With the release on Monday of the relatio post disceptationem, the mid-term report presented at the start of the second week of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, the Catholic blogosphere went crazy. And rightfully so. While the report is in no way official or binding, it very much captures a tone and verbiage that many were anticipating (and dreading) in the months leading up to the synod. Nowhere is this more evident than in the already infamous passage entitled “Welcoming Homosexual Persons”. In language eerily familiar to the political correctness found in the secular realm, the document strikes a tone that is as much capitulation as it is conciliation.
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?
Considering that the Church has always considered homosexual acts to be intrinsically disordered, this is indeed odd phrasing. Mortal sins, sexual sins, whether we are speaking of homosexual acts, adultery, fornication or masturbation should never lead us to accepting or valuing sin.
While I mentioned previously that many Catholics were shocked by the language found in the midterm report, not all were displeased.
Below is the response of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry:
“The relatio offers some very hopeful directions in the way that Church leaders should address lesbian and gay people and their families. I hope that local bishops and pastors will respond to the relatio’s challenges with new ways of welcome and acceptance.
“The most significant aspects are that Catholic communities are offered the challenge of ‘accepting and valuing’ lesbian and gay people’s sexual orientation, and the recognition that lesbian and gay people ‘have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.’ These recognitions are total reversals of earlier church statements which labelled such an orientation as “objectively disordered” and which viewed gay and lesbian people in faith communities as problems and suspect persons. Though the relatio also speaks about the importance of not ‘compromising Catholic doctrine on family and matrimony,’ the move toward accepting and valuing the gifts of gay and lesbian people is a major step forward.
If you are not familiar with Mr. DeBernardo or New Ways Ministry, they describe themselves as a:
“…Gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities. Through research, publication and education about homosexuality, we foster dialogue among groups and individuals, identify and combat personal and structural homophobia, work for changes in attitudes and promote the acceptance of LGBT people as full and equal members of church and society. New Ways Ministry is a member of Equally Blessed, a coalition of faithful Catholics who support full equality for LGBT people both in the Church and in civil society.”
Their website also provides listings of “Gay-Friendly Catholic parishes” and “Gay-Friendly Catholic colleges” as well. Make no mistake about it: Mr. DeBernardo and his organization are not excited about the midterm report because of any perceived need to repent and seek personal holiness through heroic sacrifice and chaste living. He continues:
“Although same-gender marriages are not recognized–which is not a surprise–it is very significant that the relatio recognizes that gay and lesbian couples offer one another ‘mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.’ This recognition of the holiness of gay and lesbian couples is an important development, and I think it can lead to further developments of full recognition in years to come.
“What is also significant and hopeful is what is not said. In stating that same-gender marriages are not accepted by the hierarchy, there is no vicious condemnation of them, as previous hierarchical statements have. We don’t see the gloom and doom and apocalyptic horror that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and their followers have foretold because of the advent of same-gender marriages…
“This call to dialogue has been absent in church discussions of sexuality for way too long. It presents the hope that future changes that are even more welcoming and accepting of lesbian and gay people and their families can develop down the road. Once church leaders engage in dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics, I am confident that these leaders will see the deep faith, love, and witness to the Gospel that is active in their lives and loves.”
Some have dismissed the enthusiasm expressed by groups such as New Ways Ministry following the release of the Relatio, saying that nothing has changed and that this is simply a working document. That argument is naive at best, disingenuous at worst. Perceived change is just as effective as real change. One need look no further than the widespread acceptance of contraception among Catholics in the decades following the release of Humanae Vitae in 1968. When upwards of 90% of the faithful use contraception or elect for sterilization, they either do not understand the Church’s teaching or they do, but simply choose to reject it. Either way, the faithful have been forever changed, though the official teaching may not have been.
For those who would dismiss Mr. DeBernardo’s reaction to the Relatio, please consider this. The same day (Monday, October 13) that the Synod released the midterm report, the Holy Father said in his morning homily at Santa Marta:
“And this should make us think: am I attached to my things, my ideas, [are they] closed? Or am I open to God’s surprises? Am I at a standstill or am I on a journey? Do I believe in Jesus Christ…Do I think that the journey continues towards maturity, toward the manifestation of the glory of the Lord? Am I able to understand the signs of the times and be faithful to the voice of the Lord that is manifested in them? We should ask ourselves these questions today and ask the Lord for a heart that loves the law – because the law belongs to God – but which also loves God’s surprises and the ability to understand that this holy law is not an end in itself”.
It would do us all well to ask ourselves, “Am I able to understand the signs of the times?”
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.