LGBT hospitality and the church


The questionnaire for the upcoming Synod for the Family includes the following;

  1. How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies? What are the responses that, in light of cultural sensitivities, are considered to be most appropriate? While avoiding any unjust discrimination, how can such persons receive pastoral care in these situations in light of the Gospel? How can God’s will be proposed to them in their situation? (Lineamenta, p.25)

Let’s try to ignore the clunky and awkward language (homosexual tendencies…”such persons”) and focus on the invitation to dialogue. And, a dialogue on the church’s hospitality (or lack of) to LGBT persons is sorely needed.

San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone continues to make headlines with his proposed Faculty Handbook for local Catholic schools. Sadly, his culture warrior approach of doctrinal enforcement is not unique. Instead of proposing dialogue seeking understanding, these tactics turn a diocese into a judgmental community of heresy seeking suspicion.

What does it say to a young LGBT person when teachers or parish workers are threatened with dismissal not only for living in an openly gay relationship, but also for simply supporting those who do? How can a person feel welcomed in a church that judges them as “intrinsically disordered”?

Sam Albano has written a heartfelt and faith-filled essay for NCR titled That all might hear the Gospel and life. He describes his own experience of being asked to resign from active parish ministry. For many, this would be the final nudge out the church doors but Sam writes,

And I remain steadfast in my pilgrimage as a gay Catholic man, trusting in God and striving to follow the way of the Gospel. I continue to love my parish. I continue to love my pastor. And I persist in my love for the church. My service to God and to the church has clearly changed, but certainly not ended.

Those who hope for a “leaner and purer” church are happily holding the door wide open for those who do not live up to their ideals of doctrinal perfection. My hope and prayer is for more women and men like Sam to remain steadfast in their faith and in their belief in a loving God that welcomes all. Their refusal to leave the church inspires others to stay and work together for a more just and inclusive church.

I also hope that the Synod bishops will take time to put aside the lengthy, dense documents and simply sit and listen to more stories like Sam’s. Black and white pronouncements can close minds. The sharing of personal journeys can open hearts.

marianist lgbt issues with youth

A positive aspect of the Synod questionnaire is its request for concrete examples of pastoral initiatives. The Marianist Social Justice Collaborative has published an online booklet titled Addressing LGBT Issues with Youth; a Resource for Educators.  This resource clearly states current church teachings while acknowledging the complexity of balancing doctrine with real life. Navigating this complexity is not easy. It requires a prayerful, well-informed and discerning conscience.

I was especially impressed with the wealth of practical advice in this short booklet, from intentionally including LGBT issues in more general class-room discussions to how to listen to and support a young person and their family in their “coming out”.

The authors are obviously writing from experience, knowing that simply inviting a dialogue on LGBT hospitality in the church can draw angry responses from some. But, they believe, “The issue is not debating the existence of gay and lesbian students, however, but rather ensuring they are treated with the dignity due all God’s children.”

synod requires a culture of encounter

Pope Francis is a man who knows how to speak to the heart, from the heart. His homilies and talks touch many because he genuinely shared the life of the people he served in Buenos Aires.

Evening falls on our assembly. It is the hour at which one willingly returns home to meet at the same table, in the depth of affection, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which anticipates the unending feast in the days of man. It is also the weightiest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of shattered dreams and broken plans; how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes the wine of joy has been less plentiful, and therefore, also the zest — the very wisdom — for life […]. Let us make our prayer heard for one another this evening, a prayer for all.

(Pope Francis, October 4, 2014. Prayer vigil before Synod on the family.)

Francis paints a realistic image of the joys and struggles of family life. Pastoral experience and compassion give credibility to his words. The above quote is included in the lineamenta for the 2015 Synod on the family.

Some priests and bishops focus on promoting an idealized model of family wrapped in doctrinal purity and moral perfection. Perfection is unattainable for most. Despite our sincerest efforts, family life is often challenging and down right messy. We do not need to hear any more condemnations of our failings, or judgmental diatribes about our lives or those of our loved ones. We need compassionate support and practical help to safely traverse the challenges before us. We need spiritual tools to remain grounded in God’s love in the midst of the messiness.

It is simplistic and wrong to say that priests and bishops, because they are celibate, have no right to preach or teach about family life. The key, of course, is how grounded they are in the lived reality of those they serve. Pope Francis has captured the hearts of many because of his experience as a pastor who reached out beyond the confines of the chancery office. The recent synod recognized the need for the church to embrace this pastoral approach.

The path of renewal delineated by the Extraordinary Synod is set within the wider ecclesial context indicated by Pope Francis in his Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, namely, starting from “life’s periphery” and engaging in pastoral activity that is characterized by a “culture of encounter” (Lineamenta, p.18)

Do you know a pastor or bishop whose homilies are characterized by a “culture of encounter” formed from genuine time spent with the families he serves? Please share your story. 

let’s have a personal dialogue on family life

I’m still struggling to regain a writing routine. My time, my mind, my energies have been focused on family this past year. The heart-tugs of family make church issues fade into irrelevancy. And yet, the intensity of family life is now calling me to write.

Bishops are preparing for the second synod for the family. We are, once again, made to hope that a more democratic spirit is finally blowing into Vatican halls. A questionnaire has been distributed reflecting on the current state of family life in the church and in the world. Unfortunately, the questionnaire is just as complicated and convoluted as the one for the recent synod. Also, it’s promotion and distribution depends on the good will of individual bishops and-or local episcopal conferences.

NCR editor, Dennis Coday, has published a cross-section list of American dioceses reporting on their efforts to canvass the opinions of local women and men. Some dioceses merely provide a link to the original lineamenta and questions. Some provide the same questions in an online survey format. Others have formulated a simplified version of the questionnaire. Some are making the questions open to every one. Others are seeking only the opinions of priests and those in active diocesan ministry. In all cases, the time frame is extremely limited.

This “catholic dialogue” blog was begun as a vehicle for open and free discussion on current issues facing our church. It was formed from personal frustration with a lack of true dialogue between our church leadership and the women and men whom they serve.

Our all male, celibate leadership is now preparing to reconvene and continue their discussions and decision making on family life. We need to take the time to ponder the issues presented in their working document (lineamenta). We need to share and discuss our own understanding of the church’s teachings on family life; an understanding based on thoughtful reflection, yes. But, more importantly, an understanding based on the reality of experience.

My humble plan is to use this blog in the weeks and months preceding the October synod to promote some online dialogue on family life, using the lineamenta as a stepping-stone. I will not be using a linear method, or attempting to address all the proposed questions. My hope is that, together, we can generate a more personal discussion. A discussion that will reflect the diversity of family life lived in all its joys and struggles.

My thoughts and your thoughts will most probably not make it onto the synod floor.

But….who knows?