BY ANDY HUMM | The 270 Roman Catholic bishops meeting in a three-week synod in Rome on family issues could do no better on the essence of their approach to homosexuality and divorce than the Westboro Baptist in Topeka, home of the “God Hates Fags” ministry.
The bishops would not budge off their stand that homosexual activity is always wrong, marriage is indissoluble and exclusively heterosexual, and that those who divorce and remarry are living in sin and should continue to be barred from receiving Communion. Pope Francis met with recalcitrant Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis last month while the Westboro zealots have picketed her, but Westboro and the Catholics agree that her only valid marriage was her first.
“Not much expected, not much accomplished,” said out gay Father Bernárd Lynch, a London-based psychotherapist and author who has tried to move his Church on LGBT issues for decades. “Some, it seems, wanted to get the language used about us — ‘disordered in our nature and evil in our love’ — changed, but not even this tokenistic Christian gesture could get approval. Imagine if we used such language about racial minorities or Jewish people. We would rightfully be taken to the World Court of Human Rights. The mind boggles as to what Gospels these people are reading.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, founded by and for LGBT Catholics in 1969, said in a written release, “It is clear that there was deep division among the bishops participating in the Synod on LGBT issues, with many recognizing the need for significant changes in doctrine, language, and pastoral approach. That was evident in the daily reports and summaries of the language group discussions. However, it is also clear that those who refused to consider any possibility of change managed to delay any significant movement towards greater openness.”
“You will not find much about homosexuality in this document. Some people will be disappointed,” said Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, an advocate for more openness. What’s there is mostly in Paragraph 76, which says, “Homosexual acts ‘close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved’… The synod hold that it is entirely unacceptable that local churches suffer pressure on this matter and that international organizations make financial help to poor counties conditioned on the introduction of laws that institute ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex.” (There is, in fact, no example of such withholding of financial aid.)
The document approved also contained an attack on “gender ideology,” a dig at transgender people and an issue on which the pope is in agreement with his brother bishops.
The final document not only failed to drop old, bigoted language against gay sex and orientation, it found new words to oppose same-sex marriage, saying that it is not even “remotely analogous” to man-woman marriage. The bishops did dredge up words from previous teachings to try to sound like human beings, saying gay people should not be subject to “unjust discrimination,” but in cases from employment in schools to United Nations resolutions, the Church has virtually never found discrimination against gay people that it has not deemed just.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who monitored the synod in Rome, saw some hope in the handful of bishops — including a group of Germans — open to changing some of the egregious language used to talk about LGBT issues. He also saw potential in the pope’s emphasis on “decentralization of Church authority” and on “becoming a listening Church.”
Duddy-Burke sees some hope in the few bishops appointed by this pope so far having “a more pastoral bent” as opposed to the hardliners picked by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
And some see a glimmer of hope in Paragraph 86 that goes into, in Vatican-speak, “the internal forum” that might open the door a smidge to more respect for the conscience of divorced and remarried individuals.
No bishop openly espouses a change in Church doctrine, but the idea that the Church would even soften its tone on LGBT issues alarmed 13 ultra-conservative bishops — including New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan — so much that they wrote a letter to the pope accusing him of manipulating the synod by appointing bishops to the drafting committee who were too liberal and bent on undermining doctrine.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, considered a centrist by today’s standards, was incredulous, telling the New York Times that all the pope was trying to do was encourage the bishops “to be open, to be merciful, to be kind, to be compassionate, but he keeps saying that you cannot change the teachings of the Church. I wonder if it is really that they just don’t like this pope.”
Francis has declared a “Jubilee Year of Mercy” to begin December 8, but it remains to be seen what the quality of that mercy will be beyond easier annulments and forgiveness for abortions — not acceptance of divorce or approval of abortion under any circumstances.
“The reality is that everything is hands of the pope,” Duddy-Burke said. “This is an advisory document to him, and he has a lot of freedom. He can take it and base [his statement] on its content. He can disregard it. But it is unlikely he would issue something that is totally oppositional.” If he wants to counteract the reactionary document of the synod, she said, he will have to move “quickly.”
The Vatican, it should be noted, has been on an anti-gay roll lately. Even as he met with Kim Davis in Washington in September, Francis rebuffed all requests to meet with self-affirming LGBT Catholics or even include them in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia (though he did meet with an old friend who is gay and his male partner, something the Vatican chose to emphasize to distract from the Davis scandal). The pope personally refused to accept an out gay man, Laurent Stefanini , as ambassador from France, leading the French government eventually to pass on sending any representative to the Holy See before the 2017 elections. The Vatican fired a highly ranked priest, Father Krzysztof Charamsa, who came out as in a gay relationship on the eve of the synod, holding a press conference with his boyfriend and declaring that the majority of priests are gay. He was summarily defrocked by his Polish bishop soon thereafter.
And while women, including heads of religious orders, were given no vote in the synod, the bishops did hear from Dr. Anca-Maria Cernea, president of the Association of Catholic Doctors of Bucharest. She told them that the solution to the world’s ills is “not an ever-increasing government control, not a world government. These are nowadays the main agents imposing cultural Marxism to our nations, under the form of population control, reproductive health, gay rights, gender education, and so on. What the world needs nowadays is not limitation of freedom, but real freedom, liberation from sin.”
Lynch said, “Once more, we as LGBT people are scapegoated by the Catholic Church. Women’s ordination did not even get a look in. Until it does, sexual minorities will continue to be the last, the lost, and the least in the eyes of the institutional Church.”
Just prior to the synod, the inaugural meeting of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics was held, bringing together self-affirming LGBT Catholics from 30 countries, including representatives from Dignity and New Ways Ministry in the US. Jeff Stone of Dignity/ New York said the goal was to “develop a stronger voice globally and share resources,” but there was no immediate plan on how to respond to the intransigence of the bishops. “Those of us in Dignity feel attached to parts of the faith we feel are nourishing,” he said. “We obviously disagree completely with the teaching on human sexuality. We have a lot of company in the Church. Most Catholics agree with us on these issues — in America, Europe, and Latin America.”
While the Vatican iced LGBT Catholics out of its proceedings, the US Embassy to the Holy See had two officers meet with representatives of the Global Network. “We asked them to convey [to the Vatican] that the teachings [on homosexuality] are wrong and harmful,” Stone said.
“It’s very hard to continue to be ignored and treated as less than fully human while people are dying,” said Duddy-Burke. “We just keep on doing our work. We’re not giving up. But I can’t buy into this idea that just having LGBT issues talked about was progress.”
She added, “This Church holds up this model of a non-biological father and virginal mother and kid who had no siblings as the model for family life that is supposed to be procreative and always open to life. People have to get the irony of this thing. This document from the synod ends with this prayer to the Holy Family. If anything, that should say we are here for the atypical families, those who do not fit social norms.”
Dignity USA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke and New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo held an October 27 Google hangout with GLAAD’s director of programs, Ross Murray, and the group’s Latino media specialist, Janet Quezada, which can be viewed at glaad.org/pope .
On November 14 at 2:30 p.m., a memorial service will be held for Father John McNeill, the pioneering gay theologian, activist, and author of the groundbreaking “The Church and the Homosexual” who died on September 22 at age 90. RSVP to Event@DignityNY.org for the service to be held at the LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street.