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What happened with New Ways Ministry and the Synod on Synodality?

Credit: Ludovic Bertron via Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0

Over the past two weeks, you might have seen headlines or social media posts about a group called “New Ways Ministry” and the Vatican’s synod on synodality — first praise that the group’s video was included among synod resources, then controversy when a link to the video was taken off a synod website, then an apology from a Vatican official at the center of the controversy.

The story might have seemed a bit difficult to follow — especially because if you followed it on social media, accounts of what happened were inconsistent and politically charged. So what actually happened? And does it matter? The Pillar breaks it down.

What is New Ways Ministry?

Founded in 1977, New Ways Ministry is a non-profit which says it “educates and advocates for justice and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Catholics.”

In 2010, the U.S. bishops’ conference said that “like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of Church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.”

“No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice,” the USCCB added.

According to its non-profit tax filings, the group had $967,125 in revenue in 2020.

What happened with the synod?

On Dec. 6, Father James Martin, SJ, a prominent LGBT-rights advocate, tweeted to praise organizers of the Vatican’s Synod on Synodality for including a video from New Ways Ministry on its website.

The video was included in a “resources” section of the synod’s website, along with videos or materials from other non-profits, and from dioceses and religious institutes. There are fewer than 100 resources posted; the website did not indicate by what criteria videos would be evaluated for inclusion.

The day after Martin’s tweet, Dec. 7, the New Ways Ministry link was removed from the synod’s website, with the synod’s communications director telling journalists that synod organizers were not aware the USCCB had clarified New Ways Ministry’s status in 2010.

The removal was reported in both “conservative” and “progressive” Catholic media. Martin and other LGBT-rights advocates objected to the video’s removal.

On Dec. 12, the synod’s communications’ director, Thierry Bonaventura, issued an apology for removing the link, saying the decision was made for “internal procedural reasons” and that it “brought pain to the entire LGBTQ community, who once again felt left out.”

“In walking together, sometimes one may fall, the important thing is to get back up with the help of the brothers and sisters,” Bonaventura wrote.

The link was restored.

In a statement Dec. 13, New Ways Ministries said it “has accepted the apology of a Vatican official who removed a link to New Ways Ministry’s webinar on synodality from the Synod office’s resources website last week.”

“Vatican officials rarely apologize, and they almost certainly have never apologized to LGBTQ people or an LGBTQ Catholic ministry. This action signals that Vatican officials are becoming aware of how their decisions impact LGBTQ lives. It also reveals a desire to repair damages they may have caused. In these respects, this is an historic moment,” the group’s executive director said.

What does the video say?

The video is an hour-long presentation from Robert Choniere, director of adult formation at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in New York City.

Choniere addressed the theological notion of synodality, and proposed that “LGBTQ people and allies can help make sure that every voice is heard and recorded” during the Church’s two-year synodal process.

“Each of us has this beautiful tender ideal of what Church should be...and yet so often that dream has been trampled,” Choniere said. “We can abandon that ideal, but the pope is asking us not to do that...but to be the Church that we want to see in the world.”

How is Pope Francis involved?

Pope Francis is not involved with decisions about what video resources are posted on the synod on synodality’s website.

But the pope has reportedly sent two letters to New Ways Ministry this year, apparently in response to a letter from the group’s executive director. In a June 17 letter, the group says, Pope Francis thanked New Ways Ministries “for your neighborly work.”

The U.S. bishops’ conference has not issued a statement in response to the controversy over the group and the synod, or the pope’s apparent correspondence with New Ways Ministries leaders.

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