For the LGBT community to simply ignore what happened at the Vatican a couple of weeks ago when Pope Francis convened a synod on issues facing the Catholic Church would be a major mistake. Even those of us who are not Catholic are affected by a church that has an estimated 1.2 billion members worldwide. Here in
the United States, the Church’s influence impacts the way some elected officials vote and some judges rule. And then there are the issues that affect our brother and sister believers and their families. We cannot turn our backs on them.
A little history is in order. Pope Francis became pope in a time of scandal in the Church. He has tried to bring about a new openness in the Church. The 2014 Synod of Bishops on the Family called by Pope Francis was an attempt to find ways in which the Church might examine and possibly evolve its past messages on such issues as family, same-sex marriage, Catholics living together without marriage and other related topics.
A draft report from the gathering included language that looked as though the Church would take a giant leap towards healing many rifts within itself, including one such phrase noting the special gifts gays and lesbians have to offer the Church, which gave hope to LGBT believers. Another suggested that the Church, while still opposed to same-sex marriage, was ready to move towards acceptance of civil unions. This brought about excitement within the LGBT community — only to be dashed when all that positive language was watered down in the final report.
The LGBT community saw the losses at the Synod as a defeat, but the surprise is, it wasn’t. Here’s how David Gibson of Religious News Service wrote about the issue in the National Catholic Reporter: The hard-liners won the battle, but the reformers may win the war. He went on to note that the Church is slow to change, and that, when all the pro-LGBT statements were voted on, they received a strong majority but not the two-thirds necessary to be accepted. This is good news since Pope Francis made it clear in his closing remarks that he wants the Church to be open to new ideas, and that will happen as he appoints new, like-minded leaders.
New Ways Ministry, which has been a leader in the battle within the Catholic Church for reform on LGBT issues, responded to the Synod, categorizing the final draft as a disappointment, but stated it intends to stay in the battle until change is achieved. We need to be supportive of their efforts and of those in our community who are people of faith, and not dismissive.