James Alison: Love in a Changing Catholic Climate

jamesalisonJames Alison, priest and theologian, has written a great analysis of the final documents from the Synod on the Family vis a vis gay, lesbian, and transgendered Catholics. Alison takes the bishops’ lack of commenting as a good sign, because they clearly thought about the issue a lot during the synod.

One telling example of that his conversation was occuring was when New Ways Ministry director Francis DeBernardo asked Ghana’s Archbishop Palmer-Buckle whether the African bishops, or any bishops, would support a statement from the synod condemning the criminalization of lesbian and gay people. Palmer-Buckle’s answer included, “We know that all are sons and daughters of God and have dignity. We are doing what we can. It takes time for individual voices like that to be heard, when you are dealing especially with something that is culturally difficult for people to understand.”

In addition, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp said, “It is better that the synod said nothing on this issue than if they said something harmful.”

So I commend to you James Alison’s generous analysis in The Tablet. Here’s an excerpt below:

There were two weak-minded “ways out” of the current hierarchical impasse in the Church on matters gay – the first, a bombastic reaffirmation of current teaching as obviously right, the solution of the deluded pure; the second, that the teaching is right, but that there is a problem with the language in which it is communicated – the solution of the cowardly cosmeticians. I’m delighted to say we got neither. The low-key reaffirmations of loyalty to current positions in the final document have “pro tem” written all over them; and the general dropping from view of matters LGBT towards the end of the synod suggests that something much more interesting may have happened.

It is just conceivable that enough synod participants realised that there is no way to communicate current teaching mercifully, or with less hateful language – maybe because that teaching’s premise of the objectively disordered nature of the “homosexual inclination” is actually false? Teaching others, with however pretty a language, that they must buy into a falsehood about themselves so as to fit into pre-determined schemes of what is right or wrong, is to demand that they indulge a fragile rigidity that is the teachers’ problem, not their own – classic Pharisaism.

I suspect there was enough of a recognition that there is no genuine way out of the impasse without raising a question of doctrine, for it to be better to go quiet on the issue, and punt further study and discussion of the matter to the Holy Father – and quite possibly to the new dicastery he has announced dedicated to laity, family and life. If something like this was what happened, then I’d like to say: this is a really big deal. For the first time in my memory, the bishops seem to have faced up to having a genuine problem on their hands that is their problem, not that of LGBT people, and no apparent way out of it without help.–James Allison, (The Tablet, 7 November 2015)

Alison’s most recent book is Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice, an adult introduction to Christian faith. Other material is available on www.jamesalison.co.uk

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