A separate section on LGBT inclusion?; The crucial absent voices; The church should be better than this

Early this morning, I received a phone call from Bishop Everard Johannes de Jong of the Netherlands.  And we set up a meeting to further discuss the issues around women’s roles in the church that came up last week.  We will meet Monday morning for more dialogue.  I am looking forward to it.

The streets are always crowded on Saturdays, and it is hard to stay on sidewalks because the throngs of bodies can send you tripping into the street where tour buses show no mercy.

As I made my way to the press office I took in the people around me and I thought how hard it must be to garner enough resources for the very basics.

Every ten feet or so there is a person selling tickets for sightseeing tours and museums.

Along the edges of the street people sell their wares — a wooden bowl that collapses, scarves, selfie sticks, rosaries, Pope Francis bobble heads (one of my favorites), umbrellas, and something made of brightly colored plastic that I think looks like a phone charger.

There is an old man with his colorful square clothe laid out on the sidewalk.  He squats low as he neatly arranges a variety of wooden letters on little red wheels, the kind that hook together making a train with your name.  As many times as I have passed him, I’ve never seen him sell anything which makes me sad.

A young fellow that I pass everyday plays his electric guitar all day until late into the evening.  His worn guitar case is open so that people can offer a bit of gratitude that I am sure helps him eat.  One day a small boy would not follow his mother as she beckoned him along.  I couldn’t understand the Italian, but I do understand the art of negotiating with a four year old.   She finally gave him a coin to place in the guitar case.  After dropping it in the sand colored lid, he happily skipped back to her and they walked on.

In the middle of the walkway a person sits on a chair in the sun with a costume that makes him look like he has literally lost his head.  I have to smile.  People are so inventive.

Another person hides in a large box with a variety of signs and stuffed animals sitting on it.  From time to time he jumps out of a hole at the top and scares the bejeebers out of people passing by.  I’m not sure how you make money doing that, but folks seem to be good natured about it.  I jumped.

There is a woman with her child under the cold damp bridge.  I don’t always walk that way, but when I do, she is there.  Her paper cup is always in front of her and the baby.  Sometimes she is asking for help and sometimes she is carrying on a conversation with someone else as if she is in her living room.

Living in this concrete jungle are the homeless too.  They find little patches of sidewalk or concrete benches to take a nap, or to sit with their paper cup at their feet.   Most don’t speak or they speak softy, but from time to time someone will share their anguish loudly with anyone who cares enough to listen.

I like strolling in the evening because the pace is a little slower. One night on the way to the grocery (more carrots), Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” came wafting through the air.  I followed the sound with the singular focus of a pilgrim in search of the holy.  And under a street light I found a crowd, young and old,  gathered around a young man playing the acoustic guitar.  He was singing the chorus so convincingly.  As I stood there taking it in, I knew I was on sacred ground, with a flash mob community of believers and seekers listening to a love song that only God and Leonard could have created.

Saturday, October 20th press briefing

Today, the press room was a little more crowded than usual with Cardinal Blase Cupich joining the panel.  The hot topics?  Clergy sex abuse, LGBT inclusion, with a question about lay people and women thrown in.

Cardinal Peter Andrew Comensoli of Melbourne, Cardinal John Ribat of Papua New Guinea,  and Archbishop Alain De Raemy of Switzerland joined the Chicago prelate.

The prefect reported that synod participants have finished making amendments to part three of the Instrumentum Laboris, the section on pastoral care for youth.  As the final document is being completed, the synod participants will not meet on Monday.  The draft will be presented on Tuesday morning where bishops will make final amendments.

The final document will be voted on, paragraph by paragraph with the possibility it become part of the ordinary magisterium.

The members of the writing committee are:

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development
Archbishop Carlo Aguiar Retes, archbishop of Mexico City
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the India bishops’ conference
Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Vatican department for laity, family, and life
Fr. Eduardo Gonzalo Redondo, leader of a pastoral vocation program in Cuba
Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto of Italy
Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne of Australia
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod
Cardinal Sergio da Rocha, relator general of the Synod of Bishops
Jesuit Fr. Giacomo Costa
Salesian Fr. Rossano Sala

Another document is also being drafted, a letter addressed to young people, first suggested by Cardinal Cupich’s small working group.

