Throughout the first week of the family synod in Rome, there have been tantalising suggestions that the Catholic Church is moving towards greater sensitivity and awareness of the real pastoral needs of lesbian and gay Catholics. Today, that possibility was confirmed, with the release of a formal summary document of the proceedings thus far, which goes way beyond a simple call for welcoming us, but even to raising the possibility of “accepting and valuing” our sexual orientation. There is also, for the first time the significant use of the term “partners” in referring to the couples in same – sex relationships, and recognition of the mutual support and sacrifice the partners give to each other.
50. 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?
51. 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.
52. 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.
Synod14 – “Relatio post disceptationem”
From the moment that the synod was announced, it seemed probable that it would not lead directly to any change in Church doctrines any time soon, but that it could lead to an improvement in language and pastoral practice. It now seems possible that the anticipated change could be substantially greater than most observers had anticipated. Consider not only the specific words in the text above, but also what was NOT said. For example, it is stated that the Church cannot accept gay marriage, but there is no condemnation of civil unions, or of same – sex relationships in general, nor is gay marriage listed in the opening description of threats to the family.
New Ways Ministry has issued a statement welcoming the document, which the veteran Vatican watcher John Thavis has described (quite appropriately) as a “pastoral earthquake at the synod“, not only for the change of tone on lesbian and gay Catholics, but also for many other aspects of ministry to families. (A further sign of the hope contained in this document is that the conservative, holier than thou rule – book Catholic blogs are squawking in horror).
This important document should be studied carefully. It will form the basis of further discussion by the bishops, before being voted on at the close. The conclusion, quoted below, notes that final version, as agreed by the bishops, will then be taken away by the bishops for further reflection and sharing over the next year, in preparation for the final, general synod that will conclude the two year process.
The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialog that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015. These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view. All the same the collegial path of the bishops and the involvement of all God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead us to find roads of truth and mercy for all. This is the wish that from the beginning of our work Pope Francis has extended to us, inviting us to the courage of the faith and the humble and honest welcome of the truth in charity.
(At the end of his post, John Thavis adds an important caution that there may be some translation issues in the English language text on the Vatican website:
A TRANSLATION ISSUE: Some people are taking issue with the English version of the relatio (a translation of the original Italian text that was put out by the Vatican press office but which is not “official”) and its treatment of the homosexuality issue. Specifically, this line: “Are our communities capable of providing that (a welcoming home for homosexuals), accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
The Italian text uses the verb valutare, which can mean a lot of things — to value, appreciate, consider, evaluate or judge. The English translators decided on “valuing.” I think “appreciating” would also fit. Given the context of the sentence (“welcoming” and “accepting”), I don’t think translating the word as “evaluating” or “judging” would make much sense. In any case, the sentence has apparently already caused some fireworks in the synod hall, so it will be interesting to see if it survives the revision process.)