The Vatican Press Office on Monday posted to its website the document that summarizes the two-week meeting — or synod — of bishops on family issues that began on Oct. 5.
“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” it reads.
The document contains rhetorical questions that ask whether the church can offer gays “a welcoming home” and whether “our communities” are “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,” it reads.
The document “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,” it reads.
The document nevertheless acknowledges gay relationships can prove positive.
“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,” reads the document. “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.”
The document comes against the backdrop of Pope Francis’ more moderate approach to homosexuality and gay people since his election as pontiff in March 2013.
Francis a few months after he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI told an Italian Jesuit magazine that the church had 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.
“Overall I am very excited by this news,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBT-friendly Catholic ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., told the Washington Blade on Monday. “It’s really a total reversal of the attitude and approach the church leaders have taken regarding lesbian and gay people for decades now.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, an LGBT Catholic group, described the document as “surprisingly positive.”
“For the first time the Vatican has said something positive about same-sex couples,” she told the Blade. “Sort of acknowledging they’re could be mutuality and sacrifice in the commitments that we make to one another, that is a tremendous step forward.”
Catholic conservatives were quick to criticize the document.
The Associated Press reported that Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Gadecki described it as “unacceptable” and counter to church teaching. John Smeaton, co-founder of Voice of the Family, said in a statement those “controlling the Synod have betrayed Catholic parents worldwide.”
The Archdiocese of Washington did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.
“It is a working document, which summarizes the interventions and debate of the first week,” said the Vatican in a Tuesday statement in response to those who have criticized the synod.
Advocates from predominantly Catholic countries nevertheless welcomed the document and the church’s more moderate tone towards homosexuality and LGBT people.
“Today’s comments from the Vatican suggest a change in the tone of the Catholic Church’s approach to gay people, and are welcome,” said Kieran Rose, chair of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network in Ireland. “The Vatican document provides an opportunity for the Catholic Church to change the way it treats lesbian and gay people.”
Estebán Paulón, president of the LGBT Federation of Argentina, agreed.
“The statements made within the framework of the synod on families in relation to the LGBT community represent a concrete advance in the way the Catholic hierarchy looks at our community,” he told the Blade.
Church ‘in a profound debate’ about homosexuality
Advocates remain largely critical of the church in spite of its recent efforts to moderate its tone towards marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues.
The church still views gays and lesbians as “intrinsically disordered.”
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who is the papal emissary to the U.S., are among those who attended an anti-gay marriage rally at the U.S. Capitol in June the National Organization for Marriage organized.
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. Lima Archbishop Juan Luís Cipriani has publicly spoken out against a proposal that gay Peruvian Congressman Carlos Bruce introduced last year that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in the South American country.
Philippine advocates with whom the Blade has recently spoken say the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and other Vatican-aligned groups continue to block comprehensive anti-discrimination bills and other pro-LGBT measures and initiatives.
American Cardinal Raymond Burke suggested during an interview with LifeSiteNews.com last week that same-sex couples are “intrinsically disordered” and should not attend family functions where children are present. Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo in 2013 described gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster as a “faggot” after President Obama nominated him to represent Washington in the Caribbean country.
“The topic of homosexuality has the Catholic church stuck in a profound debate,” Deivis Ventura, a Dominican LGBT rights advocate, told the Blade on Monday. “The bishops do not know how to deal with the matter, like dealing with the high acceptance of homosexual relations among ordinary faithful. They don’t know the answer to give to so many GLBT men and women that make their lives in church, participate in Mass and faith communities.”
Both DeBernardo and Duddy-Burke told the Blade they are not surprised the bishops reaffirmed their opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples in the document.
“I had no hopes that there would be a Vatican affirmation of same-sex marriage,” said Duddy-Burke.
Paulón has repeatedly criticized Francis for opposing efforts to extend marriage and other rights to LGBT Argentines while he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires.
The advocate on Monday once again highlighted the Vatican’s opposition to gay nuptials.
“The refusal to modify doctrine on marriage, it adds to the consideration of our relationships from a merely patrimonial standpoint,” said Paulón.
Michael David dela Cruz Tan, publisher of Outrage, an LGBT newspaper in the Philippines, also criticized the Vatican over its opposition to same-sex marriage the bishops reiterated in the document.
“This merely stresses how the church continues to see us as lesser beings,” Tan told the Blade.
A final vote on the draft document is scheduled to take place in October 2015 when the bishops reconvene at the Vatican.