Those who will draft the letter include:

Briana Santiago, an American consecrated women of the Apostles of the Interior Life
Anastasia Indrawan, a member of the youth commission for the bishops’ conference of Indonesia
Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Central African Republic
Auxiliary Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard of Lyon, France
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia
Bishop Eduardo Horacio Garcia of San Justo, Argentina
Brother Alois Löser, prior of the Ecumenical Community of Taize
Michele Falabretti, leader of the youth pastoral care office at the Italian bishops’ conference

Use your voice for us

Cardinal Cupich explained that one of the most important things he heard was that young adults want the bishops to use their high profile positions “to give voice to their concerns…to speak out with the same energy and passion that we’ve heard from them.”

Young Catholics want the bishops to speak to world leaders and to promote the values of the Catholic Church in a world torn by war, poverty, unemployment, migration, arms trafficking that creates child soldiers, and corrupt governments whose penchant for war making comes at the cost of future generations.

A separate section on LGBT concerns?

Cardinal Cupich was asked how the issues of LGBT inclusion would be addressed. The journalist referred to the proposal by his small group that a separate section of the final document be written to address LGBT concerns.

English group B proposal: We discussed the issue of Catholics who experience same sex attraction or gender dysphoria. We propose a separate section for this issue and that the main objective of this be the pastoral accompaniment of these people which follows the lines of the relevant section of the Catechism in the Catholic Church.

To the question posed, Cupich responded,

There are a number in our group and in the reports today that wanted to make sure that we say something inclusive of everyone.  I was asked a question, What is the final document going to say about people who are homosexual, who have same-sex attraction.  My answer was I think the whole document should have something to say to everyone.  We want to make sure that people feel included.  So whatever form that takes, our small group is for it.

It is not clear from his response if he means that they backed off the suggestion of a separate section for the final document or not, but it is clear that the cardinal has influence when it comes to shaping the work at the synod.

Cardinal Cupich invited Cardinals Ribat and Cardinal Comensoli, both in his small group, to comment further.

Cardinal Ribat’s response was more robust and I think reflected more clearly what youth had been saying at the synod.

The approach of the church is to be able to welcome everyone.  And to make them feel at home.  No one is excluded, and that is the church.  We have been talking about what the document will be.

In our small groups we saying that no one is excluded.  It’s really about not excluding anyone about welcoming everyone.  The church is a home.

I think the message is going out clearly in our discussions.

From the youth we are hearing,  ‘With the difficulties we are having, the church is the place where we come home.  We should be recognized, we should be accepted, we should be welcomed, and this is where our place is.’  

This is the message we are getting. And this is the message we are sharing more.  

The youth are talking about this freely. And they want us to use their language.  

They say, ‘Address us as this because this is who we are.’

Note:  The cardinal is likely referring to the language in the pre-synod document that is being reiterated at the synod about the need for the church  to use youth’s  preferred language such LGBT, etc.

So they are very free to tell us this.  And they are also telling us that we should welcome them as they are. 

And the youth are really helping us to understand, to really see where they are  And at, and how they want to be heard, recognized and accepted.

What is clear in the responses of the prelates, is that while they have repeated their willingness to listen and to be welcoming, inclusive and respectful of all youth, none of these men used the term LGBT today as they talked about them.

And no self-identified LGBT Catholics are at the synod to share their stories of joy, beauty, and sorrow with a group of Catholic men who are profoundly in need of a conversion of the heart.

While it is positive that the young delegates there are vocal in their support for their LGBT friends and family, it is not clear from this  exchange today that the bishops have garnered the courage to use their voice as the young people have asked, to speak their concerns.

The crucial absent voices

Tom Reese, SJ posed a key question to the bishops on the soundness of the methodology used for the synod in light of the great exodus of our youth.

