A few weeks ago I wrote a post expressing concern about the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on Families, hoping that the event would not serve as another opportunity for Catholic bishops to rail against same-sex marriage and non-traditional families. I didn’t expect the church to reverse itself on homosexuality, I said, but I had some hope for perhaps some positive statements affirming all families.
Have my prayers been answered?
As National Catholic Reporter reported yesterday, the Vatican is seeking input from Catholics in the pews about a range of family issues, including divorced and remarried Catholics, single parents, and yes, even pastoral services offered to families headed by same-sex couples. David Gibson explains more here, including the murkiness of why American bishops might not seek input from parishioners, like the church in the UK is, but instead report to the Vatican only what the hierarchy in the US sees on these issues.
But one Catholic group here in the US is encouraging US bishops to seek input.
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a progressive-leaning organization that exists to promote “public policies and effective programs that enhance the inherent dignity of all, especially the poor and most vulnerable,” has created its own online survey and is encouraging its members to share their thoughts. Chris Hale, a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance, said that survey results will be sent to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as Vatican officials, including Pope Francis.
Since the survey was launched earlier today, Catholics in Alliance has collected over 300 responses, with many citing Pope Francis’ apparent openness to gay and lesbian Catholics more fully into the life of the church as an opportunity for reform. Hale says that the survey is meant to assist bishops, not challenge them. “We want to provide a model for how bishops could engage their flock on these important questions about the life of the Church. We want the lay faithful to be tremendously involved in the upcoming synod, and we think this is a great way to begin that process,” he told me.
James Martin, the Jesuit writer, wrote on the blog of America magazine that he expects at least some bishops to poll Catholics in their dioceses, and suggested that the “Holy Spirit is at work in her church and in her people. And she will let her voice be heard, this time through these polls, because she desires to speak.”
In the documents prepared by those planning the synod, they ask, “What pastoral attention can be given to be people who have chosen to live” in same-sex unions? Further, “what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith” to the children of parents in same-sex unions?
Vatican officials want to know, from those living and working and worshipping in Catholic parishes, how to offer pastoral care for married gays and lesbians, and how to serve their children. I could not have imagined that the church would recognize gays as human beings even a few months ago, never mind ask for ideas on how to serve them, and their children, better. It’s truly revolutionary.
And what’s not there in those questions is just as amazing as what is. There’s no mention of sin. Nothing about intrinsically disordered desires. The children aren’t called illegitimate.
Instead, there’s language that recognizes gay and lesbian Catholics as human beings, as people who long for lives of faith and meaning.
Pope Francis has spoken personally about not judging gays and lesbians, he’s recognized that some of his priests are gay, and he’s rightly noted that we must stop defining gay and lesbian people through a lens of sin. He calls us to look at our gay brothers and sisters as brothers and sisters, no different from anyone else. And now, he’s apparently led some Vatican bureaucrats to adopt his pastoral style in how they speak and interact with the world in regards to those who have been marginalized and hurt, specifically gays, the divorced, and others not living in a traditional family.
Will this outreach lead to a greater sense of compassion in how the church approaches gays and lesbians? Divorced and remarried Catholics? Those who have felt hurt or pushed aside or not welcome? We’ll wait and see, but that these questions are being considered at all is a remarkable, and encouraging, first step.