In all my years covering and writing about religion I've never seen a story more mangled than this week's news about the Synod summary about treatment of homosexuals.
The summary of the torrent of television and print stories might go like this: "In a reversal as profound as any in its long history, the Roman Catholic Church as followed Pope Francis' lead by welcoming homosexuality wholeheartedly into the church, wiping out centuries of condemnation and abuse."
As anyone familiar with the Church's history of same-sexuality is grimly aware, the erroneous assumptions and the utter lack of context behind the coverage of the report are glaringly obvious.
First, of course, the basis of this breaking news wasn't an official document that changed anything. It was the equivalent of a recording secretary's notes of a sub-committee meeting.
The headline was dead wrong. Every single statement about homosexuality since the notorious 1987 "intrinsically evil" sock-it-to-em papally endorsed bash has politely reminded Catholics that just because homosexual acts are gravely sinful doesn't mean gays and lesbians should be tromped upon. Jesus told us to "love the sinner," the Vatican has repeated, so be nice to them and see to it that they're treated fairly.
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Neither previous statement or this memo even remotely reduces the charge of grave immorality against same-sex sexuality. Nothing in them reduces the church's refusal to accept science's findings that gender is a biological (genetic) characteristic rather than a moral choice. If science's finding that it is a "natural" occurrence were accepted, that would infer that it was part of God's intended design on a par with straightness. But that would require admitting error, a condition for which bishops appear to have immunity. As is,,those who "practice" their sexuality as non-heterosexuals aren't therefore naturally expressing their valid selves but committing a crime against nature. In effect, the official teaching of the church is that you should be respected but not as a whole person. Your sexual life won't be, therefore you're not even as potentially loveable as straight people are.
Most news reports breathlessly proclaimed that gays and lesbians would now be welcomed in the church and, holy cow, they had gifts to contribute to it. Well, to put it mildly, the bishops were congratulating themselves and the other ranks of the clergy, many of whose members highly qualify for that distinction. The bishops have had ample opportunity to witness the gifts of gays right around them.
The main point of the "news" is that some speakers at the session seem eager to remind their fellow clerics, and Catholics in general, that they are not extending the degree of hospitality and respect THAT IS ALREADY WRITTEN INTO THE RULE BOOK. If you can't or won't respect and/or love them as whole persons, then for heaven's sake at least grant them the measure they're due according to what the catechism says.
The fact that this is "news" does reflect how little the church's has impressed the world with this limited acceptance and love approach. If religiously illiterate newscasters know one thing, it's that you can tell what people believe by what they do. True enough, the welcome sign hasn't been noticeable in recent church behavior. So the more mundane actual story is that the Synod might be telling Catholics to adjust attitudes to what the church has been trying to teach them, inadequate as that may be. But there is no indication whatever that changing the tough judgment on homosexuality as sexuality is anywhere on the docket. The original Constitution of the United States provided that for the purposes of construing voting districts, slaves would be considered 3/5 of a whole (white) person. The Synod could get gobs of good press by doing essentially the same grievous thing.