In the U.S., the spectacular fall of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was elevated from a national to international scandal by a former apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. In an explosive series of public “testimonies,” Vigano has accused the Vatican hierarchy under the past three popes of ignoring or dismissing allegations against the former cardinal, and of aiding his advancement and influence in the Church.
Bishops from across the world called for the synod to be delayed or repurposed to tackle the growing crisis of sexual abuse.
Once it began, many synod fathers raised the issue of abuse and insisted that it be addressed on the floor of the hall and in the final document. Others argued that the synod had been called to consider other important issues, and should not be completely derailed from its intended purpose by the sexual abuse crisis.
In a partial response to calls for the synod to be postponed or cancelled, Pope Francis announced a February 2019 meeting of the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences to treat the matter of abuse specifically.
The synod’s final document condemned several different kinds of abuse: “power, economic, conscience, [and] sexual.” It also praised victims who had “the courage to denounce the evil they have suffered; (and) helped the Church to become aware of what happened and the need to react decisively.”
Although not a holistic treatment of the scandals or an authoritative answer to them, the attempt to acknowledge the problem in some meaningful way while still grasping for a means of formulating a credible response reflects a problem the US bishops will likely face when they gather for the USCCB’s general session in Baltimore in November.
Before and during the synod concerted effort was made to insert the language of the gay rights movement, especially the acronym LGBT, into synod documents, and by extension into the official vocabulary of the Church.
Although it was not included in the report presented by young people attending the synod’s pre-meeting in March, the term “LGBT” made it into the synod’s working document - the instrumentum laboris - apparently at the initiative of the synod’s permanent secretariat, led by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri.
While it seemed to be at most a secondary concern for those actually attending the synod, considerable media pressure built up around the issue, thanks in large part to concerted efforts by outside groups and prominent campaigners in favor of a change to the Church’s teaching on sexual morals.
Many of the synod fathers, most prominently Cardinal Wilfred Napier and Archbishop Charles Chaput, criticized efforts to advance distinctly modern and Western attitudes on human sexuality in the synod’s documents.
Those bishops noted the Church teaches that the common dignity of humanity comes from being created in God’s image, and that the dignity of each person in the Church is rooted in baptism. Elevating sexual desire or so-called “gender self-identification” to defining human characteristics, the bishops said, mis-locates the source of our humanity in ourselves, and not in God.
Some synod watchers expressed concern at what they saw as a concerted effort to import secular identity politics into the synod and relativize the authority of Church teaching. Several observers in Rome expressed concern that adopting the language of the LGBT movement in a “dialogue” about sexuality would, essentially, frame the conversation in way that excludes the Church’s actual teaching.
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The synod’s final document made no mention of “LGBT persons,” Catholic or otherwise, and called it “reductive” to define a person’s identity by their sexual orientation. Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin called the document a “retreat” on the Church’s ministry to gay people.
Contemporary secular attitudes about gender even received a fairly explicit refutation, as the synod fathers affirmed the “determinative anthropological relevance of the difference and reciprocity between man and woman.”
On the other hand, while stressing the universal and unqualified love of God for all people and condemning sexual discrimination and violence, the synod’s final document also stressed the need for “accompaniment” for “homosexual persons” in the Church as they “follow with freedom and responsibility their baptismal call.” This language has been taken up by some activists.
An article carried on the website of New Ways Ministry welcomed the language saying it seemed “carefully chosen to allow for wide interpretation.”
Francis DeBernardo, author of the post and executive director of New Ways Ministry, has previously said that so-called gender transitions help people “become closer to God.” The organization has been the subject of numerous corrections and warnings by Church authorities over the years.
Some in the Church, both in favor and against the possibility, have suggested that following the synod some dioceses in different countries might adopt increasingly divergent means of “accompaniment,” ranging from authentically pastoral presentations of Church teaching on sexuality and human dignity, to effective public acceptance of homosexual unions.