One of the key themes of the family synod has been the idea of “gradualism”, which has meant in this context, the idea that those whose lives currently fall outside of the approved moral norms, can move step by step closer to ideal moral states. The task of the church then, should be to encourage such transitions, rather than simplistically condemning the initial state as unacceptable. One example which makes clear what is meant, is that of cohabitation, which is clearly unacceptable in standard doctrine. However, cohabitation and commitment to a single partner represents a clear improvement on a single life of sexual promiscuity, with a succession of one – night stands In turn, civil marriage, while not formally recognized by the Church, is a public commitment to fidelity and permanence in the relationship, and so is an improvement on mere cohabitation – and leaves open the possibility of later upgrading to sacramental marriage, in church:
In this respect, a new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation, taking into account the due differences. Indeed, when a union reaches a notable level of stability through a public bond, is characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage. Very often, however, cohabitation is established not with a view to a possible future marriage, but rather without any intention of establishing an institutionally-recognized relationship.
Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.
From this perspective, “gradualism” is a one – way process, whereby Catholic practice by individuals and couples, is brought into ever increasing conformity with Catholic doctrine. There is however, another use of the word in Catholic discourse, but one which has not featured in official summaries of synod discussions – that “gradualism” can also apply to slow and incremental change in Catholic doctrine itself, bringing it by degrees into ever closer conformity with real world Catholic practice. This could be why the more conservative bishops are setting themselves so resolutely against significant change in pastoral practice, as well as against change in doctrine. They know, and are afraid, that change in pastoral practice frequently leads to subsequent change in doctrine.
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The ” relatio post disceptationem” document read to the synod yesterday by Cardinal Erdo has made the headlines and inspired extensive commentary worldwide. LGBT and other progressive Catholics are enthusiastic, the conservative, rule – book and holier than thou blogs are enraged. It’s important to remember though, that in its content, this is only a preliminary document. The final version, which must still be agreed by a majority of the synod, could be very different – or could vary only in detail. Even that will not be final. That will be distributed worldwide for further discussion, and then considered again at next year’s synod.
But beyond the detail and what is said, even if it is changed, there’s another reason to be excited about this remarkable document, and that is the entire process behind it.
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Throughout the first week of the family synod in Rome, there have been tantalising suggestions that the Catholic Church is moving towards greater sensitivity and awareness of the real pastoral needs of lesbian and gay Catholics. Today, that possibility was confirmed, with the release of a formal summary document of the proceedings thus far, which goes way beyond a simple call for welcoming us, but even to raising the possibility of “accepting and valuing” our sexual orientation. There is also, for the first time the significant use of the term “partners” in referring to the couples in same – sex relationships, and recognition of the mutual support and sacrifice the partners give to each other.
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“Salt and Light” has video highlights from the synod, which you can watch on Youtube:
Day 1 – with reference to the opening remarks of Pope Francis, Cardinal Baldisseri and Cardinal Erdos, and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Paul VI Audience Hall.
Day 2 – Cardinal Sodano makes a special announcement about the Church’s response to the Middle East, a summary of the major themes developing at the Synod, and a special sit-down with Cardinal Pell Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.
Day 3 – Tonight on Inside the Synod, the Pope calls Christians to greater unity at his weekly General Audience, and today the Bishops take a closer look at the very practical issues facing families today.
Day 4 – Today on Inside the Synod discussions got heated as the bishops reflected on difficult pastoral situations. Sebastian Gomes brings us the highlights.
At the synod, there have been numerous indications of a coming shift in tone and more sensitive pastoral practice in treating lesbian and gay Catholics and their relationships, including recognition of the harm done by the language of “intrinsically disordered”, a married couple’s recommendation that same – sex couples need to be welcomed by their families, and an observation by Cardinal Marx that we need to differentiate between “a faithful homosexual relationship that has held for decades” and endorsing “homosexuality as a whole” (whatever that means).
One cardinal however, is having none of it. Lifesite News and others of that ilk are celebrating Cardinal Burke’s absolute rejection of any tolerance for what he persists in calling an “intrinsically disordered” condition.
Lifesite may rejoice, but numerous other sites have responded by slamming Burke’s response, sometimes in colourful language.
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Wednesday morning’s Synod session began with the very moving story of a Catholic woman from Ivory Coast, married to a Muslim man. That personal testimony set the tone for much discussion about the very practical problems facing Church leaders in Africa as they deal with a wide variety of complex and country-specific problems.
How should they react if a man with many wives and children becomes a Catholic? How should they respond to pressures from international organisations linking financial aid to the need for population control? And how can they uphold Church teaching on marriage while defending the dignity of gay people who are criminalised in a number of African countries? Archbishop Kaigama said the Church’s position against criminalisation has been misrepresented in the media:
“We would defend any person with a homosexual orientation who is being harassed, imprisoned or punished….so when the media takes our story they should balance it….we try to share our point of view (but) we don’t punish them. The government may want to punish them but we don’t, in fact we will work to tell the government to stop punishing those who have different orientations.”
- Vatican Radio
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria
This sounds encouraging coming from a bishop in Africa, where so many countries have been promoting or applauding harsh criminal sanctions against homosexuality, It would be more impressive though, if his record in his own country had shown him demonstrating his commitment to defence of homosexual dignity, and not endorsing or congratulating his government on the criminalization legislation that he now claims to reject.
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