Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Catholic bishops signaled a radical shift in tone Monday about accepting gays into the church, saying they had gifts to offer and that their partnerships, though morally problematic, provided homosexual couples with “precious” support.
In a preliminary report, released halfway through a Vatican meeting on family life called by Pope Francis, the bishops also said the church must welcome divorced people and recognize the “positive” aspects of civil marriages and even Catholics who cohabit, as well as the children of these less traditional families.
Though it does not change church doctrine, the tone of the report on a host of hot-button family issues such as marriage, divorce, homosexuality and birth control was one of almost-revolutionary acceptance and understanding rather than condemnation. It will guide a closed-door debate until a final document is issued Saturday.
Gay-rights groups hailed what they called a “seismic shift” in the church’s attitude toward gays.
“For the LGBT Catholics in the United States and around the world, this new document is a light in the darkness — a dramatic new tone from a church hierarchy that has long denied the very existence of committed and loving gay and lesbian partnerships,” said Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, the biggest LGBT rights organization in the U.S.
Some conservative cardinals downplayed the report as insignificant or derided it as unacceptable, while conservative groups denounced it as heresy and a “betrayal” that will only serve to confuse Catholics.
“Confused, contradictory chaos in Rome,” headlined the arch-conservative commentator Michael Voris.
Bishops clearly took into account the views of the pope, whose “Who am I to judge?” comment about gays signaled a new tone of welcome for the church. Their report also reflected the views of ordinary Catholics who, in responses to Vatican questionnaires in the run-up to the synod, rejected church teaching on birth control and homosexuality as outdated and irrelevant.
In a sign of the chasm that apparently is underway, Francis decided late Friday to add six progressives from four continents to the synod leadership to help prepare the final document after several conservatives were elected to leadership positions. None of Francis’ appointees were Africans, who traditionally are among the most conservative on family issues.
“The drama continues,” a wry Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, said of the debate.