With the sun setting behind the St. Paul Cathedral Thursday night, a group of Catholics gathered together to pray out continued homophobia and trans*phobia from Archbishop Nienstedt. A program of the Human Rights Campaign’s (an LGBTQ advocacy organization) Religion and Faith Program, this Twin Cities Synod Vigil is one of a two-week long series of vigils being held throughout the country to bring attention and support for the Extraordinary Synod being held in Rome.
Synods––one being held from October 5 through 19, 2014, with the second to follow in October 2015––are a rare event in the church. The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is only called for urgent issues facing the church, and this is only the third time a Synod has ever been convened.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Synod was established shortly after Vatican II by Pope Paul VI in order to “continue the spirit of collegiality and communion that was present at the Council.”
The Extraordinary Synod called by Pope Francis is a gathering of 150 bishops who will contemplate the teachings of the Church as they related to the family. “There are two different parts to the Extraordinary Synod,” Human Rights Campaign’s Director of Latino and Catholic Initiatives Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera said, “the first is for prayer and discernment, and the second, convened in 2015, will focus on policy changes.”
Looking to move the church in a more inclusive direction for LGBTQ people, the crowd of around twenty supporters prayed the Rosary, spoke about the importance of the Synod, and sang “This Little Light of Mine.”
“As we gather, we pray that our U.S. Representative in Rome, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, listens to our voices and sees the value of recognizing and including all families in the Catholic fold,” Meléndez Rivera said. “On behalf of all of those who have been excluded from the church––from the LGBT faithful and divorced families, to those who have been fired for simply being who they are––we will offer them Holy Mary’s wisdom and God’s clarity.”
Despite the potential impact on the Synod for both LGBTQ identified Catholics, and for the faith as a whole, there has not been much publicity nor talk of the event. “Views of church laity were to be collected by a survey the Vatican provided, but most U.S. bishops failed to widely distribute the survey to their communities,” according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Addressing questions about the state of the family, fertility, surrogate birth, and contraception, the Synod has the potential to drastically change the Church’s stance on many contentious issues. “We are not expecting the church to accept Marriage Equality or Women’s Ordination at this Synod, but what I do hope for is a softening of the language, especially as it relates to LGBT people and their families,” Mendéz Rivera said.
Continuing their work to make the Catholic Church a more welcoming place for LGBTQ identified individuals, the Human Rights Campaign is planning to continue the Pray, Listen, Discern tour through the Synod next year. “There is a disconnect between the church leaders and the laity,” Mendéz Rivera said, “71% of Catholics support marriage equality, and the church laity is not misguided, we aim to create an inclusive church that can serve us all.”
While continuing to raising awareness of inequality in the Catholic Church, the Human Rights Campaign also has a foundation for LGBTQ members discriminated against in the Catholic faith. “People often only think of the HRC as a political [movement], but we are also educating those about the awareness and importance the synod has for the future of the [LBGTQ] family as we move faster along in the Catholic Church, because these things only happen every 40 years,” Mendéz Rivera said.
Many other pro-equality Catholic groups were in attendance, including Call to Action, a progressive Catholic organization, and Dignity Twin Cities, which works to make the Catholic Church more accepting of LGBTQ individuals, and will continue to work for justice and equality in Minnesota.