ROME — During the opening day of the Synod of Bishops on the family, Catholic prelates from around the world listened to one of the 13 lay couples invited to join them in Rome, who used the occasion to plea for greater inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Church.

Ron and Mavis Pirola, an Australian couple married for 55 years, asked the nearly 200 bishops gathered in Rome a simple yet probing question, one most of them may never have been forced to consider: “What do you do when your gay son wants to bring his partner for Christmas dinner?”

They shared the example of their own friends who faced this question when their gay son told them he was bringing his partner for the holidays.

“They fully believe in the Church’s teachings, and they know their grandchildren would see them welcoming the son and his partner into the family,” the Pirolas said.
“Their response about what to do in that situation was summed up in three words: ‘He’s our son’.” The couple’s point was that the Church needs to communicate that everyone is part of the family, including people of same-sex orientation.

“What a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond to similar situations in their neighborhood!” they told the bishops, arguing that “It’s a practical example of what the Instrumentum Laboris [the synod’s working document] says concerning the Church’s teaching role and its main mission to let the world know of God’s love.”

In an interview shortly before the synod began, the Pirolas told Crux that the Church needs to learn from people who are in difficult or dysfunctional situations.
“They often are courageous,” Mavis Pirola said.

“They’re trying, and the Church needs to learn from them and their imperfections. If not, the sacrament of marriage will be put into this pedestal that would turn it into something that is impossible to achieve,” she said.

In their experience, the Church must listen to the families because “many of the pastoral issues the Synod is looking at, are things families have been dealing with for a long time.”

During a press conference in Rome Monday night, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx said the synod has to provide a pastoral solution to these situations, expressing an approving take on the Pirolas’ comments.

In his Crux interview, Ron Pirola stressed the importance of the wider Church learning from the concrete experience of real families, underlining that they’re living out the pastoral problems bishops only talk about.

“The hot-button issues are things families are dealing with all the time,” he said.
To Mavis, Christians need to be able to show the “overarching” value, which is love.
“How do you show what you approve and don’t approve,” she said, “while at the same time showing the fundamental value of love?”

Ron added, the Church has “this great set of rules that are there to help us show that love.”

The Pirolas are long-time advisors on family issues within the Church. They’re currently co-chairs of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council, and were members of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family from its inception in 1981 until 2009.

They also participated as a lay couple in the 1987 Synod of Bishops that focused on the laity, where they were invited to talk about the family.

Both Pirolas say their main role in the Church has been at the grassroots level, trying to foster new initiatives to promote the concept of the family as a major agent of spreading the Catholic message.