Senior Bishop: We Need Frank Discussion – Without Taboos

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.

Bishop Galantino

Bishop Galantino

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.

Tablet News, 13th May

(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)

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23 comments for “Senior Bishop: We Need Frank Discussion – Without Taboos

  1. Paul
    May 15, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    ‘Thanks Be To God!’ for Bishop Galantino and those of like mind! As a Gay Catholic still in the closet, I look forward to the full expression of LGBT sexuality with the Church, without ‘fear or favour.’

    • May 15, 2014 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks indeed – but remember my qualifications, too. This is an important and valuable first step – but only a first step.

      • Paul
        May 15, 2014 at 1:05 pm

        Of course, I agree with your note of caution, but these are hopeful signs! Having posted on your “Popes Paul VI…” article before, I am personally encouraged… even if it is only a tiny step at a time…

        • May 15, 2014 at 11:06 pm

          Please don’t get me wrong: I too am encouraged, immensely so. I think the prospects are better now than they’ve been for years. I’m a staunchly Vatican II Catholic, but I suspect that Francis’ approach to reform my in the long run, be more effective than the council – because he’s beginning by reforming the Vatican bureaucracy and culture, substantially reducing its power and influence, which was so easily able to reverse the earlier reforms.

  2. Jason Michael
    May 15, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    At least Pope Francis is willing to listen and talk about it. That’s a good thing to do. Rather than give lectures regarding why same-sex relationship is wrong, one should be willing to listen to what the congregation has to say, hear their experiences. Whether he agrees with homosexuality or even approves, or not, it’s still important to listen to what the congregation has to say about it. I’m sure that’s what Christ Jesus would’ve done.

    • May 15, 2014 at 11:09 pm

      Absolutely what Christ would have done. A mark of his teaching style was precisely that he involved those with him in question and answer, Socratic dialogue – conversation, even with women, who were normally not permitted to engage in theological discourse.

      That’s what makes the previously customary Vatican style so repulsive – and Francis’ manner so very welcome. I believe that the two criteria I describe for truly meaningful frank discussion will in fact come, but not yet. I just want to hurry it a long, at least a little.

      • Jason Michael
        May 16, 2014 at 2:18 am

        I totally agree.

      • Paul
        May 18, 2014 at 10:04 am

        Yes, I totally agree too! Reform in the Vatican bureaucracy is vital, and Pope Francis is making a great start… as Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani}, of Blessed Memory, intended to do and would have done had he lived. Debate on LGBT issues must continue throughout the Church, it is a ‘hearts and minds’ issue of natural justice. Remove the fear of coming out of the closet, let the dust settle, and we will all honestly see where we stand.

        • May 18, 2014 at 3:39 pm

          The challenge will be that to get this discussion going, we need to dismantle the climate of fear, that keeps so many of us silent.

          • Paul
            May 18, 2014 at 3:59 pm

            Yes, a huge challenge… but places like this website are a great start, thanks for providing it. There IS a “climate of fear” indeed, in the Church and still in society too: I am still in the closet, I would like to come out but see no way for the time-being.

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