In a dramatic shift in tone, Catholic bishops released a
document Monday saying that homosexuals had “gifts and
qualities to offer” and asked if Catholicism could accept gays
and recognise positive aspects of same-sex couples.
Roman Catholic gay rights groups around the world hailed
the paper as a breakthrough, but Churchconservatives called
it a betrayal of traditional family values.
The document, prepared after a week of discussions at an
assembly of 200 bishops on the family, said the Church
should challenge itself to find “a fraternal space” for
homosexuals without compromising Catholic doctrine on
family and matrimony.
While the text did not signal any change in the Church’s
condemnation of homosexual acts or gay marriage, it used
less judgmental and more compassionate language than
that seen in Vatican statements prior to the 2013 election of
“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian
community: are we capable of welcoming these people,
guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities?
Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a
welcoming home,” said the document, known by its Latin
“Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and
valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising
Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?” it asked.
New Ways Ministry, a leading US Catholic gay rights group,
called it a “major step forward”, praising it for being devoid
of the “major gloom and doom and apocalyptic horror” that
accompanied previous Vatican pronouncements on gay
The London-based Catholic gay rights group QUEST called
parts of it “a breakthrough in that they acknowledge that
such unions have an intrinsic goodness and constitute a
valuable contribution to wider society and the common
But John Smeaton, co-founder of the conservative group
Voice of the Family, was less than happy with the Vatican’s
apparent change in direction.
“Those who are controlling the synod have betrayed Catholic
parents worldwide,” he said, calling it “one of the worst
official documents drafted in Church history”.
The Vatican document will be the basis for discussion for the
second and final week of the bishops’ assembly, also known
as a synod. It will also serve for further reflection among
Catholics around the world ahead of another, definitive
synod next year.
A number of participants at the closed-door gathering have
said the Church should tone down its condemnatory
language when referring to gay couples and avoid phrases
such as “intrinsically disordered” when speaking of
That was the phrase used by former Pope Benedict in a
document written before his election, when he was still
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and head of the Vatican’s
The language and tone of Monday’s document, read to the
assembly in the presence of Pope Francis, appeared to show
that the advocates of a more inclusive tone towards gays
and Catholics in so-called “irregular situations”—such as
unmarried couples and those who have divorced—had
It said that the 1.2 billion-member Church should see the
development of its position on homosexuals as “an
important educational challenge” for the global institution.
While the Church continued to affirm that same-sex unions
“cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony
between man and woman”, it should recognise that there
could be positive aspects to relationships in same-sex
“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,” the document
The paper also said there were “constructive elements” to
heterosexual couples who were married only in civil services
or who were living together, but stressed that Church
marriages were “the ideal”.
Pope Francis has said the Church must be more
compassionate with homosexuals, saying last year, “If a
person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to
The Church teaches that while homosexual tendencies are
not sinful, homosexual acts are.