Rome, Italy, Oct 2, 2015 / 14:08 pm
As the Synod on the Family approaches, a well-funded LGBT activist coalition is lobbying bishops to revive controversial language from the debates of the 2014 extraordinary synod.
It also advocates that the synod adopt the practices of dissenting Catholic groups.
The European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups is among the organizers of the "Ways of Love" conference of LGBT Catholic activists and their allies. The conference will be held in Rome Oct. 3, just ahead of the Catholic Church's Synod on the Family.
The Forum's event is distinct from – and even opposed to – the Living the Truth in Love conference, held Oct. 2 at the Angelicum by Courage, Ignatius Press, and the Napa Institute, which aimed at welcome and accompaniment, aligned with Church teaching, to Catholics with homosexual tendencies.
Michael Brinkschroeder, the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups' Catholic coordinator, is inviting bishops to attend the conference. In an e-mail sent to several bishops and obtained by CNA, he said he and his allies see the Church as engaged in "a process of spiritual discernment" that "will lead the Church to greater respect for the dignity of persons who identify as lesbian or gay, our love and partnerships − including their sexual expression − and our families."
He said the conference puts forward "best practices for pastoral projects with LGBT people and their families from all regions of the world."
The European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups has been the recipient of at least two Arcus Foundation grants totalling over $390,000 for several activities, including advocacy related to the Synod on the Family. These activities include the forum's response to "homophobic Catholic church family synod decisions" and efforts to "pursue its successful strategy of shifting traditional views." The grants also fund the drafting, testing and use of "a counter-narrative to traditional values," including a special focus on "advocacy opportunities" such as the 2015 Catholic Synod on the Family, according to the forum's annual report and grant announcements from the U.S.-based foundation.
The European Forum is a founding member of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, a new activist coalition which includes the dissenting Catholic groups New Ways Ministry and Dignity USA. These U.S.-based groups recently called for same-sex unions to become a sacrament of the Church.
On June 23 the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics proposed its own language for the final document of the 2015 synod. Its preferred language was published on the website of the European Forum.
The activist network said the synod should follow "positive pastoral ministry" and encourage renewed "theological reflections on human sexuality and gender identity" in a way that would work towards what it called "the right integration of ortho-praxis and ortho-doxy."
It said the synod should propose a three- to five-year "discernment process" at global and local levels of the Church in order to "involve homosexual people, including those living in long-term, stable relationships as well as those who are single or celibate, their children and parents, experienced pastoral ministers, and theologians, as well as relevant dicasteries of the Holy See." This process would reflect upon "examples of positive pastoral experience and ongoing theological, anthropological and scientific study."
The Catholic Church's 2015 synod on the vocation and mission of the family will be held Oct. 4-25. In preparation, the Church held an extraordinary synod in October 2014. The 2014 synod's mid-term working summary of the debate, known as a relatio, became the topic of serious debate and also sensational headlines that claimed the Church was changing its teaching.
Many bishops countered these speculations, but some bishops also criticized the document itself for having confusing and even erroneous language on topics such as the pastoral response to same-sex couples, or people who have divorced and contracted a civil remarriage.
The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics wants the synod to reinstate some of this controversial language, though their proposal leaves out the original document's comments recognizing the moral problems of homosexual unions.
The activists' proposal does include the relatio's language about the "gifts and qualities" of homosexuals. It also copies a preliminary English-language translation of the relatio which said that "the question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge."
The activist network also included the mid-synod document's statement about mutual aid being a "precious support" for same-sex partners.
"Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority," it said. The activist network linked this sentence to a passage from the working document for the 2014 synod: when same-sex couples request a child's baptism, "the child must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children."
The European Forum had praised the mid-term relatio, but was critical of the 2014 synod's final document. In October 2014 Brinkschroeder characterized the outcome as "a disaster for gays and lesbians."
The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops prepared the working document for the 2015 synod, known as an instrumentum laboris. It rejects any equivalence between same-sex unions and God's plan for marriage and the family. It also insists on respect and sensitivity towards those with a homosexual tendency and repeats Catholic teaching against unjust discrimination.
It recommends that dioceses devote "special attention" to accompanying homosexual persons and their families. The document rejected pressure on the Church, and also rejected international efforts to link financial assistance to poor countries with efforts to introduce gay marriage.
