Positives and Negatives in Youth Synod’s Working Document

Calls for greater openness to homosexuals and use of the term ‘LGBT’ are mixed in with laudable references to real challenges facing today’s young faithful.

Briefing on Instrumentum Laboris for Synod on Youth at the Holy See Press Office on June 19, 2018
Briefing on Instrumentum Laboris for Synod on Youth at the Holy See Press Office on June 19, 2018 (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

The instrumentum laboris (working document) for the upcoming synod on youth published Tuesday contains constructive passages on drawing attention to the online dangers of the “dark web,” the evil of pornography, and the perils of individualism. 

It recognizes young people’s need for good role models, accompaniment and authentic discernment in seeking a vocation, confronting the cultural challenges of globalization, the importance of the family in formation and the universal call to holiness. 

The 34,000-word document also emphasizes the need for catechesis, the practice of charity and for young Catholics not only to have a better understanding of the Church’s social doctrine but also to be active in politics. It further recognizes the detrimental effects of an absence of fatherhood, especially in the West, which can affect spiritual paternity. 

The document refers to those young people who wish to move away from traditions because they are “stuck in the past” or “out of “fashion,” but also singles out other young people who “seek their identity by taking root in familiar traditions and striving to be faithful to the education they have received.” 

But perhaps reflective of today’s hypersexualized society, especially in the West, the document is notable for being laden with references to sexuality (25 mentions in total, compared to Jesus who is referenced 17 times). 

In controversial passages, it proposes that “many” young people believe “the question of sexuality must be discussed more openly and without prejudice.” It also uses the loaded acronym “LGBT” — a term used by the homosexual movement — instead of what the Church has hitherto used (those “suffering same-sex attraction”) and appears to place heterosexual and homosexual couples on the same level while omitting to reassert the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” 

And although it mentions young Catholics who wish to uphold and deepen the Church’s teachings “despite their unpopularity,” the instrumentum laboris also highlights other young people who want Church leaders “to deal concretely with controversial issues such as homosexuality and gender issues,” which it says “young people already discuss freely and without taboos.” 

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, told reporters Tuesday the reason the Church is engaging with members of the LGBT community is because “we are open. We don't want to be closed in on ourselves.”

In the Church, “there are many areas, there is freedom for people to express themselves — on the right, left, center, north and south — this is all possible,” he said, adding that “this is why we are willing to listen to people with different opinions.” 

He also said the term LGBT was used because it was “mentioned in the pre-synodal document” that came out of a pre-synodal meeting with young people in March, although this has been disputed. (Some have also noted with concern the picture of a girl wrapped in a rainbow flag, the emblem of the homosexual movement, published on the synod’s website).

The document also states “international research shows that many young people face inequality and discrimination because of their gender, social class, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, geographical location, disability or ethnicity.”

It is important to note this is a working document and that, aside from occasional Vatican assertions that give a certain slant to the text, it is the fruit of young people’s contributions to questionnaires, two pre-synodal meetings and comments on the web. 

It therefore serves to generate debate and talking points at the Oct. 3-28 synod which the synod fathers will be free to accept or reject, assuming the kinds of interference witnessed during the previous synods on the family are not repeated. 


Some Excerpts

The document has only been published in Italian. The synod secretariat says the English will appear “in a few days.” Below are some selected passages related to the above and are my translation. 

“Several bishops’ conferences state that today there is not a real generational contrast between young people and adults, but a ‘mutual estrangement’: adults are not interested in passing on the foundational values of existence to the younger generations, who feel more like competitors than potential allies. In this way the relationship between young people and adults risks remaining only affective, without touching the educational and cultural dimension. From an ecclesial point of view, the synodal involvement of young people was perceived as an important sign of intergenerational dialogue” (14).

“A superficial use of digital media exposes us to the risk of isolation, even extreme refuge in an illusory and inconsistent happiness that generates forms of dependence. … Online relationships can become inhumane. Digital spaces blind us to each other's fragility and prevent us from introspection. Problems such as pornography distort the perception of human sexuality by young people. The technology used in this way creates a deceptive parallel reality that ignores human dignity” (58).

“Young people’s anger at rampant corruption, growing structural inequality, disregard for human dignity, violation of human rights, discrimination against women and minorities, organized violence, injustice does not seem to be given due consideration in the bishops’ conferences’ responses. There seems to be a lack of space for Christian communities to discuss these issues. In many parts of the world, moreover, young people find themselves in the midst of violence, as actors or as victims, and are easy prey to manipulation by adults. Unscrupulous religious leaders and politicians know how to exploit the idealistic aspirations of young people for their own ends. In other contexts, religious persecution, religious fanaticism and political violence are uprooting the hope of a peaceful and prosperous future from the hearts of young people. These are also frontiers on which the prophetic capacity of accompaniment of the Church must be measured” (128).

“Sociological studies show that many young Catholics do not follow the indications of the sexual morals of the Church. No bishops’ conference offers solutions or recipes, but many are of the opinion that ‘the question of sexuality must be discussed more openly and without prejudice.’ [The pre-synodal document of March 2018] points out that the Church's teachings on issues such as ‘contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, marriage’ are a source of debate among young people, both within the Church and in society. There are young Catholics who find in the teachings of the Church a source of joy and who desire ‘not only continue to keep to them despite their unpopularity, but proclaim them by teaching them more deeply.’ Those who do not share them, however, express the desire to continue to be part of the Church and ask for greater clarity in this regard. Consequently, [the pre-synodal document] asks Church leaders ‘to deal concretely with issuessuch as homosexuality and gender identity, which young people already discuss freely and without taboos’” (53).

“The pre-synodal meeting saw the participation not only of young Catholics, but also of young people of other Christian denominations, of other religions and even of nonbelievers. It was a sign that the young people welcomed with gratitude, because it showed the face of a hospitable and inclusive Church capable of recognizing the richness and contribution that can come from each, for the good of all. Knowing that authentic faith cannot generate an attitude of presumption toward others, the Lord’s disciples are called to value all the seeds of good present in every person and in every situation. The humility of faith helps the community of believers to let itself be instructed also by people of different positions or cultures, in the logic of a mutual benefit in which it gives and receives” (196).

“For example, in the IS [international seminar on youth (Sept. 11-15, 2017)] some experts pointed out that the migration phenomenon can become an opportunity for intercultural dialogue and for the renewal of Christian communities at risk of regression. Some LGBT youth, through various contributions that came to the Secretariat of the Synod, wish to ‘benefit from greater closeness’ and experience greater care on the part of the Church, while some CEs [episcopal conferences] ask themselves what to propose ‘to young people who instead of forming heterosexual couples decide to form homosexual couples and, above all, wish to be close to the Church’” (No. 197).