VATICAN CITY — As the youth synod wrapped up its third week, the bishops and auditors discussed the sexual-abuse crisis in parts of the world and how to respond to young people experiencing same-sex attraction.
At a press briefing Oct. 20, Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, Australia, said the sexual abuse crisis, the failure of leadership to address abuse appropriately, and the failure of bishops to listen to and believe victims, have come up consistently in synod discussions since Day One.
He said he believes one of the key things going forward is the need to apologize for failures, to acknowledge shortcomings, and to start implementing better practices. He noted that in Australia, they have had protocols in place for around 20 years for the accountability of bishops.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, said that if someone came forward with an accusation, or there was a charge against him, he would welcome an investigation and would not stand in its way.
What the bishops are hearing from young people, he said, is the need for accountability and transparency — that no one, especially clerics, are exempt from being held accountable for the actions or inactions.
Though the abuse crisis is “not on the front burner in some countries,” Cardinal Cupich continued, “the bishops are seeing that it needs to be addressed well” and that it should include the laity, with their presence on review boards.
He also pointed out that many of the bishops present for the synod are the president of their local bishops’ conference and will therefore be back in Rome in February 2019 for a summit addressing abuse prevention.
He said he sees these conversations as a springboard for going forward. Though he said Catholics will have to wait and see how the Vatican organizes the February meeting of bishops, he has a lot of confidence in Pope Francis as “a man of action,” who will want concrete things to come out it.
“Yes, there’s a lot of anger out there,” Cardinal Cupich stated, “but beneath that anger is a lot of sadness, a sadness that the Church should be better and should get this right.”
As part of the synod, which runs through Oct. 28, small language groups presented reports on their discussion of the third part of the working document, called the instrumentum laboris, for the assembly on young people, faith and vocational discernment.
In the small group chaired by Cardinal Cupich, and which Archbishop Comensoli and Cardinal John Ribat of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, are a part of, they discussed the issue of young Catholics who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, proposing that there be a separate section for this issue in the final document of the synod.
The main objective of the section should be “pastoral accompaniment of these people which follows the lines of the relevant section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the report states.
In the press briefing Oct. 20, Cardinal Cupich said a number of the short speeches of synod participants, and small groups, have said they want the final report to say something inclusive of everyone and to address young people with same-sex attraction.
“I was asked a question: ‘What is the final document going to have to say to people who have same-sex attraction, have this aspect to their life?’ My answer was I think the whole document has something to say to everybody,” Cardinal Cupich said. “We wanted to make sure everyone felt included by what we say. So whatever form that takes, our small group was for it.”
The cardinal also referred people to research presented in the John Jay Report, which he said shows that the root of priestly sexual abuse is not homosexuality, but many different causes.
Cardinal Ribat said they want to communicate that the Church is a home where everyone is welcome and accepted. He said young people have shared their experiences very freely and encouraged bishops to address it, “in the language they are using.”
They say, “call us and address us as this because this is who we are,” Cardinal Ribat said.
The bishops were asked to clarify what they meant by welcoming and accepting young people with same-sex attraction. Bishop Alain de Raemy, auxiliary of Lausanne, Geneve and Fribourg, Switzerland, said he is concerned with transmitting the Gospel to those who do not know it, and those who want to be Christian, but do not feel represented.
Archbishop Comensoli said it is about recognizing that everyone is a sinner, and everyone needs to be found by God and receive his love.
“We are also the sinners who are called to be at the foot of the cross in our lives. So, in the sense of welcoming, of receiving, and of entering into the friendship of Christ, we also take our lives, me included, to the foot of the cross. And that’s every single person,” he said.
So, when he speaks with friends who might be homosexual or struggling with their sexual identity, he said, he speaks to the “with the friendship of Christ, as I ought to. And as a friend, I say, how do we progress together to the foot of the cross.”
Addressing a concern expressed by many people before the start of the synod, that the instrumentum laboris was too concerned with sociological ideas and terminology, rather than with the language of faith, Archbishop Comensoli said he has seen a real shift in the last week of discussions, away from sociology and toward an incorporation of the teachings of the Church, theologians, Scripture and saints.