|Cardinal Shonbron with Pope|
Now the first thing to keep in mind is that the relatio is nothing other than a synopses of what has been said in the first week of the meeting so that the participants can begin to focus their ideas towards a more definitive statement at the end. The relatio is not a deliberative document and has no authority whatsoever. It is simply a sort of aide-memoire to guide the participants in their responses and reactions. (Responses and reactions are two different types of replies, somewhat akin to a positive and a negative charge, though not necessarily with a response being favorable and a reaction critical. It is possible to have positive reactions and negative responses. It is more a matter of a response being a considered and rational reply; a reaction being a more spontaneous and emotional reply. ) The Blogosphere has lit up with reactions to the relatio however and with the section on homosexuals and their place in the Church getting much more of a reaction—and a negative one—than Cardinal Kasper’s proposal of some sort of penitential process by which those in non-canonical second marriages could receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. The Bêtes Noires of the Krazies’ Nightmare on Castro Street are Cardinal Christoph Shönborn and Archbishop Bruno Forte. The Cardinal, a Dominican and one of the leading intellectuals among the College of Cardinals, is Archbishop of Vienna. Forte is the Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto in Italy and a distinguished systematic theologian. Both Shönborn and Forte received their Archepiscopal appointments from Pope John Paul II. They also were both well known as progressive thinkers at the time of their appointments. Shönborn in particular had previously criticized a number of traditional positions on sexual ethics and suggested that there is a need for certain matters to be rethought. I could not agree more as most of our sexual ethics have not been informed by advances in the physical, behavioral, and social sciences over the past century and a half.
All that being said, I think the relatio is dead wrong in what it says about persons with same-sex attractions. The section begins by saying:
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?
What gifts and qualities do homosexuals have? Bruce is gay and he is really good at arranging the flowers on the altar? Doris is a Lesbian and her being a contractor saves us a fortune when the air-conditioning breaks down? I am sorry but Bruce may be really good at fixing the flowers on the altar and that is his gift, whatever his sexuality. Doris has engineering skills and that is her gift, whatever her sexual orientation. Their sexual predispositions are irrelevant to their gifts and it is condescending to imply that gifts and talents proceed not from the individual in se but from his or her sexual orientation. We have learned not to make generalities that reinforce stereotypes such as African-Americans have really good singing voices or that Hispanics make really good salsa. We have had too many Church musicians fired or gym teachers fired because of their sexual orientation to put up with that sort of nonsense. You are a musician or an artist or a designer or landscaper or sheet-rock installer regardless of your sexual identity. Your gifts are intrinsic to who you are at a very different level than your sexual orientation. What we need to say is that a person’s sexual orientation must not provide an excuse for excluding his or her gifts from the mission of the Church.The one gift rooted in the experience of being gay that I can think LGBT people might well have to bring to the Church is that they know what exclusion is, what it means to be kept out and turned away. They also know what it means to be restricted in how they express themselves and how they are expected to show affection by social conventions that are arbitrary and foreign to them. Perhaps one forum in which sexual orientation might make a difference is who preaches the Good Friday sermon.
He was spurned and avoided by men,
a man of suffering, knowing pain,
Like one from whom you turn your face,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
Isaiah 53:3 From the Old Testament Lesson for the Good Friday liturgy.
Of course there are others who could equally well give a reflection on this text—exclusion, isolation, and rejection are by no means solely the experience of LGBT people in the Church—just ask the families of those with “special needs” in terms of developmental challenges or autism. But it does show us why the Synod needs to make it clear that there is room in the Church for all. The issue is not about sexuality: the issue is do we exclude anyone by not guaranteeing them “a fraternal space in our communities.” We need from the Synod guarantees that when people come to church—whether for Sunday worship, funerals, weddings, baptisms, whatever—that they are treated with respect and welcome. We need guarantees that when a same-sex couple bring their child for baptism or to register the child in the school or in a parish athletic program, they will not be turned away or treated any differently than anyone else. Who goes to communion is a matter between the individual and his or her confessor. But any and all should be welcome to sing in the choir or take up the collection or serve as a greeter at the Church door. Unfortunately experience shows us that we do need a clear and unmitigated promise of such a welcome in the Church.And to be fair to the clergy that welcome is most often there. The Rector of one major east-coast cathedral told me: “I couldn’t run this place without my gay parishioners. They are the altar servers, the lectors, the choir members, the ushers, on the parish council, the finance board. They take up the door-to-door census of the neighborhood, run the food pantry, and drive the old ladies to Church.” A few years back I was visiting friends of mine, a gay couple, in the Maritime provinces. Their pastor—a priest from Ireland who is in his seventies—told me: “Those fellows are the heart of my parish. XXX is chairman of the finance board; yyyy bakes the Eucharistic bread. They are both there whenever I need them.” I don’t think that is very exceptional, in fact I think that is the norm. But I, for one, would welcome a clear cut policy from the top that says it should be so. I also know enough LGBT people who today are Episcopalians or Lutherans or Presbyterians because the gifts they had to bring—as individuals—were rejected and turned down because they are gay. Jesus did not hang on the cross for us to turn people away, sinners or saints. And my experience is is that those who see others as sinners are even more lost in sin themselves while those who appreciate the giftedness of others are blessed with grace. What the krazies want is continued justification for their bias and they are frightened that the Synod will identify their self-righteousness for what it is: pure pharisaical hypocrisy.