By now you’ve seen the news. The Vatican has announced in a communique from its synod that there is a softening in the attitude towards homosexuals – not a repudiation of its official doctrine, but instead a more welcoming attitude to those gay Catholics who darken the parish door. While the synod has reaffirmed its opposition to gay marriage and the legal classification of civil unions, this rethinking of its virulent shunning has created quite a stir. Hard-conservative clerics have labeled the move as a ‘betrayal.’ There is even word out that this new stance will not be accepted by some bishops because it is not in line with biblical teaching. It is this new situation which has me wondering about the future of the Roman Catholic Church and whether a new schism is on the horizon.
A Different Angle
Most of my readers know that I identify as queer, am outwardly known as a lesbian, and have strong ties to sacramental, catholic religion. It will come as no surprise, then, that I welcome this new stance towards the LGBT community as a step of real progress. Pope Francis has been an inspiration to me for his simple, unaffected way of loving everyone and not turning them into a media opportunity for spreading hateful doctrine. Officially, there has been no change in doctrine, which still holds that homosexuals are ‘intrinsically disordered,’ meaning there is something so wrong with them that it makes the core of their being abhorrent. But the question of ‘Who a I to judge?’ is a step towards the openness that Christ taught when he said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” In my point of view, Francis has merely led the church back to true biblical teaching, not farther from it.
It is important to note that the communique from the synod has not made any changes in doctrine. It is completely in line with the Pope’s mission to be open and loving and pastoral towards all people, but it has not changed the core teachings of the Church at all. Instead, it has asked a key pastoral question of all the faithful, namely
“Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
The answer should be yes. If the church Christ sent to minister to everyone cannot welcome sinners of all kinds into its fellowship, then it is no longer the body of Christ for that mystical body includes everyone who accepts Christ and follows him. But this is not the key point I want to make. Instead, I want to talk about something far more fundamental to Roman Catholicism that is being lost in the midst of all the politics.
Authority and Who Has It
Some clergy (predominantly Americans) have reacted negatively to this news. Many conservative Catholic groups have stated their opposition to the change. According to the Religion News Service, Voice of the Family, a conservative organization, has called the communique a ‘betrayal.’ A betrayal of what, exactly? Of their politics or of their faith?
Again, the communique reaffirmed the official stance on homosexuality and gay marriage and made absolutely no change in doctrine. It did, however, issue a challenge to the church as a whole to be more accepting of people in need of grace. So it would seem, that the synod has betrayed, not doctrine, but the desire of many in the church to completely exclude the LGBT community from its pews. It has betrayed the political stance of opposition and nothing more than that.
The fault of this betrayal has been laid at the feet of those running the synod, so I have to ask, who is running it? We have seen pictures of the Pope sitting in meetings with cardinals and bishops, discussing matters that, frankly, no one else cares about. The communique came from the official synod relator and other cardinals. The document came from the Vatican itself. So, who is responsible?
Ultimately, such things must be laid at the feet of the Pope. He is the head of the church, the man whose authority and teaching are considered to be infallible by reverent Catholics the world over. If the Vatican released anything, obviously he would have to be okay with it. The force of the communication comes from the power of his office and his involvement in the synod itself. He has the authority to make any proclamation he chooses and this is the smallest blip of what he could do.
Split and Schism
What does all this mean? It means that there is a split in the church. There is a split between those who wish to follow Christ and those who wish to use their faith fro political purposes. If the conservative bishops and whoever else decide they cannot abide by this new direction, what could possibly happen is catastrophic. It is possible that the welcoming of homosexuals into the church could be the issue that sees a schism within the Roman church, something that has not happened for hundreds of years.
The key point, however, is not homosexuality, but whether or not conservative Catholics will submit to the authority of the Pope they claim is infallible. If Francis puts the force of his office behind this change, then they have two choices: submit or repudiate not only the pope’s infallibility, but their association with the Vatican itself. That is what is at stake here and nothing less.
There is no doubt that this controversy is politically motivated and not of any biblical or spiritual nature. The synod’s communique is well within the biblical teachings of love they neighbor and Christ’s example of eating with sinners and publicans. This issue has revealed conservatives for what they are – pharisees intent on keeping their political clout. And that is a serious problem.
The Root of the Problem
The real issue can be explained in one paragraph from a Patheos writer.
Furthermore, in what way does the Catholic Church exclude people with same sex attraction? I have been a Catholic for nearly twenty years and I have never met a Catholic who excludes a person simply because they have same sex attraction. Sure, there is plenty of animosity towards gay activists and those who wish to destroy the Catholic Church and impose their life style on Catholics, but rejection of people simply because they experience same sex attraction? I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen exactly the opposite–kindness, toleration and mostly indifference.
Conservative Catholics don’t believe they exclude anyone. They don’t see that their unwillingness to allow homosexuals into their churches, around their children, in their schools as qualified teachers, or into their businesses is rejection. But it is. Many, many catholics are kind and tolerant, but to claim that one has “never seen it” means that you are not looking, not that it is not there.
We have to remember that people are very earnest about their beliefs. This does not excuse abuses, but it should make us sympathetic when they offend us. The recent communique from the Vatican is a start at bridging that gap between well-meaning and rejecting. I welcome it wholeheartedly. But it is obvious that there is still a long way to go.