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Questions on sexuality loom large ahead of youth synod

The “instrumentum laboris” for the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation” highlights how many young people, both inside and outside of the Church, are divided when it comes to topics related to sexuality, the role of women, and homosexuality.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie during a pre-synod gathering of youth delegates at the Pontifical International Maria Mater Ecclesiae College in Rome March 19. The meeting was in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment this October at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Vatican City, Jun 19, 2018 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- According to the official working document for the upcoming synod of bishops on youth, the major questions for young people ahead of the October discussion surround issues of sexuality and gender, the role of women and the desire for a Church that knows how to listen.

The “instrumentum laboris” for the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation,” was published June 19, and includes contributions from both young people themselves, and bishops conferences.

Key issues highlighted in the document are not only increasing cultural instability and violent conflicts, but many young people, both inside and outside of the Church, are divided when it comes to topics related to sexuality, the role of women, homosexuality and the need to be more welcoming to members of the LGBT community.

The document pointed to a “metamorphosis of the human condition” some analysts say the world is undergoing due to the rapid pace at which cultural and anthropological changes are happening.

In this regard, a key challenge for the Church that the document cited is the body and topics related to human sexuality. The body, the text read, has always been at an “intersection between nature and culture,” yet new biomedical technologies have given rise to different concepts of the body.

On one hand, the document pointed to the trend of technological experimentation, saying there is an increasing push for the integration of “body and machine, between neuronal and electronic circuits, which find their icon in the cyborg, favoring a technocratic approach to the body.”

But on the other hand, the trend of manipulating one’s body goes beyond the technical realm, and also touches on issues related to biology, the text said, pointing to surrogacy and egg donation as examples.

Things such as precocious sexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography, displaying one’s body online and sexual tourism, the text said, “risk disfiguring the beauty and depth of emotional and sexual life.”

Bishops, the document continued, recognize the importance of the body and of sexuality, particularly the differences and complimentary of men and women, but are often not able to communicate the Church’s teachings well.

Church teaching on issues such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, cohabitation and marriage for many youth are up for debate, both in the Church, and in society at large.

While there are young Catholics who find Church teaching to be “a source of joy” and who wish to follow this teaching despite how unpopular it is in the public eye, others want more clarification on these and other major issues, and have asked Church authorities not to be afraid to talk to them about “taboo,” topics such as gender and women.

“No bishops conference offers solutions or recipes” to these issues, the document said, but they are convinced that “the question of sexuality must be discussed more openly and without prejudice.”

On the issue of homosexuality, the document emphasized the need to be open and welcoming to everyone, including non-believers, those of other faiths, and also the LGBT community.

Some LGBT youth who participated in the online questionnaire or offered contributions through social media, the document read, said they want to experience “greater closeness and greater care on the part of the Church.”

In their responses, bishops conferences also questioned how to respond to young people who have chosen to live a homosexual lifestyle, but who also want “to be close to the Church.”

In comments to journalists at the June 19 presentation of the synod’s working document, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, said 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.”

Young people, the document said, are also concerned that at times the Church can seem distant, and have voiced a desire to have a Church that is close, transparent and up-to-date, and which is not afraid to talk about the tough issues.

Divided into three parts plus framed by an introduction and conclusion, the document offers an overview of the state of young people throughout the world today and possible pastoral responses.

The document is a compilation of contributions from four primary sources: a questionnaire sent out to bishops conferences in June 2017; a website for the questionnaire and social media accounts where youth were able to leave testimonies and answer questions;  a September 2017 seminar on youth that took place in Rome; and the final document of the pre-synod meeting which took place in Rome in March, and drew participation from some

The first step was the questionnaire that was sent out to bishops’ conferences worldwide, and which was also posted online in order to make it more accessible to young people. It was released in June 2017 for people ages 16 to 29, of all faiths and backgrounds, asking about lives, attitudes and concerns about the world.

The answers to the questionnaire will be one of four key ingredients in the October synod, he said, with the other three being the website for the questionnaire and social media accounts where youth can leave testimonies and answer questions; a September 2017 seminar on youth that took place in Rome; and the final document of the pre-synod meeting.

The structure of the text follows a methodology frequently insisted upon by Francis in the process of discernment: recognizing, interpreting and then choosing.

Recognize

The text noted that there are some 1.8 million people throughout the world between the ages of 16-29, however, the demographic, economic and social conditions of each country are different. Whereas youth are the majority in some countries, in others youth are a minority. In some places, lifespan does not exceed 60 years of age, whereas in others it extends well over 80.

