A notable feature of Pope Francis’ style, has been his willingness to listen to people and their troubles, not simply to lecture them on Church teaching. One of his Italian protegés has said that approach to apply particularly to the controversial and divisive matters in the Church, of abortion, divorce – and homosexuality.
The secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI), Nunzio Galantino, bishop of the southern diocese of Cassano all’Jonio, was speaking to the Florence-based La Nazione newspaper earlier this week, and reported by The Tablet:
The Catholic Church should listen to all the arguments in favour of gay relationships, Communion for remarried divorcees, and ending mandatory celibacy for priests, a senior Italian bishops has insisted. The secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI), Nunzio Galantino, bishop of the southern diocese of Cassano all’Jonio, told the Florence-based La Nazione newspaper yesterday that he wanted church leaders to open their mind to different views on these issues.
(Not included in the Tablet report, but an important qualification in what he actually said, was this rider, which I picked up at an Italian site:
.….Starting from the Gospel and giving reasons for their positions)
What makes this particularly significant, is that Bishop Galantino was personally selected by Pope Francis for his post on the Italian Bishops’ conference (initially on an interim basis last December, and ratified as permanent just last month. LGBT Catholics should also note that Italian politicians are likely soon to move towards approval of civil unions. There’ve been similar attempts in the past, but these have always been derailed in the face of fierce opposition by Italian bishops. In the light of Pope Francis’ own statements that civil unions deserve proper discussion and consideration, and now these words by the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, it’s unlikely that they’ll want to get involved as vigorously (if at all), this time.
However, welcome as this is, it’s not enough. These are fine words – but without more flesh on the bones, without concrete actions to make this much desired frank discussion a reality, it will be no more than sizzle, without the steak. Before the Church can even claim to be embarking on frank discussion, two essential criteria must be in place.
There cannot be meaningful discussions – while excluding those most directly affected.
The context of the bishops’ words, is that the Church is preparing steadily for an important bishops’ synod later this year, on marriage and the family. The simple fact that the synod is being held at all is good news, and there are good reasons to hope that it will initiate a process, that could lead to meaningful reform – but that will be only the beginning of a process. This year’s synod will be a synod of bishops, discussing marriage and family, but without meaningful participation of lay Catholics with real – life experience of marriage and family, beyond a token handful of “auditors”. This synod will not be the end of it: a further synod is scheduled for next year, when there could be greater lay participation – but don’t hold your breath. The early portents are not good. In the UK, the English bishops have not even released the results of their survey of local Catholic opinion. let alone engaged in any discussion with us on an appropriate response. In the USA, some bishops have released results, but interpreted the finding that most Catholics disagree strongly with much of Vatican doctrine by concluding that they must work harder to present the teaching. Other bishops did not even submit the Vatican questions to the people of the diocese, simply believing that they could answer the questions adequately themselves.
This is simply not good enough. Frank discussions among the bishops is a start – but of limited value if it does not include those most directly affected by these matters.
Frank discussion is not possible in a climate of fear.
If there are few signs yet of any frank discussions involving lay Catholics, this is even more so for lesbian and gay Catholics being consulted on their own experience of what in fact it means to be both gay and Catholic. Worse, for far too many of us in the Catholic Church, it’s not even possible to identify openly as gay, without the prospect of real harm, to loss of careers in Catholic schools and hospitals, as church musicians, of being excluded from active parish ministry and service, or in the most extreme cases, even exclusion from communion.
For meaningful frank discussions “without taboos” even to begin about “homosexuality” – LGBT Catholics first need to know that they can participate in those discussions openly, and without fear of harm.
(Thanks to Frank DeBenardo at Bondings 2.0, where I first came upon this story)
- The Sexual Revolution Reaches the Catholic Church (queeringthechurch.com)
- English Bishop Apologises for Hurt to Gay People. (news.queerchurch.com)
- The Catholic Spring: Ferment in Switzerland (emmaus2rome.co.uk)
- Japanese bishops to Family Synod: Church “lacking hospitality and practical kindness” (queeringthechurch.com)
- Marriage teaching ‘disconnected’, say Dublin Catholics (news.queerchurch.com)
- St John Paul II: The Pope Of The Family…..Really? (enlightenedcatholicism-colkoch.blogspot.com)
- Pope’s man in Italy on abortion, homosexuality & Communion for the divorced & remarried. (commonwealmagazine.org)