Synod 2015 Instrumentum Laboris: Inching to Lesbian and Gay Inclusion

The  Instrumentum Laboris for the 2015 Family Synod includes some clear signs of inching, slowly, towards greater inclusion in church for lesbian and gay Catholics. It is instructive to compare this document with the Relatio released at the end of the 2014 Synod, and with the 2014 Instrumentum, to see how the tone and content have changed – in what is said, in what is not said, and in the language used.

For example, the Instrument largely based verbatim on the 2014 Relatio, there are some notable insertions. With explicit reference to “homosexuals”, the Relatio included just three paragraphs. The Instrumentum adds a third – paragraph 131:

131. The following point needs to be reiterated: every person, regardless of his/her sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his/her human dignity and received with sensitivity and great care in both the Church and society. It would be desirable that dioceses devote special attention in their pastoral programmes to the accompaniment of families where a member has a homosexual tendency and of homosexual persons themselves.

(#130 and #132 are repeats from the final document of the 2014 Synod)

 I like “The following point needs to be reiterated”. Indeed it does! Too often, this part of teaching has been simply ignored completely, and the “sensitivity” is very seldom practised. I also like the point that dioceses should develop pastoral programs for “the families where a member has a homosexual tendency and of homosexual persons themselves“. There are exceptions, but far too dioceses have any attention at all in their pastoral programs to the needs of lesbian and gay people, and some that do, emphasise scolding, not accompaniment.

It’s also worth noting the language.  Gone is the appalling “same – sex attraction” that used to be the standard terminology. “Homosexual tendency” is a little better (not much), but “homosexual persons” is a distinct improvement. There’s some way to go before we see formal documents referring to gay men and lesbians, as Pope Francis has done, but there’s clear movement in the right direction.

Now consider what is not said. Once again, the text repeats (in paragraph 130) the insistence from last year that homosexual unions cannot be compared with marriage,  but still there is no reference to the dreaded “disordered”, or “sinful”.

Then, there is the overall tone of the document, including passages which do not deal only with lesbian and gay Catholics, but nevertheless have direct relevance for us – this passage, for example:

36. In formation programmes for marriage and family life, pastoral workers are to take into consideration the diversity of concrete situations. On the one hand, they need to promote programmes which ensure that young people are properly formed; on the other hand, programmes are equally necessary for those who have not married and oftentimes still live with their parents. Couples who are unable to have children should also receive the Church’s special pastoral attention so they may perceive God’s plan in their situation, in service to the entire community.

Many request that the group of persons referred to as “far from the Church” not carry the connotation of “excluded” or “rejected,” since such persons are loved by God and are at the heart of the Church’s pastoral activity. Everyone is entitled to be treated with understanding, bearing in mind that some situations which keep people from participating in the life of the Church are not always intentionally chosen. Oftentimes these situations result — and are sometimes endured with great suffering — because of the conduct of a third party.
I still do not anticipate any notable change in Church doctrine from the synod – although there may well be some recognition that doctrine must and will “evolve”. It is becoming clear though, that it will initiate a period of greater pastoral sensitivity, and inclusion.
It also seems likely that references to “concrete situations”, and recognition of great global diversity in those situations, could give local bishops’ conferences greater autonomy in developing their “desirable” pastoral programs for lesbian and gay people.  In some countries (notably in Europe) that could lead quite quickly to significant improvements in pastoral practice.
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