of faith), not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters (of it).”
Basically what our current Bishop of Rome has done is say that rather than going to one extreme or the other, we need to find somewhere in the middle; we need to find a mid-ground where Church doctrine stands unchanged, but develop a new way of communicating it so that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, will understand the reality of what her teachings actually say, and will feel welcomed and cared for rather than judged. This change in the Church’s language is also something bishops dedicated a lot of time to, and it even has a paragraph of its own in the synod’s final report.
Given everything mentioned above, we have the certainty that this synod is not, as many make it out to be, full of divisions and polemics surrounding controversial issues, but rather a first step in the process of a prolonged discussion that will continue in next year’s Ordinary Synod on the family. What Pope Francis asked for when he spoke at the opening mass for this year’s synod telling the bishops to “say everything that you feel with frankness…without human respect, without timidity,” he got.
Now, as Pope Francis said in his closing speech, after the initial discussion we are embarking on a yearlong journey of maturity and spiritual discernment before next year’s synod as to the proper pastoral solutions to the current challenges facing the family in today’s society.
Regardless of the current debates and arguments going around, we can go forward to next year’s synod with the image of the Church that our Pope gave us in his final speech:
Rather than being a strict, closed-minded institution that waits for you to clean your feet before entering
“This is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.”