A RESPONSE FROM THE GLOBAL NETWORK OF RAINBOW CATHOLICS TO POPE FRANCIS’ APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION AMORIS LAETITIA (THE JOY OF LOVE)
Welcoming new pastoral approaches
We are supportive of the more positive stance taken by Francis to move away from an inflexible attachment to doctrine and towards a more humane approach to discipleship grounded in true charity, which ‘is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ (Art. 296). We welcome pastoral approaches that avoid judgements that do not take into account ‘the complexity of various situations’ (Art. 296) but rather aim to reach out to everyone to find their proper way of being in the Church (Art. 297). It is indeed positive that Francis reiterates a point he made in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (2013) that the Church has often acted as ‘arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators’ and affirms that rather than being a tollhouse, the Church is ‘the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems’ (Art. 310).
We appreciate that the Pope empowers the local churches to find fitting interpretations of pastoral, moral and doctrinal issues (Art. 3). This will give more flexibility and freedom to the dioceses to make practical decisions, which is important when it comes to pastoral work with LGBTQI people and their families.
The document gives fresh guidance on pastoral discernment which emphasizes that pastors need to respect the conscience of the person, take the individual situation into consideration and follow the ‘logic of pastoral mercy’ (Art. 307). It rejects an understanding of “natural law” as ‘an already established set of rules’ which was a traditional tool in anti-homosexual argumentation. Instead, it reinterprets natural law as ‘a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions’ (Art. 305). Indeed, ‘those who manifest a homosexual orientation’ should be assisted through ‘respectful pastoral guidance’ to be able ‘to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives’ (Art. 305).
Francis reiterates the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on the need of ’a positive and prudent sex education’, noting the challenges of sex education ‘in an age when sexuality tends to be trivialised and impoverished’ (Art. 280). Francis notes that ‘the sexual urge can be directed through a process of growth in self-knowledge and self-control capable of nurturing valuable capacities for joy and for loving encounter’ (Art. 280). The Pope also calls for a sex education that includes ‘respect and appreciation for differences’ and an appreciation of one’s body that is necessary for one’s encounter with others different from oneself (Art. 285). We hope that this statement can make a difference in the lives of many LGBTQI adolescents who often face insensitivity in their schools and whose difference is not always acknowledged and embraced healthily, often by members of the Church.
Families with LGBTI persons
When the Pope speaks explicitly about families that ‘include persons who experience same-sex attraction’ (Art. 250), he affirms the dignity of every human person regardless of sexual orientation. He asks for respect and avoidance of aggression and violence. Yet, Pope Francis’ one statement discussing pastoral care to families with lesbian and gay members is included in a section entitled “Casting Light on Crises, Worries and Difficulties”. Such a classification reveals an assumption that LGBTQI topics are simply problems to be surmounted, and it does not recognize the giftedness and grace that occur when a family accepts and loves its LGBTQI family members.
We welcome the document’s acknowledgement of the need for respectful pastoral care. We know from our experience of working with LGBTQI Catholic persons, the most respectful and effective forms of pastoral care are the ones that are done in consultation with LGBTQI persons that respects their lived realities and honours their voices, aspirations as well as celebrates their gifts and dignity in the community of the faithful.
The problem of language
That the document uses ‘homosexual orientation’ (in some versions) to refer to persons who experience same-sex attraction is already worth noting, considering that in earlier pronouncements of the Church on this subject, it always used to use the derogatory expression ‘homosexual tendencies’.
This does not mean that the Church has overcome the basic problems of language, for even reductive expressions as ‘same-sex attractions’ are still simplistic and unsatisfactory. The GNRC cannot ignore the continuing harm to spiritual and personal well-being caused by the use of untrue and inaccurate theological language such as ‘intrinsically evil’ and ‘objectively disordered’. The GNRC welcomes the lack of such vocabulary in The Joy of Love because such categories foster prejudicial stances towards LGBTQI persons and communities, not least in contributing to higher-than-average rates of bullying, self-harm, and suicide among LGBTQI younger people..
We are disappointed that Francis reiterates the Church’s long-held position that homosexual unions cannot be considered ‘in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family’ (Art. 251, 52) and seems not to offer much scope for dialogue and theological exploration in these new ‘signs of the times’. The lived experiences of several same-sex couples all over the world and who are part of the Catholic faithful should encourage the Church to discern these and other expressions of LGBTQI existence, rather than continue making categorical statements that close the door to dialogue.
