The following is a statement from Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, following the release of the Synod on Synodality General Assembly’s final report. It does not involve the position of this Newsletter.
In the Synod on Synodality’s first two years, Catholics worldwide expressed a strong desire for the church to engage positively with LGBTQ+ people. Today, the final report of the Synod’s first General Assembly disappoints by simply reaffirming the hierarchy’s status quo.
With no positive statement on LGBTQ+ issues in the document, and with only two references, which simply state what was known when the Synod began, Catholics globally will be greatly disappointed. After two years of calling on the church to have a more positive approach to LGBTQ+ people, repeated over and over around the globe and in every phase of the Synod consultations, it is clear that Catholics want a more inclusive Church.
Stating LGBTQ+ issues are controversial in the church does not raise new questions, as the report suggests, for this fact was known well before the Synod even began. Church leaders have had decades to learn about scientific and theological developments about gender and sexuality. Likewise, acknowledging people excluded by the Church because of identity or sexuality seek to be heard is well-known. The questions the report claims are now not, in fact, new.
The only acknowledgment that the church needs to grow is a single sentence, which admits that current Catholic anthropological categories do not sufficiently respond to new information, which is being discovered from experience or scientific knowledge. Yet the vagueness with which this acknowledgement is described does not provide sufficient confidence that change can be envisioned.
While LGBTQ+ Catholics and their supporters will be disappointed, we pray that they will not also become discouraged. When New Ways Ministry’s co-founder and staff met with Pope Francis this month during the Synod assembly, he counselled us never to give up hope, quoting St. Paul: “Hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5).
The Catholic LGBTQ+ community must take Pope Francis’ message to heart. The report’s shortcomings are an invitation to speak anew about their joys, their sorrows, and their faith during the remaining year of this synodal journey. Now is not a time to despair. Now is a time to continue living in hope, and to make that hope come alive through action.
It is progress the LGBTQ+ issues were openly discussed, further dissolving decades of silence – or worse, only negative and harmful messages – from high-ranking Church leaders. Catholics who desire a renewed approach to gender and sexuality in the church will continue to pray, dialogue, and hope in the Synod’s final year and beyond.
One encouraging message from this first General Assembly of the Synod is the reportedly sizable number of delegates who supported a more positive approach to LGBTQ+ issues. The Roman rumour mill made clear that some participants strongly urged changes in Catholic practice, language, and teaching related to LGBTQ+ people. One delegate spoke powerfully about a bisexual loved one who died by suicide after facing rejection by the Church. This final report does not recognize these participants’ contributions.
Nothing in Catholicism changes overnight, but change never comes to any institution if there is not free, open discussion. For decades, Catholic theologians, pastoral ministers, and advocates who spoke out in support of LGBTQ+ people were silenced and dismissed. With this meeting, the universal Church has begun an institutional LGBTQ+ dialogue: it was supposed to end decades of obstinate suppression of the issues of sexual and gender identity, which are so essential to human flourishing, and so important for the Catholic Church to live up to its best ideals of being an enlarged tent where all are welcome, all are respected, and all are treated equally.