A new document compiled by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church regarding family, gender, and sexuality has greatly disappointed LGBT Catholics and allies.
The 75-page document, called an Instrumentum Laboris, is based on the results of a survey called "The Pastroral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization" sent to over a hundred bishops' conferences around the world. The survey, which revealed the huge gap between the personal views of lay Catholics and official church teachings, reaped much hope of potentially fostering a change in Roman Catholic teachings on LGBT people. Instead, however, the document affirmed the Church's continued opposition.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, who is the Executive Director of DignityUSA, the nation's leading organization of LGBT Catholics and allies, said on the document,
This document was a blow to my stomach…Many Catholics hoped that the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family would be an opportunity for real dialogue with Church leaders on issues that are very important in our day to day life. Instead, what we see is a rigid adherence to existing teaching, and what we hear are complaints that the people of the Church are misinformed or uneducated. This is a gross simplification and incredibly insulting.
Some mainstream media outlets viewed the document as an ever so small sign that the Church is softening its views on LGBT people in light of Pope Francis' "Who am I to judge?" comment last year regarding being gay. A recent CNN article, for example, states,
The document firmly rejects gay marriage, for instance, but also said Catholics leaders, “are trying to find a balance between the Church’s teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions.”
“A distinction must be made,” the Instrumentum Laboris says, “between 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 behavior promotes and actively – often aggressively – calls attention to it.”
For many LGBT Catholics, however, these marginal signs of change amongst an overwhelming message of exclusion is not convincing, especially when considering the Church's recent actions. Last week, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed "great concern" to the President's plan on issuing an Executive Order to protect LGBT people from discrimination. In addition, earlier this month, a meeting in New Orleans reaffirmed the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' opposition to marriage equality.
The bottom line comes down to the fact that LGBT Catholics and their allies want to see tangible actions from the Vatican proving a shift in views on LGBT equality and inclusion, as opposed to a slight "softening" of tone. That has not yet happened.
Regarding issues specific to LGBT Catholics and their families, Duddy-Burke said on the recent document,
The instrumentum laboris is rooted in the same sense of heteronormativity that has characterized official Church teaching for decades. It fails to show any acknowledgement of the profound love and commitment shared by many same-sex couples, minimizes the realities of LGBT people raising children, and fails to offer any hope to families who love their LGBT members unconditionally, but struggle with Church teachings that are too often demeaning. Furthermore, the bishops continue to show a severe lack of understanding of transgender identities. If they begin to truly listening to our transgender kin, they will learn much.
The hope that so many people have felt in the era of Pope Francis will be greatly diminished by this document. It is clear that the Vatican is seeing the great challenge for the Synod as ‘how do we better get our message out?’ The real question they should be asking is, ‘What do the people of God need from their leaders, and how do we better provide it?’ Unfortunately, the humility such a question entails is entirely lacking here.
An article by New Ways Ministry, a Catholic ministry that advocates LGBT justice, expresses concern over the fundamental lack of understanding of the Catholic bishop leaders:
More harmful than the specific remarks on lesbian and gay people, though, are the remarks that the reason that Catholics don’t agree with church teaching is because they have succumbed to a secular mindset. We’ve heard that remark time and again from U.S. bishops, especially in the context of same-gender marriage, but it is simply not the whole truth. It’s very convenient to have a scapegoat. It’s much more challenging to face up to the reality that faithful Catholics are calling for change.