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October 17 , 2014

Vatican signals more acceptance for gays… maybe

Vatican City--In the middle of a two-week synod of bishops and cardinals, the Vatican released a report indicating a softening of its stance on homosexuality and divorce, among other sociological phenomena.

The Catholic Church issued a relatio post disceptationem, or after-debate report, on “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” and one of its sections is titled, “Positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation.”

“A new sensitivity in today’s pastoral consists in grasping the positive reality of civil weddings and, having pointed out our differences, of cohabitation. It is necessary that in the ecclesial proposal, while clearly presenting the ideal, we also indicate the constructive elements in those situations that do not yet or no longer correspond to that ideal,” it reads.

“Divorced people who have not remarried should be invited to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their state,” it later says. “In the same way the situation of the divorced who have remarried demands a careful discernment and an accompaniment full of respect, avoiding any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against.”

In the section titled “Welcoming homosexual persons,” there are three paragraphs, included here in full:

“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 question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.”

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. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”

That last paragraph is, perhaps, the most notable, a Catholic document noting “that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners,” along with the exhortation to give “priority” to the needs of children being raised by same-sex couples.

This relatio came months after Pope Francis thawed relations with the LGBT community, saying that if gay people wanted to serve God, “Who am I to judge?” Francis succeeded Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff in centuries to retire instead of dying in office. Benedict had been Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger under the papacy of John Paul II, and headed the Office of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican wing responsible for doctrinal orthodoxy formerly known as the Inquisition. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI expressed hard-line sentiments on issues around homosexuality, calling it “intrinsically disordered.”

However, a day after the relatio was issued, the Vatican backtracked on October 14, saying that it was a working document, not a final statement. The purpose of this extraordinary synod, using extraordinary in its classic sense of being outside of the ordinary, is to present proposals for the Ordinary Synod, regularly scheduled, next to be held in October 2015.

Conservatives and progressives in the Catholic Church are arguing over the document, with the liberal and LGBT side hailing an increased openness in the church, while traditionalists are calling it a complete dismissal of church teachings.

Pope Francis, who toed doctrinal lines as a bishop in Latin America, is the first pope from outside of Europe in the church’s mainline history. He has rejected many of the trappings of his positions, both before and after his ascension.

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as first the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and then a cardinal, he refused the lavish residence provided him, instead taking a modest apartment, and preferred riding an inexpensive motorcycle instead of a pricey car. He would often go among the people, washing the feet of parishioners and tending the sick.

As pope, he lives in a papal guesthouse instead of the papal apartments, and wears simpler vestments than his predecessors, who wore full regalia in office.









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