Preparing for the Synod, Part 1: Concerning Unions of Persons of the Same Sex

Upcoming Synod to Address Challenging Issues Pertaining to Marriage, Family, Sexual Morality

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The pastoral care of men and women in same-sex partnerships will be among the more complex topics studied during the forthcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family: The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization

This study will be based upon a Preparatory Document “questionnaire” which assessed where Catholics stand on issues pertaining to family issues and sexual morality – including the issue of same-sex unions. The responses to this questionnaire have been summarized in an Instrumentum Laboris (working document), which was presented today at the Vatican Press Office.

The working document dedicates a section to “Concerning Unions of Persons of the Same Sex,” where it addresses various pastoral considerations, such as the civil recognition of same-sex unions, the challenges brought about by gender ideology, and the pastoral care of children of same-sex couples.

Civil Recognition

With regard to the civil recognition of same-sex couples, the working document highlights Catholic Church teaching, explaining that while “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,” it is nonetheless true that “men and women with homosexual tendencies ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the FaithConsiderations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, 4).

It was also noted that the responses received from the questionnaire varied according to the socio-cultural, religious and political context. Consequently, the episcopal conferences highlighted three contexts in which this applies. First, “when repressive and punitive measures are taken in reaction to the phenomenon of homosexuality in all its aspects, especially when the public manifestation of homosexuality is prohibited by civil law. Some responses indicate that, in this context, the Church provides different forms of spiritual care for single, homosexual people who seek the Church’s assistance.”

The second instance observed is one where “homosexual behavior is not punished, but simply tolerated until it becomes visible or public. In this context, legislation on civil unions between persons of the same sex does not usually exist.” However, it goes on to note an “increasing tendency is to adopt laws providing for registered partnerships or so-called ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex” on the basis of being anti-discriminatory.

The third context is “one where States have introduced legislation recognizing civil unions or so-called ‘marriages’ between homosexual persons” sometimes resulting in the legal redefinition of marriage.  In such cases, “the couple is viewed only in legal terms, with such references as ‘equal rights’ and ‘non-discrimination’ without any thought to a constructive dialogue in the matter based on the deeper anthropological issues involved and the centrality of the integral well-being of the human person, especially the integral well-being of the children in these unions.” In countries where such unions are legaly recognized, same-sex couples are often permitted to adopt children.

An Evaluation of the Particular Churches

The document notes that episcopal conferences seek a “a balance between the Church’s teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions.” However: “the extreme reactions to these unions, whether compromising or uncompromising, do not seem to have facilitated the development of an effective pastoral programme which is consistent with the Magisterium and compassionate towards the persons concerned.”

One of the primary challenges affecting the Church’s pastoral care on the issue arise from the promotion of gender identity. “In some places, this ideology tends to exert its influence even at the elementary level, spreading a mentality which, intending to eliminate homophobia, proposes, in fact, to undermine sexual identity.”

It has been observed that, in countries with legislation pertaining to the legality of same-sex unions, “many of the faithful express themselves in favour of a respectful and non-judgmental attitude towards these people and a ministry which seeks to accept them.” However, it is noted that this acceptance does not indicate “that the faithful give equal status to heterosexual marriage and civil unions between persons of the same sex. Some responses and observations voice a concern that the Church’s acceptance of people in such unions could be construed as recognition of their union.”

Some Pastoral Guidelines

The working document addresses some of the complex considerations in offering pastoral care to those actively living the homosexual lifestyle.

For instance, the distinction is made between caring for those “who have made a personal, and often painful, choice and live that choice discreetly so as not to give scandal to others, and those whose behaviour promotes and actively — often aggressively — calls attention to it.”

Some conferences have acknowledged “a certain unease at the challenge of accepting these people with a merciful spirit and, at the same time, holding to the moral teaching of the Church, all the while attempting to provide appropriate pastoral care which takes every aspect of the person into consideration.”

The responses touched on a variety of issues, such as the use of language in speaking about men and women with same-sex attraction, and the need “for theological study in dialogue with the human sciences to develop a multi-faceted look at the phenomenon of homosexuality.”

“The great challenge will be to develop a ministry which can maintain the proper balance between accepting persons in a spirit of compassion and gradually guiding them to authentic human and Christian maturity.”

However, the document acknowledges that “there is still no consensus in the Church on the specific way of receiving persons in [same-sex] unions,” but that “the first step would be a slow process of gathering information and distinguishing criteria of discernment for not only ministers and pastoral workers but also groups and ecclesial movements.”

The Transmission of the Faith to Children in Same Sex Unions

Finally, the document addresses the issue of care for children of same-sex couples.

“The responses are clearly opposed to legislation which would allow the adoption of children by persons in a same-sex union, because they see a risk to the integral good of the child, who has the right to have a mother and father, as pointed out recently by Pope Francis (cf. Address to Members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE), 11 April 2014 ).”

However, in response to whether children living in such situations ought to be allowed baptism, “almost all the responses emphasize that the child must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children.”

“Clearly, the Church has the duty to ascertain the actual elements involved in transmitting the faith to the child. Should a reasonable doubt exist in the capability of persons in a same sex union to instruct the child in the Christian faith, proper support is to be secured in the same manner as for any other couple seeking the baptism of their children.”

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Ann Schneible

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