As expected, the media narrative of the tale of two doctrines continued as the mid-term report was released. Based on the hilarious response to it in many media outlets, I have to assume that the journalists either have no understanding of the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality (or sexual morality in general), or they didn’t even read and understand the report itself, and quite possibly both.
As usual, CNN’s Belief Blog was right there in the action with overblown headlines like “Vatican proposes ‘stunning’ shift of gays, lesbians” and “A new welcome for gay Catholics in the Church”. To his credit, Francis DeBernardo, the author of the latter piece, seems to have actually read the document whether the folks choosing the headline did or not. He cautions that there is a great deal unsaid in the midterm report that he would like to have seen, and that the Church still seems opposed to what it calls “gender ideology”. Unfortunately, he seems to think that it could still pave the way for doctrinal changes despite the fact that the document is very specific that it will not and reiterates the traditional doctrine of the Church.
The former article is not as bad as it could be. It does relate the facts in a bare-bones way, but contextualizes them in a way designed to get the reader’s hopes up about the direction of the Catholic Church. Of course, both articles refer to Pope Benedict XVI as someone who reiterated Church doctrine with a heavy hand, despite his numerous more compassionate statements.
And that’s the problem with the overarching media narrative around the midterm report’s release. It creates a wave of expectations that the Catholic Church is going to change its stance on homosexuality in a substantive way now that Benedict XVI is gone, which is clearly not the case if we bother to actually read the text of the report, as we can see below.
Welcoming homosexual persons
50. 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? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.
52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.
The desire for people to read their political views into the Synod’s midterm report is understandable, but ultimately counter-productive for both the reader and for our friends and family who are attracted to people of the same sex. I don’t think it’s fair to them to set them up for disappointment by feeding them false expectations and then abruptly taking them away with headlines like “Under conservative assault, Vatican backtracks on gay comments“. This makes it sound like the “conservatives” (a label misapplied to many of them) were upset solely about the comments on homosexuality, when in fact they were bothered by the document not reflecting their actual topics of discussion, that the gradualism of Pope John Paul II was being misrepresented, and that it was causing confusion about the doctrines of the Church.
As it happens, I disagree with the actual conservatives that there was anything substantively wrong with the report and I think that some of their concerns were overblown because of their fear of another “progressive” push to change doctrine, but I think we need to actually recognize what their concerns are when we disagree with them rather than attacking a weary straw man hauling around a dead horse.
Unfortunately, what will likely be lost in the media-driven sound and fury over the Synod on the Family’s treatment of the topic of homosexuality will be the genuine need to treat people who experience same-sex attraction with love and respect, the need to welcome them and appreciate their gifts, and the need to understand the very real good that they often bring into the world and into our lives.
Many of us could also easily miss Pope Francis’ point that we are all tempted by sin and that we cannot let our view of the Church be one of disunity, but I recommend reading his speech from the conclusion of the Synod so that we can take something productive away from it and perhaps find a constructive middle path.