In preparation for the next phase of the family synod, bishops around the world are expected to consult with the wider church. In England and Wales, this will include every parish, and includes a “request for testimony” – in which LGBT Catholics should participate, as fully and frankly as we can.
From the Tablet :
The bishops’ conference of England and Wales plans to launch a wide-ranging consultation of parishes and clergy ahead of next year’s Synod on the Family.
Following their biannual plenary meeting in Leeds this week, the bishops would like a period of spiritual reflection in each parish and, separately, to hear the experiences of clergy on the main “pastoral challenges” they encounter with families.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that material would be sent out to parishes and clergy after Christmas. The period of reflection should go on until June or July of next year ahead of the synod in October 2015.
“It is not so much a request for opinions as a request for testimony,” Cardinal Vincent Nichols said at the bishops’ conference offices in London.
- more at Tablet News, 14th November
This is groundbreaking, and represents a major opportunity for all queer Catholics in England and Wales. The claim to be a “listening church” has never been realized. Listening is not possible without speech to be heard, but up to now there have been only limited realistic opportunities for ordinary Catholics to speak of the reality of their lives and loves. Finally, this is changing.
When Pope Francis launched the global consultation in preparation for the first phase of the family synod, that alone was ground-breaking – but with no prior experience of consultation, its actual execution in most countries was deeply flawed. This fresh consultation goes much further, and has the potential to be correspondingly more fruitful. The bishops gathered in Rome experienced for themselves the value of the full and frank discussion that Pope Francis sought. Now, it seems, the bishops of England and Wales at least, want to extend the benefits of that to the full Church. (We still wait to see how bishops elsewhere will approach their own consultation with the wider Church in their countries).
This is an invitation and opportunity which all English Catholics should enthusiastically embrace. We saw at the recent synod how deeply moved the bishops were by the testimony of a handful of married couples (some reports were that these were “stealing the show”). But these reflected a very limited spectrum of Catholics, chosen for the adherence and advocacy of standard church teaching on all sexual matters, including contraception. The bishops (and other clergy) now need to hear the honest testimony of all those who have experienced real difficulties, and even direct harm, in those teachings, on contraception, on the realities of divorce, the damage done by disordered language, and the impossibility for many, of living honestly and with integrity with a same – sex affectional orientation, in full compliance with Vatican sexual rules.
We have the invitation, but it is one which many people will find difficult to accept. We have no details as yet, but it has been disclosed that this will take place in parishes. Where does that leave the many LGBT Catholics who simply feel unable to participate in a local parish? What of those others, especially in small rural communities, who do participate, but feel unable to openly acknowledge their sexuality or true gender identity? Or those who are out and open, but are uncomfortable speaking about in straight company? These difficulties present our community with two challenges.
One is that it presents a particular responsibility on those of us who are able to accept the challenge, to do so as fully as we can. Not only must we present our own testimony of our lives, loves and family experience, we must also articulate the difficulties we have faced in our journeys to self – acceptance and openness in church, to create some awareness of the very many other LGBT Catholics out there, who are not yet ready to present testimony on their own behalf. Another, is that we need to create other channels, outside the usual parish structures, in which to present those testimonies. These could perhaps be on-line, or in personal letters to bishops, or in our local LGBT Catholic support groups (where these exist), or in group representations to local bishops.
Details of how we are to do this, we must still work out, but one way or another, we must find ways to present our testimony – fully, frankly, and honestly.