Is this the modern family according to Francis? From gay relationships to extramarital sex, from divorce and remarriage to civil unions, the Roman Catholic church has signalled it is ready to adopt what some see as a markedly more conciliatory tone towards those in “irregular” familial setups.
While clinging to doctrine that considers gay sex wrong and marriage indissoluble, bishops in Rome for the pope’s extraordinary synod on the family endorsed a midway report which said the church should accompany its teachings “with mercy” and focus on the “positive aspects” of different life models.
The document, known as a relatio post disceptationem, received applause when it was read aloud in the synod hall after a week of discussions, due to continue this week. It does not contain any decisions but offers a significant idea of the gathering’s direction of travel. Some Vatican observers said its change in tone on homosexuality and cohabitation was remarkable.
“The document published today by the synod of bishops represents an earthquake, the ‘big one’ that hit after months of smaller tremors,” wrote John Thavis, author of The Vatican Diaries. “The document clearly reflects Pope Francis’s desire to adopt a more merciful pastoral approach on marriage and family issues.”
Referring to the increasing numbers of people choosing to live together before marriage, or to have civil weddings, the bishops spoke of the need to see “the constructive elements” in those options while not viewing them as an equal substitute for Christian marriage. “In such unions, it is possible to grasp authentic family values or at least the wish for them,” they noted.
In a passage entitled “welcoming homosexual persons”, the bishops said that although the church could not support gay marriage, it needed to explore ways of making gay people feel included. “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?” the document says.
“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?”
In its catechism, the Catholic church brands “homosexual acts … intrinsically disordered” and the pope, while encouraging a more welcoming stance towards gay people, has said nothing that deviates from that.
The relatio, released on Monday, appeared to be an attempt to balance the two factors. “Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions,” the report says, “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.”
Rev James Martin, a Jesuit author, said the words represented “a stunning change” in the way the church spoke of gay people. “The synod is clearly listening to the complex, real-life experiences of Catholics around the world, and seeking to address them with mercy, as Jesus did,” he told Associated Press.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014