Reese: You’ve stressed the importance of listening to the young people at the synod, and how important that is.  We’ve also met with a number of them.  They are wonderful.  They are good Catholics.  They are ‘the saved.’  But they don’t necessarily represent the many people who have left the church, and I’m wondering what you have heard about the concerns of people who have left the church, and what you have learned about how to respond to them.

Cardinal Cupich responded,

First of all, I would say the voices we have heard belong to people who have left and found their way back to the church.  They’ve had a conversion experience.  We’ve heard people tell those stories in the aula.

Secondly, even they haven’t left, or are ‘in’ or ‘the saved’, they have given voice to family members who are no longer practicing the faith.  It pains them and they have represented their concerns quite forcefully in the discussions that we’ve had.  

Those who are either de-churched or unchurched are not underrepresented. They are very present in the voices of these young people.  

Cardinal Comensoli added that one has to consider context and regional differences when looking at the reasons young people leave the faith.  He said that the reasons young people in Australia leave the church could be quite different from other parts of the world.

One of the practical things that I hope makes it into the final document, is that what is done at this synodal level on an international level can then be taken up regionally, in terms of conferences, in terms of dioceses, so the broader questions of why people leave can be particularly looked at depending on the circumstances and realities that are particular to a locality.

Cardinal Ribat said that members of their small group are very open about why family members or friends leave.  They advocated for finding ways to make those who have left to feel a part of the church as well. The cardinal said, “There is an openness to really listen,” he said.  ” I believe something good will come, but the pain will not go away over night.”

The Church should be better than this

A reporter from EWTN asked how the clergy sex abuse crisis in Australia and the United States has informed the conversations at the synod, especially as it relates to how we will retain youth and the impact it might have on their formation.

Cardinal Comensoli responded first.

From the first day, the issue of sexual abuse, the crisis around the failure of leadership to appropriately deal with the cases of sexual abuse, the failures of brothers in the episcopacy being able to hear well and believe victims, all of these matters have come up already have come up consistently throughout the three weeks so far.

One of the key things going forward, along with apologies and better practices, there must be action associated with it.

In the Australian context we have a particular way that is being worked through.  The Royal Commission has, through a very searing grace, has allowed the church and especially us in the leadership of the church to see how better to move.  There are all sorts of dimensions that are particular to Australia.  We have our own particular civil laws and the way things will be dealt with here will be different from the way they are dealt with in Switzerland, or in Nigeria, and so forth.

With the knowledge of the upcoming gathering of bishops in February, Comensoli suggested that what is important at this synod is stating clearly that there is need to act.

Cupich added that young people want bishops to reach out to victims.

They want accountability.  No one is exempt. And that gets at a clerical culture of privilege that allowed all of this to go forward unchecked.

If we are going to call young people to be honest with their lives, which is the Gospel, we have to witness that ourselves.

While this issue may not be on the front burner in some countries, many of the heads of bishops’ conferences are here.  And they will be returning in February.  So this is a springboard for that meeting in February.

Susiey Pinto of EWTN noted there has been some criticism of the February summit by thoe asking how bishops can address clergy sex abuse in three or four days.  Asking what concrete steps can be taken to break up the clerical culture, Pinto added, “Will lay people and women be involved in that summit?”

Cupich stated he has confidence that Pope Francis will make sure the meeting is organized in a way that will make it effective to “get something done.”

And yes, there has to be the involvement of lay people.  I’ve called for that.  

I’ve called for every bishop, starting with myself to be accountable.  I’m ready to cede over my authority or right and be investigated if there is a charge against me.  I would want that to be done and I think bishops have to be willing to do that.

Men and women, lay people, have to be involved in that process. Lay people want us to succeed.  They want us to get this right.  That is where we have to start.  That is what gives me hope. There’s a lot of anger out there. But beneath the anger is a sadness — that the church should be better than this. And that we should get this right.

