In what is being seen as a shift in the approach of the Roman Catholic Church when dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, a document released by the Vatican specifically stated that “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.”
Pope Francis called upon the Synod of Bishops to “reflect upon the situation of the family” in a general assembly. This output, known as the relatio post disceptationem, contained the discussions by 200 senior bishops.
While the document tackled various family-related issues, including guiding couples on the path in preparation for marriage, accompanying the first years of married life, positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation, caring for “wounded families” (separated couples, the divorced who have not remarried, the divorced and remarried), and the challenge of declining birthrate, it had a specific section on “welcoming homosexual persons”.
The document specifically states that “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?”
“Some of my closest Catholic friends are overjoyed at the prospects for change since Pope Francis has been in office. I have always advised caution in over optimism,” said Fr. Richard Mickley, OSAe, Ph.D., Abbot of the Order of Saint Aelred, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit, and coordinator of The Well in the Philippines. “I must say this preliminary document sounds more optimistic than any previous pronouncements. But at the same time, we are reminded by the diversity of comments included in this article, that the exact same thing is happening in the Synod and in the Vatican. Some very influential persons will cling to ‘the rule is more important than the people’.”
For Mickley, this is in exact contradiction of what Jesus said when the Pharisees condemned the apostles for working (picking some grain) on the day when work was forbidden in Jewish Law, when Jesus said: ‘Look hear, you guys, the people are more important than the rules.’
“So the debate will continue. Some will follow Jesus. Some will follow their rules, rules, rules,” Mickley said.
According to Michael David C. Tan, editor of Outrage Magazine, “for the Roman Catholic Church to be able to admit that LGBT people have qualities to offer is, in itself, already a big development. Even more so when it questions itself about its ability to welcome us, LGBT people, into its fold, guaranteeing us a fraternal space within the Church.
However, “while I applaud this move, it’s already 2014, and this should have happened years and years ago. The struggle for the recognition of equal rights for all people, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE), has been progressing by leaps and bounds, yet the Church continues to cling to its antiquated beliefs that prove detrimental to many,” Tan said.
“In a move that will be welcomed by many, the Roman Catholic Church has affirmed the human dignity of every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. By stating that homosexuality is not inherently sinful, the Roman Catholic Church has forced the rest of Christianity to face the fact that exclusion is the sin, and recognizing and supporting partnerships between same sex people is in fact a Christian thing to do,” said Rev. Fr. JP Mogkethi-Heath, policy advisor on HIV, Human Sexuality, and Theology of the Church of Sweden. “As the World Council of Churches already stated in 1948, human rights are vital to protect the inherent God-given human dignity of every human being. Suddenly the LGBT affirming churches are no longer the lunatic fringe, but the prophets who led the way.”
STILL NOT EQUAL
Tan is also “flabbergasted that even when the Church attempts to sound accepting, it only highlights its intolerance.”
The Vatican document adds: “The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. “
“I remain conscious of the fact that the Church continues to affirm that, as the Vatican document stated, ‘unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman’. This merely stresses how the Church continues to see us as lesser beings,” Tan said.
For Rev. Fr. Regen R. Luna, SSD CDOS of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit and ECOG PHILIPPINES, there is nothing new in the content of the document. “Wala silang binago sa katekismo, at maliwanag din sa dokumento na ‘yan na sinasabi nila na hindi maipapantay ang kasal ng mga lalake at babae ang mga homosexual unions. Nagbago lang ang lenguahe pero walang nabago sa doktrina (No change was made in the catechism, and it is clear in the document that they cannot consider as equal the union of a man and a woman, with homosexual unions. They just changed the language but nothing has changed in the doctrine),” he said.
The Vatican document laments that leaders of the Church are being pressured to include gender-sensitive policies, and it finds it unacceptable “that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.”
“I find it amusing how the Church does not want preconditions to the money it receives, so it can render services with preconditions that particularly discriminate against gender non-conforming people,” Tan said.
While the document came directly from Vatican, Tan said he does not expect for any changes to happen on the ground in the Philippines any time soon.
“After all, the key teaching of the Church to love the sinner while hating the sin remains in place. LGBT people are technically already accepted by the Church, although this acceptance comes with pre-conditions – including staying celibate, or, for those who marry, choosing to marry someone of the opposite sex. And it is the very existence of these pre-conditions that is discriminatory to us,” he said.
“Mas mukhang bukas na sila at pinag-a-aralan na nila ang mga issues natin, at ito ay kahanga-hanga. Pero hangga’t walang tuwiran silang sinasabi na sila ay pro-LGBT, pro-same sex marriage na, at hindi na sakit o kasalanan ang homosexuality, then saka lang siguro sila magiging kapani-paniwala (That they are more open and that they are studying our issues is admirable. But until they openly say that they are pro-LGBT, pro-same sex marriage, and that homosexuality is not a disease or a sin – until then, they won’t be believable,” Luna said.
“I am delighted that the Synod has issued some preliminary statements that sound like a move toward compassion and justice for LGBT people,” Mickley said. “But remember that anyone who says: ‘Hate the sin, but love the sinner’ is really saying something that sounds like rejection – ‘I love you, you ugly, disgusting, bad, naughty, sinner and rule breaker’.”
“Yes, this is a big step for the Church. But it’s a step the Church needs to do for it to remain relevant in these modern times,” Tan said.
Relatio post disceptationem will again be considered in the Ordinary General Assembly in October 2015.