On Tuesday, FutureChurch hosted the first in our three-part SynodWatch series exploring the Instrumentum Laboris (working document) that will guide the first global Assembly of the Synod on Synodality in October.
The document names three priorities 1. A communion that radiates 2. Co-responsibility in mission and 3. Participation, governance, and authority. Deb and I joined by Kimberly Lymore, D.Min., Convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium; Marianne Duddy Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA; and Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry to discuss the first priority – communion – especially as it relates to Catholics of Color and LGBTQ+ Catholics.
Sharing from her perspective as a black Catholic woman, Kimberly Lymore commended the beautiful, aspirational language about “radical union” and “communion.” But she also expressed concern that about whether or not that language could be reflected in the lived experience of the Church – especially for Black Catholics and other Catholics of Color who continue to be marginalized and excluded. During the course of her reflections, Dr. Lymore reminded us of the powerful quote from Sr. Thea Bowman: “What does it mean to be Black and Catholic? It means that I come to my Church fully functioning. That doesn’t frighten you, does it? I come to my Church fully functioning. I bring myself; my Black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become” – a powerful reminder that our whole selves, especially those who are marginalized, should be welcome and celebrated in a truly synodal Church. Reiterating that Christians are “a people of hope,” Dr. Lymore expressed her own hope that Catholics of all races could come together to more prophetically live the gospel in the world, to reach out to young people and address problems like racism and gun violence in our communities.
Marianne Duddy-Burke recounted a story of DignityUSA overcoming an existential threat in 1995 when priests around the country bad been banned by their bishops from presiding at local Dignity liturgies, thus cutting of access to the Eucharist other sacraments. Competing proposals came forth about how to deal with the threat and it seemed no consensus was possible. But at a national gathering of the house of delegates, the Dignity board convinced the delegates to suspend their parliamentary procedure and enter into synodal conversations – though they didn’t use that terminology. In the end, after hours of conversation and listening, the delegates came back with a motion that recognized each Dignity chapter’s unique circumstances and gave local leaders discretion over liturgical practice and leadership. There would be no national policy. Her story reminded us that – while the word “synodality” may be new to many Catholics – there are organizations and communities who have been practicing synodality for decades and from whom the Church could learn quite a bit. Turning specifically to the topic of LGBTQ+ Catholics, Duddy-Burke found the consistent use of the term “LGBTQ+” – a term acceptable to the community –a welcome change from previous Church documents. But she also expressed concern that creating a welcoming Church was a “tragically low bar” and that it remains unclear whether space will be made for more substantive changes to teaching or practice.
For his part, Francis DeBernardo told us that he has adjusted his expectations since the Synod began, saying he was dubious that there will be great change in Church teaching on LGBTQ+ issues. But seeing the topic specifically named in the document two times is an indication that there is a strong desire throughout the Church to have the discussion. DeBernardo is hopeful that having discussions with and about LGBTQ+ persons at the synod will be a step in the right direction that could eventually lead to real change. If synod participants can actually listen to the stories of LGBTQ+ people, attitudes will change and - in time - so too will Church teaching. DeBernardo concluded his reflections by quoting what he believes is the most beautiful sentence he has ever read in a Church document: “Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn we learn something new about God.”
It was a blessing to hear the insights and wisdom of these steadfast advocates for a more just, whole, and holy Church. Even more so, it is a blessing to be their friends and partners in this work.
Our SynodWatch series continues this Wednesday, July 5, at 7pm ET when Deb and I will be joined by Kate McElwee, Executive Director of Women’s Ordination Conference, and Luke Hansen, who previously worked with FutureChurch to help restore women deacons. We’ll discuss the second priority – “Co-responsibility in mission” – and especially openings for women in the Church. Please join us for more great insights and perspectives!