Salt + Light Media Home
Salt + Light Media Home

Synod as Traditioning: Part Three

Matthew Neugebauer

Friday, December 23, 2022

Image by geralt on Pixabay

Facing (controversial) issues

In Part One, I raised the possibility that the Synod on Synodality is both a microcosm of the millennia-long process of Tradition and an active participant in that process. In Part Two, I explored what it might mean for lay people to take part in this encounter, to themselves be more active participants and partners in this synodal traditioning process. 
In Part Three, I’ll examine the possibility of what this increased clergy-laity partnership might entail in the Continental and Universal Stages. As an example, I’ll take up one of the more difficult issues raised by the Working Document as a synthesis of the Diocesan Phase, the experience and place of LGBTQ Catholics. 
I should state upfront that it’s highly unlikely that the Ecclesial Assemblies and the Synod of Bishops will seek to change the Church’s teaching on marriage. However, it's possible that they will take up the call of the Working Document to consider ways for the Church to be more sensitive to the LGBTQ community while remaining faithful to Church teaching.
In North America, this might be a pressing question in part due to cultural and legal circumstances: same-sex marriage is legal in both countries, while American society is especially divided over the morality of LGBTQ identity, relationships, and activity. More poignantly, the need for a compassionate and pastoral response to this community will likely weigh heavily on the minds of many participants in the wake of the shooting in Colorado Springs in November. That was the second high-profile occurrence of tragic violence against the American LGBTQ community in six years, a sobering repeat of the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016.
The pursuit of a compassionate and pastoral response goes hand-in-hand with Pope Francis’s own leadership. He’s signaled that he wants a more open, two-way dialogue between the hierarchy and LGBTQ Catholics, an intention he expressed by holding a second, high-profile meeting with American Fr. James Martin, S.J., who has staked his public career on this topic.
However, while the Synod on Synodality may indeed decide to embark on a deeper path to peace between traditional teaching and the experience of LGBTQ Catholics, heading in this direction will not be entirely straightforward. One complication for Canadians and Americans alike to consider is the extent to which the American culture war has impacted the popular Catholic approach to this issue: the division that I mentioned above is part of a wider “conservative-liberal” cultural conflict. Canada may not be as polarized as the U.S., but we’re far from immune. At any rate, the differences and similarities in cultural assumptions and theological outlooks between our two countries will likely find expression in the shared conversations that make up this Continental Assembly.
Fr. Martin has experienced first-hand the extent to which the culture war plays out in American Catholicism, as well as the contrast between the United States’ polarized context and that of other parts of the world. On America Magazine’s “Inside the Vatican” podcast just after his private audience with Pope Francis, he commented that his work on behalf of LGBTQ Catholics often got a consistently warmer reception in conversations and at various events in Rome than it usually did back home in the U.S. 
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Papal Nuncio to the U.S., aims to diagnose the problem. Speaking at the USCCB Plenary last month, he raised the possibility that wider polarization in the U.S. poses a threat to the synod process in this part of the world, because “much of the division in the country, in neighbourhoods, in our families, and even in the Church, comes from the fact that we have forgotten how to be with one another and to speak with one another.”
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who was elected USCCB president at that plenary meeting, believes that the North American assembly is designed to teach people anew how to live alongside and communicate more charitably with their neighbours. In Part Two, I quoted his comment to Vatican News that the intentional selection of lay delegates, and the more accessible online format, are meant to create “opportunities to listen to the concerns of different people.” He went on to express the hope that the open listening and dialogue built into the Ecclesial Assembly will "help heal, at least as far as the Church is concerned, some of the polarization" of the American experience.
The impetus for a more peaceable and compassionate response to the LGBTQ community, while maintaining a robustly positive appreciation for Church teaching, may indeed begin with the bishops. In his short book Building a Bridge, Fr. Martin expresses the need for Catholics to uphold Church teaching on marriage and Church teaching on the “respect, compassion and sensitivity” (CCC #2358) due to all people. He echoes his experiences in the U.S. and abroad by acknowledging that there are plenty of lay people opposed to his efforts on behalf of other lay people. (p. 7) More tellingly, he expresses gratitude to the bishops who support and encourage his work. “All the bishops I know,” he writes, “are sincere in their desire for true pastoral outreach.” (p. 4)
His comments remind us to resist a narrative that sets laity and parish clergy on the side of “change” or “sensitivity” and bishops and magisterium on the side of “unchanging rigidity” when it comes to understanding this or any of the questions encountered on the way of the synodal path. Archbishop Broglio’s comments, the submissions from bishops’ conferences to the Working Document, and especially the Holy Father’s impetus behind this whole synodal endeavour – they all suggest that members of the hierarchy are aware of their need to partner with and listen to the faithful and attend to what they care about, believe in, and hope for, so they can fulfill their teaching office in more insightful and compelling ways.
Lay people and the parish clergy that encounter them regularly are indeed the first port of call to express their experiences, their joys and griefs, as the joys and griefs of a pilgrim Church on a journey through the human story. The Diocesan Phase, through the Working Document for the Continental Stage, has done its best to capture and hand on this sense of the faithful to the Continental Stage. It is now on the internet for all to read, and will be taken up by the various Ecclesial Assemblies in numerous ways. The challenge, the summons, and the call for the Continental and Universal Phases of the Synod on Synodality will be to carry on the synod’s overall project of handing on a deepened clergy-laity partnership to the posterity of the Church.

Related Articles:


Receive our newsletters
Stay Connected
Receive our newsletters
Stay Connected
Copyright © 2024 Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
Registered Charity # 88523 6000 RR0001