by Martin Pendergast STL, MA
Pope Francis is very fond of referring to “time and space”. In his first Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, he writes,
“Time” has to do with fullness as an expression of the horizon which constantly opens before us, while each individual moment (space) has to do with limitation as an expression of enclosure … Here we see a first principle for progress in building a people: time is greater than space. This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time … Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power … Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.1
The close associate of Pope Francis, Cardinal Walter Kasper commented shrewdly that The Joy of Love
“doesn’t change anything of Church doctrine or canon law - but it changes everything! 2 Let’s apply this, then, to our reflections on the development of LGBT pastoral practice and the development of theological reflection which can come from this. When we stand in the midst of a particular space such as this today, perhaps as passionate subjects of the concerns before us, it is often hard to recognise all that is going on. I’d like to suggest that recognising past developments can help us move into a time-filled future, hence “back to the future”!
It was in 1979 that the Social Welfare Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England & Wales, in response to a request for such guidance from the then National Conference of Priests, published An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People. 3 This could now be seen as an example of the kind of Synodal Church activity envisioned by Pope Francis, all these years later.4 The document was produced following consultation with some key moral theologians at the time, as well as a number of lesbian and gay Catholics. It attempted to respond to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1976 Declaration on Sexual Ethics within the context and reality of the Church in England & Wales and the experience of LGBT Catholics.5 Avoiding a head-on collision with the Vatican, it sought to provide the foundation for intelligent and pragmatic pastoral care within the social, cultural, and legal environments of England and Wales. As such it was acclaimed by English-speaking Catholics across the globe and promoted in the United States and Australia, among other places.