Added to this is the disparity between rich and poor nations, and the access young people therefore have to education, healthcare and a stable home. In some areas they also face pressures such as drugs, corruption, violence and the challenges brought on by an increasingly globalized world.

For what regards the role of the family, the document said that responses to the online questionnaire showed that mothers are a key reference point for youth, while the subject of fatherhood requires a deeper reflection due to the “ambiguities and voids” left as a result of the lack of father figures, particularly in the west.

According to the document, family will be a key topic of discussion, especially in light of the conclusions on the 2014-2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Bishops also noted that religion no longer holds the same weight that it did in the past, and that for many young people, simply being “spiritual” is enough.

In terms of the Catholic Church itself, the document noted that many youth are committed to the Church through different activities, and bishops conferences have affirmed that youth outreach is a key priority in most parishes.

However, on the flip side, the text also noted that in the pre-synod meeting, youth had voiced concern about feeling as if they were being put into a corner, and felt that generally they were not taken seriously, especially when it comes to leadership.

The document also touched on both the risks and benefits of technology and social media, including the dangers of the “dark web,” and the role of music, art and sport as forms of expression.

Work, young migrants and discrimination were all touched on in the document, including religious persecution, especially for Christians in areas where they are a minority, racism and discrimination against women.

Discrimination against women, even in ecclesial environments, was also addressed in the text, and was a key concern raised by youth themselves during the pre-synod meeting in March, during which they questioned how and where women can really, fully participate in the Church and in society.

The Church, according to the “can face these problems with a frank dialogue and a mind open to different ideas and experiences.”

The document also cited a growing paralysis on the part of young people when it comes to making a decision for their lives, whether it is due to a lack of opportunity, economic instability, or, at times, a the lack of a sense of meaning and purpose.

It also spoke of the need to listen to youth, who frequently lack good role models, and who want a Church which is “authentic” and which is capable of talking to them about the issues that matter.

Interpret

In the second section of the document, the text spoke of “the blessing of youth” from a biblical standpoint, emphasizing the importance of accompaniment in the discernment process.

To follow Christ, it said, “is a call to risk, to lose what has already been acquired, to trust. It is a provocation to break with the planning mentality which, if exasperated, leads to narcissism and the closing in on oneself.

The section placed a heavy emphasis on the need to accompany young people in determining what path is best for their lives, saying the task of accompaniment “is not an option with regard to the task of educating and evangelizing youth.”

Rather, “it is an ecclesial duty and the right of every young person,” the document said, adding that only the presence of a “prudent and wise” guide can help youth to correctly interpret God’s will for their lives.

The text then offered a brief reflection on the different vocational paths, including the vocation to the family, to ordained ministry and to consecrated life. However, it also touched on the increasing number of people who opt to stay single, without making a move toward consecrated life or marriage.

No concrete answer to the question of “singles” was given, but due to the growing number of singles in the Church and in the world in general, the document said “it is important that the synod reflect on this question.”

In terms of discernment, the document noted that it goes well “well beyond” simply deciding whether to get married or live a consecrated life. Rather, discernment is a broader concept, and also includes helping youth to determine their profession and what sort of social or political commitments to make.

But to discern well, accompaniment is needed, the document said, noting that youth themselves have voiced their desire for an accompaniment which is both free and authentic, while bishops said they wanted to provide a “broad” and varied accompaniment for young people equivalent to a sort of “Christian coaching” in life.

The text emphasized the need to provide both spiritual and psychological accompaniment, and a formation which reaches the family, educational and social aspects of life.

Those who accompany youth ought to be able to respect each person and what God is already doing in their lives, and who is able to influence “with who they are, before what they can do or propose.”

For youth in particular, the document said it is important that those who accompany them are committed in the Church and on the path to sanctity, but it is also crucial that they are able to recognize their own limits and who are able to walk with young people, rather than being put “on a pedestal.”

The document also stressed that accompanying young people is not a task limited to priests and religious, but is also something laity can do.

Choose

In terms of helping youth to make concrete choices that are right for their lives, the document stressed the need for an integral formation and education, and emphasized the role that Catholic schools and universities can play in helping to mold young people.

It also emphasized the importance of finding new models of development in terms of generating employment, fostering a better economy, and caring for creation. It also called for innovation in the technical sphere and for greater collaboration so that everyone has access to the resources and opportunities they need.

