Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Catholic Conversation about Sexuality and Family on Eve of Synod: Ten Modest Theological Conclusions

Ten modest theological conclusions that I think one might reach as one surveys the discussions going on in Catholic circles about issues of sexuality and family on the eve of the synod on the family (I'm keying, in particular, off my two postings yesterday — here and here):

1. At this point in the history of the Catholic church, the Catholic conversation about human sexuality — especially about homosexuality — is radically impoverished. It is radically impoverished because it does not have room for the first-hand testimony of those whose lives are being defined by this conversation.

2. This impoverishment, this reduction of the Catholic conversation about human sexuality to the perspectives of ostensibly celibate men, is ironic, given the claim the church makes about itself: that it's catholic. It's tragic, in fact, in a church that calls itself catholic and which expects its claim to catholicity to be taken seriously in the world today.

3. As Vatican II reminds us, citing both the scriptures and the testimony of the early church, the church is the people of God. This image of the church, which is foundational for the entire Catholic tradition, implies that the faithful have a right to be consulted in matters of faith and doctrine, and that they, in fact, have to be consulted if church teaching is to be credible.

4. The Catholic media have often colluded and continue to collude in permitting gay human beings to be treated as objects, as nonentitites, in the Catholic conversation about human sexuality — in not giving openly gay Catholics a voice in that conversation that defines their lives and identities without even permitting their voices to be heard.

5. As has the Catholic academy, and as the Catholic academy continues to do.

6. And, indeed, as have Catholic organizations working for justice and inclusion for gay Catholics, which are just as capable as are the Catholic media and the Catholic academy of playing tribalistic good-Catholic, bad-Catholic games that permit some openly gay Catholic voices while barring other openly gay Catholic voices, with the insinuation that these are "bad" Catholic voices.

7. Tribalism is at the very center of the problem as we talk about the shortcomings of the Catholic conversation regarding human sexuality. The Catholic media and Catholic academy (and organizations of gay Catholics working for acceptance within the church) need to do everything in their power at this point in the history of the church to create open, inclusive, and safe conversation spaces that intentionally invite the testimony of openly gay Catholics into the Catholic conversation about human sexuality.

8. As do Catholic pastoral officials, including Pope Francis as chief pastor of the church.

9. As the forthcoming synod on the family has been configured, it does not have the capability to do any of this, to open an inclusive conversation space within the church that invites the testimony of openly gay Catholics (or of married couples, or of women, or of the laity in general) into the conversation about human sexuality.

10. For this reason, it seems very likely that the synod on the family will be a failure, if its goal is to make the contemporary Catholic conversation about human sexuality a more catholic one, one in which the voices of the people of God are heard and Catholic teaching about sexuality regains credibility because it reflects the graced experience of the people of God.

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