After Catholic Synod: Disappointment, Yet Hope Remains

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A week after an interim report on the proceedings of a bishops’ meeting at the Vatican won plaudits from LGBT Catholics and allies for its tone of acceptance, the final report has left them disappointed — yet still hopeful.

“Doctrine won out over pastoral need,” said a statement released by Marianne Duddy-Burke (pictured left), executive director of the LGBT Catholic organization DignityUSA. “It is disappointing that those who recognized the need for a more inclusive church were defeated.”

The final report, voted on by the Synod of Bishops Saturday, did not contain the gay-supportive language of the original, which had mentioned the “gifts and qualities” gay people can offer the church and the “precious support” same-sex partners offer each other.

In the final document, as London’s Guardian newspaper reports, “a paragraph entitled ‘pastoral attention to people of homosexual orientation’ — itself a distinctly cooler tone than ‘welcoming homosexual persons’ — refers to church teaching, saying there can be ‘not even a remote’ comparison between gay unions and heterosexual marriage.” The report does note that “men and women of homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and sensitivity.”

A simple majority of the bishops voted in favor of the final document’s language on homosexuality, but not the two-thirds majority required for it to be binding. It is now considered a “synodal proposal,” and the report itself is a “working document,” notes Vatican Insider. Catholic bishops will convene again a year from now for further discussion on issues of sexuality and family.

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While the document is disappointing, there is still reason to be encouraged, said Francis DeBernardo (pictured right), executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBT equality within the church. The proceedings and the vote indicate that “there is great support among a number of bishops in the church for accepting and welcoming lesbian and gay people,” he told host Tamron Hall this morning on MSNBC’s News Nation.

Duddy-Burke expressed hope as well in her statement, saying, “We now know there are many bishops who believe in a more welcoming approach to LGBT people, and that they are finally drawing closer to the majority of Catholics who strongly support LGBT people. We anticipate that significant dialogue and debate at all levels of the Church will continue for the year leading up to the synod in October 2015.”

Pope Francis appeared to strike back at conservative bishops in his sermon after the closing of the synod. “God is not afraid of new things,” he said. “That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”

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One of the synod’s participants from the U.K., Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols (pictured left), said he voted against the final language because he felt it did not go far enough in welcoming gay people. “There were three key words as far as I was concerned … ‘respect,’ ‘welcome,’ and ‘value,’” Nichols, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the U.K., said in an interview with BBC Radio Sunday. The final document, he said, “didn’t include those words strongly enough, so I wasn’t satisfied with it.” Listen here.

A more conservative cleric, Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, noted that the synod “was to set the table for a year from now.” Appearing Sunday on ABC’s This Week, staunch marriage equality opponent Dolan told host George Stephanopoulos, “The church’s major goal is not to change teaching … but for us to change, to conform ourselves to what God has told us.” Still, he said the synod was marked by “good debate.”

Meanwhile, former St. Louis archbishop Raymond Burke, who had spoken out strongly against the gay-supportive language in the interim document, confirmed over the weekend that Pope Francis will remove him as head of the Vatican’s Supreme Court, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Some observers see this as a further sign of a “tonal shift” in the church, the publication reports.

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That’s one that would be welcomed by many Catholics, at least in the U.S., and especially among younger people. A recent poll of American Catholics by the Pew Research Center found 70 percent of respondents saying homosexuality should be accepted; among those age 18-29, 85 percent favored acceptance, but there was majority support in every age group. Fifty-seven percent of the total surveyed supported same-sex marriage, which had 75 percent support in the 18-29 age group.

Below, watch DeBernardo on News Nation.

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