It is worth considering that Francis is concerned about the great poverty of contemporary culture, which is evident in the loneliness of individuals, arising from the absence of God in a person’s life and the fragility of relationships. He notes that the State has the responsibility to pass laws and create work to ensure that young people can realise their plan of forming a family (Art. 43). The Second Vatican Council also echoes this perspective when stating that ‘such a love, bringing together the human and the divine, leads the partners to a free and mutual self-giving, experienced in tenderness and action, and permeating their entire lives’ (Art. 125). Yet, this seems only to apply to heterosexual relationships, and nowhere in this Apostolic Exhortation is there a tacit acknowledgement that this may also be true to same-sex relationships. We hope that the Church will apply the same logic that it applies to other irregular unions to same-sex relationships as well and will ‘not disregard the constructive elements in those situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage’ (Art. 292).
Condemnations of violence against LGBTI people are not enough
We also note with concern that Francis reiterated positions repeated in the Synodal documents that deem unacceptable that international aid be tied with the introduction of laws that establish same-sex marriage (Art. 251), while not being vocal enough in its denunciation of legal violence in several countries in the world towards LGBTQI people who are criminalised for being who they are. The apostolic exhortation acknowledges that LGBTI persons experience aggression and violence, however it does not recommend any forms of remedy beyond avoidance.
In a global context where LGBTQI persons around the world continue to face various forms of aggression and violence that manifests in structural, physical, cultural, spiritual and psychological violence, this response is inadequate. Where criminalisation, extrajudicial abuse, capital punishment, torture, aversion therapy, moral vilification and the denial of human rights of LGBTQI persons is still prevalent, we urge the leaders of our church to urgently call upon the end of all forms of aggression and violence against LGBTQI persons and their families. We urge the Holy See to make an explicit statement condemning laws which criminalize LGBTQI persons. Such a statement would be entirely consistent with the principles that the pope has made in this document and which already existed in church teaching.
Understanding Gender and ‘Gender ideology’
We also note that Francis’ framing of the discourse on the ‘ideology of gender’ is rooted in the understanding of gender as a biological constant and that the gender ideology purportedly reduces gender identity to ‘the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time’ (Art. 56). One appreciates the Church’s concern for any relativistic reductionism of gender-related issues. However, we urge the Church not to trivialise the lived experiences of transgendered persons, for whom choosing a gender identity that is different from their biological sex is not a matter of choosing a different gender, but rather allowing them to be true to their ‘truth’, as they experience it in their innermost sense of being.
At the same time, we welcome Francis’ acknowledgement that masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories and that the social constructions of gender should be rather fluid, thus not excluding individuals from professions, arts or leadership on the basis of one’s gender (Art. 286).
The need for further discernment on LGBTI issues
Whilst the document promotes a dialogical approach for the pastoral work of the church, the document has also demonstrated a lack of scientific understanding of LGBTQI lives as well as the often harsh realities faced both within and outside of the church.
We invite Pope Francis together with fellow Synod Fathers to set-up a listening process that seeks for wide consultation with LGBTQI persons and their families as well as scholars, scientists and professionals in this area of health, psychology and other social sciences. We hope that such a process can inform the Church as it discerns its understanding of LGBTQI persons and in due course clarify and revise its vision, doctrine and language on these persons and God’s plan for them.
We look with interest at Francis’ gentle encouragement for dialogue within the family, rooted in the recognition that different persons within the family have different standpoints, concerns, abilities and insights. He continues to acknowledge that every person has his/her truth and deep concerns and he urges for sensitivity and empathy with the other by putting ‘ourselves in their shoes and try to peer into their hearts, to perceive their deepest concerns and to take them as a point of departure for further dialogue’ (Art. 138).
While we appreciate this understanding of dialogue, we also invite the Church to embrace this type of dialogue herself and adopt such attitudes towards the several LGBTQI persons within the Catholic Church who also want to share with the Church their own lived faith in their sexual and gender diversity. We urge Pope Francis to apply his own advice to families:
‘to free ourselves from feeling that we all have to be alike. A certain astuteness is also needed to prevent the appearance of “static” that can interfere with the process of dialogue’ (Art 139).