Faced with the challenge of modern society, bishops said it is increasingly important to form youth in politics and in how to be active citizens. Particular attention, the document said, ought to be paid to professional competence, opportunities for service, care for the environment and a better understanding of the Church’s social doctrine.

Emphasis was also placed on the role of the internet and digital media outlets as a means of evangelization, and the need to accompany prisoners, young people who live in war zones or areas of conflict, especially women and migrants. The document also called for a greater attention to and accompaniment of young people who are sick or dying.

In terms of pastoral care, the document stressed the role of family and the education and formation of children. In this regard, bishops also presented their “best practices,” underlining the need to set aside daily times of prayer and silence for personal devotion, as well as pray in one’s community.

Catechesis and opportunities to practice charity are also important, the document said, especially through mission trips, retreats or with movements and associations, all of which the document said help provide space for vocational discernment.

The document also stressed that those living a consecrated life live under the same cultural and societal conditions as other people their age, so a pastoral approach adapted to different local situations is needed.

It warned against the tendency to narcissism and self-sufficiency, particularly in consecrated vocations, which have a common root in “a potentially pathological concentration on oneself.”

It cautioned against the dangers of individualism, which is “centered on the autonomous subject, which excludes recognition, gratitude and the collaborating action of God,” and “emotionalism,” which the document said “closes the person in the virtual world an in a false interiority, where the need to deal with others and the community is excluded.”

The document closed emphasizing the universal call to holiness and inviting young people to become saints.

“Jesus invites each of his disciples to the total gift of life, without calculation or human self-interest,” the text said, and spoke of the need to highlight not only young Saints in the Church, but also the “youth of the Saints,” who all passed through the phase of being young.

Doing this, the document said, would make it possible “to intercept many youth situations  which are neither simple not easy, but where God is present and mysteriously active.”

“To show his grace is at work through torturous paths of the patient construction of a holiness which matures in time through many unexpected ways,” the document said, “can help all young people, no one excluded, to cultivate hope in a holiness which is always possible.”

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11 Comments

  1. The working paper for the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation,” proposes to “recognize, interpret and choose” how to respond to those concerns raised by youth. In direct response to the youth’s “compass” paper, how will the inclusive choice not exclude something like the following?

    That, yes, what seems an “unreachable standard” of Christianity is still possible with the elevating power of supernatural grace, and the interior life,
    That, yes, the call for communities that “empower” with a “sense of identity and belonging” is basic, but also risks conflating power with the depth of gifted and fully human belonging; (“more original to us than our solitude;” Giussani, The Religious Sense),
    That, yes, for the laity to be missionary means to be partly a “presence within the Church” but mostly a leaven in the world; (“Christianity was spread. . . by the spectacle of Christian morals…;” Chautard, The Soul of the Apostolate),
    That alleged “taboos—pre-fabricated, severe and morally excessive” are actually truths about the very nature of the human person; (and are already given the requested “better explanation” in Veritatis Splendor and the Theology of the Body)”,
    That, yes, the youth can be met “where they are,” but this does not mean that the Christ within gives us a pass for having it both ways; (even euthanasia is rationalized as a statutory exemption to civil laws against homicide),
    That, yes, the Church is relevant to the world, but the ordained Church hierarchy does not claim license for mission-creep to pronounce concrete solutions for the “large social issues;” (leavening the world with both justice and truth is the vocation and expertise of a laity with well-formed consciences),
    That rather than “false images of Jesus,” the center of the assembled Church—distinctly more than a sola Scriptura “community”—is the concrete fact of Christ in history, fully God and fully Man, and now in the Eucharist (the Real Presence entirely “transparent” sacramentally).
    And again, yes:“The document also stresses that accompanying young people is not a task limited to priests and religious, but is also something laity can do.” The laity includes parents who have endured what Cardinal Wuerl, in his opening remarks for the Year of Faith (2012), pointed to as fifty years of “manifest poor catechesis or miscatechesis.”

  2. Gearing up for a mess. All Eastern Catholic bishops should withdraw their participation from this, and leave it to the patriarchate of Rome to figure out. Stop pretending that this is a synod of the Church Universal.

  3. I gather from this wording that the sexual world is coming to a crisis… again. It never ceases to amaze why the church groups contraception and homosexuality with abortion. That abundantly causes confusion among younger Catholics. Moreover, the church is vague on legal vs illegal. If abortion is outlawed does that mean that clinical abortions recommended by physicians are also a criminal act? Contraception for Catholics is NFP. Are there any other forms of contraception “allowed” by the church? Homosexual and transgender folks can really be bewildered. We state that a gay person is welcomed and loved, but their acts are “forbidden”. How can we “love” a gay partly?

