October 18, 2014 at 10:46 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Catholic bishops backtrack from statements on gays

Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Catholic bishops on Saturday released the final version of a draft document from their meeting on the family that appears to backtrack from previous statements signaling a more moderate tone towards gays and lesbians.

An Italian version of the document posted onto the Vatican Press Office’s website says same-sex unions are not “remotely analogous” to “God’s plan for marriage and the family.” It also criticizes “international pressure” to support marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

The document says those with “homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity” and should not face “unjust discrimination.”

The Vatican Press Office has yet to post an English version of the document onto its website.

An English summary of the document simply contains a reference to “the light of a wedding story” that “shines out brightly, warming bodies and souls.”

“The love of man and woman teaches us that each needs the other in order to be truly self,” it reads. “Each remains different from the other that opens self and is revealed in the reciprocal gift.”

The meeting — or synod — on the family began at the Vatican on Oct. 5.

A summary of the draft document the Vatican Press Office posted to its website on Oct. 13 stated “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.” It reiterated the church’s opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples, but acknowledged gay relationships can prove positive.

LGBT Catholics and advocates largely welcomed this draft document, but conservatives within the church blasted it.

Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Gadecki described the draft document to the Associated Press as “unacceptable.” John Smeaton, co-founder of Voice of the Family,” said those “controlling the synod have betrayed Catholic parents.”

The Vatican on Oct. 14 said the draft is “a working document, which summarizes the interventions and debates of the first week” of the synod. A summary of the meeting the Vatican Press Office posted to its website three days later made a similar point.

“This is a working document that does not express a univocal opinion shared by all the Synod fathers,” it reads.

The summary said gays and lesbians “must receive pastoral accompaniment and their dignity must be protected, without however implying that this may indicate a form of approval, on the part of the church, of their orientation and way of life.” It further stressed “the impossibility of equating marriage between a man and a woman with homosexual unions.”

The Associated Press reported the revised paragraph did not make it into the final document because it did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority. The news agency said the final vote was 118-62.

Synod document ‘very disappointing’

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, an LGBT Catholic group, blasted the final version of the draft document.

“The respectful language of the midterm report is gone,” she said. “A return to what we’ve heard for decades will dishearten LGBT people, same-sex couples and our families.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBT-friendly Catholic ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., described the final version of the draft document as “very disappointing.”

“The Synod’s final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included,” said DeBernardo in a statement. “Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples. Additionally, their further comment about supposed ‘international pressure’ to accept same-gender marriage selfishly views the hierarchy as the victims, not LGBT people who receive unjust and oppressive treatment by governments, church, families, and society.”

Estebán Paulón, president of the LGBT Federation of Argentina, criticized the document and the bishops.

“We profoundly lament that because of the profound internal division within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the final document from the synod has excluded references to sexual diversity and the inclusion of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people,” Paulón told the Washington Blade on Saturday. “The final document takes the most reactionary line from the Catholic hierarchy that even denies the dignified treatment of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people and commits to deepening the structural exclusion of our community on the part of the Vatican hierarchy.”

The synod took place against the backdrop of Pope Francis’ more moderate approach to homosexuality and gay people since becoming pontiff in March 2013.

Francis told an Italian Jesuit magazine a few months after he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI that the church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception. The Argentine-born pontiff in July 2013 told reporters who asked him about the reported homosexuality of the man he appointed to oversee the Vatican bank that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized.

Francis, who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, in 2001 kissed and washed the feet of 12 people living with AIDS at a hospice. The pontiff nine years later was among the most vocal critics of Argentina’s same-sex marriage bill, describing it as “the work of the devil” before President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it into law.

The church’s opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples has not waned in spite of Francis’ more moderate tone towards the issue.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who is the papal emissary to the U.S., attended an anti-gay marriage rally at the U.S. Capitol in June the National Organization for Marriage organized. Lima Archbishop Juan Luís Cipriani has publicly spoken out against a proposal that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in Peru.

San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves is among the Puerto Rican religious leaders who continue to oppose efforts to expand rights to the U.S. commonwealth’s LGBT residents. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has sought to block anti-discrimination measures and other pro-LGBT bills and initiatives in the country.

Church doctrine still says gays and lesbians are “intrinsically disordered.”

Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo last year described gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster as a “faggot” after President Obama nominated him to the post.

“The Catholic Church has shown throughout the majority of its history that it can appear to sufficiently adapt itself to the times in order to sustain its economic, political and spiritual power in the short-term and in the long-term,” Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay Cuban blogger who writes under the pen name Paquito, el de Cuba, told the Blade on Saturday. “LGBTI people should not have to wait for permission from any church to claim and secure our rights.”

Duddy-Burke acknowledged “deep divisions” among the bishops over LGBT people and the role they can play in the church.

“Unfortunately, today, doctrine won out over pastoral need,” she said. “It is disappointing that those who recognized the need for a more inclusive church were defeated.”

DeBernardo made a similar point.

“The synod’s final report significantly backtracks on LGBT issues from the draft released earlier this week, but the synod’s process and openness to discussion provides hope for further development down the road,” he said.

A final vote on the draft document is scheduled to take place next October when a larger group of bishops will reconvene.

“Between now and next year’s synod, the discussion in the Catholic Church — at all levels — on LGBT issues, as well as other issues of family and sexuality, will be more open and robust than it has ever been,” said DeBernardo. “That is a very good thing.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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