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Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP on 'LGBT+ Catholics in a Synodal Church'


Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. Image Vatican Media

Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. Image Vatican Media

Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP gave the following keynote address, online, to LGBT+ Catholics Westminster's 25th Anniversary Conference, at the London Jesuit Centre on Saturday, 25 May 2024.

Hello. I am so sorry that I cannot be with you today. I have such happy memories of the time when I was on the rota to celebrate Mass for our LGBT+ brothers and sisters in Soho before the Mass moved to the care of the Jesuits in Farm Street.

I have been asked to say something about the place of LBGT Catholics in a Synodal Church. I am sorry that my talk will be so short. I have just returned from a lecture tour in Italy and France and I am off in a couple of days to Israel, to be with the Dominicans in Jerusalem at the Ecole Biblique so, to be honest, I feel rather rushed off my feet.

A few days ago, the Vatican asked me to do something which was unimaginable a few years ago. I was asked to write a foreword for the English translation of a book by a young Italian, Luigi Testa. It is called Via Crucis di un Ragazzo Gay (The Way of the Cross of a Gay Lad). The Italian preface, which is marvellous, was written by an Italian bishop, the vice-president of the Italian Bishops' conference. We follow Luigi's sufferings as young gay person as he walks the way of the Cross, accompanied by Jesus. It is deeply moving. The book is part of a series promoted by the Vatican, of theology from the peripheries. It is a sign of the profound conversion which is taking place at the centre of the Church, as she reaches out to people who have been marginalised and rejected, and says 'This is your home. We are incomplete without you.'

Before the Synod, Pope Francis frequently stressed that all are welcome. Last August in Portugal, he underlined this at the World Youth Day. 'All, all, all; todos, todos, todos!' The divorced and remarried, gay people, transgender people. He wrote earlier 'The Church is called on to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open ... where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems and to move towards those who feel the need to take up again their path of faith.'

When the Synod opened in October, many of the participants shared Pope Francis' eagerness to affirm that the Church really is for us all! It is where we should all be at ease. It was this message of hope and love which led to the foundation of those Masses in Soho twenty-five years ago.

At the Synod, this message was repeated, but it was evident that many people were nervous of it. Some participants felt uneasy at even sitting next to Father James Martin SJ, who has been for many years a brave champion of the warm inclusion of gay people in the Church. One person even refused to sit next to him. Others of us too felt the chill as I did. During the Synod, Pope Francis again signalled his welcome by publicly inviting to lunch Sister Jeanine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo, founders of the New Ways Ministry. I had lunch with them the next day and they felt enormously affirmed.

But in the document produced at the end of this first session, the Synthesis, the term LGBT+ was dropped although it has been used in other Vatican documents and by the Pope. So there seemed to be a certain retreat from the openness we had hoped for. Still the Assembly did vote almost unanimously for this proposition: 'In different ways, people who feel marginalized or excluded from the Church because of their marriage status, identity or sexuality also ask to be heard and accompanied. There was a deep sense of love, mercy and compassion felt in the Assembly for those who are or feel hurt or neglected by the Church, who want a place to call "home" where they can feel safe, be heard and respected, without fear of feeling judged. Listening is a prerequisite for walking together in search of God's will. The Assembly reiterates that Christians must always show respect for the dignity of every person.' (Synthesis, 16. h)

Given that in so many countries, homosexuality is still criminalised and despised, this was encouraging. But here the Church faces a challenge to which I hope that you will be able to help us respond. The Church is called to be open to all people, whatever they love and live, and to all cultures. What if some cultures are not open to gay people? How can we embrace in the universal Church cultures which exclude people?

This issue exploded last year. On December 18th, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document called Fiducia Supplicans. I confess that, to my shame, I have not studied the text closely. It gives permission for priests in specific situations to bless people in what are usually called "irregular situations", the divorced and remarried, gay couples. Pope Francis stressed that we all need to be blessed as we seek to find our way forward in love.

Every attempt was made to play down the crisis. The Pope accepted the document. Cardinal Ambongo maintained that the African exceptionalism was a good example of Synodality. Unity does not mean uniformity. The gospel is inculturated differently in different parts of the world.

But it is more complex than that. After the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Francis Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man arguing that we had entered a new era, the triumph of Western liberal democracy. Every nation seemed destined to 'evolve' into our way of life. Some countries, especially in the global South, just had to catch up. If they did not agree with us on, for example, the welcome of LGBT people, they would surely do so eventually.

