For a long time I have felt that the church has been too focused on doctrinal purity, militantly proclaiming its positions, and reacting negatively to the world around it. In the process I believe the church has neglected an essential part of its mission and faith. A case in point is the way the church has responded to the gay and lesbian community for many years. Although Saint John Paul II repeatedly emphasized the worth, value and dignity of every human being, the church seemed to find little or no way to affirm that dignity. Even when the issues revolved around human concerns such as employment or housing the church’s advocacy was nowhere to be found.
Is the Francis effect finally beginning to bear fruit in this area? Ann Schneible writes about the direction the church may be heading in responding to the needs of the gay community.
Schneible describes some of what may be the current thinking of the church in this area. She highlights both the words of Cardinal Peter Erdo speaking at the Synod on the family, and the working document, instrumentum laboris, which is being used at the Synod for the discussion of this and other family issues. Gingerly, the church seems to be trying to come to terms with how one treats human beings who may also be gay or lesbian.
The words of both the Cardinal and the instrumentum laboris seem both positive and negative. On the plus side the document argues for no discrimination. In general the document seeks a balance between church teaching and a respectful, nonjudgmental approach towards working with same-sex couples.
The document was developed based on responses to the questionnaire that had been requested of the universal church by the Vatican. The document finds that, “On the whole, the extreme reactions to these unions, whether compromising or uncompromising, do not seem to have facilitated the development of an effective pastoral program which is consistent with the Magisterium and compassionate towards the persons concerned.”
On the negative side the church seems to continue to be concerned about a number of things. First, as is to be expected, the church makes clear that same-sex relationships cannot be equated with the relationship between a man and a woman. Every bishop’s conference opposes the redefinition of marriage.
What is perhaps less understandable is their continued opposition to adoption by same-sex couples, even though the evidence is that such children do quite well. While it appears the church will baptize children of same-sex couples, parents must ensure that children are brought up properly in the faith.
Also troublesome are continued concerns over so called teaching about gender identity even in elementary school. Usually any such activity is directed toward accepting differences among individuals and being tolerant of those who may be different. The efforts are meant to promote non discrimination. It is really all about stemming the tide of bullying, sometimes vicious, against those who are gay and lesbian. Are we against that?
The document also makes clear that the goal is still to lead those with same-sex attractions toward “authentic human and Christian maturity.” They must be led to accept church teaching.
It seems to me that rather than doctrinal issues what remains is a significant level of discomfort. The results, intended or unintended, is to keep gays and lesbians at a distance. You can almost sense in the words a continued hesitancy in dealing with this subject. Just as the church continues to have difficulty dealing with women on an equal footing, so also is there a chasm between the church hierarchy and those who identify as gay or lesbian. They don’t even want to use the words gay or homosexual. Does that say something about their comfort level?
I give the church credit for making the effort to bring compassion and understanding into the discussion. They still have a long way to go. I believe they are still afraid that they ‘may have to smell the sheep.’