ROME — Controversy is stirring over a document released by a meeting of international bishops of the Roman Catholic religion who are spending two weeks at the Vatican to discuss marriage and family issues. While the document may undergo further adjustments in its language surrounding issues such as homosexuality, cohabitation and divorce, the first proposed version asserts that Roman Catholics should welcome and accept those practicing homosexuality.
“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?” it reads. “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?”
While retaining its belief that homosexual behavior is a sin, many view the document as seeking to be more “inclusive” of those whose lifestyles run counter to Scripture.
“Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons,” it continues. “Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”
Another section of the draft—the result of the 200-bishop meeting—is entitled the “positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation.”
“In the West, an increasingly large number of people, after living together for a long period of time, seek marriage in the Church. Simply to live together is often a choice based on a overall attitude, opposed to anything institutional and definitive, but also in expectation of a more secure existence,” it states. “In other countries de facto marriages are very numerous . . . [as] material poverty leads people into de facto unions.”
“[S]uch unions can display authentic family values or at least an inherent desire for them. Pastoral guidance should always start from these positive aspects,” the section continues, while stating that the goal of providing a “constructive response” is to “transform them into opportunities which can lead to an actual marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel.”
The document also states that “those who are divorced and remarried require careful discernment and an accompaniment of great respect, while avoiding any language or behavior which might be construed as discrimination.”
Following its release, some homosexual advocates and others have expressed approval, viewing the document as being a positive development.
Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry for LGBT Catholics, said that the draft provided “very hopeful directions in the way that Church leaders should address lesbian and gay people and their families” and opined that he hoped Catholics would respond with “new ways of welcome and acceptance.”
“Pope Francis was very clear in having two distinctive demands,” Cardinal Vincent Nichols of the U.K. told the Wall Street Journal, noting that the pontiff asked bishops to focus on “the high ideals of the Church and not to judge people’s lives.”
But others, such as the Archbishop of Durban, said that there is a split among bishops about the document.
“How it is written, the relatio conveys that there is an agreement on issues, on which there is not in fact an agreement,” he stated.
“[The relatio] is simply riven with very serious difficulties, and I’m deeply, deeply concerned and I’m not alone,” added Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.
Some also took issue that the words “sin” or “disorder” are not present in the document regarding any of the issues—from homosexuality to cohabitation to divorce.
The Vatican “reiterates that [the relatio] is a working document, which summarizes the interventions and debate of the first week.”