We were wrong. We have not the time and nor I have the expertise to analyse where we are now, but we seem to be entering a multipolar world, with the rise of Russia, China and India, and all of the BRICS countries. Many people in the Global South think of the West as having a morally decadent culture, doomed to collapse. Cardinal Ambongo of Kinshasa said a couple of months ago:

Cardinal Ambongo of Kinshasa, President of the organisation which represents all of the Catholic bishops of Africa, came to Rome to present their firm rejection of the proposal. He recognised that it was not the intention of the document to change Church teaching on sex but, he said, 'The episcopal conferences across Africa... believe that the extra-liturgical blessings proposed in the declaration Fiducia Supplicans cannot be carried out in Africa without exposing themselves to scandal... The language of Fiducia Supplicans remains too subtle for simple people to understand.' Never before have almost all the bishops of a continent rejected a Vatican document.

[the Westerners] will disappear. I wish them a good demise' Putin is weaponizing the gay issue as emblematic of all that traditional culture opposes, as he seeks to spread Russian influence in other parts of the world, along with the Wagner militia. Putin is always showing his virility, taking off his shirts. He has been described as the most topless leader in the world! But this issue is also being used by Islamicist

"Little by little, they groups with Middle Eastern money, by Evangelical groups with American money "and so on.

As I said, I am no expert on this cultural battle which is being fought out everywhere, whether in the USA or Africa. I just wish, ever so briefly, to signal that the Synod faces this double challenge, of a proper gospel openness to all with an openness to all cultures. How are we to live both? This will be a major challenge for the next session of the Synod. It is not about how does our side win. That is the game of competitive politics. It is how can the Church fulfil her vocation to be the place in which all of humanity finds home and joy. Here, as St Paul says, 'there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3.28).

My favourite image is of St Peter in John 21. They have fished all night without catching anything. Then they see a stranger on the shore who tells them to cast the net on the other side, and the net is full almost to bursting. Peter hauls the net to the shore and it contains 153 fish. This probably represents all of the nations of the world. The net is not broken. Jesus said before his death, 'When I am lifted up, I shall draw all people to myself.' Peter helps in this with his drawing the net to the shore to present it to Jesus.

So how are we to haul in the net without it being broken? The Church is just at the beginning of thinking about this and I hope that you will help us. A starting point is a fascinating lecture by Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope. He gave it in Hong Kong in 1993 on what he called Interculturality. He argues that every culture is potentially open to the fullness of the truth. When cultures encounter each other, ideally they should be able to correct each other's biases and share the truths they embody. So when

African and Western cultures meet, ideally both should be challenged and enriched. In one of his lectures, Albert Nolan, OP of South Africa remarked: "Our question about the impact of Christianity upon Africa will always be incomplete unless we also ask `what is the impact of Africa upon Christianity?"'

It has been argued that if Western cultures bring a deep sense of the dignity and freedom of the individual, African cultures bring a sense of how being human is rooted in our relationships: Ubuntu. I am because we are. Asian Catholics invite us to learn the value of harmony as Latin American cultures invite us to hear the voice of the poor.

Every culture offers gifts and is challenged. The gospel is to be inculturated in every culture but it challenges every culture. So some people, like Cardinal Ambongo, will argue that homosexuality is foreign to African cultures and so cannot be welcomed. I would say that here the gospel offers a challenge.

So the encounter of cultures is at the heart of many debates in the Synod, and above all the embrace of gay people. And we have to be aware that the encounter of cultures is never just innocent. Other cultures come to Africa, for example, with guns and money. Power dynamics are at work. African bishops shared with us how deeply they feel the humiliation of aid being tied to the acceptance of Western values. Multinationals corrupt and destroy local cultures. Foreign powers do so too. Just as the hunger for gold, led to the destruction of Caribbean cultures in the sixteenth century, so does the search for rare earths and diamonds today. Remember, the strange who stood on the beach had been executed by the Imperial power of his day.

So working for a Church which truly has open doors is inseparable from addressing the ways in which countries in the Global South face unjust economic exploitation, ecological devastation and cultural destruction. No wonder we of the North are thought of as decadent. We all advance on the path to liberation together or not at all.

Forgive this short and superficial presentation. I do so wish that I could have been with you to hear what you think on these complex issues. May you have a wonderful joyful day. And pray that the Synod may open all of our hearts minds and challenge all of our prejudices.

LINKS

LGBT+ Catholics Westminster - www.lgbtcatholicswestminster.org/

Fr Timothy's message on video: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1viOs-58rRQk60j9KK9Bfxgu_oJTHANEa/view

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