American LGBT Catholics on October 18 expressed disappointment in the decision by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to eliminate language that was inclusive and supportive of LGBT Catholics from the conference's final report.
"Once more members of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church have erred on the side of hypocrisy and fear," said Lisbeth Melenndez Rivera, HRC Foundation's Director of Latino/a and Catholic Initiatives, in a statement. "The deeply entrenched anti-LGBT forces within the Church prevailed, ignoring Pope Francis' message of inclusion and respect, and fundamentally rejecting the voices and lives of LGBT Catholics."
Preliminary statements from the report, released a week before, were enough to give some hope that the Church was prepared to somewhat shift its thinking on the matter. It indicated that LGBT men and women had "gifts and talents to offer the Christian community" and noted that gay unions had intrinsic value in that they reflect person engaged in acts of "mutual aid to the point of sacrifice."
Rivera visited Chicago October 14, leading local LGBT Catholics in a vigil outside Holy Name Cathedral. She led similar visits in several cities over the course of the Synod's meeting, and told Windy City Times that the Chicago vigil was also intended both to wish Chicago Archbishop Francis George farewell and welcome incoming Bishop Blase Cupich, who was named by Pope Francis as George's replacement in September.
"We don't usually see statements like that come out mid-Synod," Rivera said. "It's a welcome change in rhetoric. This is language that hasn't been heard from them before. We hope it reflects an opening of hearts and minds to understand that God is still speaking."
Chris Pett, spokesperson for Dignity/Chicago, was at the Oct. 14 vigil, and said that he and his organization were "cautiously optimistic" about the release of the statements, and said that Cupich had the opportunity to change the "tone and voice" of the archdiocese's dialogues on homosexuality.
"It also gives [Cupich] the chance to address firings of individuals, notably Colin Collette," Pett added. Collette was worship director at Holy Family Catholic Church in Inverness, who was fired after he announced his engagement to his longtime partner over social media.
On Oct. 19, Pett told Windy City Times that, "I think there's still a sense of optimism about the first session, reflected in the fact that those statements were released. There's obviously going to be disappointment that there are still these strident voices in the hierarchy."
He noted however, that the Synod was a two-part process, and next year will bring an opportunity for church leaders to rectify the exclusion.
"You can't take those words back," Pett added. "They showed that there are people of the Synod who are open to thinking about the Church broadly, and open to debate and [a wider] perspective."
He said that Cupich could very well be an "ace in the hole" for local Catholics. "There's going to be a lot of opportunities for conciliation and welcoming affirmation, without judgment. He certainly has the confidence of the Pope. Remember that, in the end, the Pope has the final say on these matters."
Not all local Catholics and LGBT activists have been so optimistic about Cupich, however. Joe Murray of Rainbow Sash Movement has said that, though he might have a less gruff manner than George, Cupich was nevertheless opposed to same-sex marriage when the matter was being decided in Washington State. In an Oct. 15 letter to Windy City Times, Murray wrote, "Archbishop-elect Cupich's anti-gay history is there for all to see when it comes to dealing with same-sex marriage, LGBT adoption, employment rights and equal protection under the law."
In her statement, Rivera nevertheless shared Pett's optimism that the situation will improve for American Catholics.
"While we are extremely disappointed that the Bishops were unable to be moved away from doctrinal purity and into pastoral care for LGBT people, as suggested by Pope Francis, we remain hopeful that as a working document, this report will be once more amended in our favor at next year's Synod," she said. "We were always aware this was the beginning of a discussion, not the end. We will continue to pray for our brothers, the Bishops, to listen to our prayers, and to discern deeply about the exclusionary nature of this document based on the outdated idea that God spoke their final words a millennia ago."