A shift in tone in the Vatican’s language about gay people has been used in a Catholic synod document which says homosexuals have “gifts and qualities to offer”’ the Christian community.
At the halfway point in the ongoing synod on the “Family in the Vatican”, two of the most important recommendations to emerge from the synod fathers concern “welcoming homosexuals”’ and “speeding up the procedure”of marriage annulments.
“Relatio Post-Disceptationem” is a summary of the issues discussed last week by the Bishops, presented in the Vatican this morning.
Under the heading of “welcoming homosexuals”, paragraph 50 of the relatio uses unprecedentedly inclusive language when addressing the issue of the role of homosexuals in Christian life.
Even though current Catholic teaching calls homosexuality an “intrinsic disorder” and considers the practise of homosexuality to be a sin, the document adopts an altogether different tone.
“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.”
One US reporter wanted to know just precisely what were the particular “gifts and qualities” that homosexuals could offer to the Christian community. He asked if the paragraph did not imply a radical rethink on homosexuality.
Answering the question, Bishop of Chieti, Italian Bruno Forte said: “It is not that easy... It (paragraph 50) means that we must respect the dignity of every person, the centrality of the person is fundamental.”
Synod observers believe that the conclusions could represent the first step on the road to a very different pastoral approach to homosexuality, a different pastoral approach that in time will become doctrinal, leading to a change in Church teaching. Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about homosexuality last summer.
In relation to marriage, the document underlines “the necessity to make the recognition of cases of nullity more accessible and flexible”.
“As regards matrimonial suits, the speeding-up of the procedure, requested by many, as well as the preparation of a sufficient number of operators, clerics and lay people, dedicating themselves to this requires an increase in the responsibilities of the diocesan bishop.”
The synod will be addressing the problems of those divorced and remarried Catholics who are currently banned from receiving communion.
Details of just how the process might be speeded up remain unclear but it is significant that on the eve of the synod, Pope Francis announced the formation of a Vatican commission, charged with looking into ways to render the whole annulment process less cumbersome and expensive.
Paddy Agnew, The Irish Times, 13 October 2014