    • “It never ceases to amaze why the church groups contraception and homosexuality with abortion. ”

      Because all three are sins related to sexual matters, of course. It isn’t rocket science.

      “Moreover, the church is vague on legal vs illegal. If abortion is outlawed does that mean that clinical abortions recommended by physicians are also a criminal act?”

      No, the Church is not vague; but if you ignore the studies in moral theology and get your information from the intellectual equivalent of comic strips, it will seem vague.

      “Contraception for Catholics is NFP. Are there any other forms of contraception “allowed” by the church?”

      No, it isn’t. Abstention from sexual intercourse during fertile periods is not the same things as “Cool, I can have sex all I want to without having to think of its natural consequences and principal end!”

      “We state that a gay person is welcomed and loved, but their acts are “forbidden”. How can we “love” a gay partly?”

      A person who commits homosexual acts (there is no such thing as a “gay person”) is loved just the same way a murderer, perjurer, thief, rapist, child abuser, adulterer, or any other kind of sinner is loved, although the acts they commit or are tempted to commit are sinful and forbidden. Your way of looking at it would appear to be, “You’re tempted to commit murder, and since that temptation is a part of you, feel free to go out and kill somebody because after all that’s just the way you are.”

      • Good reply to MorganB, Leslie. That party is constantly building a straw man to knock over.

        And Sol is still looking for that elusive separate authority for the Eastern Catholic Church.

    • “It never ceases to amaze why the church groups contraception and homosexuality with abortion.”

      Not surprising but it’s actually quite simple. Removing the procreative nature of the marital act means – to the relativist – that any form of sexual activity then becomes acceptable. Oral contraceptives removed personal responsibility and morality from the equation. If the pill fails then infanticide can be the remedy for people who refuse to control their libidos. When intercourse becomes little more than mutual masturbation, Pandora’s box is opened and intrinsically disordered sexual deviancy, fornication, contraception and abortion all become SOP for those with deficient acumen.

  4. “The text noted that there are some 1.8 million people throughout the world between the ages of 16-29”

    1.8 million sounds like an awfully low number for a fifteen-year age span.

  5. “Some LGBT youth”

    There is no such thing, and by using that label you are already deciding to cooperate with the view of the world, and the corrupt world at that.

    “In their responses, bishops conferences also questioned how to respond to young people who have chosen to live a homosexual lifestyle, but who also want “to be close to the Church.””

    The same way as they would respond to young people who have chosen to live a promiscuous lifestyle, or chosen to live a murderous lifestyle, or a larcenous lifestyle, or an abusive lifestyle, or any other sinful lifestyle: explain to them that it is sinful, and call them to repentance. If you want to be “close to the Church” then you should accept Her teachings and discipline. Otherwise you’re just asking the Church to validate your sins.

    “However, on the flip side, the text also noted that in the pre-synod meeting, youth had voiced concern about feeling as if they were being put into a corner, and felt that generally they were not taken seriously, especially when it comes to leadership.”

    Pride, in other words. Their egos aren’t being catered to.

    “Discrimination against women, even in ecclesial environments, was also addressed in the text, and was a key concern raised by youth themselves during the pre-synod meeting in March, during which they questioned how and where women can really, fully participate in the Church and in society.”

    What utter driveling idiocy. Even assuming that in order to “really, fully participate” one must have a visible public role, which is very far from being the case, you can’t swing a cat in a parish without hitting women in charge of this, that, and the other.

  6. I hope that soon CWR will publish an article addressing exactly how the Synod preparation group collected their data about what “young Catholics” are concerned about and wish to challenge. From what I have seen their research methodolgy made sure that the voices of those peopfe with itching ears are overreprented in the group—in other words there is a heavy bias in whose voices get heard, just like other synods whose aims have been political and heterodox.

  7. Increasingly, I do not recognize the universality of the one true Catholic apostolic Church – the UN goal of using children as agents of change is clear. Like Obama, “hope and change” meant the dismantling of America; in the same way “mercy, accompaniment, love” will be the tools used in the dismantling of the Catholic Church – the changing of dogma, the Magisterium, the whole fabric of our faith. God help us. The Youth Synod has all the trappings of “change” – no sin, no hell, no boundaries for sexuality – in short, a culture of death.

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