Vatican scraps inclusion of LGBT people, for now. What next?

Last week, the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family released a document that gained a lot of attention for its recognition of LGBT people and their relationship to the church. In what was called an "earthquake" by one journalist, and then repeated by many others, the interim document was analyzed, praised, and condemned, depending on one's point of view.

Over the weekend, the final document was released, and all neutral to positive mentions of LGBT people, as well as those who cohabit or divorce, were removed. According to the Associated Press:

Rather than considering gays as individuals who had gifts to offer the church, the revised paragraph referred to homosexuality as one of the problems Catholic families face. It said "people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and sensitivity," but repeated church teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The revised paragraph failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

Two other paragraphs concerning the other hot-button issue at the synod of bishops — whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion — also failed to pass.

While seen as a significant step back for LGBT people, as well as their families and friends, there is more that should be considered.

The language required a 2/3 majority vote to be included in the document. The vote was 118-62, or 65.5%, just under the threshold. The language presented to cardinals was not the statement that got so much attention for its more inclusive statements. Some bishops may have voted against the watered-down rewording in favor of the original language.

This appears to be a change that Pope Francis was pushing for. In fact, the welcoming paragraphs were written by an appointee selected by Pope Francis, who is known for his inclusive pastoral care theology. Even after the paragraphs failed to pass, Francis preached in his sermon on Sunday, saying, "God is not afraid of new things." The mention seems to be directed at the fear over making the Roman Catholic Church a more welcoming place for LGBT people.

Timing is also important. This synod was not designed to create a new church teaching, but rather prepare a conversation to be had within the Roman Catholic Church, culminating in a larger synod (that will include more than just Cardinals) that may change Church teaching.

The timing means that there is a possibility for a leadership change. We've already seen the viciously anti-LGBT Cardinal Francis George of Chicago be replaced by the much more moderate Bishop Blase J. Cupich. And even while the synod was taking place, it was announced that U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke has been told he will be removed as the chief justice of the Vatican's Supreme Court. Burke has consistently made inflammatory anti-LGBT statements, including most recently saying that legally-married gay and lesbian family members should be shunned from family celebrations during the upcoming holidays.

This timing means that the task of LGBT Catholics and their allies is to speak up and share their stories over the course of the next year. If church leaders like Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama can have a change of heart, even slightly, then it is important to continue to reach out to Roman Catholic hierarchy. This next year, it will be critical to hear from LGBT and allied Catholics and former Catholic. In order to make change, one must be heard.

One sentence that did make it into the final report stated that LGBT people should not be discriminated against. The onus is on the Roman Catholic Church to demonstrate what that looks like. There are currently efforts across the United States to secure protections for LGBT people in the workplace, schools, and in society. For the Roman Catholic Church to live up to its own ideals, it will need to join in the efforts to actively oppose discrimination.

As Zach Stafford notes in the Guardian, "the Church needs to do something, on the ground and not just at St Peter’s, about closing the oceanic gap on so many modern issues between its leadership and its congregation. The alternative is something like in Germany, where attendance is in the single-digits and fading, as LGBT rights and other progressive issues like capital punishment and immigration continue to make great strides with the Church."