Synod Reflection (4) Mark Dowd from Quest and Marianne Duddy-Burke from DignityUSA

The Synod on Family and the future of LGBTI Catholics in the Church

5 November 2014

The recent exposed the deep fault lines present within the highest echelons of the Vatican over how accepting the Catholic Church should be towards the LGBTI people, with LGBTI Catholics being deeply disappointed by the Church’s inability to adopt a more progressive approach on LGBTI issues. Despite the hope that was raised with the Synod’s draft report, the final report released by the Synod adopted the usual traditional conservative stance on LGBTI issues that LGBTI Catholics had been hoping for change on.

The recent Synod on Family exposed the deep fault lines present within the highest echelons of the Vatican over how accepting the Catholic Church should be towards the LGBTI people, with LGBTI Catholics being deeply disappointed by the Church’s inability to adopt a more progressive approach on LGBTI issues. Despite the hope that was raised with the Synod’s draft report, the final report released by the Synod adopted the usual traditional conservative stance on LGBTI issues that LGBTI Catholics had been hoping for change on.

So what did the Synod truly mean for LGBTI Catholics, and what hope is there for change in the Church’s stance towards the LGBTI community in the future? We spoke to Marianne Duddy-Burke fromDignityUSA[1] and Mark Dowd from Quest[2], two leading organisations for LGBTI Catholics, for their prospective on what the Synod means for their members.

A full transcript of our interview with Marianne from DignityUSA is available here.

And a full transcript of our interview with Mark from Quest is also available here.

Both DignityUSA and Quest highlighted the importance of Synod gatherings for the Church and for the wider Catholic community (LGBTI or otherwise). To them, the fact that Pope Francis chose to call a Synod on the family so early in his papacy, that covered issues such as contraception, second marriages and the LGBTI community, is certainly proof of the Pope’s awareness of the importance of these issues to billions across the globe who are affected by Vatican policy. However the Synod also signalled that the Vatican is becoming more responsive to public perception of the Church, and particularly opinion polling which has recorded a more liberal opinion being expressed by lay Catholics on family and LGBTI issues. The Vatican is slowly recognising that change, or at least a debate on change, is needed to ensure that the Vatican remains in touch with people on the modern family.

However Quest and DignityUSA were at pains to stress that despite the final report’s conservative stance towards the LGBTI community, the more progressive stance of the draft report does signal some hope for the future. In Marianne’s view, any debate on the “qualities” of gay people to the Church does represent a change in thinking at the Vatican, which long considered the LGBTI community to be “objectively disordered.”  Plus, the recognition in the draft report that same-sex relationships offer “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice, constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners” signalled the first time that the Vatican had made a positive statement regarding lesbian and gay relationships.

Similarly, Mark suggests that whilst conservative Bishops still held much sway over proceedings, the fact that the vote on the adoption of the paragraph regarding the Church’s ‘welcome to the LGBTI community’ fell just short of the two-thirds majority needed to secure its passing, with 118 Bishops for and 72 against, is still proof that there is a growing number of reform-minded Bishops in the Church. This point is only compounded when you consider that some Bishops may have voted against the draft report’s adoption because it wasn’t inclusive enough[3].

DignityUSA and Quest believe that the door has been opened on further discussion within the Church on LGBTI issues, and if Pope Francis continues to press for more inclusive attitudes within the Church that reflect public opinion at large, then there is genuine hope for change, particularly with another meeting of the Synod planned for next year. Nevertheless, Marianne and Mark both argue that for a true change in Vatican policy to take place, a concerted effort from all levels of the Church will be needed. LGBTI Catholics must continue to be public about their sexuality, and actively participate within the Church to make the Catholic hierarchy more aware of their needs. On the other hand theChurch establishment will need to become more accepting of LGBTI people, particularly in allowing members of the LGBTI community to serve in Church ministries without reprisals.

Finally, any gradual steps towards reform within the Catholic Church must also include a reassessment of the Church’s leading role in the global anti-gay rights movement, coupled with an honest acknowledgement of the appalling treatment by the Church of LGBTI people in the past.

We thank both Marianne and Mark for their assistance with this article, and for their interviews.

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[1] DignityUSA works for full inclusion and equality for LGBT Catholics and our supporters in our Church and in society. They have a network of 35 Chapters across the US that offer liturgy, educational, social and service programs, as well as national Caucuses that enable young adults, women, and transgender members to form a community across the country. DignityUSA represents LGBT Catholics in the media, and at major national and international Catholic gatherings.

[2] Quest was formed in 1973 and currently has about 300 members. Quest was formed to provide pastoral support and fellowship among LGBT Catholics, their families and friends. Quest does this by meeting in local groups for mass, cultural activities and talks, whilst also distributing a thrice annual Bulletin of articles, features and book reviews. Quest also organises an annual conference.

[3] “Although his peers ultimately voted against that language, (Cardinal) Nichols actually said that the text didn’t go far enough.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/21/britain-vincent-nichols-synod-_n_6022364.html

 

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