According to Brinkschroeder's email to bishops, the "Ways of Love" conference keynote speaker will be Bishop José Raúl Vera López of Saltillo. In 2011, the Mexican bishop met with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, to discuss his support of a diocesan ministry that advocated positions on homosexuality contrary to Catholic teaching. The ministry later separated from the diocese. Bishop Vera was also head of two NGOs that promoted the legalization of abortion in Mexico.
Also at the conference will be former Irish president Mary McAleese, a vocal gay marriage advocate. She will be interviewed by Robert Mickens, a National Catholic Reporter columnist.
Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, is among the speakers, as is Martin Pendergast of the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council. The speakers include three Jesuit priests: Fathers Pedro Labrín of Chile, Pino Piva of Italy, and Kenya-based Terry Charlton. Father Charlton's name was removed from a later version of the conference website, which described the speaker as "a priest working in Africa whose superior requested anonymity."
The remaining speakers are Rungrote Tangsurakit of Thailand and Sister Anna Maria Vitagliani of Italy.
The 2014 "Ways of Love" conference's keynote speaker was Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, who authored a book which was rebuked by Australia's bishops for doctrinal problems.
Some members of the global network, including New Ways Ministry and Dignity USA, have faced rebuke from Catholic officials on grounds they do not represent Catholic teaching. The two U.S. groups have received funding from the Arcus Foundation. Other members of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics include the Polish group Wiara I Tecza, the Italian group Nuova Proposta, the Chilean group PADIS, and the Maltese group Drachma.
The European Forum's activities report said the global network was organizing advocacy efforts towards the Curia and synod participants.
CNA sought comment from the European Forum but did not receive a response by deadline.
Brinkschroeder's e-mail invitation to bishops included a series of interviews with self-identified LGBT Catholics in the west African countries of Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. He said they face exclusion from family, loss of work, and blackmail.
The European Forum's annual report said the project was a reaction to "the extremely negative influence from bishops from Western Africa on the final document of the Family Synod 14." The project had intended to interview people in Cameroon. Fastenopfer told CNA that the effort was intended for "sensibilization [sic] regarding the second Synod of the Family."
Fastenopfer's foundation board is headed by Bishop Felix Gmur of Basel, though his approval was not needed to fund the Africa project. Bishop Gmur was an attendee at what critics have called the "Shadow Council," a secretive May 25 meeting of Swiss, French, and German bishops and theologians at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Some of the attendees advocated changing Catholic teaching on homosexual acts.
LGBT activism has already had a "long pattern" of disrupting Christian groups in the United States, said John Lomperis, the United Methodist director at the ecumenical think tank Institute for Religion and Democracy.
"It appears that they see American churches as institutions that can be usefully hijacked for their political agendas, or else torn apart if they refuse to get with the program," said Lomperis.
"There are very focused, well-funded efforts to develop strategic slogans to try to reshape the narratives and discussions within the churches in really misleading and theologically vacuous ways." He added that activists can be extremely focused on engaging the media.
"They seek to use media coverage as a weapon to embarrass, shame, and pressure church leaders who disagree with them. They can increasingly rely on a biased mainstream media in the U.S. and other Western nations to be very willing accomplices."
Activists' voices are highlighted in a way that creates "very misleading narratives" about division in churches when official church teaching is clear, according to Lomperis.
He said mainline Protestant denominations faced problems with some activists "essentially lying their way through ordination" and claiming to agree with church doctrine "so that they can go on to undermine the church's own standards from within the ranks of clergy."
"It's just naïve to think that any Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant church is immune from the dangers of this," he said.
"Activists very forcefully target weak points and apparent loopholes in the structures of the churches they seek to divert from biblical and historic Christian teaching, especially when they suspect a church leader is weak or quietly sympathetic."
Lomperis said his eccesial community has allowed denominational meetings to be "disruptively taken over" by the protest group Love Prevails. He said that Episcopalians and the Anglican Communion have suffered "a massive, traumatic, and still ongoing global split" due to the rise of LGBT activism.
He recommended that churches targeted by such activism respond by being "faithful, pastoral, and non-naïve."
"It is critical to not be naïve about the nature and the unprincipled tactics of the movement to silence church disapproval of homosexual practice as well as extra-marital sex more generally," he continued. "Never make the error of thinking that any appeasement of such activists will accomplish anything beyond making things far worse and more difficult for your church in the long run."