St. Sebastian Martyred at Boulder Pass, Arizona, Lotan Lotan, Oil on Board, Blue Coyote Gallery
Last week I had the joy of sitting down to dinner with some of my favorite people in the world: two Latin American seminarians who I look up to tremendously, and some of their peers. The conversation at the table turned to Pope Francis, and whether people agreed with all of his groundbreaking statements–a conversation I was excited to see taking place. Unsurprisingly, this led to a discussion of his famous “Who am I to judge?” remark–which he made in response to the idea of gay men serving the Church in the priesthood (which, as chance would have it, I firmly believe is my vocation).
Pope Francis’ news-making comment pulled me between joy and a simultaneous sensation of underwhelm. I know that there are plenty of gay priests and seminarians from both statistical and anecdotal evidence. I also know that many or most bishops and religious superiors have ignored or liberally interpreted the Vatican’s confusing directive about denying men with “deeply seated homosexual tendencies” admission to priestly formation for decades. For me, the pope was simply acknowledging something that was profoundly obvious to most thoughtful people, and deserved to come to light already–that both gay and straight men can be wonderful priests.
However for my companions at that table, this statement by the pope was a disorienting revelation. They spoke about allowing gay men to be priests as though (1) this wasn’t already happening, (2) such people are more likely to cause scandal to the Church through sexual sins and crimes, (3) such people would probably have problems with celibacy, and (4) such people would upset the single-sex religious communities where they would be members.
In my last post, I called out one mainstream media story for misleading its average readers in stating that the Synod on the Family was debating the truth of Church doctrines about sexuality and marriage. Such stories were not hard to find–but my own perusal of internet news met with mostly nuanced portrayals that reflected the reality that no Church leaders are debating these teachings, or even desire to do so–especially and including the Pope. Since the Synod, there appears to be a collective freak-out from conservatives who think that a confused or false message came out of the Synod (or at least the controversy it generated–thanks to it’s Francis-driven and unprecedented transparency). The media have seized even the most mild of generous posturing toward “people in irregular unions” and celebrated it. The reaction from conservatives seems to indicate their belief that this will confuse people into thinking the Church teaches that divorce, and remarriage, or same-sex marriage are fine–or worse yet–open space in which leaders actually question the doctrines. Throwing sand at the doctrine is problematic because that would defy Truth and (probably) enable sin. Thus one reaction logically follows that is that open-hearted sentiments about irregular unions should either (1) Not be uttered, or (2) only exist alongside such strong reminders about Church teaching about doctrine that even the media can’t ignore them, or (3) only be uttered behind closed doors. I disagree with those conclusions, for reasons Michael Sean Winters stated elegantly for the NCR.
But now I want to point out that unhelpful narratives about the Synod and its participants can happen to the other side too. As evidence for this, I share a tortured article from the National Catholic Reporter. Here’s the headline: “Archbishop Chaput blasts Vatican debate on family – says ‘confusion is of the devil.'” The article does not cite enough source material to convince me this the headline is justified–in fact it leaves me with great doubt this is what deserves to be emphasized. And writing that an Archbishop “blasts” the synod (and later that “+Tobin Slams Synod Too“) adds to the same narrative brewing on the “left” in the mainstream media: nice progressive Pope Francis wants to change Church teaching and people who uphold Church doctrine are therefore upset. But here’s what the article actually shares:
I had no idea how to address the moderate craziness ensuing at the Vatican right now, and even wilder craziness the media has spun out (although, to be fair, there is a good deal of level-headed and accurate reporting to be found in mainstream outlets like TIME). Then I read this amazing article by Mark Shea at Patheos which you should stop and read right now. I’m such a fan that all
three four hyperlinks go to the same place. Among many thoughtful points, he incisively highlights how the most extreme members on both sides are operating as atheists. (Perhaps more on that later.)
I want to respond to one thing:
1. (in a list of one) The scope of what is at stake here
First of all, the document causing the kerfuffle is a “relatio post disceptationem” which is a totally non-binding collection of some thoughts so far that have been aired (and were not even voted on or meant to reflect a majority–just commonly mentioned ideas as recorded by a few of the participants), in the first smaller segment of a Synod (which is a meeting of Church leaders lower than a Council with no ability to change doctrine, that I know of…), which will take two years, which was called by the Pope to discuss the topic of his choosing: “Pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”
This topic alone indicates that the participants of the synod are NOT doing what the BBC reports in a byline: “Senior clerics taking part in a review of Catholic teachings on the family.” For me this conjures the laughable notion of bishops studying for a theology midterm by re-reading their professor’s PowerPoint slides one more time. But for the public, this misleading sentence indicates that the teachings about the family are “under review”–that people are deciding if they are good or bad. This is not the kind of thing that happens at a Synod anyway, and it also defies the purpose of the meeting as outlined by the Pope… to discuss “pastoral challenges.” Perhaps this term lacks obvious meaning–which is just one more example of the big problem at stake: The language (and related mindsets) of our Church leadership is lost on the public. That’s why this synod was a great idea.