A Vatican report issued Monday (Oct. 13) demonstrates what observers described as a dramatic shift — even an “earthquake” — regarding homosexuals, asking if the Roman Catholic Church can value “their sexual orientation, without compromising” its teachings.
The report, delivered in Pope Francis’ presence halfway through a two-week meeting of nearly 200 bishops at the Vatican, offered a markedly different tone in its approach to homosexuals, cohabiting couples and the divorced. The document is not a final report on the synod of bishops, who will continue their meeting this week. A more definitive report is expected after a final synod next year.
In a section titled “Welcoming homosexual persons,” the report says, “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
The document says helping people mature regarding “the sexual dimension” is an “important educative challenge” to the Catholic Church. The statement does not support same-sex marriage, saying the Catholic Church “affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman.”
The report also says, “Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”
Close observers of the Catholic Church depicted the report as startling in its language.
The document “represents an earthquake, the ‘big one’ that hit after months of smaller tremors,” wrote John Thavis, who reported from Rome with Catholic News Service for nearly 30 years and continues to blog about the Vatican.
James Martin, editor at large of America (a national Catholic magazine), said the report depicts “a stunning change in the way that the Catholic church speaks about the [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community.”
Describing homosexuals as people with “gifts and talents to offer the Christian community . . . is something that even a few years ago would have been unthinkable, from even the most open-minded of prelates — that is, a statement of outright praise for the contribution of gays and lesbians, with no caveat and no reflexive mention of sin.”
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, addressed the Catholic Church’s view of “gradualism, the idea that sinners do not immediately give up their sins, and often move gradually toward the grace of redemption.”
He differs with the Catholic Church in regards to the distinction “between the church and the world,” Moore said.
“The church is to welcome everyone as guests and observers to hear the gospel preached and taught,” Moore wrote in an Oct. 13 blog post. “The church is not itself, though, to be made up of unrepentant people. That’s why scandalous sin is to be disciplined, and why the Lord’s Table is to be offered only to those in right fellowship with God and with one another.”
He added, “Should we patiently love and offer the gospel to those who are refusing to repent of immorality, whether cohabitation or anything else? Yes. Should we baptize and admit into membership those who refuse to walk away from such things? No.”
Homosexual rights advocates who identify as Catholics applauded the statement, while some conservative members of the church criticized it.
John Smeaton, co-founder of the conservative group Voice of the Family, said, “Those who are controlling the synod have betrayed Catholic parents worldwide.” He called it “one of the worst official documents drafted in Church history,” according to Reuters News Service.
— by Tom Strode | BP