Headlines called it a “setback” for Pope Francis that the initial draft of the synod of bishops released last week that spoke of “welcoming homosexual persons” was silent on them in the final document. But I don’t see it that way at all. The pope let the genie out of the bottle. And, as we all know, it’s difficult to put him back in once released.
What the synod did at the outset on paper, Pope Francis has been doing since ascending to the papacy. He’s been talking about gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church with an unheard-of humanity and care. So what that the more conservative bishops succeeded in watering down the gay paragraphs so much they couldn’t get the two-thirds majority necessary to include them in the new document released on Oct. 18. They may have won this battle, but they aren’t going to win the bigger battle with this pope.
I found it interesting that Francis insisted not only on publicizing the vote tallies for each paragraph, but also which paragraphs failed to pass. The pope said he was doing it for transparency. And that’s great. The added benefit to such openness is the signal it sends the entire church. If the pope and the bishops can engage in a rational and respectful discussion about same-sex relationships, so can the rest of the flock. That’s the genie that is out of the bottle.
As Francis said yesterday during his homily, “God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.” By the time the bishops reconvene next October to finalize the synod document, we might be looking at a very different outcome.
What could happen in the Catholic Church is analogous to what is happening in the United States. As I wrote this morning, in an odd way, the anti-gay political maneuverings of President George W. Bush and the sneering anti-gay Supreme Court dissents from Justice Antonin Scalia sparked a national conversation and action among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans that has resulted in same-sex marriage being legal in more than 30 states and support for it at 59 percent.
No, no, no. I’m not saying the church or the pope will become a champion of LGBT rights. And I’m definitely not saying they are going to support marriage equality. What I am saying is that by talking about the humanity of gay and lesbian Catholics and worrying about their place in the church, Pope Francis is openly recognizing them as children of God. After centuries of demonization, that’s a revolutionary act that can’t be undone.
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