Later when asked again about what kind of reforms will be put in place to stop clergy sex abuse cover up, Cupich repeated that the bishops have to agree to cede authority and oversight to an outside review board.  When an accusation is made, Cupich wants the review board to examine the case independent of any bishop’s interference.

Vigano is saving the day?

The cross examination from LifeSite news was classic complete with Vigano as the hero “testifying” in the battle against the evil behind clergy sex abuse — which is not clericalism (which they love) — but homosexuality (which they detest).

Question 1:  “To return to what you said about those persons who experience same sex attraction, would you be a little more clear about what you mean by welcoming, acceptance, and inclusion?  Of course, it is a sensitive issue for many people. So I’m wondering if you are making the distinction between, welcoming everyone as a person loved by God, and welcoming the homosexual lifestyle, because people really want the truth, and they want to be led closer to the Lord.  So I wonder what you mean by acceptance.”

Question 2:  “For Cardinal Cupich, I wonder what impact you think Archbishop Vigano’s third testimony might have on the synod of bishops in which he refutes Cardinal Ouellet’s criticisms especially in light of what he says about a homosexual culture being the root cause of much of the sexual abuse.”

Cardinal Comensoli responded by saying all Christians must go to the foot of the cross and that we are called to offer the friendship of Christ to one another

Cardinal Cupich referred to Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, saying, “There is a divine pedagogy.  We have to make sure that we don’t put obstacles in the face of God’s grace. We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward. Sometimes in that journey they stray or they take a step back, but we’re still with them in order to keep that journey going. Because it is God’s grace that we should discern with them.”

He continued, “Regarding your second question, I don’t know if there is anything new in the back and forth [between Vigano and Ouellet], but what I can say is that research in the John Jay Study and elsewhere shows clearly that the cause is not homosexuality, but other factors.  I would refer people to that solid body of research.”

Edward Pentin batted clean up at the briefing asking Cardinal Comensoli,

A group of youth from Australia wrote a letter to the Synod this week calling for an end to what they called policy speak, ambiguity in church teaching, and superficial banalities. They want to have the unambiguous truth, clarity on church teaching, saying ‘we cannot help shape the church unless the church shapes us. I want to know what you think about that because we haven’t heard that much at the synod. Some people think there is too much sociological teaching and not enough theology and faith.

Comensoli answered that he was not aware of the letter but wanted to make two points.  Young people at the synod want to grow in their relationship to God, in truth and in love, and doing that within the teachings of the church both in its positive and negative senses.  And to the second point, he said that a lot of work had been done to move the document from a sociological focus to a faith focus.

Every Catholic’s opinion deserves to be heard.  But it would have been a bit more genuine for Pentin to say the letter was signed by 217 university students and professors, not 2000.  We live in an interesting and sometimes entertaining church.

Listening to the prelates today I couldn’t help but wonder about the difference between their response to LGBT inclusion and to the questions of clergy sex abuse.  There was a marked disparity.  It seems that in the case of clergy sex abuse and coverup, civil and criminal action has super charged their motivation to change.

But they are still timid in confronting the reality of LGBT Catholics and it shows in their reticence to use the language that Catholic youth and their allies want in terms of self-identification.  Not once in any of the responses did the cardinals use the term LGBT.

We have a ways to go.

In this year of scandal and pain, these words will melt your heart

Archbishop Anthony Fischer,O.P. brought many synod participants to tears with his words in the first week of the synod.  If you haven’t read them, take the time.  They will do your heart good and you’ll see that bishops can experience transformation too.

Today, in your presence Holy Father, and amidst my brother bishops, I want to say sorry to young people for all the ways we’ve failed them.

For the shameful deeds of some priests, religious, and lay people, perpetrated on you and other young people like you, and the terrible damage that has done; and for the failure of too many bishops and others to respond appropriately when abuse was identified, and to do all in their power to keep you safe; and for the damage thus done to the Church’s credibility and to your trust; I do apologize.  Read more

Pope Francis and Aaron Bianco

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome